Need to activate Windows 8.1? Use your Windows 8 key

With Windows 8.1 RTM builds leaking out like a poorly constructed bathroom faucet, you might be wondering how you can activate your copy of Windows 8.1 and it’s a lot easier than you might think.

Seeing as Windows 8.1 is a free update for Windows 8, users in our forums are stating you can use your Windows 8 key to activate and remove the watermarks. It’s that simple and multiple users have now confirmed that this works. Windows 8 keys can't be used to install the leaked 8.1 builds though, but there is a key floating around that can be used to install, then simply change that key to your genuine 8.0 key and activate.

This tip does not apply to yesterdays leak, or any Frankenbuilds, which may give varied results.

We can almost guarantee that rumors will circulate soon that Microsoft is blacklisting any key that is used to activate Windows 8.1 as these rumors always make their way around the Internet, but this scenario seems rather unlikely.  

Additionally, if you do install Windows 8.1, you may need to force an install of the .Net 3.5 Framework updates. To do this, you will need to enter the following line in an elevated (Administrator) command prompt; dism.exe /online /enable-feature /featurename:NetFX3 /Source:X:/sources/sxs. Where X: is the path to the Windows 8.1 install media.

As with any leaked copy of Windows or any other software, proceed with caution as there is no official support available if you break your install. Of course, if you do have any questions, the Neowin forums are a great resource for help.

For those of you wanting to wait until Microsoft releases the update officially, you will get your chance on October 18th at retail locations and on the 17th via the Windows Store.

Thanks for the tip Tews!

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I am having the same issue as TCWireless.
I have a legit Windows 8 Pro key, but I cannot activate my windows 8.1 fresh install.

Unnecessary sensationalism really -- I can't seem to be able to recall one Windows version which didn't leak months in advance to GA...

Just activated mine, it's a lot of fun um... why can't I get windows update to work though? It just searches and searches and searches.. is it just not ready yet?

I installed fresh and tried to activate with my Windows 8 upgrade key and it fails...says something about my key being blocked? What is that about?

Maybe this is not an appropriate question to ask here but I installed the 8.1 Preview from the Store when it first came out,.......am I going to have to restore to Windows 8 before I can install the 8.1 Final in October? I hope not. I can't seem to get anyone to give a straight answer on this.

Clean installed using the "special" Pro key, then changed to my normal retail Pro key and it activated just fine. Very easy and fast install too.

Wait, wait. Something is telling me that this is not the final RTM build that people are passing around. If the leak was actually a pure unaltered Windows 8.1 source, it would install and accept the Windows 8 key. The Windows 8.1 preview builds and betas are the only ones that DO NOT accept the original Windows 8 key, because they use a public preview key instead so that anyone can demo and trial it out (the original retail keys are not accepted by the preview builds installer, either). I am confident that these leaks are not the final builds, and are not entirely pure or complete, just based on the fact that the install is not accepting peoples retail/OEM Windows 8 serials.

Whatever people are circulating is some kind of hacked/modified Windows 8.1 installation source.

Its more likely Microsoft simply restricted the initial install on this version so it would be harder to leak. Since they knew they weren't giving it to MSDN, they could just make the base installer use only special keys for now, and amend that one file later for the MSDN and retail releases.

Once you install or upgrade it works fine with your normal Windows 8 key, and doesn't accept any preview keys. I'm not saying this is guaranteed final, but its also not guaranteed hacked.

I tried to extract the ISO because I can't find my thumb drive and upgrade my 8.0 install. I use the default key, reboot install completes, reboots again but then it just hangs on windows loading screen. reset computer a few times and it reverts back to 8.0

Any ideas?

prz said,
I tried to extract the ISO because I can't find my thumb drive and upgrade my 8.0 install. I use the default key, reboot install completes, reboots again but then it just hangs on windows loading screen. reset computer a few times and it reverts back to 8.0

Any ideas?

never mind about all this. my problems were my error. my key was accepted now that I figured out I made a noob mistake. Win8.1 is running although I hardly feel like there's much a difference between it and 8.0

I installed with the base key. When I tried to put in my home primium upgrade key it gave me an error about being the wrong edition. Anyone have ideas?

Did you use the right base key? There is a key for "Core" and one for "Pro". Once you install you can only change the key to the same version (Core to Core and Pro to Pro and possible Core to Pro, but not sure about the last version). Its possible you are trying to go Pro to Core.

LightEco said,
Did you use the right base key? There is a key for "Core" and one for "Pro". Once you install you can only change the key to the same version (Core to Core and Pro to Pro and possible Core to Pro, but not sure about the last version). Its possible you are trying to go Pro to Core.

would home premium be considered pro?

No such Windows 8 flavor called Home Premium that I am aware of. Non-Pro (aka "Core" to many people but not officially called "Core" by Microsoft), Pro, Enterprise. [not bothering to mention N or K versions if they exist]

Not sure why this is a news post, I thought it was general knowledge it would accept 8.0 keys... But hey, the tip is still welcome!

Right, so I can't really get ****y about it. Is what it is. Was dumb to put it on my main computer as an upgrade. Looks like I am reformatting.

Raa said,
Mine aren't working either, might have something to do with the fact there's no official release yet...

I assumed it was because this is an OEM version, not retail.

boo_star said,

I assumed it was because this is an OEM version, not retail.


My understanding is they're essentially the same content and accept the same keys...

boo_star said,

I assumed it was because this is an OEM version, not retail.

Yes they are OEM editions, you need to make a config file (ei.cfg) to place in source folder to adjust it from OEM to Retail.

I wont place information directly on here for obvious reasons, but it does work.

If you used Autounattend.xml with:
<FolderLocations>
<ProfilesDirectory>D:\UserData</ProfilesDirectory> (where "D" is other than system drive)
</FolderLocations>
...the update will probably fail. Encountered the problem with the preview.

EmbraceNext said,
I have a retail key I got from from actually buying it and I have a VL key. I can report that BOTH do NOT work.

Did you activate using explorer or the modern/metro settings app. Mine would onlyaccept and activate the w8 key in the modern settings app.

It told me that my key was invalid, so I was unable to change my key or activate. However, upon a reboot I found my system was suddenly mysteriously activated. A keyfinder confirms that I'm still running with the VLK key. I'm not gonna complain as long as it keeps working, but come October I may reinstall everything from scratch and redo the upgrade with my key.

So what do people who have the preview installed have to do? Does this let you upgrade from the preview to RTM without having to mess with keys? Or do you have to refresh your device back to 8.0 and then upgrade to RTM? I know they said it won't be a real "upgrade" because it doesn't keep any of your apps etc, that's not an issue on my tablet that has the preview installed on it right now. I just want to know if I have to go back to 8.0 and then to RTM or just go from preview to RTM now?

GP007 said,
So what do people who have the preview installed have to do? Does this let you upgrade from the preview to RTM without having to mess with keys? Or do you have to refresh your device back to 8.0 and then upgrade to RTM? I know they said it won't be a real "upgrade" because it doesn't keep any of your apps etc, that's not an issue on my tablet that has the preview installed on it right now. I just want to know if I have to go back to 8.0 and then to RTM or just go from preview to RTM now?

I think you can install from the preview straight to 8.1 but you still need an 8.1 key to get pass the Win8.1 install saying to insert your product key~ then use your retail key to activate once into 8.1.

What is the likelyhood of any sanctions from Microsoft if this is activated with an existing Windows 8
product key, if you set up the new OS to login with a Microsoft Account instead of a Local Account?
Could the activation product key get blacklisted, or could the Microsoft Account be suspended?

There's always a risk, but its unlikely to happen. With so many people downloading and installing the RTM and using keys they already own, I doubt Microsoft will do anything. That would just fuel the fire of people upset they delayed the MSDN release.

MS would never do that because right now even OEM's are also testing/ installing RTM on their devices so its highly unlikely....

LightEco said,
There's always a risk, but its unlikely to happen. With so many people downloading and installing the RTM and <SNIP>

LOL! "So many people" you funny funny person. The whole 10s of people?

You'd be surprised. I'd be willing to bet there's going to be quite a few people installing this. Plus you can take into account people who work for the OEMs and Microsoft and have direct access to the bits as well will be playing with this.

I have installed windows 8.1 Pro on my laptop (did have 8 on there) and it wouldn't active using the legit key (said there was error briefly before message disappeared off screen so couldn't say exactly what it was), but I then added Media Center to it, and after it rebooted, it came back as fully activated.

So for those with legit keys, this is probably your best route to get it activated.

I have done both as a test, but on my primary device I did an upgrade. If things work properly, the OA3 license key in the BIOS should activate it. If it doesn't, that could be a failing of the leak (I don't know, honestly - we won't know if these match the ones Microsoft puts out in October without the hashes of those ISOs).

I have an Windows 8 installed, and have an upgrade key. I would like to a clean install. At this point I would just be guessing. Does anyone know the correct procedure to do this?

Night Prowler said,
I have an Windows 8 installed, and have an upgrade key. I would like to a clean install. At this point I would just be guessing. Does anyone know the correct procedure to do this?

My guess is trying to do a clean install using the built in Windows 8 refresh thing and then install 8.1?

"Thanks for the tip Tews!" Aw come on... I posted on the exact same minut, I even got the message "There is 1 new post" right before submitting...

What about people who bought windows 8 PC's? The keys are "flashed" to the bios, no COA stickers or anything. It should just locate the key and accept correct?

There not technically 'leaked' keys, they're generic keys included in product.ini, they can only be used during installation, not for activation

Most users don't report bugs, they complain on forums. Reporting bugs to Microsoft means either going to a connect site, a uservoice site, or creating a support case. Most users don't do any of those, they just complain and say "Windows <x> sucks - this is broken".

It's not right or wrong, per se, but it is what it is.

Axel said,
Is the upgrade from 8.0 > 8.1 likely to eventually be delivered via windows update?
No, it's getting delivered by the Windows store.

The actual 8.1 bits will be delivered via the Windows Store, but there will be a small MSU update pushed through Windows Update that exposes it in the store.

That's a shame, how will the general userbase know to go and get their hands on it if they have to actively go to download and install it? This means that most PC's sitting with windows 8 on it will stay that way if an update isn't pushed via windows update.

Edit: Just saw AlterBridge86's comment, don't know how I missed that. Ignore what I said.

Axel said,
That's a shame, how will the general userbase know to go and get their hands on it if they have to actively go to download and install it? This means that most PC's sitting with windows 8 on it will stay that way if an update isn't pushed via windows update.

It's going to flash up a message whenever they login prompting them to go to the store and download it. If you care this much, why don't you do the research?

siah1214 said,

If you care this much, why don't you do the research?

Tad rude, the answer alone would have been fine. I did a quick google and couldn't see anything straight away. Anyway, that's the point of open discussion, if someone's wondering the same thing they could land on this page and get the answer. This is my research - asking people who know.

I can confirm that it works too, only after installation though, during installation you'll need to use the default key, Windows 8 keys aren't accepted there!

Thief000 said,
? That's probably because you're doing a full install with an upgrade key.
Full Windows 8 license keys should work.

Nope, I'm using a full Windows 8 key, straight from MSDN, you can only use it in PC Setting after installing Windows!

That's strange, oh well, I fully activated mine after a full install with an upgrade key (registry hack). The Windows Media Center key worked after that as well.

My retails keys work fine but I also have a MSDN Windows 8 VLK, this key refuses to activate.

Any ideas of how I can activate a MSDN VLK Windows 8 Key?

Yup. I know what's your prob. You need a VL version of Win 8.1

The Leaked version is RTM != VL.

You can convert it though... Google it.

OK thanks for the tip, I used ei.cfg to turn it the VL form 0 to 1 and did the retail reinstall but that still did not work.

I will search google to see if you meant a different type of conversion

1WayJonny said,
OK thanks for the tip, I used ei.cfg to turn it the VL form 0 to 1 and did the retail reinstall but that still did not work.

I will search google to see if you meant a different type of conversion


VL versions can't be activated yet, the KMS servers aren't online yet.