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My aunt called me in to repair her desktop and laptop computers. (Level up! You become: The Family's Private IT.)

The desktop wasn't much; just many, many junk pieces of software that her daughter had put there.

The laptop, had a completely corrupted partition, with a nice BSOD when trying to start Windows. I had no choice but to reinstall Windows. My aunt had two discs lying around for some obscure reason. One was a Windows Xp Home Premium OEM installation disc in a paper pouch without any key, and the other, in those large cardboard packages they sold Windows Xp with, was a Windows Xp Professional disc and a product key, just like the real ones.

But not an installation disc. "Update" written on the disc. I thought maybe the computer started out with Home Premium and then the Professional "update" was used to upgrade it, but nope. The Professional disc, I guess, is for installing service packs or something. On whoever knows what computer. When asked, she swears no disc came with the computers, and she had no idea where these discs might come from.

Anyway, right now her computer has the Home Premium OEM I installed on it, without a key. "30 days remaining", blah blah.

This computer was a Dell. Was. She bought it at a place where they take broken computers, replace a few parts, and sell them refurbished. This means there is no Recovery partition. There wouldn't be much room for such a thing anyway, on this 60 GB hard drive.

So my only option is to find the right OEM disc and reinstall it with the key on the sticker under the computer. So I thought I was going to just download an ISO and burn it, but then I saw this.

Apparently, for Windows 8, there are tons of ISOs, and only one can do depending on the code in the BIOS.

This guide seemed to sort of indicate it's the same for Windows Xp, as they advise to check some numbers in the BIOS with a bootable USB key. If there was just one OEM, why would they care?

But searching, searching, searching, I just can't put my hands on a list of ISOs from which to choose. It's like there's only one ISO after all.

So, before I go to her home and try to install with a disc that won't work, please tell me there really is just one ISO, and that it won't go wrong. Or tell me where I can find the list to choose from.

Also, many ISOs say "SP3". Does a "Windows Xp Professional" license differ from a "Windows Xp Professional SP3" license? If so, how do I know what Service Pack (none, 1, 2 or 3) the product key on the tag is supposed to be?

share|improve this question
Exactly what OS/version is the product key on the sticker on the computer for? That detail seems to be missing. – Michael Hampton Jan 19 '13 at 1:47
Before Vista, if you get any OEM media and install using OEM key, it should work. Some keys do differ by service pack, but I guess keys for the older service packs should work with the newer ones. – Jan 19 '13 at 1:47
What you really want to find is a nice dark blue CD with written on it "OPERATING SYSTEM" "ALREADY INSTALLED ON YOUR COMPUTER" "Reinstallation CD" "Microsoft windows XP professional Service Pack 3". That one does not require any key. (Or the SP2 on which will be a green CD). I have no idea where to legally find them, other than from Dell. – Hennes Jan 19 '13 at 1:51
Should you find them somewhere shady, then check the MD5 of the ISO to make sure it has not been tampered with. It should be MD5: 89B26FFDF16DF510FC853D467F069DC6, SHA-1: CB95B270F0C1D3F064E8E7BD8C011464BBA416F6 – Hennes Jan 19 '13 at 2:06
Why are you linked to articles talking about Windows 8. Anything with regard to Windows 8 DOES NOT apply to Windows XP. My suggestion purchase a Windows 8 or Windows 7 license and be done with it. – Ramhound Jan 19 '13 at 3:40
up vote 3 down vote accepted

You should be able to use any unbranded OEM copy of Windows XP (i.e. not Dell, HP, Gateway, etc.) to reinstall Windows XP Professional using the product key from the sticker on the bottom of the laptop.

Note that you need to use an OEM disc, not a Retail or VL (volume license) disc.

For your purposes, there is no difference between Windows XP, and Windows XP with Service Pack 1, 2 or 3, though for security reasons you should install a copy of XP which includes Service Pack 3 before connecting the computer to the Internet.

The only thing is that you may have to activate Windows by phone, as online activation was disabled for OEM product key stickers several years back. Since XP has gone end of life, OEM product keys can be activated over the Internet again.

share|improve this answer
Will phone activation still work? I mean, they're not selling Windows Xp anymore. – Ariane Jan 19 '13 at 6:19
As far as I know, phone activation is still possible. – Michael Hampton Jan 19 '13 at 6:21
All right. I'll be trying that. – Ariane Jan 19 '13 at 6:22
One more thing. English and French OEM discs work the same, right? – Ariane Jan 19 '13 at 6:36
At least with Windows Vista and later versions, product keys work for all languages. I have no idea about XP; it's way too old... – Michael Hampton Jan 19 '13 at 7:07

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