Microsoft

Change the product key on Windows XP

Even in the most carefully managed shops, software tends to get installed without authorization, and so from time to time you may need to reset the Microsoft Windows XP product key. Brien Posey shows you two effective ways to change the Windows XP product key: editing the registry and using a Microsoft WMI script.

For most Microsoft Windows XP installs, you'll never need to worry about the validity of the product key assigned to your copy of the OS. However, software does tend to get installed without authorization, even in the most carefully managed shops, and so from time to time you may need to reset the Windows XP product key.

For example, perhaps a user installed a pirated copy of XP but now wants to go legal. Maybe you've been hired by an organization that installed 100 pirated copies of XP but now has a legitimate volume-licensing key (VLK). Perhaps an end user purchased an additional retail license for XP but needs to use his original CD to install the software. When situations like these arise, changing XP's product key is often the most practical-or only-solution.

Determining if you have a valid product ID

Hopefully you already know if you're dealing with a pirated copy of XP. But if you're unsure, a quick way to tell is to install Service Pack 1. Shortly after releasing Windows XP, Microsoft realized that most pirated XP installations were using two specific VLKs, the most popular of which begins with "FCKGW." These VLKs produce product IDs that match either XXXXX-640-0000356-23XXX or XXXXX-640-2001765-23XXX, where X is any number.

If you try to install SP1 and get the following error message:

The Product Key used to install Windows is invalid. Please contact your system administrator or retailer immediately to obtain a valid Product Key..."

You are dealing with a pirated copy of Windows. For more information about obtaining a valid product key, see Microsoft Knowledge Base article 326904.

You can also directly check the operating system's product ID by right-clicking on My Computer, clicking Properties, and selecting the General tab. The machine's product ID will be located under the Registered To section. If the ID matches either of the two models commonly associated with VLK fraud, you'll need to obtain a valid XP product key before proceeding. None of the procedures described below will work without a legitimate product key.

Two methods of changing Windows XP's product key

You can change a Windows XP installation's product key either by editing the registry or by using one of two Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI) scripts. The registry editing method is outlined in Knowledge Base articles 321636 and 328874 and works on Windows XP Home, Windows XP Professional, and Windows XP Corporate Edition.

The script method is outlined in article 328874 and is designed to work on Corporate Edition installations that use a VLK and do not require activation. It may work on a Home or Professional installation, but I have not tested this scenario.

The script method is the practical solution for changing the product keys on a large number of machines. Regardless of the method you choose, make sure to backup important data before changing a product ID, since an unexpected problem could render the machine unbootable and necessitate a complete reinstallation of Windows.


Warning

The following instructions involve editing your system registry. Using the Windows Registry Editor incorrectly can cause serious problems that require the reinstallation of your operating system and possible loss of data. TechRepublic does not support problems that arise from editing your registry. Use the Registry Editor and the following directions at your own risk.


Editing the registry

Begin by opening the Registry Editor and navigating to

HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINESoftwareMicrosoftWindowsNTCurrent VersionWPAEvents

In the right pane, right-click the ODBETimer binary value and select Modify. Change at least one character of this value to either a number from 0 to 9 or to a letter from A to F, then click OK and close the Registry Editor. This renders the current product key invalid and deactivates Windows.

Now, it's time to reactivate Windows using your new product key. Click Start | Run and enter the command:

%systemroot%system32oobemsoobe /a

where %systemroot% is your Windows directory. In many cases, this command will look like:

C:windowssystem32oobemsoobe.exe /a

At this point, Windows will launch the Product Activation Wizard.

Figure A

Product Activation Wizard
Select the option to telephone a Microsoft customer service representative to activate Windows, as shown in Figure A, and click Next. Now, select the Change Product Key option and enter your new product key as shown in Figure B. Finally, click Update and close the window. If Windows returns you to the previous screen, just select the Remind Me Later option. When the wizard is finished, reboot the system.

Figure B

Enter new product key

When Windows reboots, your next step will depend on which Windows XP version you are using. If you have XP Home or Professional, you'll be prompted to reactivate your copy of Windows through the normal activation process. If you have XP Corporate, no activation is required and your machine should have a valid product ID. You can verify this by running the %systemroot%\system32\oobe\msoobe.exe /a command again. When the wizard loads this time, you should see a message indicating that your copy of Windows has already been activated.

Using a WMI script

Although the registry editing process is effective, it can be tedious and impractical if you need to change the product key on more than a few machines. So Microsoft provides two WMI scripts, one for XP machines with SP1 and one for XP machines without SP1.

  1. View the code for the WMI script, ChangeVLKey2600.vbs, designed for use on XP machines without SP1.
  2. View the code for the WMI script, ChangeVLKeySP1.vbs, for XP machines with SP1 already installed.

Copy the appropriate script's code into a text file and save it as either ChangeVLKey2600.vbs or ChangeVLKeySP1.vbs. The scripts can act in conjunction with a valid product key as part of a login script to change the product ID on multiple machines. You can also execute the script from the command line to change the key on a single computer.

For example, if you wanted to change the product key on an XP machine without SP1 and had already saved the script to root directory on the C: drive, you would click Start | Run and enter the following command:

C:changevlkey2600.vbs xxxxx-xxxxx-xxxxx-xxxxx-xxxxx

Of course, xxxxx-xxxxx-xxxxx-xxxxx-xxxxx in this scenario is a valid product key.

The script should take only a few seconds to run and won't prompt you for further action unless there's a problem, such as an invalid product key. As with the registry editing method, you can verify that Windows is now using a valid product key by running the command:

%systemroot%system32oobemsoobe.exe /a

The Product Activation Wizard will load and should tell you that your copy of Windows has already been activated.

About

Brien Posey is a seven-time Microsoft MVP. He has written thousands of articles and written or contributed to dozens of books on a variety of IT subjects.

119 comments
karlandre
karlandre

Hmm will these instructions still work the same with XP SP2 or SP3?

letter_2_roy
letter_2_roy

Dear Sir, With due respect, I am considering this topic is of paramount importance in the administration of PCs. But , on standalone PC, I must check that how else it is work. with thanks & regards, swapan singha roy Bhiva Info Solution www.bhivainfo.com

andrew.glenda
andrew.glenda

Use Jellybean keyfinder and changer it's free and saves a lot of reg editing

kirk227
kirk227

It's a great solution. I can tell you one thing to make it easier. The fastest way to get your key if you've lost it or whatever, is go to belarc.com, choose download, click download in sub-menu and it will install in about 1 minute. Run it and it will give you the license # and key to not only windows, but any other program on your system. It takes about 30 seconds (dsl) and you will have an amazing amount of info about your system. Some you probably didn't even know about. The best part is it's free.

C_Hyskell
C_Hyskell

Installed too many times...Can you avoid calling MS for a new key?

tejaskhatalik
tejaskhatalik

I have tried with this but it is not working. The %systemroot%system32oobemsoobe.exe /a is not running. I have Win XP SP2

zeus_2572
zeus_2572

Can this also work also on Windows XP Professional SP2 Installer?

hmdicowii
hmdicowii

Excellent article. To the point, easy to understand and follow. Very useful.

-bw-
-bw-

Deleting all the data in the binary key as suggested still didn't allow Windows to become "deactivated". This didn't work as decribed. No matter what is done to the registry key in question, Windows Product Activation reports: "Windows is already activated, Click ok to exit"

nickmckenna
nickmckenna

Hello Brian Posey: I would like you to write a similar article for Window Vista. I am running Vista on a machine whose badge is German but everything else is American It's known as a Targa. I had to phone someone to activate Windows Vista but lost my notes. After loading XP software that didn't work with Vista I needed to reload Vista again. I would breathe a sigh of relief if I knew where to read the Activation Key in case I lose the O.S. again. nickmckennaATtescoDOTnet

michael1r
michael1r

I have an oem cd code, XP Pro install on a Gateway PC with COA. Installed with bootleg code. But it will not accept the correct code using WMI. It reports that it must have been typed incorrectly. The install, with the bootleg cd would not accept the coa code while installing either. Any ideas?

crnugent
crnugent

Just an FYI. If you installed an OEM version of XP and want to change the license you can only change it to another OEM license. Volume to Volume... In other words, If you have an OEM install of Windows and want to change it to a Volume License, this will not work. You will need to reinstall the OS.

lubabum
lubabum

and XP Profesional SP2 ?

philhal
philhal

Hi guys , guess its not a well known scenario , but there is a microsoft key changer that is available from Microsoft and it changes the key quickly and effortlessly , without all the mucking around with registry and scripts . The keychanger was supplied to me by MS staff to allow for just such events and issues , especially when re-imaging a large number of machines.Suggest anyone who wants it contacts microsoft or checks to see if its available on the net . Our version is for XP

emenau
emenau

Imagine this: someone buy's a NEW PC with Vista BUT there is hardware being moved from an older PC to the new one.. surprise not vista compatible hehe... then that someone decides to buy a XP CD (OEM) and discovers that the mainboard does not allow XP to install (i still don't beleive this myself but ok...) THEN the customer buy's a new mainboard... Then customer gets the activate windows by phone screen, and guess what.. WE are sorry ... 1. that code was already used to activate on other hardware (the first mainboard) 2. and it is also a OEM XP that microsoft does not support. 3. cusomer has now 2 mainboards, Vista and XP (both legal and with the official stickers) and NOTHING to work with, but he needs XP for the software he works with. M$ sold 2 copies and then turns it's back to the customer. This is how they get their so called market share???? Not very Ubuntu right? After all i managed to get his system registered, but i'm not surprised that other people thake a deep breath and say... OK crack the damn thing and get to work. All the effort to get (and pay for it twice) a legal copy of XP just not te be treated like a criminal by Microsoft is kinda criminal. Think twice before you try to check if your system has a legal copy in the way discribed in this post. Even if it is a legal one, M$ will screw you for market share. Enjoy the M$ legal system. ;-)

stuartfidler
stuartfidler

I built a computer system over 3 years ago on which I installed Windows XP. I now intend to build another system and use Linux on my present system. Can I use the original Windows XP on the new computer and will I have to change the product key?

audioph
audioph

Marks,hints and instructions,are so concise and clear,congratulations,Regards Sid New Zealand

vikram777
vikram777

Advice- Do not mess up wid registry, if you dont know, how to or instructions are not clear.

ayman.qasim
ayman.qasim

hi all; am wondering if somebody can help me about installation of windows XP from a CD, but i had lost my Key. so is there any way to do so, or i do need to through the CD away ??? Regards; Ayman

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