I have recently acquired a laptop with an OEM Windows 8 product key. I am interested in a clean install of Windows 8.1. I do not have any original install media, only recovery disks, and the recovery disks perform a pre-programmed install which does not have the correct partition scheme that I need, and also install lots of programs that I do not want.

The common way to clean install Windows 8.1 with a Windows 8 key shown on websites is to use Microsoft's upgrade site to download the install media by starting the Windows 8 download first, pausing it, then starting the Windows 8.1 download. My Windows 8 OEM key is rejected with the message This product key cannot be used to install a retail version of Windows 8. I have tried using the generic keys provided in numerous threads, but these are all rejected with the message We can't connect right now (research shows that this is due to a key problem and not a network problem, I have confirmed the network is fine.)

If I was to obtain the 8.1 install media, am I right in thinking that I could install using the dummy key and later legitimately activate with my Win8 OEM key? If not, could I do the equivalent for Windows 8 install media? A clean Win8 upgraded through to 8.1 is still preferable to the wrongly-partitioned OEM version.

Is this even possible? If it's not possible, are the manufacturer under obligation to provide me with "clean" install disks on request?

  • What you want is possible. Get the Windows 8.1 installation the. Follow the directions to the answer in this very website to that question ( it's one of my answers )
    – Ramhound
    Commented Jan 5, 2014 at 14:59
  • The OEM key only works for Windows 8 DVDs, NOT for 8.1. To reinsatll 8.1, install 8.0 from a clean MSDN/Technet ISO and update with the Store to 8.1 Commented Jan 5, 2014 at 15:48
  • 7
    @Ramhound confirmed working. The generic key XHQ8N-C3MCJ-RQXB6-WCHYG-C9WKB works with the 8.1 Pro RTM install DVD with SHA1 sum 42458E48CECEBAB8BF5D58220478FDA42B0D2990. A valid OEM key (non retail!) was accepted for 8.1 activation after installation, contrary to what lots of people have said. However it looks to be impossible to obtain the ISO directly from MS with an OEM key and without an MSDN subscription. Wouldn't care to comment on whether obtaining it elsewhere is legal or not but it's surely moral.
    – amoe
    Commented Jan 5, 2014 at 19:12
  • @amoe - Your OEM can provide you the required installation media.
    – Ramhound
    Commented Jan 6, 2014 at 0:24
  • @Ramhound except that is like getting blood from a stone with most OEMs Commented Feb 1, 2014 at 0:39

4 Answers 4


I have successfully been able to swap licenses by first installing a retail version. At the end of this article you will also find a video tutorial on how to do all of this if you do not want to read all of the below.


Windows 8 OEM machines no longer include a COA sticker or label at the bottom of your laptop with your serial number. If you need to re-install your Windows and your hard drive's recovery cannot be accessed or you forget to create recovery discs - it's a difficult process.

Here are the reasons people want to clean install Windows 8.1:

  1. Some people believe a clean install is better than an upgrade from Windows 8

  2. People forget to do a recovery disc backup and their hard drive's recovery doesn't work. This could be for a variety of reasons (mine was a new SSD installation, while others have reported wiping their drives or recovery partitions becoming inactive or corrupt)

  3. Guaranteed removal of bloatware—even if you did obtain recovery discs, people don't like all the added on applications that OEMs supply with their machines.

  4. Saving the $$$ involved in obtaining recovery discs from the manufacturer (such as Toshiba who thought it was ok to charge me $68 US to ship me recovery discs—with bloatware)

Here is the process

First, find yourself a retail copy of Windows 8.1 ISO. Get the version that corresponds with what came with your laptop (e.g. Professional 64bit). You can download from My Digital Life forums or even find one as a torrent or download directly from Microsoft if you happen to also have a valid retail serial number or dev account. (Remember, downloading a Microsoft ISO is NOT illegal as long as you are installing it with a legal license)

I recommend to check the SHA-1 hash to make sure the ISO files are original if downloading from torrents, else you may end up with a tampered OS with backdoors which will be nearly impossible to remove (implementing backdoors on a OS install disc allows to bypass any security measure of the OS and thus make them completely undetectable). You can check the official SHA-1 hashes directly from Microsoft's MSDN website, then just click on Details on the entry that corresponds to the ISO you downloaded to show the hash.

Next, install the ISO by burning it to a DVD and booting from the DVD. You may have to change your BIOS settings to allow booting from DVD as the first boot device.

Install Windows 8.1 Retail with a generic key. Microsoft has now released LEGAL generic keys used for the sole purpose of installing Windows 8.1 as an INACTIVATED copy.

Generic keys can be found by simply googling:

windows 8.1 [version] [32 or 64 bit] generic key

Finally, once the Windows installation finishes, open up an elevated command prompt. To do this right click on the Windows button and click Command Prompt (Admin).

In the window type: slmgr /upk

This will uninstall the product key (which is generic and inactivated anyway).

Once this is done, use a program like RW Everything to extract the key that is embedded in the bios of your OEM machine. Once you open it, click on the ACPI button then click the MSDM tab. Your key will appear at the end of the data window as the value for the key "Data".

Open an elevated command prompt again and type: slui 3

This will open up a GUI request for your product key. Paste the key from RW Everything.

That's it, you're all done.

You will notice you are fully activated and all of your Windows updates will work.

I have also made a simple tutorial video that explains how to do it all for those that want a more visual demonstration.

  • www.hecticated.com can't be found, because the DNS lookup failed
    – Henno
    Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 17:02
  • Here's the YouTube link: youtube.com/watch?v=He9wg7pqHPI
    – evan.bovie
    Commented May 1, 2014 at 3:06
  • 6
    Best answer to the problem on the Internet. Commented Aug 3, 2014 at 19:46
  • 1
    @MikeCole I have edited the answer, the edit should appear soon. You can check the SHA1 hash from MSDN website directly, and it is quite advised as a tampered OS can contain backdoors that will be completely undetectable once the OS gets installed on a computer (the backdoors can be placed above the OS itself, so the OS won't even be able to access the backdoors in any way).
    – gaborous
    Commented Dec 6, 2014 at 18:11
  • 2
    There is now an official Microsoft tool to make the installation media. windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows-8/… Commented Apr 4, 2015 at 1:29

simple fix is to get the windows 8.1 or windows 8 iso then make \sources\ei.cfg and put


into it and save the iso as bootable or just copy everything to a usbstick

  • Would be cool if anyone could confirm this
    – nixda
    Commented Jun 8, 2014 at 10:05
  • you can test it your self in a virtualbox or something :)
    – nwgat
    Commented Jun 9, 2014 at 17:28
  • Found the reference here technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/hh824952.aspx
    – Beached
    Commented Dec 6, 2014 at 18:53
  • does this work with the retail ISO image?
    – netvope
    Commented Dec 12, 2014 at 1:25
  • try change "OEM" with "Retail" and it should work, but do try in Virtualbox
    – nwgat
    Commented Dec 13, 2014 at 3:21

If I'm not mistaken, then Microsoft allows customers with OEM installations to download Refresh Media from their site since November 2014 (source: article on Heise.de in german, but ars technica is good as well). I recall that there was also a campaign advertising a bloatware-free Windows 8 installation around that time, but I cannot find any sources or remember a particular keyword.

Microsoft also offers Refresh Media for Windows 10 since day one.

Note that the site will offer you an ISO if it detects a browser User-Agent indicating a non-Windows operating system. Also note that while you should backup contents on the USB drive you want to use, you don't have to format it if you intend to install with UEFI. If you have enough free space, just create a new folder and put everything that is already on the drive temporarily in there and follow the first part of this guide. (7z works the same way on Windows, just replace the name of the Ubuntu ISO with Windows and copy files.) Ideally it saves you a bit of time, writes to flash cells and may be saves you the hassle of finding a free USB drive. After the installation is done you just move the content from the temporary folder back the where it was.


Maybe this link can help you understand the issue: http://answers.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/forum/windows_8-windows_install/a-clean-install-of-windows-8-oem-media-download/1b1e2517-5658-450d-943e-7e81f902adec?page=2

The problem is that Microsoft allows OEM vendors to change the installation medium. Companies like HP and Dell usually install a lot of crap on it with trials for e.g. McAfee antivirus, Office trial products and so forth. They do this because they make extra money off of it.

The only option I can really think of. I've had to deal with problems like this many many times and Dell is really unwilling to provide a clean installation medium. Maybe if you have orders of several millions or so, they're willing to do an extra effort, but for the normal people, it's what you have to live with.

You could try and see if you can download a clean OEM version somewhere on the internet and see if your serial works on it. I know you can torrent the necessary iso files but I have my questions about the legality of it all... If you don't like the junk that comes with OEM versions, you should buy a retail version. It is much more expensive, but easier to deal with + you are allowed to install it on different hardware too.

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