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Issue #761: February 20-26, 2022

Q: I recently replaced the mother board, CPU, and memory in my computer and am now being told to activate windows. Is there a way of doing this without having to load a new copy of windows thereby having to reload all the programs I use? I started with Windows 7 and loaded the free copy of Windows 10 when it was offered.

 – Dick T.
Crestview, Florida

A: It sounds like you’ve done the equivalent of that old joke about the guy whose car broke down, and the mechanic unscrewed the radiator cap, rolled the old car out from under it, rolled in another one, and screwed the radiator cap back on, declaring the problem “fixed”. 

But seriously, I hope you can understand why Windows wants to be activated again.  Your hardware underwent such a radical change, that for all intents and purposes it’s not the same computer upon which this copy of Windows was originally activated.  Since the main purpose of the activation process is to help to verify that a given copy of Windows is “genuine” – which is Microsoft’s way of saying that it wasn’t created by someone other than Microsoft – and also that it hasn’t been installed on more devices than is allowed by the Microsoft End-User License Agreement.

I can understand your desire to not want to re-install everything.  If you’re like me, you probably have dozens of applications and utilities installed, as well as specialty drivers or printers, cameras, smartphones, etc.  That doesn’t even begin to cover all the data your system contains.  These are largely safe from operating system installations, but there are cases where, as part of the installation, Windows wants to reformat your hard drive.  I’ve also seen cases where installing a piece of software destroys the associated data files.  What you want is a path through this minefield in which you come out the other end with your new hardware, but with the rest of the system intact.

There is indeed a way of taking care of this situation.  You won’t have to reload all your programs, because you won’t have to reload Windows. Because one of the components you retained was the hard drive, which is where Windows and all your programs live within your system, it’s all still there, and it’s only the validity of the activation that has changed.  By the way, I don’t mean to be telling you things you already know, but there are readers of all geekiness levels out there, so I try to explain so everybody can understand.

To reactivate your Windows 10 license, follow these steps:  Click the Start button, then Settings (the gear icon). In the left-hand navigation pane, click on Activation.  Under the Windows section at the top, find and click on “Troubleshoot” and you should see a link that says “I changed hardware on this device recently”.  Click on it, and you will be prompted for your Microsoft account credentials.  Enter them, and click “Sign-in”.  You should see a dialog labeled “Reactivate Windows 10.”  Select the device with the new hardware, and be sure to check the button that says “This is the device I’m using right now.”  Finally, click the “Activate” button.  Step through any other dialogs that come up, and you should see the activation complete.  You can now use Windows, and all your installed applications exactly as you did before your hardware upgrade.


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