How To Keep a Windows License When Changing Motherboards

Windows is one of the most popular operating systems in the world and is closely associated with PC hardware.

However, the OS may not be able to recognize your laptop if you make changes to your PC’s hardware, resulting in a loss of your activation status.

So, how do you keep a Windows license when changing your motherboard?

You can keep your Windows license by linking your device to your Microsoft account. However, your Windows OS may still have trouble matching this license to your device after significant hardware changes. If this happens, you’ll have to get another license.

This article will answer essential questions surrounding Windows activation, especially after changing hardware, and examine how to tell what Windows version your PC is running.

I’ll also discuss some alternatives to a Windows license. Let’s get started!

Windows license text is placed next to a motherboard.

Is Windows Activation Tied to the Motherboard?

Windows activation has undergone immense change over the past decade. Every update to the Windows activation feature has improved privacy and promoted OS authenticity.

For example, Microsoft released the Windows digital license, a system closely associated with the major PC hardware parts.

Windows activation is tied to the motherboard, and your OS might have trouble finding a matching license if you make significant hardware changes to your PC. In this case, you’ll need to reactivate your OS to continue using Windows.

The next section of this article explores how to reactivate your PC’s Windows operating system after changing the motherboard.

How To Reactivate Windows After Changing Your Motherboard

Microsoft’s Windows activation is a feature that allows the software company to check if you’re using a genuine copy of their software.

Without this feature, anyone could use a single copy of the Windows OS software on multiple devices.

Windows activation also ensures the privacy of all its users.

You can reactivate your Windows operating system after changing your motherboard by using any of these methods:

  • Using a digital license.
  • Using a product key.

Reactivating Windows will ensure you keep your license and help you unlock more features even after changing your motherboard.

The next section of this article examines the methods I highlighted above in more detail.

How To Reactivate Windows Using a Digital License 

A digital license is an activation option that makes it easy for people to upgrade their OS and activate or reactivate Windows, hence its popularity.

The option allows you to use an existing license as long as it’s linked to your Microsoft account. However, you may need a new digital license if your previous one isn’t compatible with your modified PC.

Here’s how to reactivate Windows using a digital license:

  1. Install your Windows operating system like you usually would using an external drive or DVD.
  2. Select the Start button and click on Settings after you finish the Windows OS installation.
  3. Select Update and Security on the page that pops up and click on it. 
  4. Click on Activation.
  5. Select Go to store on the next screen to head to the Microsoft app store.
  6. You should be able to successfully find and purchase a Windows digital license on this app.

This process might be slightly different across several Windows versions, but you should be fine if you follow the prompts on your screen.

How To Reactivate Windows Using a Product Key

A product key is a more traditional method for activating Windows and is a 25-character encrypted code obtained from PC manufacturers.

Almost all manufacturers insert a product code on their packaging, so you should have no problem finding it even after changing your motherboard.

The key is typically in the format XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX.

Here’s how to reactivate Windows using a product key:

  1. Install your Windows operating system like you usually would using an external drive or DVD.
  2. Click on Start, and then click on the Settings icon. 
  3. Look for the System option and click on it. 
  4. Select Activation on the next screen.
  5. Click Update product key.
  6. Select Change product key
  7. Input your 25-character product key, but ensure the characters are correct before updating.

As with reactivation using a digital license, these steps might be slightly different for other versions of Windows.

Can You Transfer Your Windows License?

Software licenses are expensive. It’s no wonder the most popular questions I hear are usually centered around transferring old Windows licenses to new Windows PCs. But is it possible to do this?

The good news is that you can transfer Full Packaged Product (FPP) licenses and product keys from one PC to another.

You’ll have to log into your Microsoft account to retrieve this information.

Unfortunately, you can’t transfer Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) digital licenses or product keys from one PC to another.

OEM digital licenses are built for PCs that come directly from manufacturers. Therefore, “rebuilt” PCs may not be able to use OEM licenses or product keys.

Here’s how to transfer your Windows license if you’re eligible:

  1. Find out what type of license you have on your old PC. If you have an FPP license, you’re good to go. However, you won’t be able to transfer an OEM license. 
  2. Carefully remove the license from your old PC. It’s impossible to make the transfer without performing this step.
  3. Uninstall the product key if you have one. You can confirm this in the device settings.
  4. Transfer the license to the new PC by logging into your Microsoft account. Simply provide the required details, and you should be fine.

Ensure you check the type of license you have, or else you’ll have trouble transferring to a new PC.

How To Create a Microsoft Account

As I mentioned, you’ll need to create a Microsoft account to keep your Windows license on a new or modified PC.

Fortunately, Microsoft accounts are pretty simple to create. You’ll need a PC or similar device to get started.

Here’s how to create a Microsoft account:

  1. Click on Settings from the Windows Start menu.
  2. Select Change PC settings.
  3. Click on Accounts.
  4. Select Other Accounts.
  5. Fill in all the necessary information on the Add an account pop-up screen and press enter.
  6. Follow all the instructions in the prompts until you finish setting up the Microsoft account.

These steps should work on all Windows PCs, but you can create a Microsoft account by going to the Microsoft sign-up page.

What Are the Three Types of Windows Licensing?

It’s important to understand the types of Windows licensing to know how best to keep your license and maximize your chances of re-using it.

After all, Windows licensing can seem a bit too technical or complex for casual PC users.

The three types of Windows licensing are Full Packaged Product (FPP) licensing, Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) licensing, and Volume licensing.

Although people use these three licenses differently, purchasing any license puts the buyer into an agreement with Microsoft.

This agreement ensures that all their users adhere to all the terms and conditions associated with this software.

These terms and conditions include how many devices you’re allowed to install the license on, all transfer rights over the software, and your eligibility to use it commercially.

Check out the Microsoft License Terms document to find out more about these license terms and conditions. Each license has different terms of use, so ensure you choose the best one for your needs.

The next section of this article discusses these licenses in more detail so you can make the right decision when getting a new PC or license.

Full Packaged Product Licensing 

This type of licensing is available in retail, and anyone that needs fewer than five licenses can purchase the software.

It’s incredibly useful and the most suitable for individuals, although it can work for small teams as well.

Currently, there are two types of FPP Windows licensing:

  • The full license.
  • The upgrade license.

Upgrade licenses are the most common type of FPP licensing. They’re cheap and easy to get, but you can only use them when you already have the previous software version installed on your PC.

On the other hand, full licenses don’t need existing Windows versions. It typically works well with your PC as soon as you make a purchase.

Original Equipment Manufacturer Licensing

Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) licensing is the type of license that’s associated with your PC. Manufacturers commonly make this license readily available for everyone who purchases their devices. 

A reasonably modern PC should come with an OEM-licensed copy of Windows 8.1 or higher out of the box.

Should there be any damage or license loss, your warranty ensures that your PC manufacturer provides adequate support and guidance on how to get it back. 

However, you may lose this license if you change your computer’s hardware significantly since your Windows OS won’t be able to link a license to your device.

Volume Licensing

This type of license is best suited for organizational use. These are highly specialized licenses that are frequently adjusted to meet the requirements of various companies.

Unsurprisingly, different types of agreements are targeted at different company sizes.

Open and Open Value agreements are available for small to medium-sized businesses. On the other hand, medium to large-sized public companies is best served by the Select Plus and Enterprise Agreements.

So, if you’re a business owner of a public institution who wants to purchase digital licenses for your business, check the rights specific to the agreement itself.

You can also contact Microsoft if you have any adjustments you want to make. 

How To Prepare Your PC for a Hardware Change

While you can keep the Windows license after changing hardware, preparing your PC for the hardware change is an excellent idea that is often glossed over.

In fact, this preparation makes it easier for you to recover your digital license.

Here’s how to prepare your PC for a hardware change:

  • Ensure the license is linked.
  • Get a product key.
  • Ensure your Windows version is the same.

Ensure the License Is Linked 

Unlike product keys, Windows digital licenses are strongly associated with your PC hardware. Therefore, remember to link this license to your Microsoft account to recover it afterward.

You can check if your license is linked to your Microsoft account by following these steps:

  1. Select the Start button and click on Settings
  2. On the next screen, click on System.
  3. Click on Activation, and Windows will tell you if it is activated on the PC.

After following the steps above, you should see: Windows is activated with a digital license linked to your Windows account.

However, if your license is not linked to the PC, you will see Windows is activated with a digital license.

To rectify this problem, you can click on the Add an account button and follow the instructions from the follow-up prompts.

Get a Product Key

In many cases, your digital license may not work with your PC, especially after making significant hardware changes. However, it would help if you got a product key as a backup for reactivating Windows.

And although it’s a more traditional and sophisticated method, it’s equally capable of activating Windows.

You may also need this product key if you previously used this method to upgrade Windows.

If you still have the packaging your PC came with, you should have no problem locating this product key.

Manufacturers like to include their product keys on their packaging or on a card within the packaging.

You can also check for the product keys on your PC’s Certificate of Authenticity (COA). 

Ensure Your Windows Version Is the Same

Before changing your motherboard or making any hardware change, it’s important to remember that your pre-existing digital license or product key will only help reactivate Windows if the edition stays the same. 

You should check the Activation page to confirm what Windows version your PC is using. 

Conclusion

Licenses are expensive, and that’s why so many people want to keep or transfer their Windows licenses. And while you can do this for some licenses, it’s not possible for OEM licenses.

If you want to keep your FPP license and use it across multiple PCs, it’s important to remember to link it to your Microsoft account.