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Do I need a Windows 10 key?

Do I need a Windows 10 key?
(Image credit: Microsoft)

If you've just finished building your new gaming PC and you're now reading this, that means you probably forgot one thing: a Windows 10 key. It's understandable. It can be easy to get so carried away with picking the right graphics card, CPU, and SSD that you never think about what software you'll need once it's all slotted together and working in perfect harmony.

Technically, you don't need a Windows 10 key to use your rig. Linux is a great and open-source operating system (OS) that you could choose to run your gaming PC on instead—it's actually surprisingly easy to switch a gaming PC to Linux, too. The downsides to this option are that the OS can be a little daunting to get to grips with as a new user, and you might find that some of the games you were hoping to play on your machine aren't compatible with Linux natively. It can be seriously rewarding if you do get to grips with this OS, however.

The other option that's also free is to install Windows 10 without a license key. That's the bit of Microsoft's OS that you actually need to buy as the OS itself has a lengthy grace period. However, functionality is limited without a genuine key. All you have to do is head to Microsoft's official Windows download site, grab the tool, and create a USB disk to boot from and kick-start the installation process. 

Without a genuine key you won't be able to personalise your system. It's a small price to pay, but it can be a little frustrating. Similarly the little reminders that you've not activated your system scattered around the menus can become annoying after a time.

The most pervasive of which are the words 'Activate Windows' scrawled in the bottom right corner of the screen. The watermark's transparency helps it blend in with what else is going on across your monitor most of the time, and you'll be surprised how quickly you get used to it, but there is an option to remove this temporarily if you need to grab a screenshot or similar.

How to remove the 'Activate Windows' watermark from Windows 10

To remove the Activate Windows watermark from Windows 10, follow these steps:

  • Hit the Windows key and type in the words: Command Prompt
  • Right click on Command Prompt and run as administrator
  • In the terminal window, type in slmgr -rearm

It will then prompt you to reboot and then the watermark will be gone. For now. It's a hangover from older Windows operating systems, but it does allow you to banish the watermark for that session, allowing you to screenshot or stream a game without it appearing all over your screen. Bear in mind that this does not act as a genuine license key and only extends the grace period included with Microsoft's Windows 10 OS.

If none of the above sounds suitable to you, or you'd rather just be done with it once and for all, you can just buy yourself a Windows 10 license key. These range in price depending on whether you pick one up from Microsoft directly or via a third-party.

How much does Windows 10 cost?

Windows 10 Home will set you back $139 if you choose to buy a key directly from Microsoft. That's a little on the steep side compared to third party sellers, who can often be found shipping genuine keys for as little as $25. In our experience many of the top third-party sites are trustworthy and will deliver a key rapidly for activation, but do beware of dodgy sites or links.

Once you've got your key, simply navigate to Windows Settings and click on the annoying little banner to enter it and be on your way.

There's no 'Silicon Valley' where Jacob grew up, but part of his home country is known as 'The Valleys' and can therefore it be easily confused for a happening place in the tech world. From there he graduated to professionally break things and then write about it for cash in the city of Bath, UK.

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