I don’t have installation media for Windows. What if I need it?

At some point, you're going to need your Windows installation CD/DVD. If you don't have it, you could be severely out of luck. I'll review alternatives.

//
I need to reinstall Windows, but I don’t have an installation disc. I never got one. What do I do?

It’s becoming more and more common to have a completely legal installation of Windows without installation media such as CDs or DVDs. This can cause some panic when you’re later instructed to make sure that you have media ready before installing some other software or hardware or if you ever find yourself needing to reinstall your system from scratch.

Let’s look at how to prepare for this day and what straws you may have to grasp at should you arrive unprepared.

How you got here

Many computer manufacturers are pre-installing Windows without giving you the actual installation media to go with it.

I personally think this is a very bad practice, but I also understand that it may save the manufacturer (and ultimately you) a little bit of money.

Unfortunately, these short-term savings often have a much higher long-term cost.

The ideal solution: insist on installation media

When you purchase a new computer, I strongly recommend that you do what you can to get installation media. That’s the media that would allow you to reinstall Windows on a completely empty hard drive.

That “completely empty” part is important. Many of the recovery discs that do come with your system are not installation discs. Instead, they assume that the original hard disk is still in place and simply use a hidden partition to perform a reinstallation or restoration.

The problem is that if the hard disk has been damaged and/or replaced, that hidden copy no longer exists and the recovery disks are useless.

Many manufacturers include installation media as an option:
Windows recovery media option
Unfortunately, you can see that there is confusion in terms. In this case, Dell is referring to the installation media as recovery media. The key is that it spells out that it’s a recovery disk for “Genuine Windows 7 Professional,” implying that Windows itself is on the recovery disk. And they’re charging $3 for it.

If it were a recovery disk for your particular computer model without specifically mentioning Windows, and especially if it’s included for free, then it’s not likely to be what you want.

When in doubt, or if the option is not provided, ask specifically for reinstallation media that can be used to restore to “bare metal” – also known as an empty hard disk.

Inserting a discThe costly solution: buy a retail copy

If you did not (or cannot) get an official Windows installation disc from your computer manufacturer, then the only true alternative is to purchase a retail copy.

You can try eBay for older versions of Windows or purchase one from other legitimate online vendors.

But be careful. So-called OEM copies are often illegal and may not work with all PCs. Each OEM copy is tailored to the computer manufacturer that originally sold it. If you have a computer from a different manufacturer, the disc may simply not work.

If you ever need to reinstall from scratch, a retail copy will work. After that, you would presumably download and install any manufacturer-specific device drivers if you decide that you need them.

Practical preparation: the system image

If you cannot get installation media from your computer manufacturer, then my recommendation is that you instead use a system backup and imaging program like Macrium Reflect (the free edition will do for this) to take a complete image of all of the partitions on the machine and save that.

I’d also do it as soon as possible after receiving that new machine.

That backup image takes the place of installation media in the case of system failures. If you ever need to reinstall from scratch, then you can simply restore that backup image and your machine will be exactly as it was when you took that backup, including any hidden recovery partition because you’ll have backed that up as well.

Best of all, restoring a backup image can be performed onto an empty replacement hard disk.

Like the retail option, a system image does not help when Windows asks you to insert the original media. Instead, it’s important protection from future system and hard drive failures.

No disc drive?

Perhaps more frustrating that having no disc is not having a drive to put it in!

Many computers are no longer including optical disc (CD/DVD/Blu-Ray) drives, relying completely on on-board firmware and other techniques for system restoration. Many of those techniques simply don’t work if the machine’s hard drive is completely empty after a replacement.

My recommendation is to make sure that the machine can boot from USB (which most can) and then purchase an inexpensive external DVD drive. They may or may not work well for watching DVD movies, but they’re perfect as data drives to handle your installation media.

While you probably should get your installation media plans in place prior to things going wrong, an external optical drive can be a quick last-minute purchase when you suddenly realize you need it.

A vanishing straw for older Windows: the I386 folder

In Windows XP, one of the common places to find an image of the installation media is the folder named I386. This is typically in the root of the C: drive. (There may be several others elsewhere on the machine, but the one that we care about will contain close to 7,000 files, two of which will be winnt.exe and winnt32.exe.)

The I386 directory is typically one of the top-level directories on the distribution media, but most importantly, it is the directory that contains the distributed copy of Windows. Winnt.exe and winnt32.exe are the DOS and protected mode setup programs, respectively. (You’d only need those if you were planning to re-install Windows from scratch – I use them here as an easy way to identify that we have the right directory.)

Unfortunately, you have no way to create a bootable disc image from the I386 folder. You can certainly burn to CD or DVD for backup (and I encourage you to do so), but this does not create the equivalent of true Windows installation media.

Using the I386 in place of installation media when Windows asks for the original is fairly straightforward. Typically, the “Insert disc” message has only an OK and Cancel button. Press OK, allowing it to fail because you didn’t insert a disk. The next dialog will typically ask you to provide the location of the CD-ROM; just type in the full path of the I386 directory that you discovered above.

Unfortunately, the I386 folder appears to have disappeared in Windows 7.

About that manufacturer supplied restore disc

The restore disk that was supplied by the manufacturer is typically not a reinstallation disc. You cannot use it to reinstall Windows onto an empty hard drive.

If the hard drive has not been damaged, however, then the manufacturer supplied restore disc can be useful.

What About the Free Download?

Update: a lot of people have been mentioning the fact that Windows 7 discs are available as a free download. See Where can I download Windows 7? – an article I posted some time ago with the specifics.

Here’s the problem.

It’s only Windows 7. I know of no legal download for other Windows versions.

It’s only Windows 7 Retail. It assumes you have or will purchase a Windows 7 Retail product key. It may or may not help you with your pre-installed Windows 7 OEM version, and will almost certainly not accept your OEM license key.

You can, of course, purchase and download Windows 8 directly from Microsoft.

As I mentioned earlier, manufacturers often include a copy of Windows on your hard disk. Once upon a time, it may have been the I386 folder. These days, it’s typically in a hidden partition on your hard drive.

A hidden partition that the restore disc knows how to access.

The net result is that the manufacturer-supplied system restore disc can be used to restore your system to its factory-original condition as long as the original hard disk remains intact.

While this doesn’t help you if the hard disk fails, it’s a valuable approach to restoring your system after software-related issues, such as software rot or a bad malware infection.

If you’re still stuck…

Unfortunately, the most common scenario is that people reach a problem point that requires installation media, they have none, and they have not prepared.

Your options at this point are few.

  • Contact your computer manufacturer and see if they will supply installation media. While it’s not common, I have actually heard of this scenario working.
  • Purchase a retail copy of Windows. If you must choose OEM, make sure it’s the OEM version for your machine.
  • Borrow an installation disc that matches what’s installed on your machine – right down to the Windows version and OEM manufacturer. This exact match is required to ensure that your product key will work to activate the installation. You should extract or write down the product key from your existing system prior to any reinstall. (Warning: Depending on many factors, this could actually be illegal. It seems moral to me, because you’re simply replacing or repairing a copy of Windows that you already own, but copy protection laws in certain locales often categorize this as a violation.)

And next time, you should either insist on getting actual installation media when you get your machine or at least take that system image backup as soon as it arrives.

This is an update to an article originally posted : December 26, 2003

There are 239 comments:

  1. P Baker Reply

    bought the prebundled software on HP computer. The hard drive has gone completely capoot. Have new hard drive need xp home cd. Have oem. HP dragging feet on any solutions. Keep sending me the recovery disks. (no os on new hard drive to recover)Where can I get a copy of xp home os without having to buy it? I just need to reinstall it. I have an install disk for a Dell computer. Will that work.

  2. Leo Reply

    Well, the “right” thing to do is to keep slapping HP around – they *should* get you a CD-ROM. I’m actually surprized there wasn’t one with the machine (it’s often shrink-wrapped with the documentation). There’s no “legal” way to get a copy, other than through HP, that I’m aware of. Since you have a DELL disk, absolutely I’d give it a try … my recollection is that the actualy OS install is not customized much, if at all. Since you have a new hard drive you have little to lose anyway. Assuming you activated the copy of XP on the old hard disk, it might also be worth calling Microsoft to see if they can provide you with something – they might just point you at HP, but nonetheless, it might be worth a shot.

    Good luck!

    Leo

  3. Peter Reply

    Is it not so that when you have a license, that means a key, you can get any copy you want as long as you would use your own license key?

    Though the OEM counts for something. It might mean that you cannot get a copy from a “full retail” version of XP and use your key on it, as then you might have functionality you or HP didn’t pay for.

    Secondly it might not have the necessary drivers aboard. If this approach is legal it will most surely get your system going.

  4. Dom Reply

    The Dell copy of Windows will not work. While it is an actual copy of Windows, during installation it will check your mobo to see if you are installing it on a Dell machine. You can (not legally) install one copy of Dell Windows XP on several Dell machines without incident, but you cannot put it on a Compaq/HP/custom system etc. As far as I know Dell and Gateway are the only two manuf. that include ACTUAL copies of Windows XP and not those ghastly image “recovery–wipe your hard drive out and put the crapware back on your computer” disks.

    Wise decision would be to ask the next computer manufacturer that you buy from if they give you an actual copy of windows. If they don’t tell them NO THANK YOU!

  5. Derek Reply

    My aunt’s computer crashed, and after searching for her gateway win xp home cd for an hour, she found it with a big crack in it. Obviously it didn’t work. I tried my msdn version of xp home thinking i could just use her license key, but it wouldn’t take it. When I contacted gateway, they told me that if the pc was still under warranty, they’d send me a new cd for free. Since it was no longer under warranty, they said I had to purchase a whole new copy of XP Home for $195!! Am I write in saying that the license was already purchased and paid for when the pc was purchased, so all we should have to pay is maybe a couple of bucks for them to ship a new cd?

  6. Fearnhead Reply

    Interesting about what to do if you dont have the Home Edition XP CD. When I run sfc /scannow and get the Windows File Protection prompting me for a CD I do not have an ok. The only option I have are retry more information cancel there is no option to browse to the I386 folder. Is there a way round this ????????

  7. Leo Reply

    Normally if you hit <Cancel> on that dialog, it will then follow up with a dialog asking for the location of the files. That’s where you would browse to your I386 folder.

    Leo

  8. Andrea Reply

    Hi, i have a slight problem.
    i got 2 pc one is a laptop(nt without cdrom only floppy). the home pc(xp) got i386 folder.laptop deosnt bc i deleted it. can i somehow ftp it to my laptop. and install xp to my laptop that way ?

  9. Andrea Reply

    i have a xp home liscence that came with pc and i got a bought cd liscence that is software by it self.

  10. Leo Reply

    If both computers have a network adapter, you could setup a link that way. There are pc-to-pc communications products like laplink that will work across a special serial cable. If you have a fast(ish) internet connection you could also ZIP the I386 directory into a single file, upload it somewhere, and then download it to the other machine, expand it, and be on your way.

    Leo

  11. Alan Reply

    Hi Leo

    I’m trying to upgrade Office 2000 and have the i386 directory as per this article. I’ve downloaded Office SP3 and it asks me for the installation CD so I used your instructions and tried browsing i386 BUT it’s trying to locate a file called data1.msi which I can’t locate. Any suggestions?

  12. Leo Reply

    This article is all about the WINDOWS CD … the I386 directory contains the Windows XP files. You need the OFFICE CD, which is where I believe you’ll find data1.msi.

    Good luck,

    Leo

  13. Rodney Reply

    I work at a call center and found this article to be usefull on some calls, but I just had a customer that got a box that said ” retry, more info, or cancel”. There was no “OK” box or place to type in the path.

    Rodney Wise
    Tier II DSL Tech Support Agent for an undisclosed company

  14. Leo Reply

    Usually either “retry”, or “cancel” will cause another dialog to come up asking for the path.

  15. DavidC Reply

    Firstly, the HP Recovery Disks includes the XP installation for your new HDD so simply attach your new HDD and boot with the Recovery Disk# 1 and follow the instructions.

    Also a DELL WinXP HE CD can be used on any other PC including a HP. I have personally done it many times. It is just like any XP HE CD and lets you boot with it for installation.
    But the main concern is Product Activation. So make sure you use your HP licensed XP CD Key when you are asked to provide the CD Key for activation.
    When you do that it will reactivate your XP online without any problems.

    I am a PC service Technician and have encountered this problem several times…

  16. Mo Reply

    Hi, quite useful. You mentioned doing a clean install of XP, that is what I am searching for. I do not have the WinXP CD, and all HP gives me is 8 recovery cds that restore it to *factory default settings* which includes all the programs I am trying to remove. I need to run the setup for XP and only install core components, thus having a clean system (no preinstalled packages IE musicmatch). Is there any way I can do this. Any help appreciated.

  17. Leo Reply

    Normally one of the CDs you get with a machine is only XP. That’s not the case here? If so, my approach would be to get “as clean as possible” with the CDs you have, and then before anything else, UNinstall (through control panel add/remove programs) all the applications you don’t want.

  18. Mo Reply

    The restore ability uses those 8 cds, created using the restore cd creator, and it asks for one at time, in order, and you may not just use one cd… Also, it resets *everything* back to what it was the day of purchase. P.S. noticing above advice, my current setup has pretty much everthing uninstalled, yet what about “just XP” being installed, is there a way. O, and sorry I may believe I am using the wrong thread— I just saw “I have no CD – how do I get at Windows XP setup? “

  19. Kau Reply

    Hey Leo,
    I read this article and i was wondering if i can use the I386 file to install xp on a 98se based computer. I want to upgrade my old computer to xp but don’t have the xp install disk. I only have the Emachines Recovery disk. How can I install xp by using either the I386 or the Emachines Recovery Disk?

  20. bq Reply

    Hi, if you are searching for “howto make Xp installation CD from restore cds” (but actually from factory installation on your notebook’s hdd) take a look on http://www.tabletpcbuzz.com/forum/ and serach for “clean install” the compaq forum. it is legal, and you can make your install cd before your notebook crash… — to be prepared . bye

  21. Lisa Reply

    My brother had been having problems with his computer and he wanted to have it clean sweeped and upgraded to XP home edition. So, my b/f did it for him. My b/f took his copy of XP and told him to go out and purchase his own copy so he could put in the product key. Well, my brother never did. What will happen and will it cause the computer to not respond or read disks? please help

  22. casimir Reply

    Where i will get the Installation CD for Windows XP?

    I have problem with startup. Computer is very slow while booting. Some hosts file is missing in explorer.exe file. Iexplorer file also corrupted. Is there any way to solve this problem without formating it.

    Thanks & Regards
    Casimir

  23. david hopper Reply

    i lost my cd for windows xp @ windows fell out of my pc how do i get it back with out it
    thanks david

  24. Leo Reply

    Depends entirely on what you mean by “fell out”. I added some related links to this article … perhaps one or more of those may help?

  25. Rhonda Reply

    I have a emachines w/ XP i have the resote CD’s my problem it want boot up to reformat the computer.It needs to reformatted to restore what has been lost but can’t get the CD to work.Please tell me what i can do.

    Thanks
    Rhonda

  26. Rhonda Reply

    i put CD in then reboot computer it will not read the CD says no info on CD but when i put another CD it will show files on it.Something came up on black screen where its looks like it will boot but doesn’t. This is what it says- Pri.Master Disk HDD S.M.A.R.T. Cappability – Disabled.
    Just tried rebooting again with CD now it is just a black screen on it nothing showing.

    Rhonda

    • phishy2 Reply

      You need to check if your hard drive is healthy. The only real way to do that, since your computer does not have an operating system, is to remove your hard drive and test it on a working computer.
      Time when computer nerd friends come in handy.
      Phishy2

  27. Jackie Reply

    I purchased an eMachines T2200 several years ago, and I can’t even remember if it came with a recovery disk or not. I believe my computer has a worm or virus, and I want to restore it to it’s “prime” condition, or how it was when I purchased it. Is there any other way, like a F- key to press while booting up or something I can do while on the computer? The eMachines website offers no help at all and I can’t find anything else about this model online.

  28. Leo Reply

    No magic keystrokes that I’m aware of. The only way to reset to initial conditions is to reinstall, and that means having a CD to install from.

  29. Kavita Reply

    Hi, I tried to trace the folder (I386) on my computer with a windows XP home edition and also tried a search for the 2 winnt files you had mentioned but could not find it. I do have a windows CD…
    My other problem is that my Windows screen hangs just before the blue welcome screen – on the Windows Logo page…It has automatically corrected itself (after a day or so) this has happened thrice now! I was able to use the safe mode by resetting. I was wondering if you could help. Thanks

  30. pat Reply

    I lost my Windows XP CD rom that came with my Hewlett Packard PC package. How much is another CD and where do I get one. I understand i need to get the backup utility from this cd???

    thanks

    Pat

  31. Leo Reply

    You can check with HP for current pricing, or look on eBay for bargains.

  32. sharon nixon Reply

    my daughter-n-law has a hp computer that came with xp on it already, and does not have the xp cdrom. i have read your article on how to find this 1386 file, and i have found it, what i want to know n ow, is how to install it? do i copy this file to a disc now? the whole file or just the two of the winnt.exe, winnt32.exe,.. please let me know how to install it from this point. thanks…. a quick response would be great….

  33. Leo Reply

    I386 is a directory, not a file. And yes, if you’re burning it to CD-ROM, you need to burn everything in that directory and all subdirectories. After you’be burned it to CD-ROM (for safety, if nothing else) you can run winnt.exe from the CD-ROM or directly from the i386 directory.

  34. peter Reply

    Hello!
    I would really like to reformat my computer to get some things off that I don’t need. the computer didn’t come with a windows cd. So how would I reformat if I can?

  35. Leo Reply

    If you don’t have the I386 directory as described in the article, you’ll need to get a CD somehow somewhere.

  36. miranda Reply

    Hi I’m trying to get to the recovery console on my laptop as It has experience a 0x000000ED error and keeps rebooting to the dreaded Blue Screen. My Windows XP prof was preinstalled but if I try and start in safe mode or any other option it freezes and restarts again, I have a desktop with XP on too so to acces the Recovery Console on my laptop can I copy the XP Prof onto CD from my desktop then use in my laptop. Help!! Not sure how I can restart my laptop and freaking out a bit, thanks for your help. ( I don’t want to Recover as I don’t want to lose any data so I’d like to roll back to a previous correct setting on my laptop)

  37. Masoum Reply

    hello,

    My computer just crashed and lost it’s operating system. I had an oem version of XP on it, but i dont have a CD to re-install it. Can i burn I386 to a CD from another computer (the one iam currently using), then use it to re-install or install XP on my liscened oem copy of WINDOWS XP?(i have c.oa. on my PC)

  38. Masoum Reply

    hello leo,

    i found only one i386 file, which seemed to have about 7000 files, but i couldn’t find the 2 you stated in the article. lets say i was able to get those files somehow,(FROM ANOTHER COMPUTER), could i use it on a coputer from a different manufacturer. i have a liscensed version of XP (without the CD, just the c.o.a.), and thought that it might have been easier if i just used someone eles’s copy of XP, but then noticed no one else I new had a copy of XP. Can you or anyone one you know please send me a copy of XP to borrow. (i’ll pay for shipping). If not, is there any other way i can get my oem version of win XP.

  39. Leo Reply

    Actually there may be a setup.exe in the i386 directory, and you can run that. As long as the other computer is the same manufacturer, you should be able to burn the contents of the I386 directory and run setup, or winnt or winnt32 from it. The only trick is coming up with something to boot from. If you can boot you system into safe more or use the recovery console, that’d be best. Otherwise you’ll need to come up with a boot floppy.

  40. Cathy Reply

    I have a friend who runs Win 98 on a Gateway. She cannot find a real version of 98 on her disks. Does Win 98 have the same I386 directory as XP?

    Thanks,
    Cathy

  41. Leo Reply

    No it does not. Only Windows 2000, Windows XP and later versions will usually have this as an option. In your case, you’ll need to find a CD.

  42. Keenan Reply

    Hello Leo,

    My dad has an HP computer he purchased 2 years ago, and it didn’t come with an install cd. The i386 folder is there, but he needs to have the computer formatted. I was wondering if there is a way to reinstall windows (the option where it formats a drive, then starts you off new) with the i386 one, or if he needs to buy a cd. There are so many problems with this computer, a format is the only way to go. Thanks in advance.

  43. Leo Reply

    In a nutshell: burn the entire contents of the I386 directory and subdirectories to a CD-ROM. Get, find or make a floppy disk or CD that you can boot from that will also “see” the CD-ROM drive. Once you boot from that, run either WINNT.exe, WINNT32.exe or SETUP.exe (depending on which works, and is present) from that CD-ROM you burned.

  44. Luki Reply

    How do i restore my computer to factory settings, i have the rebot disc and everything, i just want to reset it?

  45. Leo Reply

    Boot from your Windows Install disk, and select a clean, new install, and have it format the hard disk. Remember: you will lose everything that you have on your hard disk now. You’re starting over.

  46. SY Reply

    I have a laptop that has interchangeable floppy and cd rom drives. when using the 6 disk boot floppys it says it can not find the cd rom drive – (that’s because I need to swap the floppy and cd)

    How do I get xp installed? Help

  47. Sam Reply

    Hi Leo,
    I have Windows XP and dont have the CD. I just want to reboot my computer so that it is like the day that I bought it. The problem is the CD rom drive on my laptop does not work anymore.So how can I do this without having to use a system recovery disk? Thanks

  48. Cathy Reply

    Greetings,
    I purchased a used Dell with XP Home installed and a vaild COA but no disks. No winnt.exe etc. files on the machine. However, I do have a copy of XP Home upgrade version that I used on another computer. If the need arises to reinstall XP on the used Dell, can I use the upgrade version and the COA?

  49. Travis Reply

    Hi Leo,
    I am restoring a Compaq Presario 2100, to be able to sell it, i retreived the CD Key and the I386 files but i’m not quite sure i understand how to boot from this CD? i tried using another Windows XP CD and when i changed cd’s after it was done booting it said D:I386ams (i believe was the error) not found. and it had to shut down. Is there anything i should do, the harddrive is complelty wiped but i pulled the I386 and SW_Setup off before it was wipped.

  50. Dennis Ordiway Reply

    First off, you run a great service compared to all those other sites that charge you an arm and a leg.

    My question is: I have read all your articles. I am a lamen terms kind of guy, If I have step by step instructions, im good to go lol. I have no restore disc or even my winxp os disc. I want to clean and erase everything from my pc, to have it back to when i first bought it. I know you mention the famous “I386″ folder alot… So from when I first turn on my pc and start it up, how do i proceed to restore to brand new without any disc?

  51. Leo Reply

    The steps for rebuilding from the I386 directory are fairly lengthy. It’s on my to-do list, but I’m not sure when I’ll get to it. I *really* recommend getting the CD from your computer’s manufacturer.

    You should also check to see if you even HAVE the I386 directory. The easiest way is Start -> Run and then type in “C:I386″ and press OK. If it opens Windows Explorer with a looooong list of files, you have it. If it gives you an error, you do not, and now REALLY need to get a Windows CD.

  52. Leisa Miles Reply

    Hi
    My sister bought her computer from a legal retail store and never received any disks. Now the computer won’t work, it displays the following message:

    Window could not start because the following file is missing or corrupt
    windowssystem32configsystem
    You can attempt to repair this file by starting windows setup using the orginal set up cd-rom
    Select ‘r’ at the first screen to start repair.

    So what can she do? She has no “original set up cd-rom”. Does she have to take it to a computer place to be fixed or go out and re buy the product? Is there any other way? It is Windows XP operating system.

    Your help would be greatly appreciated. Thanks

  53. Leo Reply

    Leisa: you should go back to the computer store and get the CD that corresponds to the operating system that they installed. Sadly, they may charge for it, though in my opinion they should not.

  54. gman retired Reply

    simply to to http://www.majorgeeks.con & enter in one of the two search engines for the web site you’ll find on the far left of the page somewhere’s? around min page & enter in to the search “Magical Jelly Bean Keyfinder v1.4″ which is a legit & safe software no hackware that’ll simply show you your cd key & or allow you to change your key rather simply & easily. THEN PLEASE FILE IT SOMEWHERE’S BESIDES A DESK-TOP OR? TRY A FILE CADINET FOR ONE. sO YOU’LL HAVE IT WHEN NEED NEXT ANOTHER WAY OF SECURING THIS KEY IS TO SIMPLY CLEAR TAPE IT TO YOUR PC’S BOX! OR CASE! WITH A “DO NOT REMOVE NOTTICE”

    THANK’S I COULD HELP YOU IN THE MATTER.

    GMAN

  55. omar pena Reply

    I am trying to recover my windows laptop. I have the recovery disk but the first one seems corrupt. I found the i386 directory on the third disk after using the 6 disk set to boot. After looking in the I386 directory I found that there is no winnt.exe or winnt32.exe. I was wondering if it was possible to just download that file? Will it work if I find one and burn a new disk with the I386 directory and just put in the winnt.exe file before I burn it and try to use it.

  56. Oma Pena Reply

    Hello folks. I was able to get past the defective part of my recovery disk by repartitioning my hardisk. This in turn made the bad sector I guess get skiped. Thanks for all those who read my post and started to think about it.

  57. Hugh Reply

    Download and fry a Kanotix cd (free download at http://www.kanotix.org) – boot your machine with this and it will run a complete operating system, including masses of programs. You can use this to rescue any files, data etc. on your harddrive. It won’t write anything on your harddrive unless you enable writing. You can use it like any other windows system. If you like it you might consider installing it (you don’t have to, you can keep running it from the cd if you prefer). It usually takes about 10 – 15 minutes to do a full install including all the additional programs. It is absolutely free if charge. If you restore your XP it is still worth keeping as an emergency rescue disk.

  58. Donley Jacobson Reply

    Concerning the lack of an installation CD for Windows XP Home Edition. I have a system purchased last July; Windows XP Home Edition was installed in a special ‘recovery’ partition. There were no CDs provided, and the CDs that the user was requested to make did not fit your criteria. There is, however, a I386 partition on my hard drive with the requisite .dll files.

    I tried running the System File Checker that you mentioned in your article of 2/28/04, and I indeed got the request to insert my Windows installation CD. The message box had three buttons: Retry, More Information, and Cancel. Starting from the end: Cancel ended the SFC scan right now; no ifs, ands, or buts.

    More Information provided another message window indicating that the Windows Installation CD was needed to provide the data needed to recover a (potentially errored) system file. The only button was OK which brought one back to the Retry, More Information, Cancel message.

    Retry cycled back to itself. Apparently, if one does not have the appropriate CD in the drive, this is the default result.

    So the question still remains – how does one respond to Windows request for an Installation CD when one has never received it. Is there a work-around?

  59. jonathan Myers Reply

    I had the same issue as Donley. I copied the entire I386 folder to a CD and that solved the issue. The SFC is running as I type and is working correctly.

  60. William Gates Reply

    Tough luck, you guys. Why not BUY a CD at the store. I really could use the money!

  61. richard sugden Reply

    Thanks Jonathan. I copied the I386 file to CD as well and sfc /scannow works fine now. Cheers!

  62. dazed_maunder Reply

    i was wundering how i can reset my windows xp home to the brand new factory settings.i have no windows instillation disc or recovery discs,all i want to do is remove everything on the hard drive other than what came with the windows xp when it was new.please help me on this

  63. andy Reply

    my hard drive is cleared and i have no setup CD for windows XP pro SP2 and i need to install windows XP pro SP2, i have the 6 floppy boot discs but i dont have the actual CD to continue the install. I cant look for winnt32.exe because i dont have an operating system installed on my computer. what do i do?

  64. gob iron Reply

    manufacturers/retailers normally only supply i386 when they don’t supply the disc. If you are prompted to enter the setup disk and you know the path to i386 but windows won’t let you enter the path then you will need to amend the registry.
    From http://support.microsoft.com/kb/222473/EN-US/
    “NOTE: The Windows 2000 source files location information is stored in the following registry location and can be modified to point to the drive letter of a volume that has an I386 flat folder of the installation files or change the SourcePath value in the registry to point to a Universal Naming Convention (UNC) path instead of a mapped network drive.

    The SourcePath value is located in the following registry key:
    HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINESoftwareMicrosoftWindowsCurrentVersionSetup
    Example:

    If the I386 directory is at C:I386, the SourcePath value would be C:.

    If the I386 directory is at \Serveraw2kflatI386, the SourcePath value would be \ServeraW2KFlat.

    After you restart the computer, WFP and SFC /SCANNOW uses the new source path instead of prompting for the Windows 2000 installation CD-ROM.”

    Good luck and keep on tooting.

  65. raghvendra Reply

    I want a windows XP CD-ROM for free
    my address is
    [personal information removed]

  66. Leo Notenboom Reply

    That would not be legal. You’ll need to purchase one.

  67. Matt Reply

    I have the XP sp2 installation CD and when Windows file protection asks for it I insert the CD. WFP then copies one file and the asks for the CD again and will not copy anymore files until I eject and reinsert the CD. I copied the I386 folder to C:/ and changed the source paths in the usual registry keys and WFP still asks for the CD. There is nothing in the WFP dialog box asking for the CD that allows one to change the directory. Clicking “retry” changes nothing. I used “cleanhandlers” to fix any corruption of handlers, the drive letter is right as I said it copies one file or as many times as I care to eject and reinsert the CD. I used msconfig to copy the sfc.exe, sfc_os.dll and sfc.dll to the system32 folder with no change. I have also tried from the cmd prompt, purge, revert, scanonce, etc… other than that the system appears to be running smooth.

  68. stephanie Reply

    so this is a helpfull explanation except for the fact that it doesn’t explain what to do if you don’t have the cd image on your computer. my computer was given to me by my school and it doesn’t have a cd or the cd image. how can i get arround this?

  69. Jamie Reply

    my “insert cd” message only has re-try and cancel. i have no option to type the path to i386. now what? (:

  70. glorya Reply

    I put 1386 in my “search” and it came up empty though I saw as it was searching C:1386. I know it is on my PC but I can’t bring it up using the search tool. I can, however, bring up both winnt.exe and winnt32.exe. Would there be an explanation for this?

  71. Leo Notenboom Reply

    Looks like you typed in 1386 in the comment here – it’s I386 – that’s the letter “I” followed by 386.

  72. glorya Reply

    Definitely I typed in the “number 1″ … thank you. After putting in the capital “I” the files came up and there were quite a few, many pertaining to “reinstall” though I don’t remember reinstalling. But then, I don’t recall what I ate for breakfast many a day :-)

  73. Patrick Reply

    Is there anyway to put my old legit version of xp on a new hardrive.. without having the initial hard drive? my main drive has just failed, I do not have a cd. the computer was bought from a manufacturer. I believe i still have the key, but no install disk. Do I need to buy a new os?

  74. Leo Notenboom Reply

    Patrick: if you have a legal key, you can borrow a CD.

  75. Petter Dahle Reply

    Thanks a lot! Got me going right away. Fantastic!

  76. Jimmy Prince Reply

    peter if you have the recovery discs they will work to completly install your windows xp home edition on a hp computer my pc crashed and the company sent me recovery discs free of charge. i used the recovery discs to completly reinstall the OS on 3 new harddrives already. as long as its a hp computer and a hp revocery disc it will work… i dont know how old this artical is but it is guarenteed to work

  77. Marie Reply

    I’m trying to reinstall windows XP on my sisters computer. I can’t get her computer online, and she is missing a number of drivers and updates to play sound and dvd’s. What can i do if I do not have an installation cd?

    thank you,
    Marie

  78. Leo Notenboom Reply

    Very little, I’m afraid. You’ll have to get a CD, or perhaps switch to another operating system.

  79. Carlos McGregor Reply

    Leo: what if I wanna completely re-format my Hard Drive and re-install windows without all the extra stuff the manufacturer put in the automatic recovery disk? Can extract Windows XP from it?

  80. Leo Notenboom Reply

    A recovery disk is not enough. You need an install disk.

  81. fanboy Reply

    I will be changing my Mobo/CPU soon and will have to reformat. Would the I386 folder allow me to create a cd to reforamt and install windows?

  82. Adam Reply

    Hi.
    I was never given a copy of my CD, and now the retailed refuses to send me one. I want to reinstall windows. I have a copy of the i386 folder that I put onto CD, but will that do it?

    Do i need to just buy another CD?

  83. Leo Notenboom Reply

    —–BEGIN PGP SIGNED MESSAGE—–
    Hash: SHA1

    It’s possible, but not easy if you’re not familiar with the tools.

    You’ll need to find or create some kind of boot floppy (bootdisk.com would
    be a place to start) that when booted, recognizes the CD-ROM drive. If
    you can do that, you can run setup.exe or winnt.exe from the I386 files.

    And that’s all *if* the I386 has what we hope it has – a full copy of
    the original installation files.

    Yet another reason I always insist on getting the Windows CD from the
    manifacturer to start with.

    Good luck….

    Leo
    —–BEGIN PGP SIGNATURE—–
    Version: GnuPG v1.4.6 (MingW32)

    iD8DBQFF0VUGCMEe9B/8oqERApPeAJ0QUlG+/c4eA/W1HQ7hdg2WXqQMvgCfWlCe
    LD/l409Mtrw203l3RQe7dGw=
    =DLjV
    —–END PGP SIGNATURE—–

  84. Justin Reply

    I have a hp desktop and I recently bought and used the wipe drive program. I did not realize that it would delete absolutely everything including windows xp. now I can only access a screen that tells me to insert the drive installation cd. I can’t find the reboot cd that came with the computer. If I can find another windows xp installation cd where would my key be located?

  85. Ryan Reply

    i have got the windows xp disc but i do not no what the 25 number code is all it says on the disc is P/N mw879 …..I do not have the original case because it was snapped. I rely need to use my disc..can you help

  86. Leo Notenboom Reply

    —–BEGIN PGP SIGNED MESSAGE—–
    Hash: SHA1

    You need a product key. It’s not on the CD, it was on the packaging that the CD
    was in. This article has more:
    http://ask-leo.com/how_do_i_find_the_windows_cd_key_from_the_cd.html

    Leo
    —–BEGIN PGP SIGNATURE—–
    Version: GnuPG v1.4.6 (MingW32)

    iD8DBQFGDHIVCMEe9B/8oqERAp6HAJ9ew3v4PqwN7d5u4fRaG63hVfKGYQCfVx58
    4XxEdnD8Z7htcxKgBLimxSw=
    =HHU4
    —–END PGP SIGNATURE—–

  87. David Bruce Reply

    About sfc with no cd. I have run into a problem with this that makes no sense to me at all. 1. I do have the cd, but when prompted for it the system doesn’t recongnize it and I get some goofy cd label in my computer, not the windows logo with the cd Windows version title like I normally see. But the auto start does run and and I can read the contents. 2. I have the I386 directory copied to the hard drive in the root of c: and 3. I’m not getting the option to browse for a path to the setup files. and 4. I’m being prompted also for a service pack 1 cd with no option for browsing to it either. Is there a command line or registery solution to tell windows where these files are located?
    Thanks in advance,
    David

  88. Leo A. Notenboom Reply

    —–BEGIN PGP SIGNED MESSAGE—–
    Hash: SHA1

    What. You’ll need to contact the manufacturer from which you originally got
    that disk.

    Leo

    —–BEGIN PGP SIGNATURE—–
    Version: GnuPG v1.4.7 (MingW32)

    iD8DBQFGoP+SCMEe9B/8oqERAi8yAJ9aEsFh4b+6xDcQM26XXkmWk8LEGgCdFw8A
    /NmFjR2ElRVYXGN2tTymit0=
    =2c08
    —–END PGP SIGNATURE—–

  89. Prem Reply

    You can order a replacement CD from Microsoft, without buying the whole package. You’d probably pay a small fee plus shipping. Have all the information regarding your computer, including your product key, before you call.

    If you are calling from the United States, contact the Microsoft Order Desk at the following phone number:
    (800) 360-7561, Monday through Friday, 5:00 A.M. to 7:00 P.M. Pacific time.
    If you are calling from Canada, contact the Canadian Order Desk at the following number:
    (800) 933-4750, Monday through Friday, 5:00 A.M. to 7:00 P.M. Pacific time.

  90. Manus Hand Reply

    I have the same issue as tamba (above). sfc scans my computer and tells me that it needs the CD, but all I get are retry, moe info, or cancel. Even though I have a nice i386 directory, it doesn’t let me point at it, and so all I can do is cancel. It asks me the same question about ten times before SFC just gives up and shuts down.

  91. Manus Hand Reply

    Just to follow my own post, I did read all of the comments here, and someone said that if you set HKLMSOFTWAREMicrosoftWindowsCurrentVersionSetupSourcePath to the parent of the i386 directory (which is C: in my case), then SFC will know where to look and not bother me asking for a CD. Well, I looked in the registry, and my SourcePath is already set as C:, and like I say, SFC bothers me with needing the disk. I also read that others say you can burn the i386 folder to a CD and it’ll make SFC happy, but another poster said what I fear I would find which is “what if it wants (as mine does) disk 2?”, and I didn’t see anyone have a response to that question. So, Leo, let me know please if you can clue me on on what to do from here. Thanks!

  92. Greg Tamnel Reply

    I just got a brand new computer, custom built. It didn’t include a CD, but I thought nothing of it. Now I find out that to add a language pack I need that I do in fact need the disc. The hard drive’s got nothing.

    I don’t have very much money, so getting a new copy is out. Is there anything else I can do? I’ve thought about asking the people who built my rig to send me the disc, but they’re 600 miles from where I am (I bought it on a trip) and that might be a problem…

  93. Robert Mayhew Reply

    Not to worry, it’s actually pretty simple. Typically the “Insert CD” message has only an OK and Cancel button. Press OK, allowing it to fail. The next dialog will typically ask you to provide the location of the CD-ROM; just type in the full path of the I386 directory you discovered above.

    Not true , I did all above and it did not ask for the location of the CD-ROM

    thank you, Bob

  94. Pat McGinnis Reply

    I have created a monster.
    I simply wished to do a system restore on my Dell Dimension 1100. The error codes that came up and other information I had been given led me to believe that my hard drive had gone south. I replaced my hard drive. Now I have the “No OS Found” and am asked to insert the OS set-up disk. Nothing I do seems to work. Dell will not speak to me because I do not have the extended warranty, and they did not provide any kind of restore disk ….. Please advise me of my options. Do I have to purchase a XP CD to get it going again or what?

    Thank You for your time, Pat

  95. Leo A. Notenboom Reply

    —–BEGIN PGP SIGNED MESSAGE—–
    Hash: SHA1

    I’m surprised that Dell didn’t give you at least a restore
    disk, though that wouldn’t work in this case anyway.

    Yes, you need get a Windows XP Installation disk somehow.
    Purchasing one seems like the best approach. (In the future,
    I strongly recommend making sure that when you purchase a
    new PC that you insist it comes with a Windows Installation
    CD – which is very different than a restore CD.)

    Good luck.

    Leo

    —–BEGIN PGP SIGNATURE—–
    Version: GnuPG v1.4.7 (MingW32)

    iD8DBQFHqnd3CMEe9B/8oqERAveoAJ9+HeOLHF4z+YuGchp7WOlOcRcXzQCeMUVx
    l4MbKBmUmmhOVNRxXKhvrHI=
    =IuWo
    —–END PGP SIGNATURE—–

  96. Mark S Reply

    You said:

    >>>ypically the “Insert CD” message has only an OK and Cancel button. Press OK, allowing it to fail. The next dialog will typically ask you to provide the location of the CD-ROM; just type in the full path of the I386 directory you discovered above. MORE INFORMATION tells you the reason your cd isn’t there is that it isn’t there (groan) or your cd drive isn’t working. Remarkably helpful, that!

  97. Andrew Reply

    I’ll report what Doris asked earlier…

    “I also only have the three options, retry, more info, cancel (no OK button). When I hit retry it asks for the CD again. When I hit cancel a message box says do you want to do this, etc. If I say no it goes back to the original three options. If I say yes it moves along to the next error with no option to give the path for the i386 folder. After going through this with all the errors I thought it might ask for the path before shutting down but NO.
    Any help you could give me here would be greatly appreciated.
    Your site is a God-send. Keep up the good work!”

  98. Dave Reply

    Why doesn’t Microsoft (or PC manufacturers) provide free full version Windows downloads to assist with the cheapness of these new laptop makers not including an install disk with the sale of a new laptop? They can keep the key because the product key is included with the laptop anyway. It might behove them to let customers use a free version for 30 days before buying anyway, like a beta version. And if you have the qualifying key to unlock it, whats the harm?

    Because many laptop and other manufacturers actually have slightly customized versions of the OS. And even though it’s all key based, I think they thinking is that a download would increase piracy anyway.

    -Leo

  99. Leland Reply

    I got an imagine copy of windows on my computer and still have the key code. what im not understanding is how do i reformat my HDD and reinstalle windows XP. I dont know a lot about computers but from my understand all will be erased off the HDD to include this imagine copy of windows and then im sitting here with a key code but no way to down load it. Am I wrong or is there another way to get around having a key code and no cd and need to reformat the HDD?

    thank you
    Leland

    Exactly. You can’t. Unless you have a Windows Setup CD you cannot reformat and reinstall. That’s why I keep saying you need to insist on getting one from your computer vendor.

    -Leo

  100. Rondi Phillips Reply

    It seems to me that selling computers and hardware without the discs is shady business practice. We had to reformat my computer and had to wait for days to get copies of the discs. So I was without a computer while waiting. Having the discs would have expedited getting the computer fixed a lot faster. Also, why don’t computer manufacturers offer free hands-on fixing of the computer as part of purchasing it? Many people would be pretty desperate if they had to resort to bringing their computer in. The company that would come up with that carrot would be a successful company indeed! I would definitely buy a computer from that business! I so appreciate your website, but I don’t get a lot of it. I don’t know how you know all that stuff, either. I am willing to do some basic things for my computer, but I am not a computer techie any more than I am an electrician and would try to rewire my house.

  101. Julie Fainuu Reply

    I dont have a restore disk for my emachine. Can I download the cd on-line? Please help.

    You’ll have to contact your computer’s manufacturer.

    - Leo
    23-Dec-2008
  102. Richard Pryce Reply

    I have bought a refurbished ibm x24 laptop with a legitimate product key but xp pro was not installed. i do not have a disk from the firm. What type of disk will work? A friend has a genuine advantage disk he used to get a legal version of windows…would that disk work for me if I use my legal licence?
    hope you can help as stumped at the moment!

  103. PA Reply

    Leo,

    Thanks for your help. After hours of searching for answers I finaly ran into your site and solutions. The winnt32 was the file I was looking for when wanting to re-instal my copy of XP.

    Great work!
    PA

  104. James Reply

    It’s ridiculous. My e-machines computer had an app for printing a CD for restoration purposes; the trouble is that the resulting CD failed.

    I called their tech support and bought one, then solved the problem without it. I am very glad I got the disk because the NEXT time I had a major problem, my free tech support had lapsed.

    If you don’t have a restore CD, call the manufacturer and buy one.

    A restore disk is frequently not enough. Make sure to get an installation disk, complete with a full copy of Windows, to be safe.

    - Leo
    07-Apr-2009
  105. Sameh Khan Reply

    So, basically, I can direct windows to the 1386 folder when it asks me to insert the disk…

    But if I want to run a full reinstallation of windows, there’s no way to get this folder onto a CD-R or to run the reinstallation from within windows itself?

    the only images I know how to burn are .ISO

    is a folder able to burnt and then booted?

  106. Steve Kanne Reply

    Another related question. I’m want to buy a refurbished IBM laptop. It doesn’t come with a Windows XP Pro reinstallation disk. Instead, its specs state the following: “Windows XP Professional Restore Partition on Hard Drive”. Do you think that the partition has on it whatever is required to reinstall XP if the copy on the laptop goes south on me?

    Maybe. There’s no standard, so I can’t really say. However … if the hard drive goes bad, all partitions could be lost, including that recovery partition. That’s why I harp on always having original installation media.

    - Leo
    14-Apr-2009
  107. CAROL Reply

    Hi, my pc warranty is expired, I can`t start my pc,won`t let me start in safe mode, or restore to factory settings. I read somewhere that re-installing windows XP may fix the problem but I have no cd, no money to get an expert either, is there anything I can do?

  108. Fred Farner Reply

    I’m trying to create a bootable Windows Setup CD, using the instructions at:
    http://www.howtohaven.com/system/createwindowssetupdisk.shtml

    My Dell laptop didn’t come with a Windows CD, so I’d really like to have one, in case a system file is corrupted (which happened to me recently). My problem is that the I386 directory is almost 1 Gig in size, so it won’t fit on a CD. I could burn it to a DVD (if I had a blank DVD), but I’d rather have it on a CD anyway. Do you know what files I can delete from the I386 directory to make it fit on a CD?

  109. Bernie Reply

    I recieve another message
    – can’t choose between Ok or cancel but between retry, more information or cancel.
    Clicking on it doesn’t seem to help, i can’t insert the location of the I386-folder.

    please help!

  110. SimonB Reply

    Great original article – many thanks to Leo.

    Here’s a simple suggestion for those who have a PC with a copy of original XP available in a recovery partition.
    Before you try and install XP from the recovery partition, use a secure backup s/w package such as Acronis TI Home to take a copy of the whole drive, including the recovery partition.
    If you later have a problem, you can then
    1) take complete backup of current system
    2) restore only the recovery partition
    3) wipe your old C: drive
    4) re-install XP from scratch from recovery partition
    5) recover your own data from your backup of your original C: drive.

    I’ve had to do this myself in the past for an IBM laptop, and it worked a treat.

  111. Dave Reply

    Having run SFC /SCANNOW on my laptop, it reports that I have some files installed that Windows wants to replace with the originals to maintain stability. Onscreen message is asking for XP Pro SP3 CD but I only have my original XP Pro CD that came with the machine. Any advice please?

  112. John Reply

    Well if you loose your windows recovery cd, there are many options. First look at the CD key on the side of your computer. You can contact your pc manufacturer and they might send you a copy. If not, you can also contact Microsoft. They will sell you one for 20-30 dollars. You can also buy a backup copy online, I found these webpages when searching dell windows recovery disks google: http://www.oemsoftwaresource.com and http://www.windowsrecoverydisks.com
    Good luck on finding the disks!

  113. Daniel Reply

    Hey leo im understand what your saying but will i need the drivers disc im scared to do this and the wifi not work and all the drivers or will it all be there and ill be okay… please help leo and thanks or anyone else please help!

  114. Jeremiah Reply

    yeah i was wondering the same as daniel i havne the folder but no winnt.exe or winnt32.exe or anything close what else can i do?!

  115. john Reply

    Sounds like great info if I’m looking to add something but I am currently getting the following error message:

    Windows could not start because the following file is missing or corrupt

    C:windowssystem32configsystem

    You can attempt to repair this file by starting windows setup using the original setup CD-Rom. Select “r” at the first screen to start repair. Do NOT use an OEM “Recovery Disc”. Only a valid Windows XP media will work or a disc from the OEM that says “Operating System” may sometimes work depending on how the manufacturer labeled the CD.

    What can be done in this case? Is there a way of making the disc on another computer and using it?

    Thanks.

  116. andy Reply

    Hi, my hard drive completely went so i bought a new one. however, i cant get XP back though because it was saved on the hard drive and i didnt get a CD! is there any other way to get it? would microsoft send me a hard copy? i have the CD key..

    This is exactly the scenario that I’ve been warning people about. I know of no way to get you a CD, other than contacting the place you purchased your computer from and hoping they make one available. Microsoft does not make CDs available for this scenario, for many reasons. Your only other Windows alternative is to go out and buy one.

    - Leo
    04-Jul-2009

  117. Les Reply

    Hi

    Great advice for when the shop does not give you the XP CD, but I’m afraid I’m getting the same message as the chap below, instead of OK and CANCEL I’m getting Retry, more Information, Cancel, on top of that I’m having terrible trouble finding the winnt.exe files despite doing a wide search.

    Would be very grateful for help

    Thanks

    Les

    ———————————–

    I recieve another message
    – can’t choose between Ok or cancel but between retry, more information or cancel.
    Clicking on it doesn’t seem to help, i can’t insert the location of the I386-folder.

    please help!

    Posted by: Bernie at April 19, 2009 6:05 AM

  118. Rob White Reply

    To the people who say they have the CD key but not the actual CD, and want to install XP… Surely all they need to do is borrow a friend’s XP and install it using their own key?

  119. Brad D Reply

    Actually, you can get a replacement CD/DVD for Windows from Microsoft (This is not for XP but for Vista in my case) but it takes a lot of work. They pass you around like a rag doll and it takes many hours on the phone over the course of many days. The key is getting the right person who can approve your request. Again, it’s a lot or hard phone work.

  120. Richard Reply

    currently you can still purchase an OEM XP-Pro SP3
    “for distribution only with a New PC” CD
    from major online retailers like TigerDirect, providing you purchase some other hardware component to meet the MS requirement ie a new HDD and the CD qualifies, and sometimes the OEM CD will work with your current COA Key sticker on the PC

  121. Bill Shenton Reply

    XP INSTALLATION CD AVAILABILITY SIMPLIFIED The cd itself is worthless, and useless, without a license key, so if you find a friendly tech, he will make you one for the cost of 5 mins + a cd, as he will have an original of any OS.
    Regards Bill

  122. Dave Reply

    Any other installation CD of the same version (Home, Pro etc) will work with your license. Find a friend and borrow their CD to install then use your license. Or find a friendly computer shop who will do it for you. This is perfictly legal as it’s the license that is registered not the CD. -Dave

  123. Attitus Reply

    Thanks for the advice Leo but I was wondering where did the winnt.exe and winnt32.exe went. They weren’t present in the I386 folder. Please do help me. Thank you.

    They’re not required and may never have been there. It’s all up to the OEM who set up your machine.

    - Leo
    23-Jul-2009

  124. Oscar efigenio Reply

    Can I install windows xp, with the serial that appears on the side of my computer, only if I borrow a instalation xp cd, I am not using my Pc because one of my restore CDs is broken,is it true that serial that is attach to my Pc will work to activate windows xp again, I know I don’t care about the programs that my computer came with, I just want to be able to update windows,thanks for your help

  125. Nick Crew Reply

    Hi Leo, My computer (not this one) goes to boot up but stops when the intel inside logo appears on the screen. What do i need to do to fix this problem?.

  126. Rob Reply

    My computer got the unmountable_boot_volume the other day and I need a Windows XP CD to repair it.
    Would I need one of my own? or I will I be able to use another persons CD?

  127. Diverse Reply

    I, too, only have retry, more information, and cancel as an option. I have found the correct folder, but I have no way of telling the program which file it is since retry just keeps asking for the cd. I have the correct cd, so I could just use that, but it just keeps saying it is the wrong cd but I am certain that it is not. It won’t accept the cd and it won’t let me select the folder, so I’m stuck.

  128. emfederin Reply

    DIVERSE says “I have the correct cd, so I could just use that, but it just keeps saying it is the wrong cd but I am certain that it is not. It won’t accept the cd and it won’t let me select the folder, so I’m stuck”

    Welcome to Windows’ Wonderful World of “Automatic Updates”. At some point between the time you got your machine and the time you tried restoring it, Windows probably installed a service pack or two for you. Wasn’t that nice of them? ;-)

    Unfortunately, that rendered your old install CD almost useless, since you now have a different version of XP on your system than you have on the CD.

    You can try a few things:
    1) Roll back your system to the earliest restore point, reboot and try your CD again.
    2) Uninstall any service packs in reverse order using “add/remove programs”, rebooting each time, and try using your CD again. Do this one service pack at a time until your system matches your CD.
    3) Try Leo’s trick of burning the i386 directory on your system to a CD, and using that CD instead of your install CD.

    *HOWEVER*, since you already have your install CD, the above may all be moot, anyway. Just boot your system off it and either reinstall or attempt a system restore.

    If your system doesn’t permit booting off a CD, then boot into XP, find your cdrom (which holds your setup CD), go into the i386 folder of the cdrom, find WINNT32.EXE and doubleclick on it. Then follow the instructions on the popup.

    IN ANY CASE: Back up and save anything and everything you don’t want to lose, because these reinstall methods wipe everything out.

    You can save the stuff you want by burning it to CD, copying it to a different drive, or copying it off to another networked computer.

    And if all else fails, there are other methods of backups and restores, but they aren’t for the inexperienced or the faint of heart. For these, you should find a friendly neighborhood geek. We can be hard to find, I know. We’re almost indistinguishable from real people, but we’re out here. ;-)

  129. Tom Reply

    Dear Leo and Dear all,

    Many thanks for this information.
    I would like to create a bootable XP Pro SP3 CD.
    I do not have any installation CD at the moment.

    I have :
    – a pre-installed XP Pro SP2, with legal licence, with no I386 directory, on a computer that has a CD burner
    – a pre-installed XP Home SP3, with legal licence, with a I386 directory, on a netbook that does not have a CD burner.

    Is it possible ?

    Looking forward to your help and wishing you a very nice day,
    Tom

  130. JackNoir Reply

    Leo,

    Should virtually all those ~”7,000″ files in I386 end in an underscore (e.g. “WIN32SPL.DL_”)?

    On the system I’m working with right now, about 500 files are expanded and do have complete extensions (e.g. winnt.exe, WINNT32.MSI, and over 300 .htm files) but almost 6,000 out of total 6,500 files end in “_”.

    Or, do we need to first extract/expand them to their full size and name and store in another folder before they are useful in the manner you are suggesting?

    I ask because on some systems I’ve seen ALL the files already expanded and on other systems they aren’t (and I’m NOT confusing between “Driver Cache” folder where you will find a very limited subset of some expanded files v. the ~7,000 files in the I386 folder). I tried working with a system that used the non-expanded files (those ending in “_”) and ran into problems very quickly.

    Most files are compressed yes. There should be an (uncompressed) “expand.exe” which can uncompress them.

    Leo
    17-Dec-2009

  131. JackNoir Reply

    Another file structure question…

    This particular I386 folder contains sub-folders, which in turn contain sub-folders, and so on…for a total of 69 sub-folders.

    IF I first have to expand the files ending in “_” (see my post immediately preceeding this one), then do I expand them ALL to a SINGLE flat-file folder structure, or do I maintain the sub-folder tree structure in the new primary folder?

    “I386″ Folder Structure #1:
    For example, I’ve created a batch script that finds and EXPANDS all the “_” ending files from I386 into a folder called I386new. The batch script also simply finds and COPIES all the files that don’t require expansion into the I386new folder. This batch script created a single flat-file structure within I386new.

    “I386″ Structure #2
    However, I have also written a batch script that does essentially the same thing, except copies the folder tree structure within I386 and expands or copies files as needed into their respective sub-folders. For example,
    C:WINDOWSI386LANGMSGOTHIC.TT_
    is EXPANDED and placed (for now) in
    I:I386newLANGMSGOTHIC.TTF

    and
    C:WINDOWSI386SYSTEM32NTDLL.DLL
    is COPIED and placed (for now) in
    I:I386newSYSTEM32NTDLL.DLL

    and
    C:WINDOWSI386ASMS10MSFTWINDOWSGDIPLUSGDIPLUS.DL_
    is expanded and placed (for now) in
    I:I386newASMS10MSFTWINDOWSGDIPLUSGDIPLUS.DLL
    ——————————————

    The question becomes WHICH of these I386new structures do I use when I run either WINNT.EXE or WINNT32.EXE? (note: I’ll rename/relocate the top-level I386new folder as needed)

    Structure #1)
    The flatfile I386new structure, where ALL ~7,000 files are stored monolithically under I386new (e.g. NO other sub-folders under I386new)?

    Or,

    Structure #2)
    The I386new structure in which the I386 sub-folder tree is replicated? (in which MOST of the ~7,000 files exist under I386new, but about 940 files are expanded/copied to 69 respective sub-folders under the I386new top folder)

    I would retain the folder structure. My theory: it’s there for a reason :-). (And for the record, you should only need to expand files to extract them individually. If you plan to run the setup program you shouldn’t need to expand anything – the setup program does that for you as needed.)

    Leo
    17-Dec-2009

  132. Brandon Reply

    i really really need a copy of xp cd, but i don’t have one, i only have access to a mac, and i ‘made’ a boot cd from another pc and i have a LEGAL product key, but the cd that i ‘made’ doesn’t work. how do i get a REAL cd to LEGALLY re-install windows xp on my system, as it wont boot right now…

  133. tommy s sow Reply

    Leo.. so is it OK to use a third party provided XP recovery disk on an OEM machine, when you can’t boot the machine? The disk will do a reinstall of XP but will windows activate when asked for the activate code and I use the one from the OEM machine (on the side of the PC)?

  134. Randy Reply

    I have 2 XP computers – a desktop and a laptop.

    The HDD on the desktop will not boot anymore. If I buy a new HDD, how can I get my XP back on it?

    Can I use teh OS from the laptop ?

  135. Tina Reply

    Hi Leo,

    I am running Windows XP and suddenly my CD and DvD drives do not show up on my computer yet they do show in the device manager. I have uninstalled and reinstalled them and still they do not show up. I need to repair xp.. I have been hit with a couple of viruses this past week and just want to do a fresh install of xp. Any ideas on what to? I already checked the registry for any filters that needed to be removed there were none. The winnt.exe and winnt32.exe are no where to be found on my system. I do have the installation CD but how to reinstall when I can’t get to the drive. The drives do work I can open the doors and insert the cd and they spin and run and the lights work.

  136. Sean Reply

    I’m considering a new computer to replace my aging jalopy running Win2K. I’m disappointed to find that nowadays a system disk is almost unheard of and printed documentation is almost nonexistent. Maybe I can buy the computer less the cost of the operating system so I can buy it (or cheat and use Linux). There was a computer shop near downtown that made me a system CD for Win2K. I had a “license” for it but no matching CD. So for a few bucks he made me the CD saying the licence would be my own problem. Fair enoough. Maybe he can do that for Windoze 7.
    Is it really a hardship to offer up a CD with the OS nowadays? But it sounds like they take everyone for fools.

  137. Gerry Beasley Reply

    I do not have the XP disc for my computer. I have tried your search for 1386, winnt.exe & winnt32.exe but the search has found nothing, any ideas. Yours Gerry

  138. Melissa WIlson Reply

    hey! my laptop crashed! i have the product key code for windows media center 2005, but no installation cd, is there somewhere that i can download it?? thanks!

    Not legally, no. Contact your computer’s manufacturer.

    Leo
    07-Apr-2010

  139. Steve Reply

    My orginal Xp home cdrom had a crack when I put the xpcdrom back in the folder it crack the CD from the center to the data of the cdrom how can make a backup copy of the xp home off the hard drive to the cdrom or Dvd – please help me on it
    thank – Steve

  140. Dave Reply

    I struggled with this for three hours before I found your site. It totally worked and saved me from downloading Office XP. Thanks! One note: my computer stopped several times during installation saying either it couldn’t find or couldn’t install a certain file. I kept directing it back to the I386 file and it found it every time. Thanks again for your help.

  141. Brent Reply

    I refer to Melissas comment, I am a lawyer and an international economic law specialist with intellectual property and internet law being my main focus,downloading of the software is legal provided you have a key. Software is not a preshable item like yoghurt that when it goes off , due to what can be argued is a letent defect since there is no expiration date on software.internet network communities have assumed incorrectly that it is illegal.Microsoft would hate the consumer to think that their product only last a couple of years os so and then crash cos thats not how they market it.In addition, the global distribution of microsoft software is a voluntary assumption of risk by microsoft that manufacturers in all countries might not be able to install OEM copies correctly, why must the consumer suffer because the manufacturer cannot laod software correctly.A proper case brought on behalf of teh consumer would be successful according to USA and many other countries laws, the problem is that many issues of such a nature are not worth the effort of going to court and as a result internet law does not develop through the court systems for an authoratative legal opinion to be forwarded by either myself or melissa suffice to say I do think that Microsoft should refine their policies and their are many ways to make it globally effective by inserting a internationalisation clause in their liscencing agreements.

    The process of Using the I386 folder is an infrastructural issue which is extremely technical and very diffcult to articulate to the layperson suffice it to say that if theys simply provide an installation cd or provide a legal website for key holders or have microsft servcie centres , not pc shops.(where competency and objctivity of technicians are questiobale depending on your location in the world) but microsoft servcie centres the problem is solved.
    Kind regards

    Advocate Cyberlaw

  142. Melissa Reply

    Dear Sir:

    I need to restart windows XP and tried your solution. Fond the winnt32.exe file, let cd fail, but it did not prompt the cd location. Any suggestions? Is there a way to launch the file from DOS?

    Thanks so much in advance for your assistance.

    Sincerely,

    Melissa Thomure

  143. Rick Reply

    I have a pre-installed XP Pro w/sp3 on my machine. There is no i386 directory or the winnt32.exe to be found. Any other way to reinstall windows without buying a copy? I have the sticker with the code that was on the computer when I purchased it….but no cd’s were included.

  144. Dean Powell Reply

    OKAY, i really really hope someone can help me with this.

    SO i’m trying to reformat my hp computer running XP. My manufacturer did not send me a disk but i was able to find the I386 folder to install windows from there. Everything was going well until i got to the point about partitions. See the thing is i want to delete the partition on my C:/ drive to so i can do a fresh install of XP. But every time i try to delete the partition i can’t and my computer shows the message;

    “Setup is unable to perform the requested operation on the selected partition. This partition contains temporary setup files that are required to complete the installation”

    If i try to just install XP on the same partition i get a similar message saying that it’s not good to install two operating systems in one partition.

    What am i supposed to do? I don’t have a cd and i have no idea how to use my hp_recovery drive.

    PLEASE HELP ME!!!!! I JUST WANT TO START OVER!

  145. Kevin Reply

    Why cant i reinstall windows xp?
    Ok so i used the style where i dont have to use the cd and now im at the part after i restarted.. then it tells me to choose installion or regular set up and it gives me 4 secs. I choose installion of course but then after it says windows is starting set up there is a blue screen error… can you tell me how to fix this probelm AND help me reinstall windows too? cause i really need it (virus)
    thanks soooooo much~~~

  146. CBW Reply

    Where can a person purchase an XP CD-Rom for the one that is pre-installed on their computer? We cannot run some video games because we need the XP CD-Rom (because Explorer will not recognize certain Active X files). Just want to get a copy for what I already have installed, that’s all.

    Contact the manufacturer or place you purchased the computer.

    Leo
    13-Jun-2010
  147. Roger and Cyndy Reply

    We purchased an HP computer with Windows XP. Long story short… the Tower on/off button kept sticking/took it to Staples to fix and they broke it completely. Had to take it to another repair shop who reinstalled the “memory” into another computer (built in his shop). The old HP disks do not work on this new machine. We have no XP CD now (new tower will not accept the HP copy) from the original). The I386 files are there with WINNT and WINNT32. HOW do we find the path (what do we look for, and where do we enter it) to tell Windows how to find it. Totally not-savvy here about things computereze. Thanks!

  148. MikeB Reply

    To all those missing the i386 folder and never got a CD and are not looking to reinstall:

    1. Remember that company next time you buy a computer.
    2. Find someone who has a matching CD (Home vs. Pro, also match the service pack if possible, retail vs. OEM is unimportant) and use it.

    Yes, it’s often just that easy.

    On the other hand:

    If you are looking to re-install and can get a matching CD, it’s still quite possible but a lot trickier. I’m guessing from Leo’s comments that I won’t be allowed to post the directions here but you can use google to search for:

    +MikeB XP retail OEM oembios

    I’ve also scattered instructions elsewhere on the net.

    It’s a grey area in law but it’s the key that’s important, not the disc so this remains perfectly legal even without using any loopholes.

  149. Jean Reply

    winnt.exe and winnt32.exe. won’t get past the first part of checking the system. Then they tell me there is an error and close down.

  150. Martyn Willes Reply

    I have no CD-ROM image on the HDD. The installation is apparently legal. This is the last straw for me with this NEO notebook – I have replaced everything except the HDD and the casing (all under warranty, but the days wasted amount to more than six weeks). My friend has a NEO also and has replaced almost the same number of components. At least I have a legal copy of Windows – my friend had hers replaced by the “technician” with a bootleg copy (also under warranty) along with the monitor and the keyboard.

  151. ROBERTO Reply

    i have the serial # for window xp home edition but the cd

  152. Hans Reply

    I have a fully legit WinXP installed but no disc. WinXP fails on boot-up.

    After the WinXP splash screen it goes blank for a minute as if searching, but then crashes and restarts the boot sequence, and will continue over and over.

    I have tried the available options – last known good configuration, and safe mode, but nothing works to get it going.

    I can’t even access it to see if folder I386 is present.

    What can I do next?

  153. Chuck Reply

    Hi Leo,

    This is a great article and one that I’ll be saving for that inevitable rainy day! My question is: Can I just copy the correct I386 file from my hard drive to a CD and end up with a working copy of an Installation CD for Windows XP?

    Thank you,

    Chuck

    No. An actual working installation CD requires some additional things and setup that the I386 folder does not have.

    Leo
    15-Dec-2010

  154. Khurram Reply

    Hi Leo..
    I didn’t have actual copy nor I have disc of XP home edition.. But I do have original XP home Edition CD-KEY.. plz help me what can I do.. ???
    Can I download a unactivated copy of XP Home from microsoft and istall it via USB (bcoz I have NETBOOK) and then activate it with my original KEY???
    is that possible.. ????

    I’m not aware of any legal download of Windows XP.

    Leo
    01-Jan-2011

  155. Khurram Reply

    what is ‘replacement cd’??
    does it help me to solve the problem…

    My last Question: Hi Leo..
    I didn’t have actual copy nor I have disc of XP home edition.. But I do have original XP home Edition CD-KEY.. plz help me what can I do.. ???
    Can I download a unactivated copy of XP Home from microsoft and istall it via USB (bcoz I have NETBOOK) and then activate it with my original KEY???
    is that possible.. ????

  156. Gareth Reply

    Hi Leo, My wife has a Toshiba laptop with vista on it but I want to put xp from my pc onto it. I have a shrinked and c drive and have a drive named xp set-up ready to go along with another unallocated drive in case. The prob I have is that I have the 5 recovery cd’s made up when I got the pc. Can I copy everything of those and put them onto a DVD use that as my boot disk? If i can’t what can i do to make one up if i do have the i386 folder and the 2 win files?

  157. paula g Reply

    my computer says to put in the windows cd that i dont have of course I cant even get into dos or windows to do anything it will go to set up then it says something about a PBR I HAVE NO CLUE WHAT IS. can you help me please i dont even know how to get a another windows disc .

  158. Kim Reply

    Hello, my son has a emachines c6207. His hard drive died, I cant find the recovery discs. I was going to buy the same 160gb/hard drive from Western Digital. Looks like 3 screws and some plug ins. I was also planning to buy a Recovery Discs from an internet sight that claim to have XP home addition..claims I just need my key code on the back of the computer. Is this even possible to due? Do you think it is possible to do this? Can you give any precautions before spending 100$.

  159. RAVIKUMAR Reply

    I didn’t have actual copy nor I have disc of XP home edition.. But I do have original XP home Edition CD-KEY..pasted on my computer plz help me to format my computer and reinstall xp again what can I do.. ???

    Please read the article you just commented on. It answers this question.

    Leo
    16-Mar-2011

  160. melissa halford Reply

    I bought a Ibm with wind xp from my childs school last year. there was a power outage a few days ago now computer says missing or corrupt file insert original cd rom. I was not given any disks when i bought it. is there any hope to restore this?

  161. Mark Jacobs Reply

    You didn’t mention whether you were able to log into Windows or not. If you are able to get into Windows here’s a possible solution: In some cases I’ve noted the name of the file and done a search for that on the Internet and found that file available to download. It doesn’t always work, but it has for me a few times. Other alternative is to contact the people who sold you the computer and see if they have the installation disk.

  162. Jonathan Reply

    The manufacturer did NOT include an i386 directory on my hard drive. I searched for i386 and WINNT.EXE and WINNT32.EXE as well. No luck.

    What is the best way to make a bootable CD for Windows XP?

    Well, the easiest way is to buy one – particularly if what you need is an installation disk, in which case it’s really the only way. You can also check out How do I create a bootable Windows XP CD using BartPE? but I’ll warn that it’s fairly geeky.

    Leo
    03-Jul-2011

  163. Sandra Reply

    I found the i386 folder, but I have no option to OK anything or choose this folder as a source. I am using XP Home, but the SFC message refers to XP Professional, and that’s not what I have…could that be the difference? I’m trying to restore my Task Monitor, and I thought I could do it using SFC.
    Is there a way to run SFC for me?

  164. Steve Reply

    Thank you for this informative article which let me stop looking for my non-existent Windows XP Professional CD2 which Dell did not give me.

    I have located the C:I386 folder on my computer. So at the next appearance of the “Windows error: Windows File Protection” dialogue box I tried your solution.

    Unfortunately, the error dialogue box I get offers only three buttons: (1) OK; (2) Information (not helpful); and (3) Cancel.

    When I tried clicking OK (without inserting any CD or DVD in any drive), I get another alert box telling me that the CD I inserted is not the right one and to “Try again”. I am NOT offered any button that would let me browse to the I386 folder. Argghhh.

    So now what??? I would appreciate any help. Thank you in advance.

    Leo wrote above: “Typically the “Insert CD” message has only an OK and Cancel button. Press OK, allowing it to fail. The next dialog will typically ask you to provide the location of the CD-ROM; just type in the full path of the I386 directory you discovered above.”

  165. Steve Reply

    Correction to my 09/09/2011 post…

    The “Windows error: Windows File Protection” dialogue box I get warning me about Windows files have been “replaced by unrecognized versions” which Windows needs to restore to the original versions offers me three buttons to click:

    (1) RETRY (once I “insert your Windows XP Professional CD2 now”)

    (2) More information (which tells me that my retry probably failed because either I inserted the wrong disk or my CD drive doesn’t work)

    (3) Cancel.

    Clicking RETRY simply returns me to the original alert dialogue box. Fruitless circle.

    Clicking MORE INFORMATION simply tells me what I already knows and offers to let me RETRY.

    Clicking CANCEL asks me “Do you want to continue with these changed file versions which will affect system stability” and offers me buttons YES or NO with NO selected.

    Clicking NO simply returns me to the original dialogue box with the RETRY button, etc. A fruitless circle.

    Clicking YES dismisses the dialogue and I’m left where I was before the original dialogue box appeared.

    At no point in the process am I offered a BROWSE FOR CD button or a text box where I can type in the path to C:i386.

    What to do now? Any ideas?

    My Dell Owner’s Manual has a section about using Microsoft Windows XP System Restore (pages 69-70) in which the System OP disk that Dell DID supply (which Windows rejects as the “wrong disk” in the process described above) apparently does work. I’ll try that next, I guess.

  166. Steve Reply

    I fixed my particular problem (see my previous posts for the gory details)! In my case, at least, the solution was very simple and straightforward.

    Using the information I gained from Leo’s article that manufacturers such as Dell copy an image of the Windows XP CD-ROM to the C:i386 folder BUT the Windows error boxes weren’t letting me point Windows to the C:i386 folder, I simply fired up my DVD burner software and burned a copy of the C:i386 folder to a blank dvd as a plain data disk. I named the disk i386 (not sure if the disk name has any importance here at all). I then placed the newly burned dvd containing the C:i386 folder and its contents in my first CD/DVD drive (the drive my computer always looks to for any bootable removable media– but again I didn’t make a bootable DVD, just a plain data disk).

    I closed Windows and turned off the computer with my newly copied DVD still in the DVD drive. Then I did a cold boot up and voila– Windows stopped complaining apparently because it was able to find the files it needed from the copied DVD and silently fixed the unrecognized file versions in the background as I worked. I opened up and used all my usual programs and ran through my usual operations. No Windows complaints and the system was working back at its previous speed which I hadn’t experienced in a few weeks. Then I took the copied DVD out of the DVD drive and shut down Windows and the computer completely. Shut down went normally and quickly. Then I booted up again without the copied DVD and so far my computer is behaving as it should and is back to normal health and so am I.

    Sometimes simple and direct works.

  167. fir3 Reply

    hello this guide was helpful but i am looking to transfer my windows installation from one computer that came pre installed with it to another computer
    what should i do should i burn C:I386 to a cd?
    to install windows to another computer plz help me! :)

  168. Jim Reply

    First, use a freeware “product key finder” to find your product key. Right click the I386 folder, then click properties. As the article states there should be approx 7000 files in this folder, totalling 500-600Mb in size. winnt.exe and winnt32.exe are among them. double click winnt32.exe and your installation will start. choose the “advanced” option, and choose to overwrite the NTFS partition. Good luck!

  169. Mary Reply

    It’s possible to download an official Microsoft Windows 7 with SP1 ISO from Digital River. (Digital River has long been Microsoft’s partner for fulfillment of online distribution for downloadable Microsoft products.) If you search for “Official Windows 7 SP1 ISO Digital River” you should find their website.

    The ISO download is about 2.5GB and once you’ve saved it to your computer you’ll have to burn it to a DVD. They also have instructions for creating a “universal” install media that contains all versions of Windows 7 w/SP1. A valid Product Key is required to activate.

  170. Yamen Sharaf Reply

    Hello Leo .
    I do some maintenance work for my friends and family and sometimes they have an original windows on their PC with the product key printed on the bottom of the laptop , and I wanna do a clean install not that recovery crap .. my question is , what version of windows can i use the legal product key with ? does it have to be an OEM version , or does it have to be a brand specific OEM version ?? .. as far as i know all windows images are on it’s what product key you use that makes you run genuine windows so it should probably be okay if i downloaded an OEM version from a pirated source as long as i use my original key , right ?

    I’m not a lawyer, but as I understand it downloading a pirated version is illegal regardless of the circumstances. What version of Windows that key will workin is hard to say – that’s why in the article I carefully point out that you must get the SAME version – possibly the exact same OEM version – to ensure success.

    Leo
    25-Dec-2011
  171. Yamen Sharaf Reply

    Thank you very much for answering me earlier , you probably already know this but all windows images are the same and the windows is only considered pirated according to the product key you use it with , so when i say “Pirated version” i mean ” a normal version with a crack minus the crack ” , i actually happen to have a genuine license to Windows 7 Pro x64 and when SP1 was released i downloaded another image that contains SP1 and installed it and used my genuine product key , of course the ultimate check of legitimacy is activation and it works , i tried that with a friend who has a a key printed but it didn’t work because he has an OEM license , now i know there are some OEM versions out there my question is .. will that key be valid for all OEM versions ? or will there be a different key algorithm to every manufacturer ? .. i know you don’t wanna jump to conclusions but let’s assume for the sake of the conversation that it is legal :) .
    I also think it’s pretty scumbag of them to not provide retail or OEM DVDs to customers :) , they can’t seriously ask us not to download them too .
    Thank you for your patience and greetings from Egypt :D

    All Windows images are most definitely not the same. My understanding is that OEM product keys are unique to each OEM.

    Leo
    25-Dec-2011
  172. Yamen Sharaf Reply

    Would you take a look at this please :
    http://lifehacker.com/5438005/
    Now you know what i mean when i say they are the same :)
    So what do you think ?

    OEM versions are different than retail, XP and Vista are different than 7, 32 bit is different than 64 bit. So, no, not all Windows discs are the same.

    Leo
    25-Dec-2011
  173. Yamen Sharaf Reply

    I work in maintenance i know that not every version is the same , you’re making me be very specific here :)
    1. I know that all Windows 7 Retail x64 versions contain the same files except for Ei.cfg .
    2 . my question is are all Windows 7 OEM x64 ( Pro for example ) versions the same too ? meaning .. will the Dell version accept a “legal” key that came with an HP laptop ?
    Thats all i am asking .. thank you for you patience :D

    Sorry, I thought I was pretty clear about that too … I believe the answer is no. I would expect product keys to be OEM-specific.

    Leo
    25-Dec-2011
  174. Paul Schmidt Reply

    Microsoft has eliminated the differences between retail and OEM as to W7.
    Digital Rivers’ (partnered with M/S) site has legal iso’s of each flavor of W7. Just download the one that pertains to the install of your pc; burn it; now you have installation media. FREE!

  175. Garry Brown Reply

    Retailers who cater to computer hobbyists often sell “OEM” discs of various Windows products which are not manufacturer specific. These are more correctly titled “for system builders” and differ from the retail packages in several ways. They are somewhat cheaper. They are intended to be sold with motherboards or significant computer components (maybe just a hard drive). The price includes no telephone support from MSFT (which is supposed to be provided by the system builder, which would be you if you buy and install it). The copy is intended for use on a single particular machine, which means once it is installed and activated, no fair trying to use it on another computer.

    These differ from the “OEM” installation media you were referring to, which are sold by the computer manufacturer and will often not even run on a computer they were not intended for, even if it is of the same brand.

  176. Canadian Reply

    Installing or re-installing Windows after formatting the Hard Drive, unfortunately requires a lot more than just re-installing Windows. It requires having to find from the manufacturer site the DRIVERS for a lot of what is included in the computer like CD/DVD drive (if not recognized by BIOS after re-install), Video, Keyboard and even in some cases the Monitor to display correctly (not as it shows poorly after re-installation). This I have learned the hard way and I had to download them on another working computer then copy them on a media that is acceptable to the re-installation computer and then install these drivers. I had to do that when I bought a Windows-Vista computer and had to change it to Windows-XP (more reliable and more comfortable to use). I almost spent a full day doing that.

  177. den Reply

    CHANGE KEY # after using another OEM CD.
    Microsoft has a utility page to change the
    XP key number. Also it usually works to
    use legacy third party utilities to change
    the key number to the one on the System COA.
    (Verify KEY change with Belarc or SIW.)
    With some borrowed XP Setup CDs
    try entering the System/COA Key # first
    (though different than the install CD Key #)
    Sometimes this works and the key number
    does not have to be changed.
    If punished by denial, make the dreaded
    telephone call to Microsoft and explain
    Key # changed to Key # on COA Sticker.

  178. Stu Reply

    I’ve heard about the .iso files that are available through Digital Rivers. But I also recall somewhat of a debacle involving that company (last year?). So I’d like to know what you think about that option, Leo. If not here, then possibly as a separate article soon?

  179. David Zabriskie Reply

    I’m still confused as what I’m buying, when I buy
    windows 7. If I’m buying a ‘1st use’ copyrighted
    copy of the OS, (restricted 1 concurrent use
    per copy). Meaning its usable on any suitable hardware platform, serially, with it key. Or am I buying a license to use the OS on a specific
    hardware configuration, with its intended
    restrictions). Since functionally, in either case
    the actual, media isn’t what’s being sold, its
    use of content of the media, one should be able
    download a copy and expect it to work with one’s
    key applying the copyright/license restrictions.

    I had a media issue with a retail copy Windows
    and M$’s special department for such things replaced it, when given the key that comes with it.

    The manufacturers are suppose to have a website
    for the hardware specific drivers for the main board
    and its attached components. Its also so supposed
    be able to run enough of the OS to load those drivers. Using a System Builder’s version plus
    the vendor’s hardware drivers one should be able to recreate the computer as shipped.

    I was able to do that with my 2 Sager laptops,
    (but they do that process when they build them initially. System Builder’s base plus main board,
    and included components and devices drivers).

  180. GREG JACKSON Reply

    What a racket Windows and computer manufactures have perpetrated on the user.

    Toshiba offers original Vista installation disk, and it’s 100% free! All I have to do is pay $38.00 S&H for the disk. I hope it will work as anticipated.

    My Dell inspiration laptop included the 3 installation disks [XP, utilities, software]. Since I installed these myself, I know they will work. To bad the EPROM Flash was damaged by the Chernobyl [CHIH] virus, and has been silenced since 2009. What a shame.

  181. Myles Reply

    “each OEM copy is tailored to the computer manufacturer that originally sold it.”

    not true, some OEM is white label allowing a local PC shop to buy it cheap, install it and send to customer. The OEM installer is not customer to the PC but is generic.

  182. Bonita Reply

    Thank you for article.

    My 2006 Dell desktop came with an OEM Windows XP disc. In 2008, XP developed problems.

    I first tried using the reinstall disc on my own without success; everything seemed OK, but at the end Microsoft online kept requesting and rejecting the OEM product key number.

    Under the warranty, the Dell technician guided me through the correct procedure. It is completely different than following the prompts. We booted from the disc and reformatted the hard drive first. The end result was perfect and no request from Microsoft for the product key.

    The problem – I neglected to write down the steps he guided me through; the warranty has now expired; no more help with any more reinstalls of Windows with this OEM disc.

    Dell has posted a procedure on their website but it is not the same one.

    Be smarter than I was; if you ever need to receive OS reinstall assistance, grab a pencil and paper and write down each step as you go to keep with your disc for future reference. The techs are usually nice enough to give you a chance to take quick notes.

  183. Ravi Agrawal Reply

    @GREG JACKSON posted comment at December 28, 2011 12:55 PM

    By EEPROM, I guess you mean the BIOS. For your information, you can also change the BIOS chip at the motherboard, nowadays it comes like a replace-able IC (similar to replacing RAM although the RAM stick has a lot more pins than the EEPROM)

    Try your luck,
    Ravi.

  184. yrl Reply

    Well, I found an alternative for Window 7: you can MAKE a System Repair Disc.

    Go to your search and look for “Create a System Repair Disc”. You need a blank CD or DVD, but it seems to create a genuine repair disc for repair and re-installation. I made one and will try a perform a System Repair later to see if it is a legitimate alternative.

  185. Curtis Reply

    The cheapest (but not easiest) way to get a install disc is to download a ISO using torrents, then burn that to a CD or DVD. I assume it would be legal if you owned a copy of the original install disc but then lost or broke it.

  186. Christo Reply

    If you have an ASUS computer you can burn a complete copy of the hidden partition with Windows on it with “AI burner”. It’s available from their download store and the discs will include the necessary recovery tool. As far as I know “AI Burner” will only work on an ASUS machine.

  187. Old Man Reply

    Leo,
    Windows 8 & 8.1 were primarily distributed by downloading them. It’s hard to justify the high price for a disc version instead of the $40/free-upgrade route.

    Other than Macrium Reflect, do you have any other recovery disc suggestions for those of us who were not afraid of change and installed Win 8 & 8.1?

    • Connie Delaney Reply

      I looked through the Microsoft knowledge base and see that they have several ways of re-installing Windows 8, or 8.1. If you ever reach that point you can download and install with just a product key.

      • Old Man Reply

        Connie,

        Could you post (or just e-mail) the link to where you found the instructions for Win 8.1 Pro w/Media Player? The closest I could find was for 8.1 Enterprise.

    • Little John Reply

      On service call out in country side to update Windows 8 to 8.1, the connection to the Web was terrible. Since I have download working Windows 8.1 install iso from MS. I made him a copy and he used this disk to update the Windows 8 to 8.1. I wish a store like Walmart or Best Buy would have available for free install disk of 8.1. Not everyone has fast internet connections maybe only dail up.

    • Mark Jacobs Reply

      Leo mentioned in a Newsletter that he’s going to do a review on another backup program in the not too distant future. Macrium runs fine on Windows 8.1.

  188. John Reply

    Like data backup, the importance of OS backing up cannot be overemphasized. I proved it with a laptop whose hard drive died last year, with no OS media. Fortunately, I had taken an image backup of the disk a month or two before with the free Macrium system. I bought a new, much larger hard drive and Macrium restored the entire operating system to the new hard drive without any trouble.

    But there was an even better advantage to Macrium that could be mentioned – since it is an image of the entire hard drive, it includes all the software. Everything worked without having to reinstall any software or relicense anything. A real lifesaver – it’s painful when you hear of people losing everything when backing up is simple, if you do it!

  189. Little John Reply

    When you replace a hard drive in Compaq and you used the Compaq disks to re-install Windows XP on new hard drive, guess what it will not work. You had to take the machine to Compaq Authorize Repair Center so they could add little code to root so the new disk was a Compaq. Since I was in the repair service, I call the main office of Compaq and try to get the disk to brand new hard drive as a Compaq, I was flatly turn down only because I didn’t have money for the disk, right now I forgot the price but it was in 4 figure range plus several hundred update fees. Then I turn to torrent (pirate copy) for very one I found it was non-working torrent. So at the end of story I purchase a retail copy and it work just fine but we didn’t have all “junk files from Compaq”.

  190. bob D. Reply

    if you need a re-install and did not get it or lost it or ate it or whatever –
    — BEFORE you bother Leo :
    look on the window app that is/was installed and see if can get to tele numbers
    if not then look in tele book, black and yellow and business and find a local
    or a toll free tele # to talk to anyone in the co, tell them you did not get
    the re-install progr, and need it now, can they send it now or when?
    if this does not get it for you, then find another toll free tele and call that
    keep doing this until you get a live person who can solve your problem
    2) ask you tech man, repair man, salesman, etc, for the disk re-install
    you might get an upgrade or newer version
    3) if you still dont get it, go to Costco with cash only, about $600 and
    buy a new, (costco cheapest), machine with windows installed,
    when get home check for the re-install disk if none tele costco
    and tell them how come? they will ask Windows problem solvers
    who will send to them the re-install for your new machine,
    use it to re-install your old machine, keeping using
    the old machine til full or dead, then use the newbie you bought at Costco
    —– anyone who can affore $50/year and does not use that to buy membership
    in costco is losing money, any visits will soon exceed $50/y and give yu
    usually big savings for the yr on the items you buy at costco, all are not
    discount from other locals, but yu can keep a audit going, or tele local
    for their price, go to costco and check theirs
    ——- the point of all this is that Windows will make good on what you expect
    but you, or costco, gotta talk to a live person, who is already instructed to give
    you whatever will turn you on as to always being a faithful customer of windows
    —but today on tv shows they hired a new CEO who looks like a bandit who is
    hungry to grab his bonus and pay raises, so he might screw up the usual nice
    relationships created with you and bill gates, by gates himself, so all bets are off
    but still try above and see if the bandito is smart or a dead head…..
    _______________

  191. john Reply

    A dozen years or so ago I purchased a desktop from a small time vendor. Next day it crashed. Upon returning to the vendor he repaired it. I mentioned I did not receive a (repair disk) The extent of my then knowledge. His reply was you don’t get one nowadays. I jumped up and down threw a tantrum declared I was now heading to my lawyer. He capitulated and “threw” a disk at/to me. and I left. I have used that disk in approx. a dozen situations/friends computers over those years, because it happened to be a disk that they sold back then which the vendor paid for, in this case 50 installs? I bvelieve and though I don’t know how to find out how many may be left of it, it was sure worth my meltdown to me. And no I never charged a dime to anyone who needed it. Best regards, john

  192. MARK HEAD Reply

    MACRIUM CURE FOR SYSTEM FAILURE. Dont bother trying to get system discs- too much bother. just get a docking bay with usb connector, a new hard drive and clone your C drive with everything on it. Keep system on this drive + essential programs but not data- you should be storing that on at least 2 separate hard drives anyway. Reclone C drive every couple of months to keep everything up to date and when failure occurs remove old C drive with new cloned one and carry on truckin’ Time loss depends on how long it takes you to remove side panel and mounting screws and refit sata cable. End of story- been doing this for 6 years now and since hard drives are so cheap x2 spares for separate system and data hard drives is the way to go. Just love Macrium- and thanks! to Leo for telling me about that one. Its beautiful. Either that or go late apple- easy system reinstalls ex internet now and I have 2 extra plugin hard drives for macbook air and clone them too since cross system data is required and thanks to exfat for making that possible. Cheers.

    • Leo Reply

      I get this feedback a lot, there are two problems: 1) Only Windows 7 is legally, legitimately available for download like this, and 2) it’s a retail, not OEM, version. In order to use it you must have a corresponding retail product key.

    • Leo Reply

      Please see the sidebar I just added to the article. Your comment applies only to Windows 7 Retail.

  193. Jerry Collins Reply

    You can get installation software for any Windows OS here. They work great, I got the one for Win7 because mine is the original and they have SP1 which would save me a lot of time. I have tried it and it works great, even the repair. That said I use Reflect (at Leo’s suggestion) so I will probably never need it, but it is still nice to have. http://techdows.com/2011/07/download-windows-7-integrated-with-sp1-iso-official-direct-download-links.html Check it out if you want JUST the OS without all the bundled stuff.

      • Jerry Collins Reply

        Ahhh, I have the retail version of Win 7 so I guess that is why I had no problem. Like I said I have Reflect so I installed using the disc and had no problem. Then I restored from image to get back where I was.

        Thanks Leo, your suggestion for Reflect has saved my bacon several times. I had to change from RAID0 back to a single drive and it changed the config. with no problems and it works fine. I also changed back just to see if it would go either way… it did.

  194. Buck Reply

    I think this article should be removed, and/or rewritten for today’s OS’s. Windows XP should no longer be discussed as Microsoft is dropping support for it in April. Too many of the replies in this post refers to XP, and to take the chance on just 1 person getting confused, would be BAD.

    A discussion on having system product ID’s/keycodes built into the BIOS/UEFI (since Windows 8) is a whole new animal, and not a lot of people are aware of it. It’s a game changer, but are system builders telling everyone who buys them?

    • Old Man Reply

      Buck,

      If you think Leo’s article is outdated, check support.microsoft.com/kb/83385 (Windows 3.1 Setup Asks for Disk 5‎).

  195. rbscycle Reply

    There is another alternative. I bought HP Pavilion. No CD’s. It did ask me to create the CD’s, which I did. Short version: It didn’t work. I couldn’t get Windows XP (legally). So I put Ubuntu one it. It’s a much happier computer now. BTW, it reads all of my M$ word, spreadsheet, and presentation graphics. I also put DODBox on it and that runs all my OLD dos programs. No love lost Microsoft!

  196. vikramamditya Reply

    I had a software called inscriber via builder which i had installed in my system, the problem is the CD is damaged and it cannot be retrieved, the company is closed and no way in can get another copy of the same, and I am afraid to format my computer at the same time as I do not have a copy, I know it may sound stupid, is there a way to create a backup install-able from installed version, if so please help
    thanks

  197. Sheri Reply

    I’m sure Macrium Reflect is excellent, as you use it yourself Leo. But I find it extremely off-putting when websites only offer a free trial and omit to disclose the purchase price!!!! This means you have to install their program before you even know if you would be able to afford or want to pay their price for the licence.

  198. Aung Reply

    Great articles and info. How do I install Windows 7 back on to my laptop after replacing the hard drive . I have no media disc. Recovery disc didn’t work( my error-didn’t chk to assure they were done right). All I have is the product key on the laptop. Tried using the Windows 7 ISO but can’t run any *.exe files in this state.

    • Connie Delaney Reply

      Read to the bottom of the article. Leo gives you some bullet points there that are really your only options.

  199. James Reply

    “Unfortunately, you have no way to create a bootable disc image from the I386 folder.” This is NOT true.

  200. gurubelli varun Reply

    i bought new laptop lenovo z580 at last year….after 8 months my operating system had been crashed.
    company manufacturer had installed windows 7 home basic plan,,,,but i have no cd to reinstall it again,,,
    but i have the product key
    if i download from internet and install the windows 7 home basic plan again ,,the product key will work or not,,,please inform me sir

    • Leo Reply

      I don’t know. If it’s an OEM key then probably not. If it’s a retail key then yes.

  201. Tracy Reply

    Hi Leo,

    I’m trying to help a friend who had a custom PC built by a young lad who has since moved away. This older fellow didn’t know about recovery media (barely understands how to switch it on). From what he’s said, it sounds a legit install of 8.1- however, he is in a reboot/repair fail loop (lots of it on Google, I see) & when I asked if he had his copy of Win 8.1, he really has no idea what I mean…He did have his old notebook (as in, “paper”) where he fills in his passwords (I know!)- & has come up with a key. So, I assume he wrote it down during or after the install.

    Now- I am here with a non-booting, 8.1, & no media. Assuming the key he has is legit, how can I do a complete reinstall or repair? Is there any way to get a retail image from the net? This is a home-built desktop PC & I do see it has uefi in it’s start-up window.

    Is he screwed? I’ve tried all Google has to offer in RE: how to get past this loop. The old fellow says it was running fine for weeks & then this was what he got turning it on one morning last week.

    Cheers

  202. Nezha Reply

    i’m broke now not like in the past when i can purchase anything that i need for pc or laptop.
    now i have laptop and get broken, this laptop will restart if i use it for playing browser game, or playing game and watch video from youtube.
    for my laptop temperature was normal its still warm, so i think its not overheat problem..
    i was thinking its because my memory[RAM] was just 2GB, and i using windows 7 maybe its have to be installed windows xp.
    so i thinking for installing windows xp on my laptop, but i cant install it from usb or cd/dvd..
    so i wondering if i can copying manual another computer system to my laptop by using flashdisk.
    is it ok or not or i stil have to install it from cd/usb?

  203. Liam Reply

    my nnotebook has crashed and i need to install windows 7. there is not cd drive , can i install window 7 onto a usb from my working computer then load it on my note book once i erase it?

  204. cin Reply

    i have a BOOTMGR IS MISSING error on my laptop..i have no OS and when i try to install WinXP, there is a system error and will not load it all the way..the XP disc works on my PC..these problems started when i entered the BIOS as i was trying to delete Win7 due to safe.v.9 virus..and it was not a genuwine copy so i have no recovery disc nor a floppy drive as XP continues to tell me to run..being fed up, i ran KILLDISK and erased my hard drive so now i have nothing and no way to boot..im obviously very impatient..please help!!!

  205. yogesh Reply

    sir,please help me ….I bought a new hp laptop from online it came with windows 8.1 os but i didn’t
    get any recovery media because of a small problem i foolishly changed into pirated windows 8 os.can i get my
    original windows 8.1 os please help me soon

  206. Dusty Reply

    I have a retail copy of Windows7. It has been installed in a computer that is now defunct. Can that CD be used to install the W7 OS into a replacement computer?

    The OS in question is on an operational HD. If I install that HD in a new/different computer, will the OS be functional? Will the data on that HD be accessible?

Leave a reply:

Before commenting please:

  • Read the article. Seriously. You'd be shocked at how many people make comments that prove they didn't.
  • Comment only on the article. If you have a new, unrelated question start with the search box at the top of the page.
  • Don't post personal information. Email addresses, phone numbers and such will be removed.

VERY IMPORTANT: because of a rise in comment spam that's making it through our filters any comments that do not add to the discussion - typically off topic or content-free comments - run a very high risk of being flagged as spam and removed.

If you have a new question unrelated to the article above, ask it on the Ask Leo! ask-a-question page.