If you have a Windows computer running Windows 7 or an earlier version, you should have a product key sticker. Depending on your version of Windows it will be roughly one inch tall and two to three inches wide. It will have a 25 character product key that looks something like this "H4J0K-37DHG-4HG4H-WPSD7=89FGC". On a desktop computer, this sticker can usually be found on the top or side. On a laptop, it is usually on the bottom or even under the battery. You probably never needed to use that product key, but if you took your computer in for repairs and they needed to reinstall Windows, the technician would need that key to get Windows installed.
These keys are subject to a lot of fraud and are often used by people who are using Windows without paying for it, so when Microsoft built Windows 8, they changed the way product keys work on OEM computers (major brands like Toshiba, HP, Dell, etc). Rather than being printed on a sticker, the product key is now encrypted and stored on the computer's BIOS (part of the main circuit board). When Windows is reinstalled, it is validated using that key. When Windows 8 is reinstalled, you MUST use a copy of Windows 8 that has your unique key built into it. In most cases your new Windows 8 computer comes with a recovery partition built-in that has the software needed to reinstall Windows. So if you have a major problem you can "Refresh" the PC without needing anything special.
The problem comes when your hard drive goes bad. Hard drives fail often. When this happens, you no longer have that recovery partition. So the technician installs a new hard drive, but he must have a copy of Windows 8 that matches the product key encrypted on your system or he cannot install Windows. So the computer repair technician calls you to ask you to contact the manufacturer of the computer and have them ship you a flash drive that contains Windows 8 software that will work with your computer.
Having to contact the manufacturer is not the end of the world, but it generally takes three or four days to get the flash drive and you probably do not want to live without your computer that long.
To be prepared for the day when your hard drive crashes, there are a couple things you can do:
1. Go ahead and contact your manufacturer now and have them ship you a flash drive Windows 8 installation for your computer to put away for safe keeping.
2. Make a full image backup of your computer using a backup software that will allow you to copy the image back to your computer later. You should be making regular backups of your data anyway, but a full image backup will also capture the operating system and programs.
3. Only purchase computers built by a Microsoft System Builder like Preactive IT Solutions as they are still delivered with the Product Key Sticker, but this applies only to desktops not laptops.
If you have questions or need help with backups, call Preactive IT Solutions at (281) 494-0894.