Yes you can activate a clean install of Windows 7 with an upgrade product key


I am not promoting piracy, but I ran into a nasty little problem when I tried to activate Windows 7 on my home computer.  Maybe this post will help others like me who can’t get help anywhere else. 

In anticipation of obtaining my Windows 7 Pro upgrades (which I ordered in July on the pre-order 50% off sale) I installed Windows 7 Pro using a clean install without entering a product key for activation on two of my computers.  My laptop and my main home computer.  Both computers were clean installs on either a new hard drive or a new partition.  On my laptop I resized my partitions and installed Windows 7 on a new partition separate from Windows Vista.  So now its in a dual boot configuration with Windows Vista and Windows 7. 

On Thursday, I got my upgrade product keys from the Microsoft store and went to activate my computers.  On my laptop the activation was successful wtihout a problem.  Then I went to activate my home computer and got the error telling me that I can’t use an upgrade product key to activate a clean install of Windows 7.  So now I am left with a fully loaded PC running Windows 7 with only 10 days left to activate before I either have to re-arm or enter a new product key.  It takes hours to backup and restore the data on this PC, its my wife’s main computer and we have tons of stuff to backup and move around.  I’d pay a fee to avoid having to do this! 

The home computer was running Widnows Vista 32-bit Home premium edition.  It got upgraded to Windows 7 Pro 64-bit using a clean install method.  A while after I had installed Windows 7, I decided to cleanup the old hard drive that had the Windows Vista install on it because I wouldn’t need it anymore.  So I can’t even go back to Vista without having to do a clean install of Vista first which is something I want to avoid.  But from my understanding you can’t upgrade a 32-bit OS to the 64-bit version, so I have to do a clean install anyway.  But now that I’ve wiped out the hard drive that had Vista on it, so the activation wizard can’t see the old OS and won’t let me use my upgrade key.  I heard hints in various forums that the activation wizard looks for partitions with an upgradable OS on it. 

On my laptop, I still have the partition with Activated Windows Vista home premium 64-bit because of the dual boot setup, so I think thats why the activation wizard let me activate my laptop without a problem.  So what can we do in a situation like this?  Call Microsoft, take a huge risk and investigate non legit options?  

I had thought about trying to run the Retail upgrade install of Windows 7 on my home PC and use my upgrade key for activation.  The reason I had hope that this might work is because my home PC was loaded using the RTM Windows 7, and the download I got from Microsoft was the official retail media, so there is a very small chance it may have let me do another upgrade using my upgrade key and then possibly activate successfully.  My other thought was to install windows Vista on a spare hard drive and just leave it in my PC when booted up to Windows 7 and see if the Windows 7 Activation wizard will recognize a valid copy of Windows Vista and let me activate using my upgrade key. 

I was getting desperate since it could easily take two days to reload my home computer and go through all the trouble to get Windows 7 running again!  This is such a pain!  It shouldn’t be this hard for legit customers to use Microsoft software!!!

Ok, now that the rant is over, let me tell you how to get around this problem and get your Windows 7 systems activated.  This is actually very easy and only took a few minutes.  To my knowledge there is nothing underhanded or risky about this procedure.  Its also not well documented, it took me two days of google research and massive searches to find the information that helped me. 

Thanks to Winsupersite.com community for this information!

After performing the clean install, ensure that there are no Windows Updates pending that would require a system reboot. (You’ll see an orange shield icon next to Shutdown in the Start Menu if this is the case).  Install the updates and reboot if necessary before proceeding.

Then, open regedit.exe with Start Menu Search and navigate to:

HKLM/Software/Microsoft/Windows/CurrentVersion/Setup/OOBE/

Change MediaBootInstall from “1” to “0”.

Open the Start Menu again and type cmd to display a shortcut to the Command Line utility. Right-click this shortcut and choose “Run as administrator.” Handle the UAC prompt.

In the command line window, type: slmgr /rearm

Then click OK, close the command line window and reboot. When Windows 7 reboots, run the Activate Windows wizard (go to system properties and click the activate windows link at the bottom of the window), type in your upgrade product key and activate windows.  It should activate successfully and you are now finished!  Congratulations on saving yourself hours (or days in my case) of wasted time jumping through hoops trying to get your genuine Windows 7 installation activated!

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About Joe

I am the author of this blog, IT engineer, husband, father, and somewhat of a nerd.

Posted on October 23, 2009, in General, Products I use, Professional/Tech, Ramblings, Software. Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. Yes it will work as i tried it in the past and it validated just fine

  2. I came across the same problem, activated before but decided to upgrade my laptop to SSD and then your problem happened, i have a genuine copy for windows 7 and also full copy of vista, was getting stressed but this help me out. thank you for posting.

  3. What can I say?

    I LOVE YOU!!!

    After a hard disk failure the last thing I wanted was installing WINDOWS VISTA and UPGRADING TO WIN 7

  4. Thanks so much for posting this! I just installed Win7 on a Mac via Bootcamp – not sure if it would even have been possible to do a non-clean install from my previously-licenced version of Windows because Bootcamp only supports some versions.

    After digging out the activation phone number I honestly thought they would at least have a sensible workaround and wave me through with a previous licence key. But no, they told me to reinstall my old OS and upgrade, and that there was no way to ever activate otherwise.

    I was almost ready to be bullied into buying the thing again just to avoid repeating the hours of setup, when I thankfully found your post.

    A truly ridiculous policy and lazy implementation which penalises legit customers. Honestly it’s left me wishing I just stole the thing in the first place.

  5. I just wanted to say thanks for the info. It worked great for me. I didn’t know what I was going to do until I found your post.
    thanks again.

  6. Thank you very much. You saved me hours of headaches. Took me a while to figure out that HKLM means HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE (only like a minute I swear). After that it was smooth sailing and Windows 7 upgrade key was accepted. Thans again for taking the time to write out this information.

  7. THANKS SO MUCH MAN! THIS WAS AWESOME AND WORKED FIRST TIME! THANKS AGAIN!!!!!!!!!

  8. Amazing! Thanks for posting online!!

  9. Thanks, this worked beautifully and was a life saver!

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