Computer enthusiasts are bright-eyed creatures that cover their nests in old motherboards and discarded sticks of RAM. But, seriously, an aficionado of all things computer-like has a passion for building powerful desktop rigs. The gear is assembled with the installation disc physically purchased, so the 25-digit product activation key is stamped on the package. If you need to install the OS again, for whatever reason, then read the code off the package. It's that simple. Unfortunately, it's all too easy to get stuck on the licensing screen when you're reinstalling Windows on a store-bought machine because there's no physical media. Instead, the product key is locked up somewhere inside the hardware and tied to your computer. It's actually stored in the BIOS, the motherboard's firmware, plus a copy may be nestled inside the registry. Just how do you get that key out of these two digital locales and into your mitts? nestled inside the registry. Just how do you get that key out of these two digital locales and into your mitts? Where's My COA? (What the Heck IS a COA?) If your machine is older than the hills, a Windows Certificate of Authorization (COA) sticker may be stamped under your laptop or behind your desktop. This flashy logo has a copy of the product key in print, but it tends to smudge or even get entirely wiped away as the machine ages. Newer computers now adopt a more security-conscious mindset, so the key is locked away inside your BIOS and/or system registry. How About a Third-Party Solution? If a Certificate of Authentication (COA) sticker is a no-go, and this is usually the case, then a third-party software application will provide a bridge to your BIOS and display your product key. Many tools promote this capability, including NirSoft's Produkey and Magical Jellybean's KeyFinder. How Do I find This Registry Thing Anyway? Take a peek inside your system registry. A copy of the product key should be held in here, but it's in an undecipherable binary form, so it's unlikely that you'll be able to read it without the help of one of those third-party utilities mentioned earlier. Press down on the Windows key and R simultaneously (Windows+R). Type Regedit and descend through the registry hierarchy by clicking on this sequence, one folder at a time: "HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE \SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion." Select ProductID and choose to modify this registry key. The product key lives here. Isn't There an Easier Way? Why yes, there is, but success rates vary. Right-click the Windows start button, select the command prompt and copy/paste this line of code into the command box [wmic path softwarelicensingservice get OA3xOriginalProductKey]. But remember, the easy path doesn't always reap rewards, so have the other solutions ready for action. What is This Common Sense You Speak of? Before trying software programs, scripts, command prompts, and who knows what else, check for the COA. If it's not there, and it likely won't be, contact your vendor for help. Proof of purchase could be all that's required to be issued a new Windows 8 Product Key.