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My laptop's hard drive is dying. It still works (boots Windows 7, run some programs), but it is obviously damaged. I am buying a new one to replace it.

I have a legal and activated copy of Windows 7 32-bit Professional (RETAIL, not OEM).

What should I do before installing Windows 7 on the new hard drive? Should I unactivate (I don't know if this even exists) my Windows 7 copy so I can re-activate it in the new installation?

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very good question! one that I have often wondered about myself. +1! – studiohack Sep 18 '10 at 15:48
See also: FAQ about Windows licensing – nhinkle Jul 4 '11 at 6:31
up vote 11 down vote accepted

Usually you can activate the same copy of windows about 3 times before you will be forced to call the activation line to do the process. However, if you're reinstalling on identical (or nearly identical; changing the hard drive should be fine) hardware, there's no point in wasting a reactivation, so it's good to be able to back it up directly. There are two ways you could do this.

Full reinstall

If you want to do a full reinstall, it is possible to back up your activation files beforehand, and then restore them once the reinstall is done. I did this recently using these instructions, and it was super easy. To summarize (with some of my own rewording and clarification):

  • Back up

  • Back up

  • If using Windows 7 x64, also back up

You will need administrative privileges to copy these files, and may need to take ownership of the files. If you need help with that, comment below and I'll add details about how to do that.

  • Write down your product key. Since you have a retail installation, you should already have it on the disk's packaging. You can also use software like SIW to extract it.

Once you have backed all of those up, go ahead and reinstall. When prompted to enter your product key during install, leave it blank, and choose to activate later. Once the install is done:

  • Stop the software protection service by running net stop sppsvc in an elevated command prompt
  • Restore each of the files you backed up before to their original locations
  • Restart the software protection service by running net start sppsvc from an elevated command prompt
  • Run slmgr.vbs -ipk xxxxx-xxxxx-xxxxx-xxxxx-xxxxx from an elevated command prompt, using your key in place of the Xs

Finally, reboot. Your system should be activated; you can check this by going to System Properties from My Computer.

Windows Image Backup

The method which I would actually advise is to do a full image backup. If you have an external hard drive, then you can go to the Backup and Restore control panel and choose to "Create a system image". This will make a copy of everything on your system, which you can then restore onto the new hard drive using the recovery tools from the install disk. I've done this before as well, and it works great - when I had an hdd die, I put in a new one and had everything back to exactly how it was before right away when I restored the system image.

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This may need to be updated for Windows 8, as it seems you can no longer choose to activate post-installation; there's no way to skip the Product Key screen. – BoltClock Sep 26 '12 at 10:15
@BoltClock since activation is totally different in Windows 8, we should make a new question for it altogether. – nhinkle Sep 26 '12 at 15:35
If we have a product key (xxxxx-xxxxx-xxxxx-xxxxx) that would be no problem, right? while re-installing. The problems many face is they just have product ID (all numbers: xxxxx-xxx-xxxxxxx-xxxxx) Mycoumuter->Properties at end of page, what we get is Product ID, not product key. Which means we for sure need to use SIW, am I missing something? – tough Jan 13 '13 at 7:26
@tough if you have the original product key, not the product ID, then you should be fine. – nhinkle Jan 13 '13 at 9:22
Will this work for OEM versions of Windows as well? i.e. for the case where I'm swapping out a hard drive? – jpoh Jun 18 '14 at 8:52

There is no deactivation. You just need to activate with your new laptop.

In case the online activation does not work (though it usually does) you'll need to call MS on the provided number and explain that you are installing a new system.

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haha you looked at my link and edited your answer +1 – studiohack Sep 18 '10 at 15:56
Chris hit the nail on the head. Don't worry about it. Just install the OS on the new system, and if it won't activate, you'll be able to use the OS for 30 days giving you time to call Microsoft and explain. Most of the time you won't have to call them. – Cypher Sep 18 '10 at 20:23

If you want to keep your windows installation "as-is", look into some sort of "Ghosting" program/service.

I worked at a computer place, where if the hard drive was bad... we could
- put in a new hard drive
- plug old hard drive into a usb type adapter
- boot into a ghost/imaging program and move the old data onto new hard drive.

A fresh install CAN be better in some circumstances... but some people have their computer setup JUST the way they want and a little extra effort to ghost/image may be worth it to keep that setup.

You can change stuff in your computer without losing the activation. There is a limit, but if all you change is your hard-drive, ghosting should work without issues.

This also assumes that the old hard drive isn't broken to the point of damaged data. Hard drives can start going bad without loss of data.

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Love the down-vote without explanation... Ghosting/Imaging a hard drive isn't exactly vodo, and should be a valid option to choose from. – WernerCD Sep 20 '10 at 15:33
Upvoted because if you're just changing the HDD, there will be no problem. If you know you have issues with data corruption, then proceed with caution, but worth a try. I suggest plugging in the new drive with the old drive still in, booting a Clonezilla live CD ( ) and doing a disk-to-local-disk. Then just take out the old drive, put the new drive in its place, and badabing! – TuxRug Sep 20 '10 at 16:10
If the old drive is still good enough to clone from, then @WernerCD's answer is valid. I did exactly the same thing last year and I used Clonezilla. Clonezilla has an option to copy across the GUID of the old hard drive so that when you boot from the new hard drive, effectively Windows doesn't complain about a change of hardware. – misterjaytee Sep 20 '10 at 16:11

This forum may help you:

Simply put: you may need to call Microsoft and tell them the situation, they'll understand and give you a new key or help you use the same one....

About a year ago, I had to reinstall Windows XP on the same machine, but with a different hard drive...just plugged in the original key, and no problems...

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Check out the following article by Taylor Gibb.

To summarize, download the app Advanced Tokens Manager and run it before you wipe out your current Windows installation. I suggest running Advanced Tokens Manager on a thumb drive or some sort of external storage so that it saves your info somewhere other than the drive you're about to obliterate. Advanced Tokens Manager will even backup your Microsoft Office activation too - if you have it. Then after you have totally re-installed Windows (with updates, etc.) re-run the Advanced Tokens Manager again to restore your activation(s). At the very least, Advanced Tokens Manager will provide you with your product key(s) so even if you do mess it up be sure to write those keys down somewhere "just in case."

You may also want to remember to back up those browser bookmarks too! It's so easy to overlook this and you may be kicking yourself later on. Just having an account with somewhere like Dropbox doesn't necessarily mean you've saved your most current bookmarks or anything else either - do yourself a favor and make sure.

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