Windows 10 introduced a new kind of product activation called Digital Entitlement, in addition to using the conventional product key activation. In this article I investigated the detail of such activation and provide some tips so you can understand the procedure better.
When Microsoft first introduced Windows 10 back in July of 2015, it was announced that Windows 7 and 8 computers could upgrade to Windows 10 for free if done so before August 2016. The initial release of Windows 10 allows a pretty smooth upgrade from earlier versions of Windows, but if one were to try installing Windows 10 from scratch using the installation DVD on a new harddisk, the free upgrade did not apply. A Windows 10 product key must be purchased for new installation.
In the months since July 2015, Microsoft has released several new updates to Windows 10, the most recent, as of June 2016, being Windows 10 1511 Updated Apr 2016. The new Windows 10’s acceptance policy for older Windows product key code has changed drastically. It will now recognize Windows 7 and Windows 8 product keys as a legitimate Windows 10 key for activation when you do a new installation. You can still upgrade your existing Windows 7 and Windows 8, and you don’t even need to enter a product key; it just works.
Windows 10 introduced a new concept in activation called Digital Entitlement. Any upgrade from the previous versions of Windows, or any new installation of Windows 10 using the older Windows product key, automatically fall into the Digital Entitlement category. If you use a Key Viewer to retrieve your product key on any of these Digitally Entitled PCs, you will observe that they are all the same.
Windows 10 Home ( 32 and 64 bit ) Digital Entitlement Key : YTMG3-N6DKC-DKB77-7M9GH-8HVX7
Windows 10 Pro ( 32 and 64 ) Digital Entitlement Key : VK7JG-NPHTM-C97JM-9MPGT-3V66T
The way Digital Entitlement works is as followed. Upon completing the installation (upgrade or new using the old Windows key), Windows makes a digital fingerprint of your computer hardware (entirely using the motherboard signature, since it doesn’t care if I change out RAM, CPU, NIC, Video and different harddisk, SSD and so on), then submits this information to Microsoft server online, and keeps track of it there.
You can find out if your Windows 10 is Digitally Entitled by going to Start -> Settings -> Update & Security -> Activation, and look at the product key. It should say “Windows 10 on this device is activated with a digital entitlement”. If you purchase a new retail Windows 10 PC, your product key will likely be shown as XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX-?????. This is the same as any standard Windows 7 or Windows 8 product key format we are used to.
It is important to note that Digital Entitlement is given to the computer (motherboard), not to the OS on the harddisk. Once a computer is upgraded to Windows 10, if you take the OS harddisk and move it to a new motherboard, your Windows is no longer Entitled. You will need to change the product key, and enter your original Windows key (the one you own prior to upgrading to Windows 10).
I carried out an experiment on a Dell desktop PC with 2 harddisks by installing Windows 7 Home Premium on one disk, and Windows 7 Professional on another. I activated both Windows 7, and upgraded each to Windows 10. Afterward, I noticed my motherboard became dual Digitally Entitled (Home & Pro). From this point on, I could take an OS harddisk from any Digitally Entitled computer in the office, plug into this Dell PC, and it would boot up, auto activated without any issues.
Another interesting point: I took a retail Windows 10 laptop harddisk, plugged it into my dual Digitally Entitled Dell computer, and it booted up, saying Windows is not able to activate. I went to System -> Change Product key, changed it to the generic Digital Entitlement keys from above, and it magically activated.
Digital Entitlement protects the legal owner of Windows, allow users to freely move their Operating Systems from one Digitally Entitled computer to another, without having to manually re-activate Windows. It puts the burden of licensing proof on Microsoft instead of the end user.
If you know of any tricks or tips on Windows 10 activation behavior, or if you have any question or comment please let me know.