(Activating) Windows in a VM: Which problems/sideeffects are to expect?

I'm preparing for project "Ryzing Hydra": Switch to a Linux based PC with an (Internet-)isolated Windows Installation in a VM (QEMU/KVM). I plan to use the Windows-Installation for some offline games and Windows-dependend stuff like C#/WPF software development. Maybe even two, Win7 for games and 10 for Dev. I want to use a dedicated graphics card (obviously with pcie passthrough), a second monitor and synergy. I certainly will go on a Ryzen 7 platform, like you already suspected because of the project name. I'm still in planning phase and I want to wait how that IOMMU-issue will turn out and maybe the prices drop a buck or two.

Just that you have an idea what I'm about to do.

Because of this requirements I want a fully licensed Windows in the VM and no xxx-day testing ISO that I can reset using shady tricks. This would be too complex because of the installed programs and games. But this raises some questions for me according licensing and activation.

1.) Can the Guest OS detect if the VM is different if I have to recreate the VM (let's say I lost the settings-file but not the HDD)? Of course I set up the same configuration of virtual hardware. Shouldn't happen because of backups, but I want to know.
2.) Can the Guest OS detect if the Host-System is different? Let's say my Mainboard/CPU dies or I switch later to X99 (but with the passthrough graphicscard)? Am I bound to virtual AND physical hardware?
3.) Can software updates of the hypervisor screw the activation up? Has this ever happend in the past?
4.) How "forgiving" is the Windows 7 / 10 activation process on changing hardware? None of my PCs ever had more changes to them than adding HDDs. Especially if I assign or remove processor cores
5.) Is it even possible to activate Windows in a VM (because it refuses if it detects a VM-environment)?

and finally

6.) do anyone of you use an activated Windows in a VM (if it's possible)? What's your experience?

I want to prevent burning a license and then run into issues I can't solve.
Thanks for your help.

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In my experience, you shouldn't have any problems. I've only done this with windows 7, however. my son's been using this for schoolwork and gaming pretty much daily for two months now and hasn't had any issues with the windows license. We've even had to restore the os drive from a backup, in that time.

  1. i'm sure the guest can, but windows doesn't seem to.
  2. changing hardware shouldn't be much different than changing hardware on a physical installation, as far as that's concerned.
  3. never experienced this, and i don't see how it would.
  4. in my case, the windows disk actually has two VMs attached to it. one with 4 cores and GPU passthrough, for gaming; and one with 2 cores and onboard graphics for mundane tasks like downloads/updates. no issues at all (though, again, windows 7). installing and activation was a breeze (easier than i remember it being in the past).
  5. i'd not heard anything about windows refusing to install in a vm. again, windows 7.
  6. see above.

that's just my limited experience. i'm sure other here can offer more.

For #4. I switched from a 6600k to a 7700k and lost my activation in win10 but it was fairly simple to reactivate. This was obviously not in a VM but on my host. I have not tried a setup like you described but I would imagine the outcome being the same.

I use windows 10 in a vm. I guess it depends on what version you bought? Ive destroyed and re-installed my vm a number of times with no license issues.

Ehm how exactlly?
Unless you replaced your motherboard for a diffrent one,
Activation should basiclly not get lost by just changing a cpu.

Well, it did. I'm still on the z170 board the 6600k was using.

Hmm thats kinda weird then.
Normally activation is tide to the system id, aka motherboard id number.

Also problems you might run into on Ryzen.
The IOmmu groupings are currently a mess, so dont expect a succesfull passtrough of a gpu.
Also since Ryzen doesnt contain an apu, you gonne need two gpu´s.
You might get it to work eventually, but it will be a pain in the rear for now.

You could checkout wendells video and topic on it.

I've copied and cloned VMs before, and the copies always required new activation whereas the clones didn't.
I assume that this is because the copies have a different ID whereas the clones share the same ID. That leads me to believe that the VM ID is sent to Microsoft as hardware ID.

Yes, I'm aware of this and I watched Wendells video about the topic. It'll take a couple of months until I'll build the system, I still hope that until then the IOMMU grouping has been improved by some microcode updates or something. But even if not, it wouldn't be a total disaster. I already have the GPU I want to passthrough (GTX 960) and only a handfull of games that would be affected (since I'm not a gamer). Most of the stuff I play even runs on Linux which is awesome.

I'm also aware of that. An integrated GPU would actually be nice, because I wouldn't need much more on the Linux side. Because I'll wait until summer/fall anyways the Ryzen-based APUs, that will come eventually, could be an option. If AMD releases a decent 6 core APU it could be a good fit for me. And this processor could have fixed IOMMU groups from the factory as well. Although I'd like to have 8 cores for my workload...

So I would recommend not bothering with activation. Nothing actually happens besides not being able to customize the background and window colors.

  1. Yes. There are some unique identifiers generated in the virtual firmware every time VMs with identical configurations are spun up. There are also huristics the OS can use like Mac address and exact ID number of the virtual SIMMs etc

  2. Assuming you copy the VM exactly, technically, there is no sure way for the guest to detect this. There are huristics however. There is no reasonable expectation that it will not but it should not.

  3. Yes. Software updates for the hypervisor typically change slight details of how the VMs boots up. It does not matter in terms of actual functionality, but say if an update changes the virtual mobo that can mess up activation depending upon how much MS cares. This is rare however. There is no reasonable expectation that it will not but it should not normally.

  4. Adding removing cores and memory has never had any effect for me personally (Win Vista-10), but this is not guaranteed.

  5. Yes. Activation works normally.

  6. Well I have never had any problems, ever, but...

and also forum rules discourage such discussions so your milage my differ.

Technically, you could create an image from the system after installing the games using sysprep and reimaging a VM from that image would not be in violation of MS's EULA or involve anything "unorthodox."

I would recommend going with LTSB if you go the no licensing route.

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