The OEM license model has changed since Windows 8. If you buy a Windows 8.1 or Windows 10 pre-installed computer, you will no longer see a sticker on the back or top of the machine with 5×5 product key printed on it. There is only an official Windows 8.1 / 10 logo sticker instead. That’s all.
The main intention for this change by Microsoft is to limit the number of keys being compromised. But to most of the end users, it’s merely a good news not needing to worry about the sticker fading or getting scratched. The downside is that they will have a little chance seeing or saving a copy of it for future use, or as the physical approval for having a proper licensed Windows 8.1 or Windows 10 computer.
The key is now embedded in BIOS and can be retrieved automatically during the activation process in Windows 8 / 10. Theoretically, you will never be asked for a key to active your machine. But to have the process run smoothly, you will need the right Windows 8/10 installation edition that matches the one stored in BIOS. Or, you will be prompted to type in the right product key.
So is there a way of knowing what my Windows 8 or Windows 10 product key is?
If you have Windows 8 installed and activated
NirSoft’s ProduKey is your friend. It’s a free portable tool that reveals the keys not only to your installed Windows operating system but also other installed software as well, such as MS Office.
But if not
For example, how can I retrieve the key from a downgraded machine that runs Windows 7?
That’s where RWEverything (Read, Write Everything) comes to the rescue. Let me quickly show you how:
First of all, download the proper version from its Download page. There is also a portable version available that lets you run and forget it.
Extract the program from the zipped file, and double-click the RW.exe executable file to launch the program.
Then, click ACPI icon from the top toolbar, and MSDM table in ACPI table. And you will find your BIOS embedded key right in the Data row.
I’ve tested it on several Windows 8 pre-installed machine and have confirmed that the information retrieved within the tool is accurate.
/update on Oct 22, 2013/
A few comments mentioned below that the method described above doesn’t work on computers manufactured by Dell. Since I don’t have a Dell machine handy to try out, here are a couple things you can try and see if it works. Please do leave a comment if you find a result, good or bad.
1. Try the NirSoft’s ProduKey tool to find out which key is used in the system, if you are currently using Windows 8.
2. If you are on downgraded Windows 7 on pre-installed Windows 8 computer, try this tool (direct download link) and find the key when MSDM option checked. I have the feeling that this may still not work with Dell computer since it’s still looking for the same MSDM table, but it’s not hurt giving another tool a try.
/Update on Feb. 12, 2014/
One of the commentators mentioned an open source script called get_win8key that will also do the trick retrieving embedded Windows 8 key from BIOS. I finally got a chance to try it out and it seems to be working. You may try if none of the above methods worked for you.
Download the whole package and extract the folder on your desktop. Shift+Right-Click the folder and choose Open Command Prompt window here. In the newly opened command prompt window, run get_win8key.
/Update on Feb. 2, 2015/
NirSoft released a new tool called FirmwareTableView that can also retrieve embedded Windows 8 product key from BIOS. Check it out.
/Updated on May 15, 2015/
Windows OEM Product Key is a free standalone tool from NeoSmart Technology that only does one thing, extract the Windows 8.1 product key from BIOS. And it works pretty straightforward.