How does Windows 10 licensing status change with changes in hardware configuration

Can you use the free Windows 10 licence to fresh install Windows 10 on a new PC? What happens if you change your computer’s configuration? What if you just change Hard Drive, Motherboard, CPU or Graphics Card? How does clean installing Windows 10 work on new and old PCs?  How does Windows 10 licensing status change with change in hardware configuration? The post tries to answer these questions.


Windows 10 on new PC

If you buy a new PC, chances are it will come with the new operating system. If the computer or PC is already running Windows 10, you don’t have to install anything except the programs you will use. You do not need a serial number either, unless you are using an Enterprise or Education edition – in which case, you will have to ask for the serial number by the seller of the new PC.

If the computer retailer had installed Windows 10 (in case of assembling PCs manually), you should make sure how the retailer installed Windows 10. You need to ask if he upgraded from Windows 7 or Windows 8.1. If yes, you need not worry as you won’t need the serial key. But if the retailer installed Windows 10 directly – with a fresh license, you will need the key and the retailer should be able to show you where the key is located. The same is the case with computers shipped with Windows 10. In both cases, the serial number is required and you might find the serial number on the back of your computer. If it is not there, you need to ask retailer/seller about the serial key that you might need in future in case you have to reinstall the operating system for some reasons.

Windows 10 on old PCs

There is some story doing rounds on the Internet that you can directly clean install Windows 10 at the very first go and copy some files to make it work. I tried that but it did not activate Windows 10, in my case. If you already have a computer that is running Windows 8.1 or Windows 7, you are eligible for free upgrade, until 1 year from July 29 2015.

Though you can perform a clean installation of Windows 10 on these computers, you will have to upgrade in-place first. First you need to upgrade so that your device is registered with Microsoft and then later, you can clean install Windows 10 without worrying about serial key.

There are two ways: perform an in-place upgrade using Windows Update or Use a Microsoft Media Creation tool to upgrade the computer. Do not boot from the media to install Windows 10. That will erase all your data and clean install Windows 10. Instead, boot to the current operating system and then install the media. Click on setup.exe if it is not launched automatically. This method is faster to upgrade to Windows 10 and your files and settings are transferred to Windows 10.

Once you have done an in-place upgrade using Windows Update or Media Creation Tool, you can then clean install Windows 10 anytime later. You will be asked for key but you simply click SKIP on that dialog. This is because once you upgrade your computer to Windows 10, your computer will be registered with Microsoft along with its configuration. In future, if you change configuration, you may or may not face problems.

How changing Computer Configuration affects Windows 10 license

Plugging in removable devices will not affect your license. You can use as many plug and play devices as you want.

If you change Hard Disk or add a new hard disk, you will have to check whether Windows still shows activated. Though the Microsoft Answer Desk said that changing hard disks will not affect your activation, I recommend checking it out.

To check Windows 10 activation status, open Settings ? Update and Security > Activation. You can see the status of Activation there. If it says Windows 10 is not activated, click on Activate Now. That should fix the issue. If not, you will have to contact the Microsoft Answer Desk to activate on phone.

The hard disk example is applicable to other hardware parts too. However, if you change the Motherboard, it will be considered a new device. In this case, you will not be able to get the Windows 10 activated automatically. You can contact the Microsoft tech support, but it may still be not accepted. You might have to buy a license for activating Windows 10 in case of motherboard change.

In my opinion, the Motherboard ID is associated with your Windows 10 installation and that is why when you make minor hardware changes, your status is not changed. Even for major changes such as adding or replacing Graphics Card, you have the option to activate it by phone (without paying anything) as the device is the same. But if the motherboard is changed, the computer is considered a new device and hence, it will be necessary to buy a license.

The above explains how to clean install Windows 10 on new and old PCs. It explains what happens to Windows 10 license if you change hardware.

To sum up:

  1. If you buy a new computer, you will have Windows 10 license anyway.
  2. If you assembled a computer, then you will have to upgrade from Windows 8.1 or Windows 7.
  3. If you don’t have those operating systems, you will have to buy a license for Windows 10.
  4. If you have a PC that runs Windows 8.1 or Windows 7, you will have to upgrade before you can perform clean install Windows 10 again. Hardware changes are ok unless you make major changes. In most of the cases, you should be able to activate it over the Internet (automatically) or phone.
  5. In case of motherboard changes, you might have to buy a new license.
  6. The free Windows 10 license will not work on a completely new PC.

If you still have any questions, doubts or if you wish to add anything to the post, please comment below.

Now see how to activate Windows 10 license after changing hardware.

Posted by on , in Category Windows with Tags
Arun Kumar is a Microsoft MVP alumnus, obsessed with technology, especially the Internet. He deals with the multimedia content needs of training and corporate houses. Follow him on Twitter @PowercutIN


  1. I actually bought a brand new machine and used my old Windows 8 key to install Windows 8,1 pro (as it only came with Windows 8.1 home) – This was a pain in it’s self because the Windows product key is embedded in the BIOS. Anyway, Windows 10 would not install, always got stuck at 32% (6% Features and Drivers). Anyway, In the end I had to download the Windows 10 Media Creation Tool, create a bootable USB version and generate a GenuineTicket.xml file using the gatherosstate.exe file on the USB stick. Then install Windows 10 Pro (skip entering the product key) and then copy the GenuineTicket.xml to the C:ProgramDataMicrosoftWindowsClipSVCGenuineTicket folder. Reboot and Windows is activated. It solves many problems for new hardware and install issues due to changed hardware too.

    Microsoft Acknowledge this workaround, and it only works with your own computer, so it can’t be used for piracy. But it was a very cool way to get Windows reinstalled, when there was no hope.

  2. Dave

    I own win 7 pro and upgraded my motherboard in the past. I only needed to call Microsoft to get activated. But since I upgraded from win 7 pro to win 10 pro I’m wondering if I can get my motherboard upgraded again and get windows activated once again! But since I won’t be upgrading soon this would be interesting for the when the times comes. But to be sure I’ll be saving extra money for this and if it works I’ll probably buy a extra ssd’s or something.

  3. Dave

    but still a little vague. i upgraded from win7 to win 10 so the licence would be tied to my win7 key and motherboard. how could i get my win 10 genuine with a new motherboard at clean install. i don’t want to install win7 before i install win 10 on a new machine..

  4. Andrey

    The Windows 10 threshold 2 install will accept Windows 7, 8 and 8.1 keys.

  5. Robert L Payne

    Odd thing
    Dell 8900 with a home up grade Nividia Quatra 5000 GPU. After a while of less then expected performance it was afflicted with a “Flashing Screen” at a less then 1/sec rate that made all usual attempts to fix ineffective. Dell support sent Tech to my home to replace MOBO . In process reinstalled original GPU and “Flashing Screen” continued. Job accomplished tech left me in that state as his work order was fulfilled. I reinstalled my Nividia Quatra 5000 GPU, reset the PC losing all installed AutoDesk apps and got it all to work again, reinstalled all my Apps then noticed the “Product Key” reported by the machine did not match the the key on the docs the tech left behind with the job. Unfortunately I did not record the original key from purchase nor was there any docs or stickers on the machine or in the box at time of purchase from Costco

    Question is:
    1: Did I get a new MOBO (as I was not present during repair) as I am led to believe that the key is specific to the MOBO
    2: Whats up with the Official Dell Key left behind by the Tech
    3: It now works (not sure if that has anything to do with Dell support) and it shows “Windows 10 Home” is active.
    4: Have a fog of questions but to ignorant to form them but mainly about the status of my Win 10 License on the machine and in the sealed plastic bag left behind.

    It all seems pretty fishy. I seem to have dealt with sincere people working from a script rather then anyone with knowledge but this discrepancy leaves me ODD.

  6. Zoltrix

    I can´t find any info if I only change my CPU?
    Will it work or will it give me problem?
    I have Win 10 Pro installed
    Br, Zoltrix

  7. Bill Hill

    You mention, hard drive and motherboard changes, how about changing processor only?

  8. Dave

    you can change cpu anytime. os is tied to the motherboard. i upgraded my cpu 3 times now with no issues.

  9. PIkky

    I built a new PC and bought a brand new Windows 10 Home OS, after intalling it on the first day, it was all fine, but on the second day when I booted up the PC, it says that I don’t have my windows active.
    Went to Settings>Update & security>Activation>Troubleshoot and my Windows account has detected my laptop (which has an active windows) it has the option to let me activate this PC as “I recently changed hardware on this device”
    So the question is:
    1- If I reactivate this PC as, per say, new hardware, will it de activate my laptop?
    2- why did my PC deactivate overnight?

  10. Dianajewh Hoffmantjm

    Go to google search Vanskeys . com to get windows 10 key.

  11. suzy

    This site *vanskeys *can help you solve your problem, it offers all versions of windows product keys and the keys are very cheap, you can go to have a look.

  12. Gloriana Thomas

    Guys who need windows 10 key go si,,,,,

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