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A friend's Vista-based computer won't boot, so I am just going to format and reinstall.

The problem is that she never kept her product key for Vista.

Is there any way to recover that key from her hard drive (which is currently plugged into my computer as a secondary) without booting from it?

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3 Answers 3

up vote 2 down vote accepted

Here's a utility that claims to be able to pull the install keys from a non-booting drive:

http://www.mayhemdevelopment.com.au/products.php?prodID=827192:

Quickly recover your products keys for windows, office and exchange. Windows 7, Vista, XP. Office XP, 2003, 2007. Recover your products keys from a system that will not boot with added support for external files.

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Yes, but most OEM recovery options contain the key preinstalled, so you may not need to.

Use a UBCD for Win boot Cd, then run a keyfinder, or just use the keyfinder "load Hive" feature on your current system that has the Vista drive connected, navigate to the crippled drives registry hive and load it.

http://www.raymond.cc/blog/archives/2009/08/10/easiest-way-to-recover-xp-and-vista-product-key-from-dead-or-unbootable-windows/

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A little harder way is to extract if from the ntuser.dat file

http://www.dagondesign.com/articles/windows-xp-product-key-recovery/

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Use the Magical Jelly Bean Keyfinder.

This is what i used, the others are either not able to load a non booted windows disk or not freeware. With this you just have to run as administrator, load hive (the windows install folder of your previous install) and pickup the Windows 7 key. It is the best choice for when recovering lost key on old hard drive.

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