My laptop has an OEM version of Vista Home Premium 32-bit. I need to reinstall Windows, and I've made sure that disk I have downloaded is the same as the one on my system (32-bit Home Premium).

Is the retail version the same as the OEM? I only have a retail copy but I have an OEM license. Will I have any problems reactivating my copy of windows? Note, my HW hasn't changed.


I saw this post already, but I don't have an OEM disk:

Installing XP with out manufacturers original XP restore disk, possible with OEM disk?


It will install, but the problem is it will reject the key. An OEM key requires an OEM disk, and retail requires a retail disk.

You did not post what model or brand of laptop, so it is hard to be more specific with the following advice: First, I would call the manufacturer and see if I could buy a replacement disk (about $20 typically because you are not buying a license, just the media). That is a good idea long-term.

In the short term, you want to get up and running, so see if you have a friend with an OEM disk even if it is not from your manufacturer. I have used the Dell restore disks on non-Dell systems before. The main difference is that if I were installing it on a Dell system, it won't ask me for the key or to activate, but it does on a non-Dell system. This is not a problem for you since you can just put in you key that is on the sticker.

  • I think I'll play with the suggestion in the link provided by @Thomas. Marking this as correct because it solved my problem. – beatgammit Jun 25 '11 at 18:36
  • @tjameson I thought I had the software, so I sent you a friend request, and was going to find a way to get it to you. It turns out I did not after all. You can ignore. – KCotreau Jun 25 '11 at 19:00
  • This is wrong. See my answer below. You can use a non-OEM disk with an OEM license key, but it will require a call to the Microsoft activation hotline. – nhinkle Jun 26 '11 at 5:39

In Windows Vista and Windows 7, you do not need to use an OEM disk to install windows, as long as you have the valid activation key on your certificate of authenticity (COA, the sticker on your laptop with the license key).

Automatic activation is achieved by a special encrypted file on the disk which the OS verifies against a code stored on the motherboard. If they match, then the OS knows that your computer was by the manufacturer that the OEM Windows disk is from, so it doesn't even ask you for a key.

If you don't have an OEM disk, you can still install Windows using a retail, upgrade, or MSDN/TechNet disk, as long as it is the same edition of Windows (Home Premium/Business/Ultimate). It does not matter if it is the same architecture (64 bit vs. 32 bit) or even laguange edition.

What will happen if you use a non-OEM disk or a disk from a different OEM is that automatic activation will fail, and you will be prompted to enter a product key. Enter the product key from the sticker on your computer. Because OEM activation is usually automatic, and one rarely needs to use the product key on their computer, you will have to call the Microsoft activation hotline to complete the installation. You read off a code generated by the computer, which allows them to determine if the computer is properly licensed, and if it matches, then they read back a code which you enter, allowing the activation to proceed. If this process doesn't work automatically, you can speak to a live person and ask them to help you; as long as you are legally licensed, they should be able to get you up and running.

I've done this all before, I know it works and Microsoft is very helpful with it.

  • Ok, thanks. I thought this might be the case but I wasn't sure. Does this mean that it's less of a hassle to use the OEM disk, even if it's not from the same company (Dell, HP, etc)? Or do they roll their own activation stuff? – beatgammit Jun 26 '11 at 17:18

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