Is there a way to change the activation key in Windows before you start the out of box experience (setup) on machines w/windows pre-installed? For example, say you purchase a laptop with Home preinstalled, but you have a Pro key, anyone know how to get that Pro key into that laptop before you do the setup?

Current process is:

  1. Perform setup using dummy user
  2. Change key after OBE
  3. "Reset" Windows back to virgin OBE
  4. Perform setup again, this time under real user

Why does it matter you ask? Because Home SKUs cannot join domains, and you want the user to be a domain user, not a personal Microsoft account, so you need to do the initial setup as a dummy user, then flip to pro so you can join AzureAD (or a local domain), and then wipe and redo the OBE as the actual end-user. Ugly!

  • Just out of curiosity, why step 3? Why not just log in with a domain account, delete the dummy account, and call it good? – Harry Johnston May 29 at 21:58
  • Hmmm.... you know when you have a process you've developed and you can't say exactly why anymore?? Well... :-) I want to say it has something to do with domain joining to Azure, but I can't think of why that would matter. Will have to try this next time, and if I don't need #3 then this isn't that bad afterall. – WaldenL Jun 3 at 15:47
  • Definitely been there. :-) If you do get a chance to experiment, I'd be interested to hear the results. We've had to create (and then delete) dummy accounts in the past when doing imaging and there were no ill effects, but on the other hand we weren't doing Azure. – Harry Johnston Jun 3 at 21:33

You have two options here.

1) You can try and boot the new machine into Windows PE and edit C:\Windows\Panther\unattend\unattend.xml. Look for the product key and try and replace it with your new key. Reboot the machine and it might work but chances are, something will go wrong but it's worth a try.

2) Create a new image using the correct media from the Microsoft VLSC website. Install all your software and create your own sysprep.xml file with the correct settings/product key. With windows 10, I only build 2 images(one for legacy boot and the other for UEFI boot) that works for several different models without any problem. Windows will automatically download drivers for each model after the 1st boot.

  • 1 isn't likely to work on modern PCs because the OEM product key is embedded in the firmware. And everyone should be doing 2 anyway. – Michael Hampton May 29 at 16:42
  • 2 is only going to work if you're eligible for a volume license, though, right? – Harry Johnston May 29 at 21:59

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