I would say that Microsoft once again threw down the gauntlet when they announced that Vista SP1 will deactivate machines using OEM BIOS cracks and other methods used to circumvent activation. After over a dozen emails about the topic I decided that I would check out for myself whether Vista SP1 RTM really causes piraters as much trouble as they say it will.

My intention is not to condone piracy with this article, but the OEM BIOS cracks are among the most complex hacks available for any piece of software and they are pretty intriguing. What they do is actually trick Windows into thinking that you’re running a licensed copy of the operating which you purchased from your PC’s manufacturer. It therefore never asks you to activate the machine, and Microsoft even considers it to be “genuine.”

To test out the cracks I installed a fresh copy of Vista Ultimate (without SP1) in a virtual machine. I then used the Paradox OEM BIOS emulation to crack Vista, and it worked without hesitation. After that I installed Vista Service Pack 1 on the computer, and about an hour later I was presented with a deactivated Vista Ultimate SP1:

Vista Deactivation 

My initial though was that Microsoft did it, but like any other pirater I wasn’t about to give up. I tried reapplying the Paradox OEM BIOS crack, but it just wouldn’t work. Within minutes of searching I found another OEM BIOS emulation called Vista Loader. I deactivated the previous crack that I had just tried and fired up Vista Loader. I restarted my computer and you can imagine how surprised I was to see this:

Vista Reactivation

That’s right, my machine was not only fully activated but it was also “genuine” according to Microsoft. That means all of the Windows Updates and the Ultimate Extras were available to me. For those doubting my results here is a screenshot with all the details:

Vista Activation Status

Here are the things that I’ve highlighted in that screenshot:

  • The build number 6.0.6001.18000 indicates that I am indeed running Vista SP1.
  • The “Vista, OEM” shows that the operating system is recognized as a valid OEM version.
  • The partial product key is the last 5 characters from the key that I entered in. When you download the crack it is also accompanied by a list of serial numbers, and I’m sure that you’ll see a key containing “932CC” in that list.
  • The License Status is normally where it would indicate how much time I have left to activate, but it shows that I have a licensed (a.k.a. activated) copy.

I applaud Microsoft for trying to crack down on piracy (pun intended), but it looks like they couldn’t break all of the existing hacks that are out there. It seems like a lot of hassle to try and keep up with all of these cracks so I’ll definitely be sticking with my legal copies.

Note 1: Links to any cracks in the comments will be removed.

Note 2: There’s no sense in me blurring out the Product ID since this isn’t a legal copy of Windows anyway.

Note 3: The virtual machine that we had running this has already been taken down.