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Guide: Disable Auto Activation in Windows 8

As some of you may or may not know, Windows 8 brings many changes to the activation system that is used to protect the software from piracy.  While effective, most of them just serve to be a royal pain to legitimate users of the software.  There is no longer a 30 day grace period before you have to activate, the software demands activation right after installation.  Microsoft, being the sneaky people that they are sometimes, tried to remedy this by having the system auto activate right after install without notifying the user.  I can think of more than a few different reasons as to why this is a negative change.  The biggest reason is the fact that installing some drivers will actually cause Windows to think that you have changed your physical hardware and force you to re-activate (some versions of Intel’s RST drivers do this especially).  Another scenario where auto activation is bad is in a test lab environment where you are constantly re-imaging machines and don’t necessarily need to worry about the system being activated or not.  So this guide will be especially useful for those people, and anyone with a technet account since over the last year Microsoft have reduced your activations by 70%.  This will help you conserve your activations so you don’t end up having to call “Bob” at Microsoft’s activation call center and explain yourself.

Please note, that an unactivated system will flag itself as non-genuine, so if you need to test Windows Update or anything else that checks the genuine status of the install, you will need to activate, but you can do that manually when YOU see fit, not when Microsoft feels like doing it for you.  So without further ado, here is how to modify your install media so Windows will NEVER activate by itself without your consent.

Required Tools:

  • Windows 8 ISO (any SKU)
  • Notepad (the program, not a pad that you write on with a pen)
  • ISO Editing Software of your choice
  • Ability to follow directions

 

Creating Unattend.xml file

The first thing you need to do is create the unattend.xml file.  The purpose of this file is to tell the Windows installer to do specific things.  For the purpose of this guide, we are going to be telling the Windows installer to disable automatic activation.

Open notepad and paste in the following code, and save the file as unattend.xml

Paste the following for x64 systems:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?>
<unattend xmlns="urn:schemas-microsoft-com:unattend">
    <settings pass="specialize">
        <component name="Microsoft-Windows-Security-SPP-UX" processorArchitecture="amd64" publicKeyToken="31bf3856ad364e35" language="neutral" versionScope="nonSxS" xmlns:wcm="http://schemas.microsoft.com/WMIConfig/2002/State" xmlns:xsi="http://www.w3.org/2001/XMLSchema-instance">
            <SkipAutoActivation>true</SkipAutoActivation>
        </component>
    </settings>
</unattend>

 

Paste the following for x86 systems (32 bit):

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?>
<unattend xmlns="urn:schemas-microsoft-com:unattend">
    <settings pass="specialize">
        <component name="Microsoft-Windows-Security-SPP-UX" processorArchitecture="x86" publicKeyToken="31bf3856ad364e35" language="neutral" versionScope="nonSxS" xmlns:wcm="http://schemas.microsoft.com/WMIConfig/2002/State" xmlns:xsi="http://www.w3.org/2001/XMLSchema-instance">
            <SkipAutoActivation>true</SkipAutoActivation>
        </component>
    </settings>
</unattend>

 

Insert Unattend File into ISO

The next step in this process is to put the unattend.xml file where it needs to go.  Since this unattend is only processing something during the specialize pass of the install (right after hardware is installed), we have to put it in a specific location to get around having to have it present on an external removable device.  For this guide we are going to utilize the $OEM$ folder structure to avoid having to edit the WIM file, and thus making things a little easier.  Here’s how to do it

  1. Extract the contents of your ISO to a folder (ex. C:\Test)
  2. Go into the sources folder
  3. Create a new folder called $OEM$
  4. Inside the newly created $OEM$ folder, create a folder called $$
  5. Under the $$ folder, create a System32 folder and inside that folder, create a Sysprep folder
  6. Inside the Sysprep folder, insert the unattend.xml file you just created

NOTE: The reason for putting the unattend in this folder is because this is where Windows looks for an unattend file during the specialize pass of setup as referenced HERE.

 

Re-build ISO

This is the part where you take the contents of the ISO you just extracted, plus the modifications you just made, and re-build your ISO.  You can use any ISO editing software of your choice.  I personally like to use UltraISO.

Also note, at this time you can also create a bootable USB key with these files and it will work just the same as if you burn an ISO to DVD.

 

Install Windows 8 and Verify Auto Activation is Disabled

At this point you are ready to install Windows 8 on your PC.  So go ahead and do that.  Once you are done, you can easily verify whether you did this procedure correctly or not.  The most obvious way will be the fact that your PC will not be activated.  The sure way to really make sure is to go into the registry, and navigate to:

HKLM\Software\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\SoftwareProtectionPlatform\Activation

Once there, you should see a DWORD value named Manual.  Make sure it is set to 1.  As long as it is, you did it right and your system will never automatically activate itself, and you now have the freedom to activate your PC when you feel it is ready to be activated.

 

I hope this guide helps all of you, and I welcome anyone who has any questions to ask and I will answer them as soon as possible.

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  • Seraphine

    Where is the difference between your way and just putting a ei.cfg in the source folder with:
    [Channel]
    Retail
    [VL]
    0
    ?
    When you do this, you can skip entering the key like you could’ve in windows 7. Its still set to ‘Manual=0′ but without entering a key i don’t see how it could activate itself.

  • anyname

    Why not just be offline when you install and then before you go back online change the DWORD?

  • Anonymous

    Sadly as soon as I plugged in my network cable Windows 8.1 automatically activated despite ensuring the Manual value in the registry was set to 1.

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