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How to check if windows operating system key is valid? without installing software on pc in question?

Posted on 2011-03-23
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Last Modified: 2012-05-11
I re-install Operating system on Multiple pcs in a month to repair multiple issues.  Most of these systems are HP/Dell/Ace/emachines.  Most of these have a COA sticker of XP, while the operating system installed is Vista or 7.
Before I re-install, I extract their keys, and then use OEM cd to reinstall the OS, only to later find out that OS key is inavlid for activation.  

I would like to know if there is a way to verify if these keys are valid for activation/or genuine without Installing anything on the PC in questions. FOR EXAMPLE, If i could install something on my machine and then input these keys as they come in...  so I don't wipe everything clean to figure out they were using Hacked/illegal software.  

This is very Legal/legitimate question.  I want to use their existing LEGAL only keys to reinstall their OS, but would like to make sure these are legitimate keys before I wipe their hard drives.

Please let me know what solutions you have available.

Thank you.
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Question by:aacrz
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by:☠ MASQ ☠
ID: 35202811
Sorry, there isn't anything that will do this for you.  There are some online sites that claim that you can enter an activation key and they will check for you but without fail these turn out to be just a way of harvesting Keys.

As a general rule with OEM CoA's if the installation doesn't match the sticker it's because the install is a corporate VLK. Otherwise it's usually a "friend" who reinstalled for them with a copy they had "spare".  All OEM upgrades to Windows 7 were supplied with replacement CoA stickers but of course there wasn't anything to force users to stick them to their machines.

Don't forget that the Key you extract from the registry on an OEM install is unlikely to match the Key on the CoA even though the install may be genuine as it will be the SLP activation Key for that OEM.

You can usually check what's installed though by checking the product ID if Windows is bootable and comparing that with what's expected (eg is the Product ID for a VLK but the customer clearly had OEM or is it an MSDN download etc).

Having a legal lookup would be a great idea for system techs but it would also be a software pirate's dream, simply keep sending random keys until one is verified and then sell it on!
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by:Dave Baldwin
ID: 35202823
There are many versions of Windows and they accept different sets of keys.  It appears that HP and Dell and probably others have their versions of Windows keyed to something in their machines.  OEM versions of Windows won't take the keys for them.  You would probably need to get the 'Restore CDs' for the individual machines to not have these problems.  I had one HP Restore CD set for this machine that was for XP Pro instead of XP Home and it wouldn't install on this machine because this machine came with XP Home.
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by:bhlgroup
ID: 35202839
i dont know of any tools to validate these COA keys without physically installing the OS and trying to Key but COA keys wont usually work with OEM restore disks or VLK disks. there is however pre activated keys for preserving OEM activations using microsoft own article:

http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/bb457078.aspx

hopefully those keys will allow you to rebuild using the OEM media and the OEM keys.

failing that i can only suggest you create a virtual pc and try each key with the software you have (you can go back after successful validation and try the next one.
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by:aacrz
ID: 35202940
Man, those recovery cds are not an option, For Dell, You can almost use the same cd for any system and install missing drivers, but for others they are specific for specific system.  What a waste of time...
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by:bhlgroup
ID: 35202961
btw depending on how old the HP ones are just go on HP's support site and start an online chat and simply ask for the restore disks, i did this recently (only asked for 1 and then a few days later asked for another model) and they posted them out to me for free. just say you need the recovery disks and did not make a backup/recovery disks when you purchased it and that the OS is now corrupt and you cannot boot into it. worked for me.
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by:Aaron Tomosky
ID: 35204542
I've used this for vista. It may work for windows 7
http://directedge.us/content/abr-activation-backup-and-restore
Instead of just telling you the key, it actually backs up the activation files. Then you just reinstall the same version (home premium, business, etc) ad then restore the key.
I had a Dell laptop that came with vista 32 home premium. I used a friends retail vista DVD, installed home premium 64 without entering a key during install. Then restored my key ( the original OEM one). Worked perfectly.
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by:Jackie Man
ID: 35205811
The keys as shown on COA sticker for Windows Vista and Windows 7 requires phone activation and your media for the Windows setup must macth with the specific brand of the computer.
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by:aacrz
ID: 35209720
aarontomosky, the abr does not seem to work for me for some reason.  I ran it, and it only created the key file, but not the backup cert.
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by:Aaron Tomosky
ID: 35210811
Vista or 7? I've only tried on vista
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by:aacrz
ID: 35226649
Vista, so far it has not worked.
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by:Jackie Man
ID: 35227316
abr will only work for retail or generic oem as there is no slic cert store in branded oem. The slic cert of branded oem is stored inside bios and is pre-activated with another key (not the one shown on coa sticker); and if you want to format and reinstall OS for branded oem computer running vista or windows 7 and do not want to activate again, you need to find a brand specific media and input the key (if you google it you will find one and the key will work for all computers for the same brand). If you want to use the key on coa sticke, you need to install brand specific media too, and will only activate from phone, no other type of activation such as Internet will work. (to prevent piracy of software)

You can say that the above is a loophole for oem activation but it is the agreement of Microsoft with all pc vendors as it will cause the consumer too much trouble if the pc sold is not pre-activated.
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by:aacrz
ID: 35242725
Jackieman, can you elaborate on your solution further? Your answer is closest to the solution, and I will give you the points, but would like to know a little detailed instructions if possible.

Thank you.
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Jackie Man earned 500 total points
ID: 35257797
According to your question, “Most of these have a COA sticker of XP, while the operating system installed is Vista or 7. Before I re-install, I extract their keys, and then use OEM cd to reinstall the OS, only to later find out that OS key is invalid for activation.”  <- It is obvious that the media and the key you use to re-install the OS is NOT for the same version of OS installed.

My experience is different from the information below on System Locked Pre-installation from Wikipedia:-

“System Locked Pre-installation, often abbreviated as SLP, is a procedure used by major OEM computer manufacturers in order to pre-activate Microsoft Windows before mass distribution. There are three different versions of SLP: 2.1, 2.0, and SLP, which is now commonly referred to as SLP 1.0 to avoid confusion. These versions roughly coincide with Windows NT versions (see table below). Operating systems that use SLP 1.0 check for a particular text string in a computer's BIOS upon booting. If the text string does not match the information stored in the particular installation's OEM BIOS files, the user is prompted to activate his or her copy as normal. SLP 2.0 and SLP 2.1 works in a similar manner. This effectively "locks" the operating system to the qualified motherboard. In addition, if an end user feels the need to perform a "clean install" of Windows, and if the manufacturer supplies the user with an installation disc (not a "System Recovery" disc that is a hard drive image), the user will not be prompted to activate the copy, given that the installation is performed on the same motherboard. Furthermore, because the check only involves the BIOS and not hardware, a user is allowed to change virtually all hardware components within the machine except motherboard, a procedure that would normally trigger re-activation in retail Windows copies.

SLP Versions
SLP installations still require a product key, which are unique to the specific version of Windows (Home (XP), Starter, Home Basic, Home Premium, Professional, Ultimate, Server, etc...). The product key printed on the Certificate of Authenticity affixed to an OEM assembled is sometimes said to suffice, but this is not necessarily the case. On February 28, 2005[1] Microsoft attempted to reduce software piracy by invalidating those keys for normal activation, but this does not apply to SLP. If the COA product key is lost, then product key finders, readily available on the Internet, can decrypt the key from a local installation. Keys from either source (see below) will allow the user to avoid activation upon re-installation. However since SLP 2.0 was introduced hackers have been able to create modified boot loaders based on the Linux bootloader grldr, these are capable of emulating a SLP text string (such as one for Dell, Acer and so on) so it appears to be present in the bios. This combined with a OEM certificate and OEM product key can instantly activate a Windows Vista/7 installation illegally but also be very hard to notice. This method can also be integrated into a Windows installation disk to activate on initial boot. Another method consists of modding the BIOS to insert the SLP 2.1 table, which can be used to replace blacklisted keys, or to add the SLP table to motherboards that do not have it (such as Gigabyte). Some brand-name computers such as Dell, already have the SLP table in their BIOS, which means that using software readily available on the Internet, a pirated retail installation can be converted to OEM, and the appropriate certificate installed into the OS, which results in Windows becoming genuine. Pirates refer to copies of Windows activated in this way as Pirated Genuine Microsoft Software.”

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/System_Locked_Preinstallation

So, it depends on how you extract their keys. Do you use ProduKey from the link below?
http://www.nirsoft.net/utils/product_cd_key_viewer.html

If yes, google the Product ID (not the Product Key) to see which versions of Windows Vista or Windows 7.

If you do not have the same version of the media, it is still possible for you to install the OS, but only XP as “Most of these have a COA sticker of XP” and if you want Windows Vista or Windows 7, the official way is to buy a licence key which shall be available from Amazon. As EE forum prohibits the discussion of cracking, I cannot tell you the un-official way.

If you are smart enough, you should be able to think more on the un-official way from my previous post and the Wikipedia article above. But, bear in mind, if you run a computer repair business, you MUST not help your clients to

Back to your question – “I would like to know if there is a way to verify if these keys are valid for activation/or genuine without Installing anything on the PC in questions.”. The answer is NO and Microsoft will not release their in-house tool to check the validity for activation/or genuine. After all, it is your responsibility is to ask your customer how they upgrade from XP to Windows Vista or Windows 7 and you will have a rough idea whether the Product ID and Product Key you got from ProduKey corresponds to their statement.
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