In a stunning freak accident, my processor, video card, wireless card, motherboard and media drive all died in my home computer. I've been running Windows 10 since release and was specifically dreading this day. Windows 10 uses online activation, similar to Windows 8, but with the caveat that an upgrade from Windows 8 leaves you with no valid Windows 10 product key. The activation is tied to your hardware, so changing out the motherboard and CPU will cause an activation failure, and that is exactly what happened, after I finally got the hardware back together. This post details the process I took to get back to an activated legal copy of the software I paid for. It was frustrating and painful but ultimately resolved. You'll want a fast internet connection to do it, since it requires a lot of downloads.
On 11/12/2015, Microsoft rolled out the first major update to Windows 10 - update 1511 or build 10586.x. Turns out that while everyone was eligible, there were some interesting caveats, that prevented the installation of this (3GB!) patch, through Microsoft Windows Update.
Why does this matter? Back to the hardware change issue with Windows 10 - if you have upgraded to Windows 10 from Windows 7, 8, 8.1 (including the free offers from earlier this year or the current free offer to those who already have Windows 7, 8, or 8.1) you don't have a product key - the upgrade process takes your existing Windows 7 or Windows 8 product key and uses that for activation. If you happen to have to reinstall Windows or if you make hardware changes, you're hosed and activation will fail. To be fair, Microsoft has made the non-destructive install options much better with Windows 10, so many times a reinstall won't be necessary, BUT hardware changes will hose things up.
After 6 hours of debugging, finding all the components that had died, I finally got the machine up and running only to find that it couldn't activate. I even started chatting with Microsoft support to get the machine updated and two reps and 2 hours of chatting and remote desktop sessions and they could not do it, although they did give me a key piece of information - Update 1511 will take the old Windows 7, or Windows 8 product key to activate! This is why the update matters - unless I wanted to install Windows 8 on the hardware, activate it and then either upgrade to Windows 10 or do a slightly hacky fix with the hardware.xml file, I was stuck with an unactivated license, which meant a few things. First, there was an annoying logo in everything on the monitor, reminding me that I was not activated. Second, at some point the machine would stop working... there was no definite timeframe that this would occur and it could be an empty threat, but I didn't want to take that chance.
Unfortunately, this was Saturday night, which meant that the 1511 update was pulled from MCT and it wasn't appearing in my Windows Update.
One site pointed me at the "Defer upgrades" setting for Updates, which will block it from appearing. Lots of people had luck unchecking that box and the update showing up for them, but no such luck for me. Definitely worth a try if your machine has been upgraded to Windows 10 for more than 30 days. I tried letting the machine sit overnight, I tried downloading ISOs, I tried upgrading through the MCT tool and nothing worked.
And, once you do, you can reactivate Windows using your old product key! Finally. I would recommend a quick chat with Microsoft support to make sure your Windows 7 or Windows 8 product key is valid - I had trouble finding mine, but finally did - it comes in email from Microsoft that Gmail could not parse for some reason, so searching Gmail for "Windows 8 Product Key" didn't work, despite that text appearing in the email.
Success! Well, except that Windows 10 Update 1511 Build 10586 has a few interesting caveats - First, it uninstalls some programs for you. I can't think of a good reason it ripped CPU-Z off my machine. Same thing with F5's VPN client and a few other things that were bizarrely on the kill list. The other thing it did that annoyed me was set the default browser to Microsoft Edge. It's a great browser, but come on, I'm a Chrome user and it's pretty dirty to change the default bindings for that.
I also noticed it changed the association for PDF and a few other file types. Easily fixed by right clicking on a PDF and changing the Opens With: but come on Microsoft, a BIT heavy handed, isn't it?
Other than that, it seems pretty solid and snappier than the already really fast Windows 10. Ultimately the changes to 1511 with regards to licensing and activation are well worth the upgrade since not everyone has a stack of spare disks lying around to reinstall the previous OS on. Glad to see that change in there, and happy that my machine is now back in working order, and just waiting for a Crash Plan restore to finish...
Silicon Valley Dad, who loves cars, cooking, clothes and cameras