Now this is a difficult problem. I have a customer with Windows 8 who could not activate Windows. The primary problem was a HP computer with the product key embedded in the UEFI. (Which means, of course, no product key sticker. One of my many reasons to hate Windows 8.) Everything I tried to activate Windows failed. I even used a Magic Jellybean keyfinder to recover the product key.

Before you start the repair process, be sure you have the Windows 8 product key.

Through a lot of headache, I figured out the problem is the licensing files were corrupted. This particular computer was not shut down cleanly due to a power surge. A lot of files were corrupted, it took chkdsk a long time to repair them.  I was able to figure this out because the slmgr /ipk XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX (where X is the product key) command was not working. And many other slmgr commands, which are used to edit or clear the product key, also did not work.

The first thing I tried was the sfc /scannow command. But that delivered the dreaded “there is a repair option pending” message. The dism.exe /image:C:\ /cleanup-image /revertpendingactions command, which is what you usually will see about this message, did not work because the command can only be used in the recovery console, which I did not have access to at the time. But a restart did fix the problem for me.

I actually did not have much hope that the sfc command would work. But it actually did help. After the sfc command completed, I then ran the slui 03 command, entered the product key, and Windows activated.

While I am assuming this is a Windows 8 problem, it might also present itself on Windows Vista, Windows 7, or Windows 8.1.

So, in summary, the steps to fix this problem are:

  1. Recover the Windows 8 product key.
  2. Run the sfc /scannow command.  If it does not run, use the dism command above in a recovery console or search for the fix for the problem on the internet.
  3. After sfc finishes, run the slui 03 command and enter the product key.
  4. If Windows still does not activate, then you will have to refresh Windows or perform an in-place upgrade.