Short for Hardware Identification or hardware ID, an HWID is a security measure used by Microsoft upon the activation of the Windows operating system. As part of the Product Activation system, a unique HWID number is generated when the operating system is first installed on a piece of hardware. The HWID identifies the hardware components that the system is utilizing.
At every reboot the operating system will generate another HWID number and compare it to the original to make sure that the operating system is still running on the same device.
The theory behind HWID is to ensure that the operating system is not being used on any device other than the one for which it was purchased and registered. However, problems can arise when users start replacing or adding hardware components — such as motherboards, sound cards, CD-R drives, Ethernet adapters — because these will generate new HWIDs.
More about HWID (hardware ID)
Windows devices often have multiple hardware IDs. They can have no more than 64. Device users may also be able to create a new HWID for a device.
Users may need to check their computer’s Device Manager if the hardware ID cannot be identified or is listed as invalid or illegitimate.
To locate a hardware ID for a device:
- Open the Device Manager on your Windows device
- Locate the specific device in the list
- Right-click that device’s tab
- Select Properties from the ensuing list of choices
- Select Details
- Select Property and then Hardware IDs to view the list of IDs for the device
This article was updated April 2021 by Jenna Phipps.