There are many utilities that can find the lost Product Key of your live Windows installation, but what if the computer is completely dead and unbootable?
This post introduces some third-party utilities that can get the product keys offline (for Windows, Office and other products), by loading the
SOFTWARE registry hive on a mounted hard disk or other sources.
How to Recover Product Keys from the hard disk of an unbootable Windows computer
Before proceeding, please note that this article assumes you have a copy of your
SOFTWARE registry hive from your dead Windows installation. You may either connect the old hard disk drive as a slave to another computer or copy only the
SOFTWARE hive to a USB drive.
You need to run the following utilities as administrator. Otherwise, you’ll get the error A required privilege is not held by the client or similar when loading the hive.
Keyfinder retrieves product keys from unbootable Windows installations. It also has a community-updated configuration file that retrieves product keys for many other applications.
From the Tools menu, click Load Hive… and select your offline Windows directory. The directory structure must be intact (
Windows\System32\config) as KeyFinder doesn’t allow you to choose the
SOFTWARE (registry hive) file directly.
That lists your Product keys from the
SOFTWARE registry hive.
ProduKey is a utility from Nirsoft that displays Product Keys of MS-Office, Windows, Exchange Server, and SQL Server installed on your computer. You can view this information for your current running operating system, or another operating system/computer – by using command-line options.
- Launch ProduKey.
- From the File menu, click Select Source
- Select Load the product keys from external Software Registry hive
- Click the Browse button and locate the SOFTWARE registry hive (of your unbootable Windows installation), which is present in the Windows\System32\Config folder. Note that unlike KeyFinder, ProduKey allows you to select the SOFTWARE (registry hive) file directly, and you don’t need to have the Windows\System32\Config folder structure.
- Click OK. The product keys that are available in the Software registry hive should be listed.
- If you bought Windows from an authorized retailer, the product key would only show as the Installed key. This applies to OEM System Builder keys as well.
- If you upgraded Windows, the Original key would be the key installed before the upgrade. NB if you upgrade to Windows 10 for free, you’ll receive a unique ‘digital entitlement’ instead of a product key. The key displayed will be a generic key in that case.
- If you bought a new PC running Windows, the product key would be pre-installed on your PC and the key will be included in the firmware in the case of Windows 8 or 10 – or as an OEM marker, in the case of previous versions. The OEM key will display the key in the case of the former, or whether your PC was built for Windows Vista or Windows 7.
To retrieve the key offline, click on the Check Edition and browse to select the
SOFTWARE registry hive.
Note that Windows.old folder would automatically deleted by Windows after 28-30 days after upgrading to Windows 10. You should get the Product keys well in advance from the Windows.old directory.
Hope the above tools helped you retrieve your Windows product keys from the hard drive of your unbootable Windows installation.
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About the author
Ramesh Srinivasan founded Winhelponline.com back in 2005. He is passionate about Microsoft technologies and he has been a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP) for 10 consecutive years from 2003 to 2012.