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Tools like Acronis promise to enable you to restore the PC to a running state in no time, because when your hardware is defect, you just replace it and restore the backup and everything's fine.

Except that you won't be able to activate your OEM licensed Windows on a new box. (Yes, if only the HD's toast, then you should be fine.)

Given that all home boxes I know are OEM licensed, and the DELL boxes at the office come with preinstalled Windows too, isn't such imaging backups a waste of backup space (after all, a PC image is much larger than just saving the user folder) that you then can't restore anyway when the wrong part of your PC goes bust?

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Well this would most likely be affected by your local laws and local EULA. In general, I don't see why you couldn't just move OEM installation from one computer to another, if the second computer has license for that version of windows too. If it asks you to reactivate, just put in the new serial number and if needed talk to M$. – AndrejaKo Jan 7 '12 at 20:38
@AndrejaKo - 1) You do not enter the serial number when activating Windows. 1.1) I dont know whether you actually can change the serial of an OEM install. 2) As far as I know, an OEM install of Win cannot be moved to a new machine by any (legal) means. – Martin Jan 7 '12 at 20:54
We only do bare metal backups on our servers, which we control. As for our user systems, we only backup the user folders, and such. If their pc's crash, we can usually recover their data to within a few days; and just reinstall the OS using our VLK's. There's really no point to do a full PC image on a normal desktop computer. Just my 2cp on that. – zackrspv Jan 7 '12 at 21:13
@Martin interesting. I must have forgotten that the option doesn't appear. Anyway, you should be able to change the serial number using slmgr.vbs -ipk your_serial_number_here and activate it using slmgr.vbs -ato(if I remember correctly). Here's the manual for that. Using this, the installation should have switched licenses. How legal is that is a question for a lawyer (but some EULAs may explicitly disallow that). With that taken into account, the full disk images aren't very interesting for OEM users. – AndrejaKo Jan 7 '12 at 21:29

I've done several of these, but this is just personal experience and only pertinent to the US.

Microsoft has the usual stance that only extreme hardware changes like changing the motherboard constitutes a new license.

The general rule of thumb is that licenses are tied to the motherboard. You can get away with replacing other parts without getting a new license.

With OEM licences, the OS looks for certain pieces of information in BIOS and other information as activation. Pretty much, if your new shiny replacement from the same manufacturer, then you are usually ok, eg HP to HP, Dell to Dell, Lenovo to Lenovo.

Personal Experience

I've reimaged plenty of machines where I would take a disk image from one computer, restore on a new computer, then boot it up and hand over the new replacement laptop.

That being said, like anything else, not everything is perfect. I've had instances where the OS wasn't OK with the new hardware, forcing a reinstall of the OS and relinking the old data to the new OS profile.

And I'm sure plenty of people will pipe up with anecdotes.

The point is that you can't write it off if it isn't perfect however. And the reimaging saves an awful lot of time.

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By "wasn't OK" do you mean "required reactivation" or "failed to boot"? – grawity Jan 7 '12 at 23:56
Failed to Boot. – surfasb Jan 8 '12 at 4:28

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