WIN8.1 to WIN10 on new SSD - how to use valid 8.1 license on WIN 10
September 10, 2021 6:12 PM   Subscribe

MS pages show how to upgrade to WIN10 keeping the old drive but not with new drive. Or am I just not finding the right help page on MS site. I'm really tempted to set up an install ISO as WIN10 and finding out if MS will bark at me or let me go on my way.

I may just go on slap in the SSD and try the new ISO and be on my way, if it'll let me be on my way. Trouble -- it's not my machine, belongs to a friend and I dumbly said "Oh sure, no problem." but I'm stuck at the install on new SSD somehow keeping his (valid on 8.1) licence.

I realize this is a piece of cake for many here (Hello Cast Of Thousands And Thousands) and I'm humbled to put it up here but screw it, I need help. If it were my machine I'd not need any help at all, slap Linux Mint on it and be on my way, but many ppl afraid of Linux, and my friend is one of these.

posted by dancestoblue to Computers & Internet (9 answers total)
If it's a branded computer from Dell or whoever, it should pick up the OEM key from the motherboard and activate fine. If it's built from retail parts, use Clonezilla or whatever other tool strikes your fancy to clone the existing drive to the new SSD if possible.
posted by wierdo at 6:30 PM on September 10, 2021 [1 favorite]

So it's a pain, but if I were you I'd do the upgrade in-place on the current disk (or clone it if you want the backout potential) and set up a windows live account. Voila, the newly authorized Win8.1 to Windows 10 license is in whatever dirty little corner of UEFI they stick it in _and_ on the Windows Live account.

Then do a clean install on a SSD. Windows will poke the right registers, go "oh, I just changed _drives_? whatevs. License granted!"

...At least that's been my experience coming up from Windows 7 like 2 years after the upgrade program ended. I know people dislike the Windows Live online accounts, but it's been sort of convenient? I just don't like how it doesn't actually synchronize my login password, mostly. Well, and that my username isn't something I would choose if I were making the choice.
posted by Kyol at 6:30 PM on September 10, 2021 [2 favorites]

You can clone the old drive onto the new drive (last time I used Macrium Reflect for this - should work on Windows 8.1), then update to Windows 10 from that, from either a burned ISO or a USB stick using the normal Windows 10 downloader tool (under Create Windows 10 installation media). It should pick up the key from the 8.1 install, or it may also be stored in the BIOS, which it'll also pick up on. That way you'll also have a backup of the existing drive/installation (since you can then remove the old drive once it's done).

I have had luck with installing Windows 10 using either typed-in Windows 7 or 8 key (or just using the one captured in the machine's BIOS, which is slightly easier because hey no actual typing!) by using the standard 10 installer, going through the Custom method and installing on a fresh drive, and then going from there. It's been a while, though that said I've done it with 7 keys that were past their expiration point for upgrading to 10 and that went OK, but your mileage may vary. I haven't tried this with anything I actually wanted to keep the existing install on, though.. can't imagine that it'd matter much, as you have to provide the product key before then. If it doesn't like your key, it'll error before you make any actual drive changes.

You can also (at least for now, with Windows 10) click "I don't have a product key" when booted into the 10 installer and then try activating it later with the 8.1 key. You do have to make sure you select the Windows 10 edition that matches the 8.1 one that you have the key for - so no activating Windows 10 Pro on a 8.1 Home key. I would recommend a backup or a clone first before doing this, though, in case the activation fails.
posted by mrg at 6:40 PM on September 10, 2021 [1 favorite]

Seconding that you'll most likely have the best luck if you do an upgrade-in-place, either before or after you've cloned the drive, rather than a fresh install. Once you've done the fresh install you'll likely be able to repave the machine (or use the Windows 10 PC reset functionality) to get a fresh install if that's what you're going for.
posted by Aleyn at 6:46 PM on September 10, 2021

Best answer: I'd do a clean install from an ISO installer onto the new blank SSD after capturing the existing 8.1 installation's licence key with the Magical Jelly Bean Keyfinder.

Best case, it Just Works and you have a perfectly clean Windows 10 installation on your SSD with no upgrade cruft that needs cleaning up and have wasted no time cloning an old installation.

Next best case, as above except that the installer refuses to accept an 8.1 product key, and you need to do the installation without one and then run a CMD window as administrator and enter

slmgr.vbs /ipk your-captured-product-key
slmgr.vbs /ato

to get Windows activated.

As mrg notes, the only way any of these approaches are going to work is if the key you captured is for the same edition (Home or Professional) as the Windows 10 you're installing. I think you can use a key from a 32 bit OS to activate a 64 bit version of the same edition but it's been too long since I tried this to be sure.

Worst case, you've wasted a bit of time putting stuff on a new SSD that doesn't work, and you'll need to wipe it and start over. And since the Windows 10 installer is actually fairly brisk onto an SSD, that worst case isn't very bad.

To be absolutely certain that you can't possibly lose any data by accident during Windows installation, I also recommend physically disconnecting the SATA data cables from all drives except the one you're installing onto before powering up for the installation.
posted by flabdablet at 12:44 AM on September 11, 2021 [1 favorite]

More at HowToGeek.
posted by flabdablet at 4:29 AM on September 11, 2021 [1 favorite]

A couple of notes on keyfinder programs:
  • Current versions of Magical Jellybean Keyfinder may come bundled with adware if you're not careful to uncheck the option to install it. I don't recommend using it.
  • Just about all keyfinder software, including Magical Jellybean Keyfinder and its alternatives, will trigger a detection in most antivirus software, mostly because some malware uses software like this to scrape keys from infected machines for use elsewhere. You should be able to safely ignore these as false positives, but there is always some amount of risk in bypassing your computer's antivirus protections.

posted by Aleyn at 2:02 PM on September 11, 2021 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I used flabdablets method and it worked well.

I of course did not see Aleyn's warning about the keyfinder software gobbed up with adware. But -- BUT !! -- I used it on the machine B4 I took WIN8.1 off of it, so any cooties it may have picked up lays on the old drive, which will be formatted soon.

I hate Windows with the flaming, flaring heat of fourteen billion suns, at noon no less. Had it have been Linux Mint it'd have taken just a couple of hours. Mint is just so intuitive, easy-peasy to get done what I need done. But that's a rant to be ranted somewhere else.

A big thank you to all who responded here. I've got a few more tech questions coming up, I know where to get excellent answers to any that arise.

posted by dancestoblue at 7:09 PM on September 11, 2021

Current versions of Magical Jellybean Keyfinder may come bundled with adware if you're not careful to uncheck the option to install it

Oh, that sucks. I've been using the same ancient version of that installer for so long I had no idea. Sorry to anybody that my frequent recommendations of this product has caused grief to. I will stop doing so.

NirSoft's ProduKey does the same job and as far as I know none of NirSoft's many utilities have ever been released with bundled foistware.
posted by flabdablet at 8:50 PM on September 11, 2021 [1 favorite]

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