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How can I avoid a change in hardware triggering a re-activation in Windows XP?

Posted on 2012-04-04
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Last Modified: 2012-04-05
I would like to be able to clone and change out the hard drives in a mission critical PC in our mill.  The PC is running XP SP3.  When I attempt to change the hard drives, it triggers a Windows re-activation.  Is there any way to "normalize" the hardware configuration to allow me to "start from scratch" with my allowable hardware changes.

This is a very brief description of the problem so that the experts who want to help me can do so with a minimum of reading and fuss.  My first post below will be a much more involved description of the entire problem.
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Question by:StudmillGuy
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17 Comments
 

Author Comment

by:StudmillGuy
ID: 37808101
At my place of work we have a PC that is absolutely crucial to the running of our mill.  If the PC doesn't function correctly the mill doesn't run.

I have been tasked with making a backup machine available for it.

Let me start by saying that a fresh install is not an option.  The PC runs some specialty software that was custom written for this application.  It also uses specialty PCI cards that are worth thousands of dollars.  There are custom drivers written for the specialty cards.  It will cast thousands of dollars to replace the machine if we ask the original manufacturer of the equipment to do it.

What I have found works best in this situation is to clone the hard drives and install those hard drives in a similar machine. (For those of you about to protest about license violations, see below).  In fact, I used this technique to migrate the original system off of the hardware (a custom built system) that was in place when I got here to something that was more standard (a Dell Precision T3400).  That should have been the hard part.  The easy part should have been to put cloned hard drives into another T3400 setup exactly the same and put it on the shelf for an emergency.

The difficulty I am having is that there have been enough hardware changes to the machine that even putting new hard drives in triggers a windows re-activation.  It's bad enough that this computer does not have internet access, but even when I try to activate by phone, the activation app won't give me a new installation ID.  When I pushed enough buttons on the phone to eventually get the automated system to put me through to a real person I get a British sounding voice that puts me on infinite hold.  And I'm quite certain that if a person ever did pick up they would just refuse to help me without an installation ID below.

Now, to address the self righteous few who are going to read this and want to lecture me about license violations.  First, every single machine in the series of machines has had its OWN WINDOWS LICENSE.  That means Microsoft has been paid at least four times for something that should only have to be paid for once.  In some cases, the original license on the machine was a Vista business license, but I still have "downgrade rights" to XP.  Also although the old machines will still power on, because of the customization, there is only one place in the entire world they can be used and only one can be used at a time.  Therefore it would be perfectly legal for me to have a single license for the in service machine and its backup since only one can be used at a time.  Also, since the specialty hardware is far too expensive have multiple items on the shelf, there is enough hardware to have one set in service and one set in a backup on the shelf and that is it.  There is simply no use for the old systems and they will be discarded.

Also, although I am morally and ethically opposed to paying Microsoft YET AGAIN for another OS license for this system, I would gladly do so because at this point the amount of time I have dumped into this issue far exceeds the cost of another license.  But we all know the next part - Microsoft won;t sell you XP anymore under any cirumstances.
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LVL 62

Expert Comment

by:☠ MASQ ☠
ID: 37808156
What's the current ProductID displayed in My Computer > Properties?
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Author Comment

by:StudmillGuy
ID: 37808179
Not sure where "Product ID" is displayed, but under the "System" tab it shows.

Microsoft Windows XP
Professional
Version 2002
Service Pack 3.

Is that what you needed?
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Expert Comment

by:☠ MASQ ☠
ID: 37808310
There should be a series of numbers below that
See: http://marksxp.mvps.org/WindowsXP/prodid.php
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Author Comment

by:StudmillGuy
ID: 37808485
Hmmm.  No product ID.  The example at the link above was for a SP1 install.

I've attached a screen shot with sensitive info "sanitized".  Let me know if you think you need something from one of the blacked out areas.
System-general-sanitized.gif
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Author Comment

by:StudmillGuy
ID: 37808497
NVM, I see what you meant.
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Author Comment

by:StudmillGuy
ID: 37808718
Here is a GIF of the product ID.  I'm thinking that posting it as text might be bad?
Product-ID.gif
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LVL 62

Expert Comment

by:☠ MASQ ☠
ID: 37808825
ProductIDs can't be used for piracy - they are generated as part of the installation process and identify the media used you can post them freely and they can't be abused (just don't go posting Product Keys!).  Despite your earlier comments about licensing, this is fundamentally the problem here, only this isn't a self-righteous few preventing you doing what you want but the install itself.  The 76487 product code identifies the XP install as OEM which is pretty much what your earlier screenshot was suggesting. Most manufacturer specific OEM installs don't generate  48 character challenge codes used for telephone activation as reactivation support is meant to be handled by the OEM support.

That said if you are simply going to clone the drive you should be able to reset activation on the copy if you are prompted, either with the OEM CoA Product Key - if it is for XP - or the key provided for downgrading as appropriate; or by carrying out a repair/reinstall using the same installation media that was used to install this machine.

If you try to use the drive or its clone in another machine however you'll almost certainly fall foul of the new machine's BIOS string failing to match the record in the system hive and Microsoft's own anti-piracy measures locking the OEM system out of a replacement motherboad.

You did make it clear in your question that you didn't want this thread turing into a diatribe on the pros & cons of Windows licensing so I'll not pursue that aspect other than to say if you do use expensive hardware/customised software you should never put this on an OEM licensed machine as you will inevitable get into this situation and instead should go for either a volume or retail license that gives you the freedom to transfer between machines.

Now that's out of the way let's try to find a fix - do you have the manufacturer's installation CD still?
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Author Comment

by:StudmillGuy
ID: 37808869
I definitely do not have the original installation CD.  I believe this started out life as a Precision T3400 that got migrated to different hardware - a custom build.  This was done to fix a problem that the original OEM thought had to do with the Precision T3400 platform.  They were wrong about that, but didn't change the hardware back.  This was well before my arrival here.

When I arrived on the scene and needed to be able create a backup machine I chose the T3400 because I needed to be able to make a quick easy backup.

Do you think just a plain old Dell XP SP3 CD might work?
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Author Comment

by:StudmillGuy
ID: 37808876
And for those of you catching up I'll post the Product ID here since I've been told that is acceptable.

76487-OEM-0056996-22575.
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Author Comment

by:StudmillGuy
ID: 37809241
I also wholehearted agree that the original install should not have been done with the OEM license, but alas, I did not get to make that choice.  I am merely trying to play the hand I am dealt.
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LVL 20

Accepted Solution

by:
marsilies earned 500 total points
ID: 37811891
Do you have a volume license for Windows?

If so, you could do a repair install on the cloned drives, using the Volume License install media and the Volume License Key (VLK). This would keep all your programs and drivers installed, but change the Windows license and key to something that doesn't require internet or phone activation. Then you'll be able to move between hardware without activation issues. Instructions for doing a repair install are here (written for P2V, but should apply to any change in hardware):
http://thisvirtualrealm.com/2011/07/17/how-to-change-the-oem-license-key-to-vlk-after-p2v/

Using a Dell branded XP Pro install disc to do a repair install on the cloned drive installed into the new Precision T3400 should get it working on that hardware. You should be able to move it between Dells without issue after that (at least in terms of activation). However, if you ever go back to custom hardware, you'll run into this activation issue again.

You could also use a retail or upgrade install disc/key to convert the install to a retail license. You'd need to activate the key over the phone, and would have to do so again after significant hardware changes, but MS allows moving XP upgrade/retail licenses to new computers (provided it's removed from the old computer).

More info on repair installs:
http://michaelstevenstech.com/XPrepairinstall.htm

More info on Windows Product Activation.
http://www.pcbuyerbeware.co.uk/ProductActivation.htm
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Expert Comment

by:Darr247
ID: 37811918
The Dell CD will work if they are all Dell machines, because it will use SLP activation based on info found in the BIOS for Dell machines.

It won't work for non-Dell machines... it will prompt you to enter a valid key from the CoA.  (I don't think it's even possible to hack that info INTO non-Dell BIOS, as it would then fail its CRC check during POST, and there usually aren't enough unused bytes to manipulate the CRC.)

edit: Do I even need to mention that to do that legally they should all be licensed for the version you're installing, too?
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Author Comment

by:StudmillGuy
ID: 37811996
Thanks experts!  Now we're getting somewhere.

I'm sure my company has a VLK that I can try.  That seems it would be perfectly legal and the most effective solution.  Am I correct?

Due to my work load, I probably won't be able to try any of these ideas until Sunday or Monday.
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LVL 14

Expert Comment

by:Don Thomson
ID: 37812088
It's been a while but Volume licensing does not include Operating System Software.  I believe it's only valid and available for Applications and Upgrades to Operating systems.

Have you thought of running Windows 7 Pro with XP Mode installed - Each Machine would require a valid Win 7 Pro license. Once it's up and working - you could install the drivers for the PCI devices in the DOS mode - I believe that the XP Mode could be copied from one machine to the other with no problems.

As far as Microsoft not selling XP Pro any longer - that's correct but there are thousands of legit copies - full version of XP Pro SP3  available on EBAY for as little as $79.00

Personally - That is the way I would go
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LVL 20

Expert Comment

by:marsilies
ID: 37812352
MS allows using VLK install media and keys to re-install on OEM machines for the purposes of re-imaging, which is along the lines of what the OP is attempting.

Also, while you can't buy a license for XP Pro directly from MS anymore, OEM and VLK licenses for Windows 7 Pro include downgrade rights to XP Pro.

See here for more info on licensing questions and briefs:
http://www.microsoft.com/licensing/about-licensing/product-licensing-faq.aspx
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Author Closing Comment

by:StudmillGuy
ID: 37814684
The repair install using the VLK did the trick.  (A few gory details have been ommitted).  Thanks much.
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