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How to reuse and move Hyper-V VM digital license (activation)

I, like many of you, have a bunch of valid Windows product keys through MSDN, Visual Studio, Microsoft Partner Network (MPN) or other Microsoft subscriptions. Because Windows 7 and 8.1 keys can still be used to activate Windows 10, you might have have a number of single use retail keys, and several MAK keys. All valid, so why not use them?

I believe that it is quite common not to activate virtual machines. Users set up a VM, use it, discard it when no longer needed, and create a new one again when the need arises. I prefer to use my legally obtained product keys and activate Windows on all my Hyper-V virtual machines. However, I do not have an endless supply of keys. Fortunately, Hyper-V makes it both easy and fast to preserve activation status on a VM and reuse the digital license in a completely new Windows installation. At the moment I have for instance 12 activated Windows 10 PRO virtual machines stored on NAS, including the current general availability release 19H1 virtual machines, Slow Ring Insider 19H2 virtual machines, and Fast Ring 20H1 virtual machines. I have four of each of these versions, all in UK English, Finnish, Swedish and German.

I deployed a new custom Insider build 18975 image on this main computer of mine, wiping all disks, completely starting from scratch. This morning, I set up Hyper-V, and imported three of my activated W10 PRO Insider Fast Ring virtual machines (FIN, SWE and GER language versions), all having a valid digital license, meaning they are activated although the imported virtual machines do not even contain a VHD or operating system. In this post, I will setup a fourth VM, activate it, and show how to preserve its activation status. This activated VM can then be reused after reinstall, or even moved to another Hyper-V host.

Create VM, install Windows, activate

The first thing to do is to install Windows on a new VM. In my case, I named the VM W10 PRO IP x64 EN-GB. I installed EN-GB W10 PRO build 18975 on it, the latest Insider Fast Ring build from last week. I used a local account to set it up. First thing after logging onto the desktop, before switching to a Microsoft account, I activated it with an available, valid product key:

Click screenshots to enlarge them.

Upon activatiom, I shut down that VM. My very next step is to add notes to its Settings, as follows:

Notes are shown in the Hyper-V Manager VM summary:

Export Virtual Machine

In the Settings for this VM, I temporarily removed its virtual hard disk:

Notice that this only removes the VHD from VM settings, it does not remove the VHD file itself from disk.

As you know, the hardware ID to check if a computer (physical or virtual machine) has a valid digital license does not involve either the hard disk or a virtual hard disk. Thus, the disk can be removed and replaced, and the machine still keeps the activation status and digital license for that hardware ID intact. Therefore, to preserve this virtual machine’s activation status, I do not need to export its VHD.

The next step is to export the VM to an external HDD or NAS:

To export a Hyper-V VM, see this Ten Forums tutorial.

The exported VM folder is really small, because it does not contain the VHD file:

Reattach removed VHD

After exporting the VM without its VHD, I now add a VHD back to it

I browse to and select the existing VHD I removed from that VM’s settings earlier. All done!

Import Virtual Machine

Windows 10 on VM is now fully installed, functioning and activated. If I delete the VM from this host and import it back to this or another Hyper-V host, I just need to attach an existing Windows 10 VHD to it, or alternatively create a new VHD, install Windows 10 PRO (licenses are edition specific), and Windows will be automatically activated. See the tutorial on Ten Forums for importing Hyper-V virtual machines.

One extremely important step when importing an activated VM is to select its import type as Restore the virtual machine (use existing unique ID):

If you select Register the virtual machine in-place (use the existing unique ID), the VM will be set up in Hyper-V using the folder where it was exported to as its VM folder. This means, that if you for any reason delete the VM, it will be deleted from the export folder. In that case, it and the digital license it had is forever gone.

Selecting Copy the virtual machine (create a new unique ID) creates a new hardware ID and GUID for the VM, and will not preserve the activation status.

That’s it geeks! It is extremely easy and fast to export an activated VM without a VHD, yet preserve its digital license.



Author: Kari Finn

A former Windows Insider MVP, Kari started in computing in the mid 80’s writing code for VAX / VMS systems. Since then, he’s worked in a variety of IT positions. He specializes in Windows image capture, customization, repair and deployment as well as Hyper-V virtualization. Kari is a proud Team Member at number #1 Windows site TenForums.com.

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