How-To Geek

How to Reinstall Windows Without Having to Reactivate

Every time you format and reinstall your PC, you have to activate Windows again, which can sometimes be a pain once you’ve done it too many times. Here’s how to backup and then restore the activation status.

Note: we aren’t going to cover how to reinstall Windows, since you should know how to do that already. This article just covers backing up and restoring your activation.


Advanced Token Manager easily allows you to back up all the information that Windows uses to check the validity of you copy of Windows. Collectively called a Token, this information can be backed up to an external storage medium. Once you have formatted you can import the Token and your Windows will be genuine again.

Backing Up

Once you have grabbed your copy of Advanced Token Manager from here, you can extract the zip file and then run the executable file.


When the advanced token manager launches, you will see the BIG Backup Activation button. Click it to begin backing up your token. All the “BBB” characters are just masking the real product key, don’t worry that is not your real product key.


Once you click the Backup Activation button, we expect that 99% of you will be prompted with this message. Unless some of you are ultra geeky and using KMS at home, you will get this message. You can just click yes to continue.


Once activation is finished being backed up, you will see a folder called “Windows Activation Backup” in the same folder that you launched the token manager from, this contains the backup.


Now we have reloaded Windows on the same PC, as you can see it is not activated.


Now I can run the advanced token manager, this time it will say Restore instead of Backup.


Once you click Restore you will be prompted to make sure you want to do this, click the next button to start the restoration.


Once it has completed a success message will appear.


If you go check your validity in the System Settings, you should have the genuine badge back.


The advanced token manager can also support Office Activation and works on all versions of Windows 7.

Taylor Gibb is a Microsoft MVP and all round geek, he loves everything from Windows 8 to Windows Server 2012 and even C# and PowerShell. You can also follow him on Google+

  • Published 10/21/11

Comments (51)

  1. Seasider

    Please note: Office Activation is only for Office 2010.

  2. Don Hildenbrand

    Is it just me, or did you miss a step along the lines of “Before you reinstall Windows, copy the Windows Activation Backup folder to a USB stick or burn it to a CD. ” ???
    As a PC tech, believe me, I know plenty who would follow your advice word for word and then wonder where the folder was after they wiped their hard drive by re-installing Windows. ;-)

  3. laynlow

    Does this work on OEM versions (DELL, HP etc) ?

  4. Fred Beiderbecke

    The windows activation worked great. Office (I have 2010 installed) gave a script missing error.

  5. George

    Thanks!! Can’t wait to try it out.

  6. theflash

    “Once you click the Backup Activation button, we expect that 99% of you will be prompted with this message.”

    I didn’t get the message, I just clicked the backup activation button and it did it without any prompts =/

  7. Eric

    Sweet I was looking to do a reinstall this weekend. Thanks for this.

  8. jim

    I am confused. Are we talking windows “Office” or the normal windows xp – vista – windows
    7 systems ?

  9. dave

    where were you guys last year when I could have really used this?

  10. shimmer

    Taylor thank you! I’m one that has to reinstall Windows every now and again. Just to start things fresh. I do run Acronis True Image, but…., sometimes ya just gotta start fresh. And this proggie you’ve introduced is just the ticket to not worry ’bout havin’ ta call The Man, eventually.

  11. John D

    So, is this “Windows” as the opening paragraph says or “Windows 7” only as the last paragraph implies?

  12. Smiling Carcass

    Will this work if you reinstall after hardware changes;upgrades?

  13. ts

    change from 32bit to 64bit?

  14. Joe O'Loughlin

    This item does not work for WIN XP.

  15. LM

    From the developer:

    The Backup Compatibility is:
    Office 2010
    Windows 7
    Windows Vista
    Windows Server 2011
    Windows Server 2008 R2

  16. lostnsavd

    Love what Advanced Token Manager can do but…What about those of us who are still running Windows XP? Are we to be left out in the cold? (shiver)


  17. Jyo

    Does this work on preinstalled-Windows provided when you buy a new PC?

  18. GeorgiaCowboy

    Near the bottom of the Dev. page is a stable ver. compatible with XP.

  19. TaylorGibb

    The For command that bull is talking about uses the MD command which is an alias for mkdir. Basically mkdir and md are the same thing put in simple terms

  20. mozillaatbest

    As a regular subscriber of HTG I look for things to simplify my computing experience. While I do not use a Windows platform I have in the past and know firsthand how beneficial this little tool can be. The process that is involved with the dreaded re-install of Windows is made even worse when it has been done more than once and complications are encountered at Microsoft with activating the new copy of Windows. Maybe if the developers at Microsoft would have thought of this and incorporated it into the system as a default I would have stayed, no they still got a long ways to go to get close to my Linux system. Anyways, just wanted to convey that this little program is a must have for the average Windows user to prevent a good amount of headaches in having to deal with Microsoft.

  21. pbug

    I’m trying to switch licenses between 2 PC’s – one has Win 7 Pro, the other Win 7 Home Prem. Can this or any other method be used to do this switch?

  22. Anuvab

    During Windows Installation,do I need to enter a product key or does it activate the Windows installation using the backup only?

  23. danhasmail

    I like this idea, but i would also like to know just what the program is doing.
    What is it copying, and what is it doing to put the information back???

  24. scristaldi

    Is someone going to answer these questions? Starting to think this is a Holloween surprise.

  25. Bill Zeidlik

    I have a 2003 Compaq Pavilion Laptop running XP (not well ?)! What can I do if I want to reload Windows XP or install Vista or preferably 7. I don’t want to loose all my passwords or addresses much less data I still believe I hid by mistake! Will any of what you suggest work for me?

  26. shekhar

    My Norton internet security is detecting it as a heuristic virus. Please tell me, can it happen? Or is it something wrong at my end?

  27. TaylorGibb

    @danhasmail it is backing up the tokens.dat file.

  28. rgh43

    One note, I had to go into Notepad and chage the key, it had some bogus key # and would not activate. Tried it 3 times then went to Notepad, chaged it, saved it and then ran it again and it made the change and Windows activated it. Great !!

  29. Brakers15

    Even the stable version that GeorgiaCowboy talks about does not work on my XP Pro. OEM version, the program states Incompatible OS detected.

  30. FDeWalt

    Did not work with Office 2010, it shows an ERROR “the essential script file not found”. Worked great with Windows 7.

  31. Jane1535

    I need to re=install Microsoft word on an older computer I was going to get rid of, but decided to keep due to 1 program I purchased that will not run on Windows 7. Anyway, I am unable to re-install Microsoft word for some reason. I still have the disc and the product key…but it is not accepting it. I was able to install it on my new computer with Windows 7, and my laptop (1 year old, Windows 7 also). But my older one is running XP, and will not accept the key. I wish now, I had not deleted most of the files when I was going to get rid of it. I miss having my Word documents on the old one which I use with my machine embroidery programs.

  32. abosaud1

    Really, this porogam solve many problem I was faced in my country with my PC. I am very greatful to show us this one.
    Best Regared.
    Al-Qarni Khalid S.

  33. toad

    @ Don Hildebrand~~
    Yup, you missed it; it’s just you.
    Re-read “..Collectively called a Token, this information can be backed up to an external storage medium…”

  34. Pimples

    Will this work if upgrade form win7 home premium 32bit to win7 home premium 64 bit?

  35. Bob Bowen

    Amazing Geek! Where’d you learn all this stuff?

    Being 75, I am Financially, darn it! , – I mean, Technically Embarrassed, so when I reinstall my Windows 7, I must first format my HDD, not so? So there goes my Windows Backup Activation File.

    Now what? Somebody will please have to explain the process for me from the beginning.

    I have reinstalled Windows XP so many times, I am sent to India to reactivate (last time a Tamil helped me), so I can now do it with my eyes closed, if I peep now and then.

    Please explain to me someone kind and geeky, step-by-step, how I do the preliminaries.

    Thanks guys. And thanks Geek. You are outa this world.

  36. Ron

    If I install this in 30 days do I have to pay to fix it or will it continue working? I don’t want to install on a 30 day trial and then have to pay for it after the 30 days.

  37. Chaos

    I concur Brakers15. XP version does’nt work here either, crc error. :(

  38. Ian

    It doesn’t work for xp your solution is to use an imaging software on xp instead make that for any windows,tho it’d be better to start from scratch by creating images immediately after install & activation of xp(images are basically a container put another way they’re an iso),except it’s in compressed form & contains all of the files on C partition,which can be repatriated back if the need arises,say if you got a virus or whatever,no more reinstall instead you get a fully operational OS & if you’ve made regular backups after fresh install at varying points or just went with a fully updated & software installed image instead,you can be back to where you were before tragedy struck,basically continue where you left off.This method imo also trounces this save product key thing unless your moving winblows to another computer.So here’s some freebies & paid software tools for creating images..easeus….minitool….acronis… ghost…If you need free help with imaging or cloning if no answers are forth comming in “how to forum” just type these guys specialize in anything to do with cloning or imaging

  39. Ian

    forgot to mention using repatriated images also includes an already activated OS,assuming you activated winblows before creating said images these images can also be used if upgrading the hdd to a larger one or if you replaced original hdd,depending on amount of data stored in C you can be back up & running in less than 60mins or 30mins if you keep C clear of crap i.e have a data partition to store pictures,music etc

  40. al

    Do you know of any software that can copy installed programs in a computer and transfer them to another computer and they will work correctly. I am planning to update from windows XP professional to Windows 7 and do not have all the original program disks.

  41. Bob Bowen

    Thanks Ian. It was very amiss of me not to mention that I now have Windows 7 Professional. My brain is also 75 years old, y’know… Could you be so kind as to explain what I do on Windows 7, please? I don’t need to reinstall, as although I have had Windows 7 Pro just over a year, I have had no problems whatever. I want to know for future reference. Thank you!

  42. hub capp

    Try free Clonezilla

  43. Dhrubo

    This item doesn’t work on Win 7 64 bit. It throws critical error.

  44. ganesh

    How to re install win7 os with out format?.

  45. Yoshiyah

    This works quite well actually on Windows 7 64-bit. Good find HTG.

  46. brobdignag

    I do it for Office 2010 and it goes with success, however when I close Office (Word for example) and open it again, the product key dialog box shows up. I can’t seem to get rid of it.

  47. rahul

    when i try doin d backup it says: the essential script file not found .
    wat seems to be the problem?

  48. Scott Price

    @Ganesh — Just choose the “Custom” option at Setup, then choose where to install.

  49. BTDT

    @ Don Hilldenbrand

    From the “introduction” paragraph

    “..Collectively called a Token, this information can be backed up to an external storage medium.”

    A little understated but it’s there ;)

  50. henry

    >> GeorgiaCowboy
    >> Near the bottom of the Dev. page is a stable ver. compatible with XP.

    georgiacowboy, i jumped with joy when i saw yr entry, but whereever i look, which ever
    version i try, i cannot find it – always get a ”NOT COMPATIBLE WITH THIS OS”.

    where am i going wrong?

    greets – henry

  51. Harry

    While trying the Office 2010 BAckup I got the following message: the essential script file not found
    What can I do?
    Thank you, Harry

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