Plenty of the best laptops and computers come with the Windows 10 operating system (OS) installed, activated, and ready to go after some quick setup. But, there are plenty of reasons you might need to activate Windows 10. If you've built your own PC with the best processor and best graphics card for some serious gaming or upgraded your computer to run on the best SSD for extra fast speeds, you'll like be looking at a clean installation of Windows 10 onto your computer, and you'll need to activate.
How you activate Windows 10 on your computer will vary. If it was previously activated with a product key, you'll need that key to activate it again. Or, if you had linked your Windows 10 license to your Microsoft account, you can easily activate Windows 10 again on the same machine even if you've made substantial changes to the hardware.
We've got instructions on how to activate Windows 10 via both product keys and linked digital licenses, so navigate down to the heading that matches your situation for a step-by-step guide.
How to activate Windows 10 with a product key
Whether you've just built a new computer or are re-activating a computer that previously had Windows 10 activated using a product key, here's the way to use a product key to activate Windows 10.
- Step one: input your product key during Windows 10 installation. This will be included either with your box or your documentation provided with a digital purchase.
If you're proactive, you can easily activate Windows 10 while you're installing it. During the installation process, you'll be asked to input your 25-character product key. Entering it at this stage will activate it for you so you're ready to go as soon as the installation is complete.
If you don't have your product key ready during installation, you can still proceed and activate later. Once Windows 10 is installed, you can activate it with your key using the next steps.
- Step two: Press the Windows key, then go to Settings > Update & Security > Activation (or type "activation" into the search bar).
- Step three: Find and press Change product key.
- Step four: Type your product key into pop-up box, press Next, and then press Activate. (Note: you'll need to be online to activate.)
You can follow these steps to activate a Windows 10 license even if you already have one active on your system. You might do this if you're switching editions of Windows 10.
If you don't have a product key, you can also go from the Activation page directly to the Windows Store to buy a product key.
How to activate Windows 10 with a digital license
Windows 10 made it a lot easier to re-activate Windows 10, thanks to the ability to link your Windows 10 licenses to your Microsoft account. If you have a computer already activated on Windows 10 and want to be able to use this process in the future, see Microsoft's steps on linking your Microsoft account.
You can confirm your account is linked before making any system changes or re-installing Windows 10 by going to Settings > Update & Security > Activation, and looking for "Windows is activated with a digital license linked to your Microsoft Account" in the Activation section of the window.
(Note: You can only use this method to activate the same Windows 10 edition as your account had previously been linked to; Home, Pro, etc. You'll also need an active internet connection.)
- Step one: During Windows 10 installation, select I don't have a product key when prompted to activate.
- Step two: Setup and log into Windows 10 using the Microsoft account you linked to your Windows 10 digital license. (You can also set up a local account, and then add a Microsoft account afterward.)
Windows may automatically activate at this point. You'll be able to check whether Windows has activated using your linked digital license in the next step. If you've made significant hardware changes, you may need to follow the next steps.
(Note: you'll need to perform the following steps as an Administrator in Windows to complete them successfully.)
- Step three: With Windows running, press the Windows key, then go to Settings > Update & Security > Activation.
- Step four: If Windows 10 is not activated, find and press Troubleshoot. (Note: Not the Troubleshoot option listed in the sidebar.)
- Step five: In the new window, select Activate Windows and then Activate, or choose "I changed hardware on this device recently" if you've changed out components on your PC.
- Step six: Follow any sign-in prompts using the account details for the Microsoft account linked to your digital license (you may also need the local account password is you created one for your PC).
- Step seven: Find the computer you're using in the list of devices, then check the box next to "This is the device I'm using right now" and press Activate.
After this, your digital license should kick in and activate your copy of Windows 10. If it still fails to activate, you can find more details on the Activation troubleshooter here.