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I just ordered a new computer (without hard drive and OS). I also have a spare hard drive and OS (Windows 7) at home.

Can I plug the drive into my older computer, install Windows 7 on it, then simply take it out and plug it into the new computer when it arrives? Or should I wait for the new computer and install Windows with the hard drive in it?

Does it even matter?

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3 Answers 3

up vote 1 down vote accepted

This would not be possible under XP. However, starting with Windows Vista, Microsoft introduced a new installer mechanism that essentially takes a generic image of the operating system and copies that to a new hard drive. When booted, the operating system then configures itself to match whatever hardware it finds.

This new installer method means what you propose has a much higher likelihood of success. However, you still shouldn't expect it to just work, for several reasons:

  • Certain things are still done on first boot, and so not everything will be set up properly.
  • The newly installed drive may not match everything needed by the bootloader
  • You may still need to find and install drivers for your new hardware.
  • Some software installations are hardware dependent. An example would be video games that install modules for both nvidia and ati graphics cards and set a configuration entry at install time telling them which module to load. There are other examples of this as well.
  • The new hardware will break your activation

In other words, you're not really saving much time. You should still expect to do just as much work after the new hardware arrives as you would if you were to install from scratch.

On the other hand, if you've got the time to kill it won't hurt anything to try, and you must just get lucky enough to have everything work out.

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Even though you say windows 7, it's probably a good idea to note that this would be a non-issue if you were going to do this with linux. The only thing that would matter would be things like xorg config files and proprietary binary drivers. but if you didn't set anything on the first machine, the defaults would almost certainly be fine on any other machine.

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It matters if the CPU architecture is different.

But I've seen a Windows 7 install work on completely different hardware. Booting up into safe mode first, then restarting to install new devices, and it worked. All we needed was updated drivers and reactivation of the license.

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