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I work in a buy and sell store that buys a lot of laptops, many of which the previous owners do not wipe before selling. Some of them contain a recovery partition which is fine because we can set them back to factory condition, but many others do not - having been deleted or not having one to begin with.

I want to know a way to get a laptop to factory (or near) condition without deleting, uninstalling and cleaning up everything.

All computers we buy have a valid license key with a product number if that helps.

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You could just install Linux on the ones that don't include any kind of recovery software... –  Brian Dec 17 '10 at 22:54
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4 Answers

up vote 2 down vote accepted

The only surefire way is to do a clean installation by hand, either with generic Windows media or with the manufacturer's product recovery media. (Keep in mind that many OEM license keys will not activate on a regular copy of Windows.) There's no quick-fix solution, unfortunately - at the very least you would need to uninstall everything, wipe all the files and user profiles, delete history and temp files, run registry cleanup tools...it would be faster just to reinstall.

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It depends on the brand of PC what can be done, Dell, you can use any Dell re-installation CD as long as it is the same version as the COA key, on any Dell. Then download any software and drivers for that model from Dell.

HP does not have a re-installation CD, they have what are called Recovery CD/DVDs, and newer PCs are tied to model in the bios, so the recovery set will only work on the intended model. Otherwise you will have to use a XP re-installation CD and then use the COA key to install it.

Over the years all manufacturers have changed how they restore a PC and type of media they provide for doing it, so the question can be complicated depending on Make and year of production.

All that being said, it requires you to find the proper CD/DVDs to reinstall the same OS that came with the PC and use the license key on the COA sticker (only needed if you use media other than what the manufacturer supplied) that is on the PC somewhere.

Being a PC shop, you do not want to do anything illegal like pirated keys or software cracks.

When reinstalling from a re-installtion CD/DVD on a Dell, HP etc, it will not be like a factory install and is a lengthy process to get the job done.

There is no easy way when the recovery partition is gone or never existed or you don't have the proper Recovery media.

Recovery media is different than a regular Operating system CD, recovery media will restore the PC to as shipped condition with all software and drivers, a re-installation CD will not.

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+1 good point about recovery CDs being tied to the bios, just because it says, "HP" it doesn't mean that it will reinstall all similar HP models. –  Kyle Feb 8 '11 at 14:02
    
Most OEM recovery options will also restore all the bloatware garbage that the system came with. Cleaning all of that out and then updating all the other apps up to current versions will take long enough that unless you can't get the drivers any other way a clean install will generally be faster. –  Dan Neely Feb 8 '11 at 14:48
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One thing you can do, related to the answer above, is to restore one computer of the same model, and then clone that system image to all systems of the same model. Look up CloneZilla and SysPrep. Clonezilla allows you to clone your own images and save them as files, and SysPrep is a Microsoft tool that regenerates unique IDs for each system--this is needed if two systems will be on the same network and not connected to a domain. You will run into problems with cloned systems in this specific case otherwise.

For example if you have a Dell D630 with a recovery partition, and a D630 without--Clone the first one to a file on (for example) a USB drive. Then clone it to the D630 without a partition. Then run sysprep on the new system and it's all ready for a new user.

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Wouldn't it be easier to seal it with sysprep, THEN clone it off for storage? Then you can clone it out to other machines without having to sysprep every time. –  Shinrai Mar 31 '11 at 19:37
    
Yes. You're right, sysprep THEN clone. –  Nathan Garabedian May 24 '11 at 17:00
    
Also, as mentioned in a different superuser post, sysprep is 'unsupported' when used to clone systems with different motherboards. Apparently Acronis makes a product that will do that though. –  Nathan Garabedian May 24 '11 at 17:12
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I've never had trouble deploying a sysprepped image across different motherboards, unless they require a special AHCI driver or something like that. –  Shinrai May 24 '11 at 17:14
    
Good to know, I just ran across the mention today. It might be just that Microsoft doesn't want to support it, even if it works fine. –  Nathan Garabedian May 24 '11 at 17:17
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You could create a deployment server and build images for all the different SKUs you expect to need. Each image will include all the software you want as well, OO.o, MSE, OS updates. When you deploy you will still need to activate using a key, but it will save you time. This requires significant work up front but will pay off in the long term with each additional laptop you image.

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