I am having to set up quite a few Windows 8 machines for friends and family, which come preinstalled with Windows 8 and no COA product key on the machine, just a small Windows 8 sticker. These machines have the Windows 8 key embedded into the BIOS. So, what do you do if you want to format the machine?
Many of the machines I have seen, especially Acer, come with horrible crapware including McAfee Internet Security, which can be a pain to get rid of. What I do now, is just format the machine immediately because it is quicker than removing all the crap loaded by the OEM. The good news is that there is no COA sticker to fade or come off, and all you need to do is find some Windows 8 media and reinstall the Operating System. Setup detects the key in the BIOS and you do not get asked for a key during setup, and it also detects the correct Windows version. When you logon, you find that Windows is already activated, so it couldn’t be easier.
The main issue with this, is that no OEMs I know ship the actual media with a Windows laptop. But, you can use TechNet (R.I.P.) or MSDN bootable media with no problems. I use a bootable USB key with TechNet media.
Update: Windows 8.1 unfortunately does not accept Windows 8 product keys. So if you try this on a machine which shipped with Windows 8, it does not work and you have to enter a key. This is odd seeing as 8.1 is a free upgrade. I assume that this will not be an issue for machines which shipped with Windows 8.1.