How to Reactivate Windows 10 with a Digital License Key after Hardware Changes

Windows 10 activation is quite smart maintaining the license key if you change your graphics card, RAM, or Hard Drive, but asking you to re-authenticate if you change the motherboard or in some cases the CPU. As a result, a major hardware change can be frustrating unless you use a Digital license key, which you can utilize to reactivate Windows 10.

How does a Windows 10 digital license work?

By linking your Microsoft account to a Windows 10 digital license, you can ensure the Windows Activation troubleshooter will automatically recover your details. This can save you the headache of ruffling through drawers or emails to find your product key.

Though we talk about the Microsoft digital license being ‘linked’ to the account, it’s a bit more complex than that. In reality, it’s the Hardware ID of your PC the key is linked to, and your Microsoft account just has the permission to transfer it elsewhere.

As a result, you won’t be able to use the same Windows 10 Home license on multiple PCs –doing so will invalidate the oldest install. If you don’t link your digital license, you may have issues when you reactivate Windows 10 unless you have a product key to hand. We’re going to show you how to link and restore your key so you don’t have to worry about that.

How to Link Your Microsoft Account to a Windows 10 Digital License without Switching From a Local Account

For privacy reasons, many prefer their Windows 10 account to be a local one, rather than one that relies on Microsoft for authentication. This makes it a little more difficult to link your Windows 10 digital license, but it’s still possible to do so without switching from a local to Microsoft account.

  1. Open Windows 10 Account Settings


    Press “Windows + I” to open settings and click the “Accounts” button.

    Windows 10 - Settings - open Accounts

  2. Go to “Email & accounts” and “Add an Account”


    Windows 10 - Settings - Accounts - Add an account

  3. Choose “Outlook.com”


    Windows 10 - Settings - Accounts - Add an account - Outlook

  4. Enter your Microsoft account email


    Once you’re done, click “Next”.

    Windows 10 - Settings - Accounts - Add your Microsoft account

  5. Enter your Microsoft account password


    You may also have to enter an SMS code for verification.

    Windows 10 - Settings - Accounts - Add an account - Enter Password

  6. Click “Next” on the Windows 10 account screen


    Microsoft will now open a wizard to prompt you to use the account everywhere on this PC. Click “Next”.

    Windows 10 - Settings - Link account - Use this account everywhere on your device

  7. Check your Activation Settings


    In “Settings > Update & Security > Activation”, the Activation filed should now read “Windows is activated with a digital license linked to your Microsoft account”.

    Windows 10 - Settings - Activation status

  8. If necessary, refresh your Windows 10 digital license


    If your Windows 10 digital license doesn’t show up, you can use the slmgr /ato command in an elevated Command Prompt to refresh the activation status.

    Once you switch hardware, you can run the Windows Activation troubleshooter to reactivate Windows 10 if it doesn’t automatically transfer your license.

    Windows 10 - Elevated CMD - slmgr ato

How to Link Your Windows 10 Digital License and Switch to a Microsoft Account

The process to reactivate Windows 10 is a little shorter if you just switch from a local account to a Microsoft one. Microsoft is making it harder and harder to keep a local account, so it may be time to cave.

  1. Open Update & Security Settings


    Press “Windows + I” to open settings and click “Update & Security”.

    Windows 10 - Settings - Open Update and Security

  2. Enter the Activate Windows 10 Settings


    In the side menu, click “Activation”. If you’re already signed in with a Microsoft account, you won’t see an “Add an account” button, and your key should already be linked. If you aren’t, click “Add an account” under the “Add a Microsoft account” setting.

    Windows 10 - Settings - Update and Security - Activation

  3. Enter your Microsoft email address


    Windows 10 - Settings - Update and Security - Activation - Add Microsoft account

  4. Enter your Microsoft Account password


    Windows 10 - Settings - Accounts - Add your Microsoft account

  5. Type your Windows password


    Microsoft will ask you to sign into the computer with your Microsoft account and explain that this will switch you over from a local account. You’ll be asked to enter your current Windows password. This is so that someone can’t just walk up to your PC, switch it to their account, and steal your license.

    Windows 10 - Settings - Update and Security - Activation - Sign into this computer using your Microsoft account

  6. Check your Windows 10 license


    If your Windows 10 digital license doesn’t show up, you can use the slmgr /ato command in an elevated Command Prompt to refresh the activation status. You can run the Windows Activation troubleshooter once you switch hardware to reactivate Windows 10 if it doesn’t automatically transfer.

    Windows 10 - Settings - Activation status