Microsoft Looking Into Windows Activation Failures After Hardware Swaps

Windows 11
(Image credit: Microsoft)

Windows 10 and 11 activations are reportedly becoming deactivated following people replacing components in their PCs or upgrading their BIOS. The news comes from The Verge, which both experienced the issue and received reports from a reader.

The Verge posits that the problem is linked to Microsoft closing a loophole that allowed for a free upgrade from Windows 7 or 8 to Windows 10 or 11.

"Microsoft is aware of these customers reports and is investigating,” Bill Babonas, principal product manager of Windows, told The Verge and reiterated to Tom's Hardware. "Customers who are experiencing technical difficulties should contact customer support."

Verge editor Tom Warren said he had to purchase a new Windows 11 key after replacing his motherboard. He's not alone: Tom's Hardware deputy managing editor Paul Alcorn tells me he's had problems on many of his test beds, replacing CPUs and constantly losing activation, and managing editor Matt Safford tells me he can't always get reactivations to occur by logging into his Microsoft account.

The issues also may answer some Tom's Hardware forum questions — like this one having an issue with Windows 10 Pro after upgrading a CPU, GPU and motherboard — dating back to late September, around the time the Windows 7/8 upgrade loophole was closed. There have been a number of other complaints across social media.

Admittedly, hardware could cause problem even before the Windows 7 and 8 key loophole being closed — I had to call Microsoft customer service the last time I changed out a CPU, prior to this. But it does seem that there is now a pattern among PC builders, who are more likely to change out their parts or update their BIOS.

Have you been having any issues with Windows 10 or 11 activations after changing out parts? Let us know in the comments.

Andrew E. Freedman is a senior editor at Tom's Hardware focusing on laptops, desktops and gaming. He also keeps up with the latest news. A lover of all things gaming and tech, his previous work has shown up in Tom's Guide, Laptop Mag, Kotaku, PCMag and Complex, among others. Follow him on Threads @FreedmanAE and Mastodon @FreedmanAE.mastodon.social.

  • ThatMouse
    For me the issue is with the digital licenses. Figuring out which license belongs to which computer is now impossible, since I'm constantly upgrading and rotating PC's amongst the family. Some of the PC's are under the same account while others are on their own Microsoft account. Of course there's the whole problem of my work Microsoft accounts somehow getting attached to my home PC too. I'm not going to shell out money for a new license only for it to get lost or reassigned I upgrade.
    Reply
  • hotaru251
    ThatMouse said:
    Figuring out which license belongs to which computer is now impossible
    tbh you can keep a usb with a doc that links each key to a persons pc to aid in that (and on a usb to keep it offline if ur worried of being hacked or it being stolen)
    Reply
  • bigdragon
    I've always been unclear as to what Microsoft considers an individual computer. Is a computer just a motherboard or CPU? Is it some combination of components? Is a computer the actual endpoint that sits at my desk regardless of what components are cobbled together? The ambiguity has been an issue since activation was first implemented.
    Reply
  • deesider
    bigdragon said:
    I've always been unclear as to what Microsoft considers an individual computer. Is a computer just a motherboard or CPU? Is it some combination of components? Is a computer the actual endpoint that sits at my desk regardless of what components are cobbled together? The ambiguity has been an issue since activation was first implemented.
    I thought Microsoft had clarified at some point that they consider the PC to be the motherboard. This should only be an issue for OEM licenses that aren't transferable, whereas full retail licenses can be transferred to a new PC (i.e. motherboard).

    Although I'm not sure how MS would confirm that the same key is no longer being used on an old PC.
    Reply
  • USAFRet
    bigdragon said:
    I've always been unclear as to what Microsoft considers an individual computer. Is a computer just a motherboard or CPU? Is it some combination of components? Is a computer the actual endpoint that sits at my desk regardless of what components are cobbled together? The ambiguity has been an issue since activation was first implemented.
    The motherboard.
    Reply
  • USAFRet
    deesider said:
    Although I'm not sure how MS would confirm that the same key is no longer being used on an old PC.
    Can't prove a negative.

    They can only know i it IS being used on more than one system.
    Reply
  • punkncat
    ThatMouse said:
    For me the issue is with the digital licenses. Figuring out which license belongs to which computer is now impossible, since I'm constantly upgrading and rotating PC's amongst the family. Some of the PC's are under the same account while others are on their own Microsoft account. Of course there's the whole problem of my work Microsoft accounts somehow getting attached to my home PC too. I'm not going to shell out money for a new license only for it to get lost or reassigned I upgrade.

    Something I have found helpful in this case is to keep a small spiral notebook where I will enter information inside it for the specific PC. I list details about the base load, and any physical key cards (such as with old Office versions and such) I keep them next to this spiral notebook and also write which PC is using the key card on it as well.
    Reply
  • Geef
    Hmm... I've been slowly upgrading my 80486 SX33 PC since I was a kid and I've only had to call Microsoft once to get them to fix the activation code. I think it was with Windows 7.

    I did buy each OS right up through Windows 8 though so not sure it counts.
    Reply
  • USAFRet
    Geef said:
    Hmm... I've been slowly upgrading my 80486 SX33 PC since I was a kid and I've only had to call Microsoft once to get them to fix the activation code. I think it was with Windows 7.

    I did buy each OS right up through Windows 8 though so not sure it counts.
    Activation procedures have changed over the years.

    And if you bought a NEW license each time, well....that new license should work without calling MS.
    Reply
  • Compdoc21
    This happened to me about 2-3 weeks ago.. Win10 said my hardware wasnt good enough for Win11, so I upgraded the cpu, motherboard, and ram. After replacing, Win10 booted fine but the next morning said my license was no longer valid.
    So, I bought a new Win10 Pro retail version from ebay.com and activated, then upgraded to Windows 11 with no problems. Except Im out $50 for the new license.
    Reply