Windows 7 OEM licensing question

Posted on 2014-04-25
Last Modified: 2014-05-09
I have a HP desktop that came with Vista OEM.  I'd like to upgrade that to Windows 7, not 8.  There are several online retailers that sell a Windows 7 license but they're all OEM license.  They say they're 100% genuine and legal, which I don't doubt, but am I able to use that license to install Windows 7 fresh on a new hard drive in this older PC?  Is this a license violation to buy one of these OEM licenses and use it for a fresh install?  I'm not a PC builder, just a regular guy.

My understanding is that if it's an OEM license it'll read the product key from the motherboard, which will be a Vista product key.
Question by:bigbigpig
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Assisted Solution

by:Billy Roth
Billy Roth earned 80 total points
ID: 40024035
You can purchase a new OEM license for windows 7 and do a full clean install on your old PC with the new OEM key provided, you simply do not receive support as you would in a retail copy, and you are not allowed other privileges such as running a vm with the same license on the same machine or a re install.
LVL 10

Author Comment

ID: 40024038
No reinstalls?  With the OEM CD's from HP I could do a reinstall if I replaced a hard drive.  Same with Dell.  Is that a privilege given to those larger organizations?

Assisted Solution

asimat earned 80 total points
ID: 40024068
Once you activate Win7 OEM, the license gets locked to the hardware, which is usually motherboard and CPU. Changing the hard disk does not matter.

Also if you do change the motherboard and cannot get the OEM license activated due to hardware change, you can call Microsoft license phone activation where the automated system usually asks if this is the only PC with this license, if you say yes, it deletes the hardware entry and lets you activate over phone.
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LVL 62

Accepted Solution

☠ MASQ ☠ earned 100 total points
ID: 40024167
It will work but it's not complying with the license.  As you hinted at you're not a System Builder and the Win 7 license has some very specific terms which include that it should be installed on a newly built machine using the Windows Automated Installation Kit (WAIK) and most crucially the brand new system needs to then be sold on to an end-user who is not the same person as the System Builder.

You can read more about this in my comment here

OEM rules are slightly different in most of Europe but those differences only affect pre-exisiting systems that are installed originally by the manufacturer/System Builder when you are able to transfer them between systems.

Reinstalls are possible - activation is tied to a hardware signature generated at the time of activation with Microsoft.  If you reactivate with the System Builder Key supplied the Activation Servers at Microsoft will retireive your hardware activation and if the machine matches will reactivate.  If you have substantially changed the hardware (new system board signature for example) or another PC you'll be directed to explain why you're trying to install to what appears to be a different machine.

Outside of Europe a motherboard change voids an OEM licence (see here) but as asimat says in the post above although Microsoft can detect this they use a degree of trust that you are complying with their terms and you can lie about the change.

You're not quite correct about reading the product key from the computer (Google: SLP - System Locked Pre-installation - for more details). What is infact happening is the OEM (manufacturer or "Royalty" version of the Windows Installer) checks the BIOS string on the motherboard so a Dell OEM reinstallation DVD will check for a Dell signature encoded in the BIOS.  If the signature matches the manufacturer of the install disc then the activation process happens automatically without any online stage.  Afterwards the only online record Microsoft will make is when you need to pass WGA to download products that are limited to owners of Genuine Windows installs.

In summary - a System Builder OEM install will work - it's legal for the retailer to supply you with it.  There are specific conditions attached to the licence - which is why it's cheaper than retail ( - not just because the System Builders become liable for all support).

If you add it to an old PC (i.e. not a new build) and use it yourself you are not complying with at least 2 very clear conditions of the licence.

What you do is your choice, if you were installing this for a third-party customer I would urge you to make them aware of it's questionable legality as if they were audited you could show that they were aware of the issue.
LVL 35

Assisted Solution

Kimputer earned 80 total points
ID: 40024435
In Europe the legality of selling only OEM licenses (without a complete PC) to end users seems to be in a grey area, with most resellers trying to cover their bases by adding something as simple as a power cable on the invoice to close the OEM legality loop (the grey being if the power cable is considered hardware or not). Even then, they're are no known cases where Microsoft came down on a user with a questionable OEM purchase.
LVL 62

Expert Comment

by:☠ MASQ ☠
ID: 40024517
^^ That's not just in Europe and applied to OEM CDs from named manufacturers (which are badged "For Distribution only with a New Computer") and started solely because that well-known online auction house insisted - it's pretty much mythology that there is any requirement at all.  System Builder disk sets aren't in that group there's no requirement for hardware to be sold with them (it would really mess with the retailers if there was :)).

The Europe issue is purely down to "Can Microsoft force you to tie the OEM licence that came with your computer to that system or can you reuse it if your machine dies?"  The European Court ruled that this was an unreasonable restriction and so in EU countries your OEM system can be transferred as if it were a retail version (currently uncontested by Microsoft).  It has to be supplied correctly in the first place though (i.e. supplied by the OEM Dell/HP/Toshiba/System Builder etc) for that to apply and so is outside the remit of this thread which is about using a System Builder OEM DVD to upgrade an older system.
LVL 55

Assisted Solution

McKnife earned 80 total points
ID: 40024523
A good read:
Note: OEM copies will be able to upgrade your Vista OEM. At least I have seen that work many times. Your device will not have a Vista product key in the BIOS, that was not done, back then.
LVL 44

Assisted Solution

Darr247 earned 80 total points
ID: 40025710
> No reinstalls?  
With the OEM CD's from HP I could do a reinstall if I replaced a hard drive.
That is an OEM version of windows, but what you're talking about is System Locked Pre-install (aka SLP), which reads SLIC version info (Vista used SLIC 2.0; Win7 uses SLIC 2.1) embedded in the BIOS and automatically activates windows at every boot... even once it's activated, if you then put the hard drive into an otherwise-identical non-HP machine at the next boot you'll get the 'activation required' message. Google "SLP SLIC" for more info about it.
LVL 10

Author Closing Comment

ID: 40053697
Thanks all for the good information - sounds like retail packaging is the way to go here.

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