Long story short

I have two computers: a laptop and a desktop computer. Both have Windows 7 on them.

I buy the Windows 8 Pro upgrade. To see if it screws up anything, I install it on my laptop as a guinea pig. I intend to use Windows 8 for my main computer, my desktop, but I want to test it on the laptop, so I know I don’t risk losing access to my desktop and the data on it. I never use my laptop, and only used it, because it already has a Windows 7 installation on it.

The problem

At some point, I must have entered the license key on my laptop, because when I go to the activation screen on my desktop, I get this:

Activation error

Uh-oh. I can’t use the key on my desktop. Now how the hell do I transfer the key from my laptop to my desktop computer?

Answers and suggestions so far

Let’s just say that I tried everything possible to get some answers on this matter. The best response I got from Microsoft is this:

To install Windows 8 on your desktop, do the following:

  • Uninstall Windows 8 on your laptop
  • Afterwards, install Windows 8 on your desktop
  • If it won’t activate, call product activation at (...)

I am not a fan of that last point. The error message does allude to such a solution, however:

If you’ve reinstalled Windows or made changes to your hardware recently, you may be able to use your current key.

The question

My main question is this: has anyone been in a similar situation, and if so, what did you do to resolve this?

Failing that, what is the proper way to

  1. uninstall the Windows 8 installation on my laptop, and
  2. reinstall the Windows 8 installation on my desktop?

Ad 1

I have already tried using the “reset” feature on my laptop, but that only resulted in a new Windows 8 installation that was already activated. But which is the right way to uninstall the installation in a way that allows me to use the license key on the desktop computer?

Ad 2

Which is the proper way to reinstall the Windows 8 installation on my desktop computer? Why do I even have to reinstall it in the first place?

I won’t get around to do this, until my USB key with 3.0 support arrives in the mail, but it is going to be a while, until I find a assuaging response to the best way to go about this anyway.


Just got back from talking with Microsoft support on phone, and here is how we made it work—without formatting the desktop computer.

EDIT: The bounty message is gone now, but I added my own answer as a canonical one, because as many interesting suggestions as there were, none had been demonstrated to work, although they very well might. We couldn’t leave people hanging, in case something didn’t pan out.

So here is one case of a solution that worked out, not just in theory:

I did not touch the laptop at all throughout this.

I got a phone call from Microsoft support, which was unexpected. (The e-mail supporter had been sick awhile and hadn’t responded as a result, so they decided to call to check up on me).

He told me that I didn’t have to format the laptop, and that we could just activate the desktop over the phone.

Normally, I would have to go through a dial prompt, when I tried activating myself, forcing me to enter all the numbers by phone, but it is possible that this only happened, because I called outside the regular hours* (in one case leading me to a dude with an Indian accent in some call centre who understood little to nothing of what I said).

The problem here was getting in touch with a local support person at Microsoft, which in this case only happened, because the woman I had corresponded with (through their website) over e-mail was sick and had not gotten in touch with me for a while.

But I finally got in touch with someone capable, and here’s what we did:

We first opened up the activation prompt:

Activation screen

  1. Win + R -> slui 4

    • Or Win + W + “Click Activate”.

    • Or click your account icon and click the account settings.

  2. I tell him all the numbers; after that, he gives me the corresponding numbers to enter.

  3. The installation is now activated.

With regards to the other computer, the laptop:

  1. The key is tied to the hardware.

  2. As long as I never use the Windows 8 installation on the laptop, I’m probably fine, but better to uninstall it.

  3. It doesn’t matter how I choose to uninstall Windows 8; the support guy suggested just formatting the whole thing.

I am choosing to accept this answer for the moment, because it is the only one with a proven record of actually working. I welcome more, and better, answers from people who by their own experience or that of their acquaintances can vouch for their solution and walk-through.

I won’t be the first, only, nor last person with this problem, and people need a good place to find help, if they run into the same problem I did.

* 17:00 local time, most likely.

  • 2
    This is pretty much what was already suggested. You remove the Windows 8 upgrade from one machine and activate it on the other. – Ramhound Nov 9 '12 at 13:37
  • 2
    This is how I re-activated my Windows 7 on the same computer after replacing the motherboard, and Windows Vista on another computer. Windows suggested I should do it on the phone. I called and followed the automated process: entered the numbers displayed and then typed the confirmation code the robot said. It was really easy. (My case was different from yours in that I didn't have another installation with the same key. And wiping out the laptop drive would do the uninstall for you.) – Alexey Ivanov Nov 15 '12 at 16:43

From an elevated command prompt, try slmgr /upk to uninstall the product key on the laptop, then try activating on the desktop. If it works, there should be no reason to reinstall anything.

  • The command does detach the key from the installation, but the laptop is automatically activated shortly after somehow. Before it is, though, I keep entering the key on the desktop, but it keeps telling me that the key is taken. There doesn’t appear to be a window where the laptop is not activated, and the key can be used on the desktop, by the look of it. – Kiwi Nov 3 '12 at 19:53
  • How soon is "shortly after"? If it's a few seconds you could type in the command above and pop out the battery and never boot that installation again. – page4096 Nov 3 '12 at 20:55
  • Have you tried disconnecting the laptop from the network and then running the command? – Karan Nov 3 '12 at 21:02
  • Enough that I can still see the activation prompt on the laptop, while I enter the key on the desktop. But I guess it still needs to phone home and communicate the deactivation. But regardless, I haven’t yet managed to find out whether Windows on the desktop really cares that it has been deactivated on the laptop. It all nice and dandy that the laptop says it has deactivated the key, but I don’t know for sure whether that is any guarantee that an activation on the desktop is possible. Or rather that the key has been released completely freed up to be used elsewhere. – Kiwi Nov 3 '12 at 21:07
  • The problem really lies in whether the deactivation is actually relayed back to the MS activation servers or not. If not, their suggestion that you activate by phone is likely the only way, since they might be only doing this manually after verification. Any reason why you're vehemently against phoning them? From my experience so far, it's a fairly painless and quick process. – Karan Nov 3 '12 at 21:55

so in my case helps just to call local number provided after Win + R -> slui 4.

After that I just add numbers from first 8 blocks on my cell phone and machine just generate for me second group.

Now Win 8 activated, all on phone in my native language, no need to speak with a person, just with machine. Easy as it could be.


I had installed my upgrade in a VM on my Macbook Air, and decided that I wanted to put it on my desktop since I needed the space. I installed using the same key and download link from my purchase email, then went to the same prompts via

Win + R -> slui 4

Selected United States

Called the number, and entered the long ass code

But when asked how many computers this was installed on I said 1 (one) and the system gave me the new code to enter.

I assume the same is true that now I just need to delete the VM and all is well. I will likely open it once more and see if I can get any files off that I may need, but basically it works the same without the need of using a live rep.

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