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Can I upgrade my motherboard and CPU and have Windows just reconfigure itself?

I’m using Intel Core 2duo CPU, 2.8 GHz and a motherboard with 8 GB of RAM
and a 500 GB hard drive with Windows 7 Ultimate. I want to upgrade to an Intel
i5 3.1 GHz plus motherboard with 16 GB of RAM. My query is: can I simply put the
hard disk into the machine? Will it automatically configure for the change in
the hardware? I can run the motherboard installations from the motherboard CDs.
Doing so will preserve my Windows drivers, Windows installation, and many
programs installed on it, correct? I’m also worried that if I have to install
everything again, it will create a huge problem. I’m using the computer in an
office with five to six people having their accounts and they remote login to
this machine.

In this excerpt from
Answercast #80
, I look at upgrading a machine with numerous users – it can
be tricky. Although there is one thing to try…

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Upgrade motherboard and CPU

Boy, that last one does make this a difficult process – just because, ultimately, the answer is, “It probably won’t work.”

In general, the answer to “Can I just take a hard drive from one machine and plug it into another and have it be the new system drive?” is no – because Windows is fully configured for the system that it was originally running on as part of the setup process.

You’re not running a setup process when you put that hard drive in a second machine or when you swap out the motherboard and CPU.

Windows will try to upgrade itself; to reconfigure itself; to do whatever it needs to do to work – but it doesn’t always work. It just doesn’t. So, I’m not hopeful.

A possible work-around

I want to start by saying that I’m not hopeful, however, I do want you to consider trying this.

  • Back up the machine. Do a full image backup in case whatever we’re about to try goes horribly, horribly wrong.

  • Make the hardware switch.

  • But then before you boot the machine, boot it from your Windows installation disc.

  • And choose a repair install of Windows, or an “in place” install of Windows, onto the existing install of Windows.

Remember what I said earlier? We didn’t run the setup program if we just swapped the hard drives and turned it on.

What this allows us to do is to get the Windows setup program, the install program, to go through the motions of formally detecting all of the hardware in that machine and making the appropriate changes into the Windows installation that’s already there without reformatting and reinstalling from scratch.

That’s the direction I would have you try in this particular case.

Hopefully, you’ve got the Windows 7 discs ready to do the installation, and that would be the approach that I would take.

Full image backup first!

I absolutely have to stress that you backup first because there are no guarantees. But to preserve everything that you’re trying to preserve here, it’s the approach I would take.

(Transcript lightly edited for readability.)

Next from Answercast 80 – Is there a way to test a machine that won’t boot to see if the BIOS is the problem?

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3 comments on “Can I upgrade my motherboard and CPU and have Windows just reconfigure itself?”

  1. With such a significant change, *if* Windows managed to reconfigure itself correctly, Windows may assume that it’s been moved to a new computer and request new activation.

    Getting a re-activation key is possible, if not a bit of a challenge. It involves calling a Microsoft phone-pool and pleading your case.

    Once they are convinced that you’re just upgrading hardware, they’ll read a *long* activation key to you over the phone – write it down carefully! Read it back to them! The new key will activate Windows again.

    Reply
  2. I thought the question was somewhat unclear. Was the motherboard in the computer being replaced by another motherboard with a different CPU and more RAM? Or was the computer itself being replaced by a different computer with the CPU and RAM specified? In the first case, I would think the replacement would be almost transparent to Windows; the CPU should function and it would pick up the increased RAM at boot; the new CPU/motherboard drivers could then be installed and would be activated on the next boot. In the second case I agree with the discussion above.

    Reply
  3. On second thought, I disavow my previous comment. While I still think the question is ambiguous, there are so many peripherals on today’s motherboards that replacing the board is pretty much equivalent to replacing the whole computer. There are definitely more drivers involved than just those for the CPU, so as Leo says, the computer is unlikely to function properly with so many drivers needing replacement.

    Reply

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