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Windows activations are frequently tied to a digital license that's then linked to your Microsoft account. That way, you just need to sign into your desktop PC or laptop to reactivate your license when you switch devices. But if you end up making changes to a PC, like swapping hardware, or if you're building your own desktop from scratch, you might have to reactivate or activate Windows the old-fashioned way.

Thankfully, as long as you own a proper license for Windows 11 Home, Windows 11 Pro, or any Windows 10 edition, it's easy to activate in a few simple steps. You can do it online or by phone on both Windows 11 and Windows 10.

How to activate Windows during setup

If you've set up Windows for the first time on a new PC or laptop that you're building yourself, a virtual machine, or any machine that doesn't have an existing Windows license, you can activate Windows as part of the setup. Here's how:

  1. Select a language, time, and keyboard input on the Windows Setup screen.
  2. Click Install Now.
  3. You'll see the Activate Windows page.
    Activate Windows 11 page
  4. Enter the 25-digit product key. If you're unsure, you can choose I don't have a product key and add it later with any of the steps below.

How to active Windows in Windows 11

In most cases, Windows 11 should activate automatically once you sign in with a Microsoft account and connect to the internet. But if you find that Windows 11 isn't activated for some reason, it's easy to activate it manually. Here's what to do:

  1. Open the Windows 11 Settings App with Windows Key + I on your keyboard.
  2. Choose System in the sidebar.
  3. Choose Activation.
  4. Follow the instructions to activate your license.
    Windows 11 activation pop-up
  5. If you're sure you don't need a product key and are still having issues, click the Troubleshoot option and follow the steps on your screen. Windows will attempt to resolve the issue for you.
  6. If you still see an error code, it means your PC doesn't have an active license. Click the Go to Store link to purchase a valid Windows 11 license from Microsoft and follow the steps on your screen.
    • You also can choose Change Product Key to enter the 25-digit product key you might have purchased or the one included on the sticker on the bottom of your laptop or PC.
  7. If you don't have internet, you can still activate Windows 11 through the phone. Just choose Activate by Phone under Activate Windows Now. You'll get a readout of an Installation ID and a phone number to call. Microsoft Support will provide a confirmation ID for you to input.

How to activate Windows 10

Windows 10 activates similarly to Windows 11 with either a digital license or a product key. In most cases, it should automatically activate for you. But if you find yourself having trouble, here's what you can do:

  1. Open the Windows 10 Start Menu. Search for Settings and launch it.
  2. Select Update and Security.
  3. Select Activation.
    Windows 10 activation pop-up
  4. If you see an error code, try the Troubleshoot option. Windows will attempt to activate it automatically.
  5. If the troubleshooter fails, it means you're going to have to buy a license. Choose the Go to the Microsoft Store or choose Change product key to activate Windows with a key you own.
  6. If you don't have internet, you can still activate Windows 10 by using your phone. Open the Start Menu and search for Run. Then launch Run and type slui 4. Pick your region, then follow the instructions on the phone.

That's pretty much all there is to activate Windows 10 and Windows 11. Activation is done through the settings application. We hope your Windows is now up and running, as running an activated version of Windows will ensure you get the latest security updates and give you more ways to personalize your device. You also can upgrade Windows to a different edition in order to unlock more features.