How to Activate Windows 10

You need a product key or a digital license linked to your Microsoft account

What to Know

  • With product key: Start > Settings > Update & Security > Activation and select Change product key or Update product key.
  • With digital license: Log in to Windows as the administrator, connect to the internet, and sign in to your Microsoft account.
  • Be sure to link your Microsoft account to your digital license in case you need to reinstall Windows.

This article explains how to activate Windows 10. While you can use Windows 10 without activating it, you can't take full advantage of its features until you do.

What if My Windows 10 Is Not Activated?

If your installation of Windows is not activated, you won't be able to use Windows Defender Security Center, which keeps your computer safe from viruses and other malware. If you installed a fresh copy of Windows on your PC, you'd likely need to activate it with a product key or a digital license. If you recently reinstalled Windows, you can use the same product key to reactivate it or use the same digital license if it's linked to your Microsoft account.

How Do You Tell if Windows 10 Is Activated?

To see if your Windows 10 installation is activated, go to Start > Settings > Update & Security, then select the Activation tab. Look in the Activation section under Windows.

Activation section in Activations Settings on Windows 10 with Activation status highlighted

How to Activate Windows 10 With a Product Key

If you purchased a copy of Windows 10 from a retailer, it should come with a 25-character product key. If you didn't enter it when you first installed Windows, you could activate Windows with a product key by following these steps:

You must be logged into Windows as an administrator and connected to the internet to activate Windows 10.

  1. Select the Windows Start Menu, then select Settings.

    Settings highlighted in the Windows 10 Start Menu
  2. Select Update & Security.

    Update & Security highlighted in Windows 10 settings
  3. Select Activation in the left sidebar, then select Change product key or Update product key.

    Activation and Change product key in Windows 10 settings
  4. Enter the product key and select Next.

    Enter Product Key in Windows 10 Activation Settings

    The product key might be in the box or your order information if you purchased it online.

How to Activate Windows 10 With a Digital License

Your Windows 10 digital license is tied to your computer, and it will activate as soon as you connect to the internet and log in to your Microsoft account as an administrator. If you're reinstalling Windows, select I don't have a product key during setup.

If Windows doesn't activate automatically, go to Start > Settings > Update & Security > Activation and select Troubleshoot under the Windows section (not the Troubleshoot option in the left sidebar). The troubleshooter will walk you through the process of logging into the Microsoft account, and you'll be asked to choose the computer linked to your digital license. Check the This is the device I'm using right now box and select Activate.

If you changed any of your computer's hardware components, select I changed hardware on this device recently when you have the option.

Add Microsoft Account to Windows 10

You should link your activated copy of Windows 10 to a Microsoft account if you decide to reinstall Windows. That way, you can reactivate your operating system by just signing in. If you skipped this step during setup, go to Start > Settings > Update & Security > Activation and select Add an account.

To make sure your Microsoft account is linked, log in to Windows as the administrator, go to Start > Settings > Accounts, and select Your info in the left sidebar. If you see an email address under User, your copy of Windows 10 is connected to the Microsoft account associated with that email.

Email address under User in Windows 10 Your Info Settings

How Can I Activate Windows 10 for Free?

To activate Windows 10, you need either a digital license or a product key. Some websites offer free product keys and licenses, but using such services is considered piracy and technically illegal. However, if you're running an older version of Windows, you may be able to upgrade to Windows 10 for free.

  • How do I get rid of the "Activate Windows" watermark message on my screen?

    The best way to get rid of the Activate Windows watermark is to activate your operating system using one of the above methods. If you're not ready to activate Windows 10, there are some workarounds to get rid of the watermark. There are online watermark removers, but do your research to make sure you use only a reputable tool and not one designed to facilitate piracy. Another method is to go to your Windows Control Panel and find the Ease of Access section. Set your view mode to Large icons, then select Make the computer easier to see. Scroll down and place a checkmark next to Remove background images (where available).

  • How do you activate Windows 7?

    For Windows 7, from the Start button, right-click Computer and select Properties > Activate Windows Now > Activate Windows Online Now. Enter your administrator password if prompted, then enter your Windows 7 product key. You can also activate Windows 7 by phone. When you reach Activate Windows Now, select Show me other ways to activate. Enter your product key, select Next, then select Use the automated phone system. Find your location and use the appropriate number to complete the automated phone activation.

  • How do you activate Windows 8.1?

    Enter "PC Settings" into the Start box, then select PC Settings. Choose Activate Windows, enter your product key, and follow the prompts. If you don't have an internet connection after you click Activate Windows, select Contact customer support. Find the appropriate number for your area, then call to access the automated activation system.

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