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Find out if your Windows CD-key is legitimate

I recently formatted the hard drive on my computer running Windows XP Home Edition. I entered the Windows XP Home CD-key that originally came with the computer. Everything was working until it asked me to activate Windows. When I tried, I got this error message: "According to our records, the number you can activate windows with this CD-key has been exceeded. Please enter a different CD-key. Message number: 45092." I don't understand why I am getting this error message; I am the only person who has used this CD-key. It is a legal key as it came with my machine. What could the problem be?

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Be careful! I've found that many of the people who purchased what they thought was a "legitimate" CD key for Windows XP did not, in fact, get a legitimate edition. This has proven to be the case with people who bought a computer with Windows XP pre-loaded into it by a small-time company that might have been using bootlegged licenses. As these licenses came into very broad usage, Microsoft started blocking them at the activation center and thus preventing their abuse—but a lot of people who thought they had legitimate editions of Windows were caught in the middle.

If you bought a PC from a reputable manufacturer like Dell or Sony, and you have a license sticker for Windows on the PC case itself, then it should be legitimate. If you bought it from an independent manufacturer who supplied you with a copy of the CD and a license on a piece of paper, there's a chance—small, but still a chance—that they supplied you with a bogus copy.

The best thing to do is to call Microsoft's antipiracy hotline — Go to Microsoft's piracy page or (800) RU-LEGIT— and find out if you got stung. If your pirated copy is of high quality (i.e., very hard to tell from the original), you can usually replace the pirated copy with the real thing at little or no cost.

This was first published in August 2006

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