All about Windows licenses: Retail, OEM, SLP, VL ...


Who has never asked about Windows licenses ? For many, the content of these license is so opaque that it is difficult to know what’s right and no right to do with it. It is precisely the ambitious goal of this article, you enlighten, and answer any questions you can ask yourself about Windows licenses .


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What are the different Windows license types ? What Windows license is installed on my PC? What is the difference between OEM and Retail license ? What happens to my Windows license if I change the motherboard or hard drive my PC? Ouch, that’s already a lot and believe me this is just the beginning before all the gray areas that need clarification!

In this article I will try to be as exhaustive as possible in explaining the point by point different types of Windows licenses and what rights you have under license you have (OEM or Retail ). I also put up a small FAQ at the end of this article to answer the most frequently asked questions about Windows licenses.

Are you ready to know everything and understand everything about Windows licenses ? Go!

Retail Licence

The Retail license Windows is the most expensive but also the least restrictive license.


Windows License FPP or Retail 10 sold € 129.99 on Amazon (the 02/03/2016)

With product key supplied , you can install your copy of Windows on any PC. If you buy a new PC (you ride yourself, for example), you can install your copy of Windows on the new PC and activate it using your product key, having taken care to remove the product key on your old PC. Similarly, you can change all components of your current computer (motherboard, hard drive …) without any problem, even if Windows reactivation is sometimes necessary (especially if you change an essential component as the motherboard).

The Retail license is not related to hardware as OEM license (see following ) but the user. You must abide by against the licensing namely license by post . You can not use your product key to install and activate Windows on multiple PCs simultaneously: your license must be installed on one PC at a time . If you try to install and activate Windows with your product key on a second PC, Windows will not be activated on the first PC.

The Retail license can be acquired in two different ways. First way: in buying the boxed version (Full Packaged Product or FPP) Windows from an authorized dealer. The box contains the Windows installation media (USB or an installation DVD), the product guide (or manual), the product key and the license. Second way: by purchasing and downloading the digital version (download) Windows from an authorized dealer (the Microsoft Store, Amazon, …). You will then receive a confirmation email containing the details of your order and your product key.


Contents of the Retail or FPP version of Windows 10 Pro – Source:

The activating your license Retail is done directly in Windows, Internet or with a confirmation ID that you get by phone. A new activation is required if you change the motherboard and / or hard drive on your machine.

If Windows technical incident, the support Windows is made by Microsoft.

License “Update”

The license “Update” is identical to the Retail license with the difference that it is only usable by updating a previous version of Windows, called ‘qualifying’ . If you buy a license “Update”, you will have to start the Windows installation program from a previous version of Windows already installed and activated … obviously 🙂

For example, to install and activate Windows 8 version “update”, you must start the installation directly from Windows XP, Windows Vista or Windows 7. Whether the qualifying version is an OEM version, a version box or herself an “updated” version. If you run the installing this version “upgrade” to a raw partition (starting directly from the DVD or USB installation starting the PC for example), enabling Windows will not work.


License “update” of Windows 8 sold at € 130.00 on Amazon (the 03/02/2016)


Retail or FPP license for Windows 8 Pro sold at € 279.99 on Amazon (the 02/03/2016)

The terms of use are the same as the Retail License: you can transfer your license to any other PC, as long as the license is installed on a PC at a time. Price level, it is between the Retail and OEM licensing license. It was launched to enable holders of a license for an older version of Windows to mount in lower cost version. The “Update” license is every identical to the retail license , only the procedure of installation differs.

Importantly, you do can not re-use the old license (one of the qualifying version of Windows) on another PC. Example: you install Windows 7 Retail version on your PC, then you upgrade by installing Windows 8.1 version “Update”. You can not use your product key Windows 7 on another PC

OEM license

The OEM license (Original Equipment Manufacturer) for Windows is the least expensive license but also the most restrictive. In general, the OEM license is for assemblers (companies that make customized PCs like HP, Asus, Lenovo … or computer store down to you) and integrators system: it can provide a Windows pre-installed cost when selling a complete configuration. When buy a PC with pre-installed Windows , so you in 99% of cases Windows OEM license .


Windows 10 OEM License Family sold at € 119.99 on Amazon (the 02/03/2016)

The big downside of the OEM license (which explains its reduced price) is that it is related to life to your machine, it is impossible move the license to another PC . It was during the first installation of your copy of Windows and after activating it online or by phone with your product key is definitely made the link between your PC and your OEM license.

You can change all the components of your PC without having to purchase a new license, unless you change your hard drive or motherboard: in this case, Windows will not be activated and you will buy a new license . But then what will happen if your motherboard or your hard drive fails? You must contact support of your PC manufacturer (HP, Lenovo, Dell …) to undertake a replacement of any component preserving your Windows OEM license valid.

There are three types of OEM licenses, each offering a different activation method:

  1. The OEM license: SLP (System Locked Pre-installation): a product key OEM: SLP is installed in the BIOS of the motherboard and specifically in ACPI SLIC table. The user can not see this product key, unless you use software to view the product keys as ShowKeyPlus . The Windows activation is done offline : the user does not activate Windows online or by phone as with a retail license. Three components must be present for the offline activation works a ACPI SLIC table in BIOS , a OEM certificate and product key OEM: SLP . Table data ACPI SLIC are related with the OEM certificate and permit to validate the product key. The key product OEM: SLP are the only key that can activate Windows offline, without having to contact Microsoft servers. They are only used by big brand PC manufacturers such as Asus, Dell, HP … Please note, OEM product keys: SLP fail to activate Windows via the Microsoft activation system by Internet or telephone, they can only be used by the SLP.

  2. The OEM license: NONSLP (Not System Locked Pre-installation): a product key provided to you, as for Retail license. The Windows Activation must be done by the user either by internet or telephone. But unlike the Retail license, support is provided by the PC manufacturer (HP, Lenovo, Packard Bell …).

  3. The OEM license: COA (Certificate of Authentication): This license provides a product key sticker affixed to that typically found on the PC chassis. The license has already been activated by the PC manufacturer with an OEM product key: SLP. This is not the product key printed on the sticker COA that is used to activate Windows but of the SLP. The product key on the COA is only provided if a Windows reinstallation is required and that for one reason or another, the offline activation of Windows via the SLP does not work. In this case, users will need to manually activate Windows by phone using the product key on the COA.

From a features standpoint, the OEM version is identical to the retail version of .

If Windows technical incident, the support is provided by the PC manufacturer or vendor of the license and not by Microsoft.

Volume License (VL)

Microsoft sells volume license keys (VLK Key or Volume Licensing) for organizations and businesses who need to install and activate Windows on multiple machines simultaneously.

What is the advantage of a Volume License?

To understand, let us instead of a director we have to install the same copy of Windows on all the machines of our IT infrastructure and more activate Windows on each machine. To save time, it would be good to have a Automatic Deployment tool to install and activate the same copy of Windows – configured according to corporate strategy – from our server on all positions customers. The Windows Deployment Services (WDS or Windows Deployment Services) precisely to meet this need. With WDS, the administrator will be able to deploy an image (or copy) the same Windows on all workstations!

How to get that volume license?

First, it is necessary that the administrator purchases as a server OEM or Retail licenses of Windows . This is a mandatory step. Unfortunately, with an OEM or Retail licenses, the administrator has no right to create an image (or copy) of Windows, it is written in the license. Therefore impossible to use Windows Deployment Services (WDS) to deploy our Windows image across all clients. A volume license allows however to use the WDS!

For this volume license, the administrator will have to update its existing OEM license or retail, as we do when we want to move from Windows 10 to Windows 10 Pro Family via the Windows Store, for example. A Volume License is upgrade an OEM or Retail license , with additional rights to create and deploy system images.

How is Windows activation on client machines?

With a volume license , the client computers do not need to activate Windows online or by phone. Instead, the administrator can use a local activation service within its network called the Key Management Service or KMS (Key Management Service) . KMS is required to turn over 25 machines on its network. By choosing the KMS activation , the administrator installs a so KMS on the server. Therefore, it is he who will serve as activation server for client workstations: it replaces the Microsoft activation server we – individuals – use to activate our copy of Windows. All machines activated using KMS must be reactivated periodically 2 times a year, every 180 days.

If the administrator wants to activate fewer than 25 machines, he can choose Multiple Activation Key (MAK) instead of KMS service: every computer will connect separately and only once Microsoft activation server to activate Windows.

How it works

Buy a volume license , the administrator will have access to a special ISO image of Windows. This special ISO contains a version of Windows that does not need a product key. It is this ISO image to be deployed on client machines.

The administrator will also have access to a special product key: a KMS product key allowing it to activate the KMS server . One activation is required with Microsoft after the KMS server enabled, there will be no communication between the client and the KMS server on one side and Microsoft on the other. The administrator then deploys its Windows ISO image to all clients. Once a client is installed, it scans the network for search KMS server and is active through him. Once activated, customers have a valid Windows license, as long as the activation is renewed 2 times a year (180 days) with KMS .

The activation method “Digital Rights”

Since Windows 10, an activation method has emerged: the “digital right” or “Digital entitlement” . Unlike traditional activation method where one grasps a product key to activate Windows, the Windows activation here is made only by internet without typing anything. You are forced to use the activation method “Digital Law” in the following cases:

  • By the free upgrade to Windows 10 from a genuine copy of Windows 7 or Windows 8.1

  • By upgrading to Windows 10 ( 1511 version of or greater) and after you have activated your copy of Windows 10 using a product key Windows 7, or Windows 8 Windows 8.1

  • In buying a genuine copy of Windows 10 in the Windows Store and after activating your copy of Windows 10

  • In purchasing an upgrade to Windows 10 Pro in the Windows Store and after activating your copy of Windows 10

  • Being Windows Insider and making the free upgrade to Windows 10 Insider Preview from a genuine copy of Windows 7 or Windows 8.1, or from Windows 10 Preview (this offer is no longer available )

How does activation procedure by “Digital Rights” ?

This is simple: after the first installation of Windows 10 and Windows for the first activation, a unique identification code is generated to identify your machine (desktop PC, notebook PC, tablet, etc.). To create this unique code, Microsoft is based on all of your hardware (motherboard, hard drive, processor …). Thanks to him, Microsoft assigns to your machine a Windows 10 license in its database. If you redo a “clean” installation of Windows 10 on your PC when Windows is activated via the “digital right” Microsoft will search for the unique identification code of your machine and check if it is linked to a license Windows 10 or not. If this is the case, Windows 10 will be activated. This unique identifier is stored on Microsoft servers, the activation is exclusively through internet .


What will happen if I change my hardware ?

Two scenarios are possible:

  1. If you have a license Retail Windows 10 (having purchased directly Windows 10 boxed or via the Windows Store or by having made the free upgrade to Windows 10 from a license Retail Windows 7 / 8.1), your Windows certainly will not be activated but just restart the activation process for it to be new.

  2. If you have a OEM license of Windows 10 (having bought a pre-installed with Windows 10 PC or having made the free upgrade to Windows 10 from an OEM license of Windows 7 / 8.1) as your Windows 10 license is tied to your unique identification code that is based on all of your current hardware configuration, if you change an essential component of your configuration (motherboard or hard drive), Windows 10 will not be activated . By altering a component of your system, you will get a new identification code that it is not linked to your Windows license 10. To reactivate your copy of Windows 10, you will compulsorily contact the customer support Microsoft.

FAQ on Windows licenses

I did not or more Windows installation media (USB flash drive or DVD installation), the maker of my PC has not provided me: what if I want to reinstall Windows ?

Several solutions:

  • Use the manufacturer installed a recovery partition on the hard drive to a PC factory restoration

  • Create a DVD or a recovery USB flash drive with the software installed by the manufacturer in Windows. This will also allow you to make a Factory Restore PC

  • Create your own DVD or USB key Windows installation (click here to know how to create an installation support Windows 10, 8.1 or 7 )

Quickly, the differences between a retail license and an OEM license?

The Windows OEM licenses are identical to Retail licenses except the following:

  • OEM licenses do not offer the Microsoft support, with the assistance of Microsoft technicians. In case of technical problems with Windows, you must turn to the computer manufacturer’s support

  • OEM licenses are permanently attached to the first PC on which Windows is installed and enabled

  • OEM licenses allow the upgrade of any component material, with the exception of a different model of motherboard and hard drive

  • OEM licenses can not be directly used to update an older version of Windows

I have the 32-bit version of Windows that is installed on my PC. Do I reinstall Windows 64-bit version?

An OEM license can be used to install a 32-bit or 64-bit Windows. If you bought a PC with pre-installed 32-bit version of Windows family, you can reinstall Windows 10 Family in its 64-bit version. The license contract grants the right to install your Windows version whatever its version, 32-bit or 64-bit.

Can I sell the product key for an OEM license?

No! You will have to sell the full PC, not just the license, since the license is linked to life the PC.

What I get license after the free upgrade to Windows 10?

You keep the same license as the one you had on your previous version of Windows (Windows 7 or Windows 8.1). If you have an OEM license of Windows 7 / 8.1, you get an OEM license of Windows 10; if you had a Windows 7 license Retail / 8.1, you get a Windows 10 Retail license that you can freely transfer to any PC.

Do I activate my OEM license using a DVD or USB drive Windows installation from an ISO that I downloaded online?


How do I know if I have an OEM license or a retail license?

Simultaneously press the Windows + Pause to open the panel System Control Panel. Scroll to the bottom of the screen and locate the line Product ID .

The Product ID should be in the form xxxxx-xxx-xxxxxxx-xxxxx. Locate the 3 characters of the second group: if these three characters are “OEM” is that you have a Windows OEM license


Can I downgrade my version of Windows to a previous version?

Yes, OEM license some Windows versions are eligible for demotion

  • Windows 10 Professional to downgrade to Windows 8.1 Professional or Windows 7 Professional

  • Windows 8.1 Professional to downgrade to Windows 7 Professional or Windows Vista Business

  • Windows 7 Professional and Windows 7 Ultimate keys to downgrade to Windows Vista Business, Windows Vista Ultimate, Windows XP Professional, Windows XP Tablet PC Edition or Windows XP x64 Edition

For more information on demotion of a Windows version

I want to buy three PCs, how many Windows licenses do I buy?

A Windows license on a PC at a time, whatever the type of license (OEM or Retail). Remember this: 1 PC license = 1, 2 = 2 PC license, 3 … You really want me to continue? 😀

Do I really have to activate Windows?

Activating your copy of Windows is required except for PCs purchased from a major brand manufacturers (Asus, Lenovo, Packard Bell …) who have pre-activated OEM licenses, and volume licensing (VL). You have 30 days to activate Windows online or by phone after installing Windows. You can enable Windows as many times as you want: the number of Internet Activation is limited, unlike phone activation is unlimited


Can I use my product key on multiple PCs at the same time?

No, the licensing terms state that the product key can be used on a PC at a time.

I intend to change the hardware configuration of my PC, do I have to activate Windows? Does my license is still valid?

If you have a Retail license after upgrading your hardware configuration, you will simply restart the activation process to activate Windows. If you have a OEM license, however, is more complicated: If you change a key hardware component (such as motherboard or hard drive), Windows is no longer activated. If you restart the activation process, you get an error message. To activate Windows, you will compulsorily contact the manufacturer’s technical support for your computer or the Microsoft support .

I have a question to this article did not answer!

Do not panic! You can ask your question in the comments 😉



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