Windows

How do I ... change the Product Key in Windows XP? (Updated)

In 2003, TechRepublic first published the procedure for changing the Product Key in Microsoft Windows XP. Since then, Microsoft has made the process easier and safer by providing an applet for just that purpose. Mark Kaelin shows you the applet and the new process.

In May 2003, TechRepublic contributor Brien Posey published an article explaining how to change the Product Key on Microsoft Windows XP, and I republished it in the Microsoft Windows Blog last year. His method involved a Registry Edit or the running of a script, and it was not for the faint of heart. Microsoft has since published an applet that makes the process much easier and safer. Here's how it works.

Note: In order to change a Product Key you must have a valid copy of Microsoft Windows XP and a valid Product Key. This applet is going to perform a Genuine Microsoft Software check before it will allow you to change the Product Key.

This blog post is also available in PDF format in a free TechRepublic download and in a TechRepublic Photo Gallery.

Steps

The first step is to go to the Genuine Microsoft Software self-help page, Update Your Product Key: Select Your Version of Windows (Figure A).

Figure A

Update your product key and select your version of Windows.
Note: Don't make the mistake I did, the applet will work much better if you use Internet Explorer. Select the Windows XP button to get to the Web page shown in Figure B.

Figure B

These are Windows Product Key update tool instructions.

Carefully read this page. Microsoft suggests creating a restore point, which is always a good idea before making changes to your Windows XP installation. Note the gentle warning about sending information to Microsoft so the system can verify the validity of your operating system.

Assuming all of that is OK with you, click the I Understand check box and then click the Download button. You'll see the typical Run, Save, or Cancel dialog, shown in Figure C.

Figure C

Select Run, Save, or Cancel.
The rest of the process is your basic follow-the-wizard instructions you should be intimately familiar with by now. Click Run to get the security screen shown in Figure D.

Figure D

Yes, I am sure.
Confirm you want to run the applet and start the wizard as shown in Figure E.

Figure E

Start the wizard.
Click Next, and you will finally reach the screen (Figure F) where you will enter your new Product Key.

Figure F

Enter the new Product Key.

When you are finished, click Next and then Finished on the next screen to restart Windows. Once Windows is running again, you will need to go through the standard activation procedure to complete the change of Product Key process.

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About

Mark Kaelin is a CBS Interactive Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He is the host for the Microsoft Windows and Office blog, the Google in the Enterprise blog, the Five Apps blog and the Big Data Analytics blog.

47 comments
NiKkiBluEyEz05
NiKkiBluEyEz05

All I did to change the product key, was to STAY OFFLINE (disconnect a cable, maybe), say "OK" when urged to activate Windows, select "activate by phone", then when the page changed to the next one, click on "change key code" (where it says NOT to do so unless instructed to do so by "Micro$oft") then I just terminated the "phone activation". Later, I went online, and activated my installation in the normal manner.

bop
bop

Very efficient when you have access or gracefull access to key in a legal paid license key. I do that from time to time - "install" a legal bougt license key when a pure person comes with a secondhand laptop and thought that it was a legal Win-something. If its a total lockout you wil have to use tools like UBCD4win with a few extra features thrown in and via the registry and a procedure, nicely explained on MS own spport site, force the system to boot and ask for a legal key. When I have full access to a PC I use SIW to find/check the keys for Win and MSoffice - if needed. And this reminds me, to those of you who have the respondsability to keep your companys use of licenses clean, includinge the most forgotten - making sure they are not stolen or misused outside the company. * A tools like SIW does not need to be installed * It can easily, in a few seconds, show the VLK of any MS or other product installed on a PC. * This key can be used for making many illigal Win and office copies "legal", no-need-for-activation and updateable. If anyone nkows how to make the keys invisable for tools like SIW, I would like to know to.

Jonnyrox
Jonnyrox

that's the most stupid thing I have ever heard of.

bcantrell
bcantrell

I have 10 computers that were given to a non-profit. the only stipulation was that the enterprise key that had been installed via a corporate image, be changed to the OEM key before use. From what I have read so far, it looks like this is not possible. I suspect these computers will be E-waste soon.

gary_edens
gary_edens

Does anyone know if this technique can be used on Windows Home Server (built on Windows Server 2003)? I have purchased a new copy and need to change the key that came with the 120-day evaluation copy.

pvollma
pvollma

I recently purchased a desktop with XP, removed the drive (room for only one), and replaced it with a much larger drive and installed Fedora 9 on it. I now have a drive sitting on the shelf with a valid copy of XP and no way to use it. I do run VMWare on F9 with a retail copy of XP I bought just for that purpose (VMWare needs full installation disks, not OEM restore disks, to install XP). If I want to install another copy of XP under VMWare or another virtualization program, can I use this tool to assign the product key of the XP on the unused drive during the installation from the retail version (due to testing and re-installation issues, I've used up my allowed number of installations from the retail copy)?

onclejon
onclejon

Why does anyone want to do this?

mirossmac2
mirossmac2

Does everybody need to do this from time to time? What does it achieve? What dire consequences if you don't?

AlisaK2000
AlisaK2000

Hello, That is all well, fine & good if you have your documentation w/your key to enter. Is there a way to retrieve or extract the key from the registry of the current installation if you have lost your documentation? Alisa

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

When was the last time you had to change the Product Key for an installation of Microsoft Windows XP? Why was it required?

it_support
it_support

After running the tool to change the Key, which it appeared to do OK, it rebooted for it to take effect, then the trouble started, firstly it tried to validate the new key which failed, then I manually tried to update the Key over the telephone which it appeared to go OK, then on reboot again it says it needs to validate again, and then saya it is validated already, but logs you off as it then says it requres validation!!, there seems to be no way out of it, this has happened to me on all the Keys I have updated, the only way to fix this is to do a repair installation via the install CD, using the new Key code, which then works OK.

J_A_McGrath
J_A_McGrath

I can assure you that it is possible to change the Product key (from Corporate site license to the original OEM key) as I have done it on many machines. Our non-profit received OEM machines from a local College, each with a sticker showing the OEM (Dell) XP pro load & its key. We proceeded to wipe the drives and load our Volume license Image of XP pro & other apps. After we finished with the machines we made them available to elderly needy or donated them to a non-profit refurbisher, after replacing our keys. We used an app from Microsoft to change our volume license key back to the original OEM key (KeyUpdateTool_enu.exe) The Tool URL - www.microsoft.com/genuine/selfhelp/XPPkuinst.aspx?displaylang=en Jim

Woggs
Woggs

I don't know if this utility can be used, but I thought there was a prompt or a nag screen built into WHS that would allow you to type in a valid Product Key and continue using it without reinstalling. You might try looking in the Control Panel. Also check the Administrator Tools folder. It's been a while since I've had it installed (just didn't have enough functionalty for me) and I can't remember.

Woggs
Woggs

You can use the OEM key on the machine the OEM key was purchased with. You CANNOT use it on any other machine, even if you are NOT using it on the original machine. If it were me, what I would do is use this handy-dandy utility to change the product key in the retail version you have loaded now to the OEM key that came with the machine. That way the retail version that was purchased would be available to use on another machine or, - as you wanted - loaded as a second install on the same machine. Also, you can always call MS and tell them that you've reinstalled the Retail XP on another machine, and they will reset it so you can use it. Just make sure you are NOT using it on another machine as well...

Lamini
Lamini

then this doesnt concern you. ie if you have 100 computers and they all use OEM PKs, you have to do this. if you got a VLK then your good to go for all 100. additionally, when you trash your "crashed" computer, you can take that PK you had, use it on a new computer you buy that you didnt have to spend couple hundred bucks to get XP sp3 back on, and use that same PK on it (you'll have to call the outsourced microsoft product key lady)

kenneth.kelley
kenneth.kelley

I have several identical Toshiba laptops. Each has an OEM license tag, but I have only one OEM restore disk. When I make a new HDD for anyone of the laptops with the restore disk, it automatically uses the key from the disk, not the one from the license. This allows me to change the key to match the tag on the laptop.

kurt
kurt

If you have a legal license of Windows, you don't need to change your license unless you change the type, i.e, OEM to VLK. You use this tool if you have a pirate copy of Windows and want to make it legal without reinstalling everything from the beginning. Or if you have to build 10, 20 or more equal OEM computers. You install one with all the legal stuff it has and then copy the installation to the other hard disks, later you need to change the key according to the license you paste in each computer. And with Vista, when you change from one level to another, i.e, from Home Basic to Home Premium, then you must change your Windows key number. If your copy of Windows is running fine and it is legal, don't mess things up.

straightlineeng
straightlineeng

Belarc.com. I have been using this for over 7 years. I use it after every biuld and software install. It makes an html file .You can read it or print it out, or save to thumb. All the numbers are there...

bigjessy
bigjessy

I use SIW (System Information for Windows) available from here: http://www.gtopala.com/ I use this to retrieve not only the O/S key but all product keys, Office, Nero, WinZip etc. This is under "Licenses" It is always handy for that reload situation and the client cannot remember their Outlook Express password. This is in "Secrets". Best of all its a stand alone application that I run from a memory stick. No system intrusion. Regards

tc
tc

search the web, cant remember where i got mine. unlike Microsofts applet, dont reqire that the install copy be legal - works great for pirata install disk back to legal licensed copy. just make sure you run it first and save all the legal keys (rockxp is the name of the program)

kbennett50
kbennett50

Besides magicjellybean you can also go to www.belarc.com and that app will give you info and your keys for most Microsoft products loaded on your PC. The company I work for uses the professional version of Belarc which is great.

Dave Toombs CE
Dave Toombs CE

I am currently using "Product key finder" downloaded from CNET,Download.com. Has worked well. Regards

nospam.online
nospam.online

Well, we have a VL but often get computers that have COA. To simplify work we use images based on the VL software. When we retire a computer, like we are now with all the Dell GX260's we remove the VL and use the COA. This program may greatly simplify this task.

pbgibson
pbgibson

Recently we got some OEM Vista Business machines that I immediately created a disk image for and syspreped. I applied the image to all the new machines, making them "business ready" for our organization. The syspreped image was created from a Vista Business retail copy. Every time I initially start up one of these machines, it asks to be activated. I enter the OEM key and it fails. I thought sysprep generalized the image, so all keys/ssids are removed? Seemingly, Windows can still tell it's a retail copy of Vista and I'm trying to enter a OEM key, which it doesn't like. I called the activation center twice, and they hook me up - apparently there's nothing wrong with what I'm doing; they never act like it's anything other than normal.

tech.republic
tech.republic

Can this procedure be used to replace an OEM product key by a retail key? The reverse? Can a foreign-language version key be used to replace an English-language version key? The reverse? Are there any other known constraints when replacing product keys in this manner?

Diggory
Diggory

I would be useful if you could use a Volume License Key on an OEM copy of windows - help for us making our machine images. Doubt you can do that though?

tech.republic
tech.republic

You are confusing MS's license requirements with what can be done. The OEM key *can* be used on a second machine. The license forbids it, but it can be done. Using the OEM key in this way leaves one open to nighttime raids by the software police, but the risk of such a raid is, let's just say, remote.

pvollma
pvollma

I got the Product Key off the sticker on the side of the desktop case, and used the update program to change the key of the XP running in VMWare to that key. I restarted XP, and everything seems fine. However, the instructions in the article say to go through the activation process again after changing the key. When I did that (Accessories -> System Tools -> Activate Windows), I get a message saying that Windows is already activated. Did I really accomplish anything by changing the product key?

Woggs
Woggs

From what I have learned, you CANNOT take an OEM version of Windows and load it on a completely different machine. This violates Microsoft's EULA for OEM software. An OEM license - one with the Product Key sticker affixed to the machine it was purchased with - "LIVES AND DIES WITH THAT MACHINE" (direct quote from MS VL rep). Even if you keep the sticker, it is STILL an illegal copy of Windows if it is installed on a different machine. You CAN, however, take a RETAIL copy of Windows - one that comes in a box by itself sitting on a store shelf - that had been purchased for a "crashed and trashed" machine and load it on another new machine. This DOES NOT include any UPGRADES purchased for an OEM version (ie. your machine came with OEM XP and you buy a retail UPGRADE to Vista). It MUST be a FULL INSTALL version. I just got out of a long and hard battle with MS Licensing over this (I lost...), because they WILL NOT upgrade a previous version OEM key into a full VLK. You have to purchase a RETAIL Product Key for the machine before it can be upgraded into a VL. Now I know why they pay the MS VL people so much money - it's compensation to cover THERAPY costs...

straightlineeng
straightlineeng

crashes, wild operators, mother nature... You can restore faster if you have the right numbers and backup tools. It is all about the numbers. more is better...(information)

mirossmac2
mirossmac2

Thanks, kurt@. I never had to mess with that stuff.

joybrz
joybrz

This is a great tool! Downloaded it, ran it, & printed it for safe keeping. Thanx!!

tc
tc

i have had good luck restoring systems with any copy of xp that i can find and then reinstalling my legal licenses with a program i found a long time ago called rockxp only mandate is that you must install the same license level as your product key - i.e. home, media, pro etc. Rock XP can first find all your installed product keys, revert them back to the 16 or 20 character serial you need to load - works with ms office and other ms products as well my big hassle now is that 90 percent of the software in mexico appears to be "pirrata" a lot of my friends have legal visas and go up to texas and buy computers with legal software but in english - then they want me to change it to spanish - great I have xp in spanish also - but it wont let me enter their legal license key into the identical version but in spanish - pinche Microsoft - with some of their arrogant attitudes they deserve to be pirated in 3rd world countries where people work all day to earn 5 or 10 dollars and then microsoft sells their product 50 dollars higher than what they charge us here in the US. I admire Bill G, I appreciate the fact that I can sit down at any computer in the world and fix it in a multitude of languages because everything is uniform and more or less standard (I fixed computers before 1982 - anyone else remember Intel's ISIS operating system - we called it Intel's Crisis) I worked on old linux systems and on occasion play with mine running live cd or pendrive linux - If you worked for one large company runnning hundreds of machines all running the same linux package - great - but I worked for numerous small clients, each with their own flavor and doubt I ever worked on any one system long enough to really become a master of it. Windows on the other hand - I can fix anything anywheres, makes my life easy, thanks Bill

ncudmore
ncudmore

I doubt it. I had both a genuine MS-CDROM of Windows XP tablet and a valid OEM XP tablet key (stuck on the machine I was installing XP) and they wouldn't work together. I contacted MS and was told this wouldn't allowed. I had to resort to getting a copy of the HP install disks and then it didn't even ask for the valid product key during the install....

SmartAceW0LF
SmartAceW0LF

Diggory, Not sure what the problem is there unless it occurs with the Activation. VLK licenses have far more privileges than does the OEM. These I am sure you are probably quite well aware of. There are a number of different algorythms used depending on the type of license and media. OEM uses one as VLK uses another and so on with retail versions. Going from OEM to VLK should be fine, (within licensing restrictions) but not vice-versa. This says nothing about whether or not the WGUA kicks it back though. If that is the case, perhaps a call to your MS rep. would provide a way to do this without having to call them regarding every single machine. Incidentally, I became aware of this when trying to authenticate a clients machine who had purchased a retail version of XP Pro after having been the victim of counterfeiting. Trying to change the key resulted in having to call MS. The agent I spoke with was adamant that we were s.o.l until I finally made him realize that the key entered was retail version.

tech.republic
tech.republic

I think you've got more options than you think. < can I use this tool to assign the product key of the XP on the unused drive > I believe the tool will work, but I also believe that you can activate normally after installing XP using any OEM install CD. < due to testing and re-installation issues, I've used up my allowed number of installations from the retail copy > This makes no sense. A retail key never gets "used up". What may very well happen is that activation over the Internet will fail. If so, use the phone installation method instead. You may get switched to a rep. Explain what happened and your XP install will be activated. Good luck!

pvollma
pvollma

The article says to run the windows activation app after changing the product key. I changed the product key to that of the originally installed XP on the drive that was removed, but when I ran the activation app, it said that this copy of XP (the one running in VMWare, which was installed with a retail XP and now has the product key from the sticker on the physical machine) was already activated. So, once again, my question is, have I activated the original (sticker) copy of XP, or is the retail copy, running in VMWare, still active on this physical machine?

michaelchoss
michaelchoss

I agree. There are only two ways of it. Either you do or you don't. Piracy, whether one feels it is justified, or not, is STILL piracy.

nospam.online
nospam.online

......Microsoft - with some of their arrogant attitudes they deserve to be pirated in 3rd world countries where people work all day to earn 5 or 10 dollars and then microsoft sells their product 50 dollars higher than what they charge us here in the US. Wrong does not justify more wrong. This idea is the reason why the world get's worse each day. Using same logic, bin laden killed thousands, so we kill off the arab race? That "so called" logic is flawed. You dont take all the guns cause a few people do wrong with them. You dont punish MS arrogance and greed with piracy, cause they always pass it on to us making things worse. To really punish MS, dont buy the product's and tell them it's cause of..... If they lost 20% market share or saw sales drop they would sit up and listen. Rememeber how we ended up with Dos in the first place.

pandppc
pandppc

The key used must be for the same version of XP. Obviously Home and Professional keys are not interchangeable. My experience has been that OEM versions with embedded key codes requiring activation must use an OEM key, preferably from the COA on the pc. Even using the same hard drive or installing from a restore partition with significant hardware changes (i.e. new mobo) will likely require a call to Microsoft. You might be able to convince MS to validate it if you use the COA on the machine. Most other versions of XP Pro that require you to type in the key during installation can use either a VLK or a valid retail key.

john.light
john.light

I was able to change from vlk to Oem. I did have a problem and received and error about advpack.dll but i followed a tip and set TEMP=C:\temp and TMP=C:\temp and ran the exe from the command line and it worked then.

nospam.online
nospam.online

As we retire the remaining GX260's with Windows XP COA on them I will try this and see if it has any issues. Yes, validation issues with calling MS can really be a nightmare. I had similer issue.