Thursday, February 5, 2015

Windows Product Key Problem

I hate to sound like a grumpy old man, but yet again I have a beef, and I need to get something off my chest. Oh yes, I am cross. Who with? Well, equally Microsoft (not an unusual situation) - but probably more with Advent Computers, who, if you don't already know, are really PC World, or Currys, or Dixons... whoever.

So, just over two years ago I bought a nice Advent Desktop from PC World, which was bundled with a monitor and cost £700. My son used it as a games machine and I largely ignore it - which was a mistake. Anyway, he needed an upgrade (to a Chillblast as it turned out) and the plan was that I inherited the Advent, the spec of which was better than my own PC. But the very week before this swap, the Advent simply died. Not a peep out of it. Dead in the water.

I had the side off it and the fans all worked, the hard drive was spinning, but nothing happened on powering up, it wasn't even getting to the booting stage. So I decided it must need a new motherboard. Turned out to be quite cheap to source one, £35 on eBay for a brand new replacement. I successfully installed it in the case, and the PC was back working again.

The Advent was riddled with games and my son's stuff, so I decided to start again from ground zero, a complete re-install of Windows 8 from the disk image (my next mistake). Soon I was staring at a pristine fully working PC, and I was very happy.

BUT,Windows wanted activating. Now I knew that a motherboard swap would upset Windows, but I had been assured that a phone call to Microsoft would get me going again. So I rang them. They said that I needed the Windows Product Key for them to sort me out. I looked on the case, where down through the ages a sticker usually resides with the Key on. But no. Oh.

A bit of investigation revealed that apparently these days, with the coming of Windows 8, there is no sticker - and that the product key is burned into the BIOS of the motherboard. Ah. You mean my knackered motherboard that I can't access any more? Yes that one. Microsoft said, ask the manufacturer, they will know your Product Key from the serial number of your PC.

So I ring Advent. But NO, they didn't know my Product Key. They buy a big bunch of licences, but do not record individual Keys. WTF!? It'll be okay, they said, just tell Microsoft it was a repair. I rang Microsoft and told them that. They said, great, but we still need the Product Key. I rang Advent, oh dear, well we can't help, because we simply don't know your Product Key.

Their suggestion was that I took my (fixed) PC to PC World and pay them a minimum for £50 so they can, um, fix it. Or buy another copy of Windows 8. Terrific. (Particularly as Windows 8 is an abomination as we now know).

So, can I make a couple of recommendations to you? Unlike me, maybe you should go and write down the Product Key of any Windows operating system you may have recently got with your shiny new Windows 8 computer. Just in case. If you can't find it I think there is software that will discover it.

And (he said tetchily) maybe don't buy Advent computers, because (a) they don't seem to last very long before breaking, and (b) they don't seem to know what they're doing re licensing. I mean, surely it wouldn't be that hard for them to record the Key for each PC they sell. Here's an idea, they could use a computer to record the data.

Talking and emailing Advent is an interesting game, because you either talk to a techie who understands the problem but is powerless to do anything to help, or you talk to a non-techie who has no idea what you're talking about and therefore can't help you either. Hopeless.

Oh, and while we're at it, whoever thought up the idea of putting the Product Key into the motherboard...well - maybe a re-think is in order unless it is indeed a cunning plan to sell more licenses? If you're going to do that, why not stick a sticker on the motherboard? Come on.

So, this won't happen with the Chillblast I bought my kid, which came with a proper Windows 8 installation with a printed key and even a CD! And a 5 year warranty. They delivered exactly the PC I specified within a week, and it seems the dog's. It was admittedly easier to buy from PC World, but I think in hindsight it was a major mistake. The Chillblast is built from choice components, I now think the Advent was thrown together from the cheapest bits they could find, and the cheapest licensing deal they could get out of Microsoft. Which is only great if nothing goes wrong...