Specify Windows 10 Edition for a Clean Install

OEM computers now tend to ship with the Windows product key embedded in the BIOS. This key is, of course, specific to the edition of Windows that comes on the computer. That’s all well and good, until you try to do a clean installation of another edition of Windows on the computer.

Here’s my scenario:

  1. Purchased a laptop with Windows 8 Home on it
  2. Purchased upgrade to Windows 8 Professional and activated on the laptop
  3. Upgrade to Windows 10 in July 2015, which activated as Professional (as expected)

Last week, I decided to do a clean install (call me crazy, I do this regularly). So I downloaded the Media Creation Tool from Microsoft to get the latest version of the Windows 10 installer and created a USB key. This doesn’t let you select the edition of Windows that you’re downloading or for which you’re creating the media. The media you’re creating is good for both Home and Professional, depending on the key that you put in. But this is where the problem comes in. If your computer has an embedded product key, you won’t be prompted for a key, it will automatically install the edition for the embedded key.

Ok, no problem. I legitimately purchased the Windows 8 Pro upgrade and I have that key. Problem – Windows 10 won’t accept that key.

Since I have a legitimate purchase, I contacted Microsoft Support, who remoted in, entered an appropriate key, and activated the Professional features. So, my next question is “if I do another clean install, will this happen again?” I was assured that it wouldn’t, with the activation logged on my Microsoft account. I looked at the devices tied to my Microsoft Account and confirmed that this particular laptop was listed as Windows 10 Professional.

But I like to tinker and test. So I did another clean install today, just to see if it would work. No go – it activated as Windows 10 Home, because of the embedded product key.

So, how do you work around it?

On the Windows 10 USB key that you create, create a file name EI.cfg in the Sources folder, with the following contents:

[EditionID]
Professional
[Channel]
Retail
[VL]
0

The specifics about the EI.cfg file and PID.txt file (which is unnecessary in this case) can be found on TechNet.

Now, run the installation from that USB key and it will install as Professional. If you have a valid activation for that computer tied to your Microsoft account, it will automatically activate. Otherwise, it will prompt you for your product key.

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