What happens to my free Windows 10 upgrade after 29 July 2016 if I need to change hardware?
If you upgraded an OEM device to Windows 10 for free then you can still reinstall Windows 10 on it for the lifetime of the device since that license cannot be legally transferred to other hardware anyway.
What is OEM?
OEM (original equipment manufacturer) is a broad term whose meaning has evolved over time. In the past, OEM referred to the company that originally built a given product, which was then sold to other companies to rebrand and resell. Over time, however, the term is more frequently used to describe those companies in the business of rebranding a manufacturer’s products and selling them to end customers. In terms of software such as Windows it refers to cheaper versions of its products with simple packaging, and reduced support. The software is made available to ‘system builders’ and by Microsoft definition it is an “original equipment manufacturer, an assembler, refurbisher, or pre-installer of software on computer systems.” Local OEM software packs are intended for PC and server manufacturers or assemblers ONLY. They are not intended for distribution to end users unless the end users are acting as local OEMs by assembling their own PC. This software is not intended for end users, the ‘Joe Newbie’ who does not know how to install software and needs the support the retail version provides. Most users of OEM software on eBay fall under the last category of those that install software.
Microsoft states “Once a Windows device is upgraded to Windows 10, we will continue to keep it current via Windows Update for the supported lifetime of the device – at no cost.”
If you upgraded a retail version of Windows 7 or 8.1 to Windows 10 then after 29 July 2016 you will be unable to fully move that Windows 10 upgrade to a new device using the Windows 7 or 8.1 retail license. In both of these situations Windows 10 will need to be purchased for new systems.
A support article from Microsoft, which was long overdue, still left one question unanswered about retail copies of Windows 7 and 8.1 systems – what about after 29 July 2016? The OEM side is straight forward because of licenses being tied to hardware. For retail licensed version of Windows it becomes a little more challenging.
Here is a scenario:
- User has a retail license for Windows 7 or 8.1 (full or upgrade version). This would have been purchased in a physical store or online. User will either have a digital download or a physical DVD along with a product key.
- This license was used to upgrade a previous version of Windows on OEM hardware or was installed on a home built system as a clean install or through an upgrade to a previous retail copy of Windows.
- This genuine Windows 7 or 8.1 system was then upgraded anytime between 29 July 2015 and 29 July 2016 to Windows 10 using the free upgrade offer from Microsoft.
This system, once it is activated through the upgrade process from Windows 7/8.1 to Windows 10, will have a Digital Entitlement for Windows 10. That means Windows 10 can be clean installed on that device in the future and remain activated. Since the underlying license for the Windows 10 upgrade, a retail license for Windows 7 or 8.1, is retail that means the license can be moved to another system. The key is that the old system, which was upgraded to Windows 10 at no cost based on that underlying retail OS license, would no longer be a genuine system if that license is moved to another device. The user in turn would have to reinstall the genuine licensed version of Windows 7/8.1 and then perform the Windows 10 upgrade in order to gain a Digital Entitlement on the new system.
So what is this digital entitlement?
In previous versions of windows the product was licensed with a product key.
This was a 25 digit code that was printed on a sticker which was usually placed on your computer. If Windows had to be re-installed on your computer, you would use this code to do so.
Activation helps verify that your copy of Windows is genuine and hasn’t been used on more devices than the Microsoft Software License Terms allow.
With Windows 10 Microsoft has introduced a new term called “digital entitlement.”
The following scenarios fall under digital entitlement and will not require a 25-character product key:
- You upgraded to Windows 10 for free from an eligible device running a genuine copy of Windows 7 or Windows 8.1.
- You bought genuine Windows 10 from the Windows Store and successfully activated Windows 10.
- You bought a Windows 10 Pro upgrade from the Windows Store and successfully activated Windows 10.
- You’re a Windows Insider and upgraded to the newest Windows 10 Insider Preview build on an eligible device that was running an activated previous version of Windows and Windows 10 Preview.
The following scenarios will require a 25-character product key:
- You bought a copy of Windows 10 from an authorized retailer. (on a label inside the retail packaging)
- You bought a digital copy of Windows 10 from an authorized retailer. (in a confirmation email)
- You have a Volume Licensing agreement for Windows 10 or MSDN subscription.
- You bought a new device running Windows 10. (pre-installed or included with your device)
So there you have it. Upgrading for free to Windows 10 from a genuine copy of Windows 8.1 gives you digital entitlement, whereas purchasing a retail boxed copy of Windows 10 will require a product key to activate.
All the Digital Entitlement info is stored in the Microsoft Server. Unless you replace the Motherboard, then it would be considered a new PC, replacing any other devices such as HD, SSD, CD/DVD will not affect the activation. Just re-install Windows and skip the key when asked.
Digital entitlement is NOT stored on the motherboard! It never has been, it isn’t presently, and there are no plans for it to be in the future. Computer manufacturers will burn product keys to bios starting with Windows 8 and later. Windows does not. Nor does Windows store activation information on motherboard firmware. Windows can read the product key in bios and use it to generate a digital entitlement.
The digital entitlement is saved on Microsoft activation servers via the internet along with a matching hardware ID that Windows generates from the hardware configuration. Every time Windows boots it reads the hardware configuration of the computer and generates the hardware ID. If the newly generated hardware ID matches the previous hardware ID stored in the registry, then it simply remains activated. If the newly generated hardware ID does not match what is stored in the registry, Windows will deactivate and then if connected to the internet send the new hardware ID to Microsoft activation servers. If a match is found, and the Windows version is the same then Windows will activate based upon that return from Microsoft activation servers.
If you’ve just changed a few peripherals, Windows 10 may just automatically activate itself after you clean-install it. However, replacing your computer’s motherboard or CPU will likely be so big a change that it prevents the PC from automatically activating.