Product keys are becoming less and less common these days, but if you have a piece of software on your computer—and can’t find its product key—this simple program can help you extract it.
NirSoft’s ProduKey lets you view product keys for Windows, Microsoft Office, and many other software programs. It can show the keys from the current computer, or you can use it to view the keys stored on a broken computer’s hard drive.
How to Recover Keys From a Working Computer
Download the ProduKey archive from this page and run the ProduKey.exe file.
You’ll see the product key for your Windows installation as well as other applications installed on your system, including Microsoft Office, Visual Studio, MIcrosoft Exchange Server, Microsoft SQL Server, and some Adobe and Autodesk products.
If your computer comes with a Windows 10 or 8 key embedded in its UEFI firmware, it will be displayed as a “Windows (BIOS OEM Key)” here. This key is stored on your computer’s motherboard and Windows will automatically use it whenever you installed Windows on your PC. You don’t need to back it up or write it down.
Write down any product keys you want to keep and store them in a safe place. It’s that easy!
How to Recover Keys From a Separate Hard Drive
If you have a computer that won’t boot, you can recover its keys as long as the hard drive still works. You just need to remove the drive, connect it to a functional computer, and point ProduKey at it.
If you’d like to do this, you’ll need to shut down the broken computer, open it up, and remove its internal drive. This will be easier on some computers than others—for example, many laptops aren’t designed to be easily opened, while desktops generally are.
You can then insert the drive into an internal drive bay on a working computer, or use an SATA hard drive docking station, like the one shown below.
Whatever option you choose, once the drive is plugged in and appears in Windows, go ahead and run ProduKey, just like you would on a functioning computer described in the previous section. Click File > Select Source to choose the secondary drive.
In the Select Source window, select “Load the product keys from external Windows directory” and point it at the Windows directory on the drive from the other PC. For example, if the other PC’s drive is D:, you’ll need to point it at D:\Windows.
ProduKey will then display the keys from the other computer’s drive, and not the keys in use on the current computer.
How to Recover Keys Without Removing a Computer’s Drive First
Lastly, if you can’t—or just don’t want to—physically remove the drive from the first computer, you could instead use a Linux live USB drive to copy the files from that drive, and then examine them with ProduKey on another computer. Generally, we think it’s easier to just remove the drive, but this will work as an alternative.
To do this, you’ll first need to create yourself a live Linux drive. For example, you can create a Ubuntu drive. To do this, you’ll need to download a Ubuntu ISO and download the Rufus tool for Windows.
Warning: The USB drive you turn into a live Linux drive will be erased. Back up any important files on it first.
Once you have both, connect a USB drive and launch Rufus. Select your USB drive, pick the FAT32 file system, and check the “Create a bootable disk using” box. Click the button to the right of it and select the Ubuntu ISO image you downloaded.
Click “Start” and agree to download the Syslinux software. Select “Write in ISO image mode (Recommended)” and agree to wipe the data on the disk when you’re asked.
When the disk is created, you can connect the USB drive to your broken computer and boot from it. You may just need to insert the drive, boot it up, and the computer will start from the USB drive. Or, you may have to tweak the boot order or use a boot options menu.
When Ubuntu boots, open a file manager window by clicking the drive icon on the panel. Locate your Windows drive and navigate to
C:\Windows\system32\ . Right-click the “config” folder and select “Copy”. Connect another external USB drive to your computer and copy the config folder to it.
Take the drive containing the “config” folder to another computer running Windows.
You’ll need to recreate the directory structure. Create a “Windows” folder and then create a “system32” folder inside it. Copy the “config” folder into the system32 folder.
Launch ProduKey, click File > Select Source, and select the Windows folder you just created. You can’t just point it at the config folder directly.
ProduKey will then show you the product keys from the config folder you copied over.
Image Credit: Phillip Stewart