I currently work in 2 different locations, traveling between the 2 every few weeks or so. I currently have screens, kb, mouse etc... in both locations, so I just pick up my tower case when I want to move to the other location.

However to make moving easier I was thinking of buying 2 tower cases with hot swappable drive bays on the front and installing identical hardware in each one.

This would allow me to pull the drives out and just take them with me and plug them into the PC at the other location.

Would windows 7 complain? I'm not fussed about buying licenses for both PCs, but would I have any problems with drivers due to the different serial numbers of the components?

Update: 23rd Dec

So I went ahead with this and bought the 2 identical PCs and they are working beautifully, haven't had any problems when swapping drives. I've even upgraded the processor in one of them and not had any problems.

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    I will probably try this in the hope it will work and post my results. Just be good to know if someone else on SU had already tried it and how they got on – rgvcorley Jul 7 '12 at 12:08
  • I believe it should work. I remember I used to swap HDD between two nearly identical Dell desktops without any problems. The OS would reconfigure itself on each swap, restart the computer and I'd be ready to work. Go ahead, give it a try and let's know what happens. – Alex Essilfie Jul 7 '12 at 12:25
  • I was hoping with identical PCs it wouldn't even have to reconfigure, I would simply plug in and it would boot up as if all I had done was restart my computer in a single location. I expect it would work but buying all the components and putting the PCs together is quite an investment of time so I want to be fairly sure! – rgvcorley Jul 7 '12 at 12:31
  • You will run into problems with activation. – Grant Jul 7 '12 at 14:11
  • @Grant: You won't. See my answer below. I have done this sort of thing at least a 100 times. (XP, W7, even Win2003 servers). Lost the activation only twice. Both times because of a different CPU and revision of the motherboard (first gen Core-i5, 2nd gen Core-i5). This is very common in large PC deployments. Business PC's typically have an all-in-one motherboard. Either the MB breaks or the HD. MB breaks ? Put HD in spare PC and the user can work again. (Minimal downtime for the user is a major KPI.) Then call Dell/HP/Lenovo whatever to replace the broken MB. – Tonny Jul 7 '12 at 20:20

This is perfectly OK. We do it frequently.

Some points to bear in mind:

  • Only swap when the OS is really shutdown. Not hibernated !
  • If you installed ANY software during the last session (including hotfixes/security patches) give the computer an extra reboot, before shutting it down. This is to make sure all updates are really committed to the registry.
  • You can use different USB devices (Mouse, keyboard, and so on) as these are intended to be swapped anyway.
  • If the network-card allows setting your own mac-address it is a very good idea to set it to the same value on BOTH systems. Use the value of one of the adapters.
  • Minor differences in hardware (like a different CDROM drive, or a slightly different video-card as long as it uses the same drivers as the other one) are usually no problem. Motherboard chipset and CPU should be exactly identical. This prevents you from loosing the Windows product activation.
  • Microsoft frowns upon the practice, but you will only need 1 license for the OS.

In general: After swapping let the PC boot once while keeping it off the LAN. You don't want the PC to pull Windows Updates or any software phoning home to check product activation at that point.
Any hardware differences will be resolved by the OS.
Then reboot and reconnect LAN and you are good to go.

Windows 7 is more lenient than XP in this situation anyway. (More build-in drivers.)
Also: Windows in general seems not to throw a fit if you visualize physical hardware to a VM. The other way around can be quite problematic, especially it the target hardware is different than the original hardware from which the VM was build (or the VM was build as such and never existed as physical hardware).

  • +1 Thank you very much - absolutely fantastic answer, just the info I wanted! – rgvcorley Jul 7 '12 at 14:10
  • can you point to a source with info about writing to registry not being written to disk immedeately? or what do you mean with 'comitted to the registry'? – stijn Jul 7 '12 at 16:14
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    @stijn I should have worded that differently... The registry is obviously committed to disk at that point. What i meant: Some updates/installs delay part of their changes to the system to the next startup of Windows AFTER the reboot. (Often by placing something in the RunOnce registy key, but there are other ways to do that too.) So the install isn't really finished until AFTER the reboot and the system state (registry and files) is therefore not stable during the reboot. – Tonny Jul 7 '12 at 20:10

if the pc's are exactly the same, say apart from the serial number, then yes, you can expect it to work. I've swapped drives with XP and 7 between identical or even very similar pc's a number of times and it was always successfull. In fact it works so good that for critical setups on one job I used to order an extra pc so that we could just swap it around should something break.

edit thinking about it, Windows is not even that bad in using the same installations on different hardware: using hardware profiles, I used the same install to boot from actual harware, as well as from a virtual machine with raw disk access running on linux on the same pc. Same trick worked as well with Windows on a Mac: dual boot, but same install worked under Parallels as well. And virtualized hardware can be quite different from the real underlying hardware.


I've done this successfully with XP Professional for years with no problems - I have 3 identical PCs in different locations and simply take the harddrive, in a caddy, between locations.

But I recently upgraded to Windows 7 on 3 new, identical PCs - and Windows is warning me that it needs activating "today", but so far it has kept working, for about 5 weeks.

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