How to Get Windows 10 Product Key on Different Computers

Q: With reference to issue #748 (Geek Note: IGTM #748, Nov 21, 2021), I have two legitimate, activated copies of Windows 10 loaded on different computers. Is there a way to get the product key used to activate the operating system?

Joseph B., Fort Walton Beach

A: Ah, the venerable Windows product key. This 25-digit alphanumeric price that marks the difference between a legitimate copy of Windows and one that Microsoft considers pirated.

Curiously, this little piece of information is protected and hidden deep within the operating system, as if it were a big secret. I guess that’s understandable to some degree, given how important its role is in determining the legitimacy of a given copy of Windows.

One can then wonder why vendors commonly affix the holographic sticker containing this code to the housing of the equipment in which it is installed? Make sure you don’t confuse the “Product Key” we’re talking about with the “Product ID” that shows up on screens like the Control Panel > System applet. It’s not the same and you can’t register a copy of Windows using the Product ID.

The need for product keys pretty much disappeared with Windows 10, as there weren’t supposed to be any new later versions of the operating system. Since Windows 10 turned out not to be “the latest version of Windows” after all, the need to know your product key has arisen again, and many people find that their computer does not have the holographic sticker containing the key, or time and repeated handling have worn the sticker to the point of making it unreadable.

Fortunately, there are ways to coax this handy datum out of the system itself – if you know how.

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There are actually several ways to query Windows for the original product key. The first, and easiest, is to use the Windows Command Prompt and a semi-obscure tool called WMIC, or the Windows Management Instrumentation command.

To continue, click the Start button and type CMD in the search box. In the search results, right-click “Command Prompt” and select “Run as administrator”. The following command may not translate very well in a printed newspaper column. If it exceeds a line, delete all the dashes inserted. If all else fails, visit my website for pure ordering.

Type the following in the Command Prompt window: wmic path softwareLicensingService get OA3xOriginalProductKey

If the command works on your machine, you will see the product key. Unfortunately, the WMIC tool is deprecated in the latest versions of Windows 10. There are also situations where, for one reason or another, the product key is simply not available through this method. If so, you will either get an error or nothing at all.

The next method is to use Windows Power Shell. This process is similar to using the command prompt, but does not rely on any outdated functionality. Begin by right-clicking the Start button and selecting “Windows PowerShell (Admin)” from the menu. The same caveats above about how this might be formatted on a printed news page apply. Type the following command in the PowerShell window:

powershell “(Get-WmiObject -query ‘select * from SoftwareLicensingService’).OA3xOriginalProductKey”

Unless you mistyped something, this one is unlikely to produce an error, but there is an outside chance that it still won’t show the product key. If this happens, your last resort is to look in the registry.

Click on [WinKey]+R to bring up the Run… box, type regedit and click “OK”. Navigate through the registry keys being very careful not to change anything. Go to ComputerHKEY_LOCAL_MACHINESOFTWAREMicrosoftWindows NTCurrentVersionSoftwareProtectionPlatform. You will find a key named “BackupProductKeyDefault”, which contains a valid Windows 10 product key.

Just to make things more complicated for you, there is a small chance that this is not your current product key. If you have already upgraded from one version of Win 10 to another, such as from Windows 10 Home to Windows 10 Professional, this may be the key for the original version installed. It’s still a valid product key, but maybe not the one you’re looking for.

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