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XP, OEM and the repair/reinstallation - which disk do I need?

☠ MASQ ☠
MASQ is on vacation (yes AGAIN!) so responses may be delayed or non-existent!
If you thought Windows XP came on just two different CD types, Home and Professional, then this article is for you.

Since Windows XP was launched by Microsoft in 2001 and until its planned retirement in April 2014 it has (so far) had three major Service Pack updates, been released in two 64-bit versions, a Media Centre Edition, a Tablet and even an embedded version.

This article deals with reinstallation and licensing issues associated with the 32-bit versions of Home and Professional but by extension applies to all the above.

Product ID's and Channel numbers - digging deeper into XP's true identity

XP installation CDs can come from a variety of sources.

- Retail versions - bought in store or online
- OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) versions - supplied by your PC builder
- Upgrade disks - from a qualifying licensed version of Windows
- Volume Licensed Media (VLK) - for corporate installs
- Microsoft subscriptions - MAPS, Technet, MSDN etc.

This list is not exhaustive and is dealt with at LunarSoft which shows how to determine the provenance of your installation by decoding the Product ID in the General tab of System Properties.
It is important to understand the different Channels and ProductID combinations available as the Activation Keys for each differ and cannot be simply exchanged.
Licensing - what can I do and what breaks the rules?
Getting definitive advice from Microsoft's website on licensing can prove surprisingly difficult at times but here are a few pointers that might help.

Effectively this should seem commonsense in that the more you pay for their product the more you get to do with it!

Retail editions
The retail edition of XP is the least restricted of the licenses and this is reflected in the cost.
You can install the system on any single PC (and additionally on a portable device that is soley used by the licence holder - i.e. you can't be looking at both at the same time but you can have it installed in both places!)
You can also uninstall it and reinstall it on any number of computers provided the total number of computers it is installed on obeys the above rule.

Retail versions are eligble for upgrades provided you pay for the appropriate upgrade disk (but once upgraded you have to stop using the original operating system - so you can't use your Retail XP CD to upgrade to Windows 7 AND continue to use that XP install)

OEM Editions
These come in two versions:

System Builder OEM - these are OEM installation disks that are generic and supplied by small PC builders.
'Royalty' OEM* - used by the large system builders, (Toshiba, Sony, HP, Dell etc.)
*This ignores Recovery Disk sets provided by OEMs which are effectively images of the supplied installation and as such can't be used to repair an XP system only to restore it to its "out of the box" state.
OEM installs are significantly cheaper than Retail for several reasons:
- OEM installs are tied to the PC they are supplied with. When the PC dies then the license ends (the single exception being where the motherboard is replaced by the system provider under Warranty). The licenses are NEVER transferable.

- OEM installs are not eligible for upgrades (except while a new version of Windows is being launched at the time of purchase and then only with specific approval from Microsoft via the OEM).

- Support for OEM installations (including activation issues) is down to the OEM and not Microsoft (expect Microsoft to point you back to your manufacturer if you have a problem even if your support with the OEM has expired).

'Royalty' OEM CDs use System Locked Pre-installation (SLP) to check that the operating system has been installed to hardware provided by the OEM. This is part of Microsoft's agreement to allow the OEM to distribute installation CDs and prevents them being installed to other hardware.
VLK Media - is supplied either preactivated or licenced to activate according to a purchased number of chairs.  Central support is available for SysAdmins but individual users won't obtain support directly from Microsoft.

Microsoft Subscriptions - these are usually Not for Distribution (NFD) licenses to enable system builders and administrators to test systems prior to roll-out but - depending on the subscription - can also be licenced for normal use.
WGA - there is a further category which appears in the Product ID which is WGA (Windows Genuine Advantage) - this is an activation state where a system has been upgraded following the purchase of a license from Microsoft as a result of the WGA programme.

OK, having taken all of that onboard, let's look at the repair/reinstallation of XP
The process is dealt with in great detail at Michael Steven's website and this is highly recommended as a resource.
It is important to remember that when you carry out a repair/reinstallation using an XP CD (that matches the type of XP and is the same or better Service Pack) the resultant installation on the PC will take on the properties of the CD used.
You should therefore ensure that the correct CD is used as recovering a system restored using the wrong media can be very time consuming.
- If a Royalty OEM disk is used on a system from a different OEM then SLP will prevent the system from running - treating the PC as if someone has tried to set up XP frrom scratch using the SLP protected CD.

- If a Retail CD is used to repair an OEM install (Royalty or System Builder) then XP will ask for an activation Key - but it will need a retail activation key not an OEM key from a Certificate of Authenticty (CoA) sticker.

- Similarly if a System Builder (OEM) disk is used to repair a retail system it will need an OEM activation key.
The end result is that you may end up with a repaired system that will not run because of anti-piracy restrictions (SLP) or requiring a Key that you do not possess.  If you do activate the system successfully check the Product ID details in Control Panel > System match what was originally installed on the machine.
A final note on key extraction from the registry and OEM systems

Because of the use of pre-registration (and SLP) - most OEM installs have no idea what CD Key is printed on the OEM CoA sticker on their case and tools such as MagicalJellyBean will consequently retrieve a key that does not match. Since 2005 OEM CoA Product Keys cannot be used for online product activation but are proof of licensing. If you telephone Microsoft with an OEM CoA Activation problem expect to be redirected to your system builder.

Useful links and references

Microsoft System Builder Licensing FAQ

Microsoft OEM FAQ's (aimed at system builders) - includes more common licensing questions
☠ MASQ ☠
MASQ is on vacation (yes AGAIN!) so responses may be delayed or non-existent!

Comments (8)

Distinguished Expert 2019

i have lerarned again important things - tx Masqueraid (where does that name come from ? .. just wondering)
Distinguished Expert 2019

damn typo sb : learned of course
Most Valuable Expert 2013


It's from the Latin, it means, "the user name you selected is already taken" :)
Author of the Year 2011
Top Expert 2006

Thanks! (I needed a chuckle this morning.)
Distinguished Expert 2019


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