Technology in terms you understand. Sign up for the Confident Computing newsletter for weekly solutions to make your life easier. Click here and get The Ask Leo! Guide to Staying Safe on the Internet — FREE Edition as my thank you for subscribing!

I Don’t Have Installation Media for Windows. What If I Need It?

Question: 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.

Become a Patron of Ask Leo! and go ad-free!

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.

Do this

Subscribe to Confident Computing! Less frustration and more confidence, solutions, answers, and tips in your inbox every week.

I'll see you there!

271 comments on “I Don’t Have Installation Media for Windows. What If I Need It?”

  1. 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. 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!


    • My entire problem is with HP. I’ve since bought to other pc’lap running W 10 and W7, so Iv’e learned my lesson. An old posting I know! Hope things are good for you!

  3. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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.


  8. 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. 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.


  10. 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?

  11. 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,


  12. 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

  13. 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…

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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? “

  17. 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?

  18. 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 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

  19. 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

  20. 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

  21. 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?

  22. 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.


  23. 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.


    • 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.

  24. 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.

  25. 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.

  26. 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

  27. 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???



  28. 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….

  29. 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.

  30. 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?

  31. 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)

  32. 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)

  33. 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.

  34. 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.

  35. 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?


  36. 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.

  37. 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.

  38. 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.

  39. 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.

  40. 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

  41. 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

  42. 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?

  43. 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.

  44. 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?

  45. 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.

  46. 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
    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

  47. 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.

  48. 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”



  49. 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.

  50. 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.

  51. Download and fry a Kanotix cd (free download at – 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.

  52. 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?

  53. 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.

  54. 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

  55. 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?

  56. 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.
    “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:

    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.

  57. 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.

  58. 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?

  59. 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?

  60. 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 :-)

  61. 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?

  62. 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

  63. 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,

  64. 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?

  65. 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?

  66. 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?

    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 ( 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….

    Version: GnuPG v1.4.6 (MingW32)


  68. 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?

  69. 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

  70. 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,

    Hash: SHA1

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


    Version: GnuPG v1.4.7 (MingW32)


  72. 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.

  73. 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.

  74. 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!

  75. 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…

  76. 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

  77. 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

    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.


    Version: GnuPG v1.4.7 (MingW32)


  79. 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!

  80. 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!”

  81. 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.


  82. 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

    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.


  83. 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.

  84. 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
  85. 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!

  86. 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!

  87. 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
  88. 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?

  89. 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
  90. 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?

  91. I’m trying to create a bootable Windows Setup CD, using the instructions at:

    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?

  92. 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!

  93. 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.

  94. 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?

  95. 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!

  96. 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?!

  97. 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


    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?


  98. 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

  99. 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




    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

  100. 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?

  101. 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.

  102. 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

  103. 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

  104. 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

  105. 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

  106. 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

  107. 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?.

  108. 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?

  109. 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.

  110. 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. ;-)

  111. 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,

  112. 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.


  113. 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,
    is EXPANDED and placed (for now) in

    is COPIED and placed (for now) in

    is expanded and placed (for now) in

    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)?


    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.)


  114. 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…

  115. 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)?

  116. 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 ?

  117. 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.

  118. 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.

  119. 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

  120. 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.


  121. 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

  122. 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.

  123. 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

  124. 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.


    Melissa Thomure

  125. 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.

  126. 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.


  127. 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~~~

  128. 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.

  129. 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!

  130. 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.

  131. 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.

  132. 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.

  133. 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?

  134. 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,


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


  135. 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.


  136. 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.. ????

  137. 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?

  138. 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 .

  139. 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 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$.

  140. 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.


  141. 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?

  142. 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.

  143. 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.


  144. 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?

  145. 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.”

  146. 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.

  147. 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.

  148. 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! :)

  149. 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!

  150. 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.

  151. 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.

  152. 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.

  153. Would you take a look at this please :
    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.

  154. 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.

  155. 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!

  156. 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.

  157. 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.

  158. 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.

  159. 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?

  160. 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).

  161. 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.

  162. “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.

  163. 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.

  164. @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,

  165. 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.

  166. 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.

  167. 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.

  168. Leo, if a person needs a Windows 7 CD/DVD, you can download the appropriate ISO at ‘s linked page . This is totally legit; it is being distributed as a trial version (if you don’t have or buy a license w/CD-key and activate it, it WILL quit working after 90 days). Download it, burn it, and you’re ready to rock ‘n’ roll.

  169. 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?

    • 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.

      • 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.

    • 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.

    • 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.

  170. 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!

  171. 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”.

  172. 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

  173. 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.

    • 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.

  174. 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. Check it out if you want JUST the OS without all the bundled stuff.

      • 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.

  175. 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?

  176. 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!

  177. 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

  178. 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.

  179. 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.

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

  180. 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

  181. 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.


  182. 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?

  183. 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?

  184. 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 obviously very impatient..please help!!!

  185. 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

  186. 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?

  187. Okay I got a Hp 2000 notebook PC.and im trying to reset my pc.and when I do its telling me I need an Windows installation or a media recovery for it to continue..what is that and were do I get one..I havnt be on my computer for months because its been acting I decided to reset its telling me I need to do something for it to continue to reset….HELP…IM FEELING HELPLESS..

  188. I have Acer XC100 Windows 8 tower, did a roll back to earlier date and now cannot get it to load up. Tried Windows 8 disk no go still everything blank will need computer tech to come to home yes??????

  189. “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.”

    Do you actually think that this practice is to save money for me, ultimately? Do you know how much a blank CD costs? If they were to provide the installation media with the computer, it might add about 50 cents to the total cost.

    Don’t try to justify this greedy and immoral practice by saying that it saves money for consumers. The reality is very much the opposite. When your C drive starts to go out and you need a new hard drive, you’re going to need a Windows disk. That’s going to cost you a lot more than the 50 cents that you might have saved by not being given one when you bought the computer.

  190. I did get install media with my windows 7 laptop and have used it, 3 times with success. With my windows 8 laptop I did not get install media and when I needed to do a re-install, I went back to Best Buy were the Geeks downloaded the ios (I think thats what they called it) file and made a bootable recovery CD. I know have that CD and have used it twice since with success.
    Question: why can’t I or anyone else download the same bootable file as the Geek Squad? Since it has to use my licence number to be reactivated on my computer anyway?

  191. Leo, I have an acer computer on which I installed Winndows 7 professional 64 bit program 2 years ago. I have been updating the Win7 operating system regularly. Recently, I noticed that my updates were failing. I have the original OEM installation disk that was originally used to install the system. I tried to use it, but microsoft informed me it was an illegal copy. It is not an illegal copy and has been updating for months. I can no longer update my machine. The Windows update program cannot be started. To run a clean install with a new program would take weeks, and most of the programs have been updated, which compounds the situation. I’m at sixes and sevens as to what to do. I publish on the web, and this throws a monkey wrench into everything. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

    • I’d contact Acer. They presumably provided you with that OEM disc, so technically it’s up to them to provide you a solution that works.

  192. Hello Leo, I don’t have a comment relating to the previous articles posted. I however have a problem on my friend’s PC. It’s Windows (Windows XP) crashed out some times back. Everytime i turn it on, it runs and shows the Window XP loading page and does not stop loading. I have been waiting for the PC to complete loading and show the desktop and the icons but it does not. I tried to insert Windows XP installation retail disc but still, it has failed to recognise the disc inserted. And more so, i cannot safe reboot the PC even after hitting F8 Key during the loading process before showing Windows XP loading page. What could be the problem, dear Leo?.
    Stevna Ayo.

  193. I like your comment about insisting on a full installation disk when purchasing a computer. When I sell a computer, I include a full Windows disk which I get with the system from my distributor. I recently had to buy a retail Win 8 disk to do a full re-install on a Asus desktop because the customer had neither an install disk nor a recovery disk. Asus support was basically “don’t have any recovery or installation disk, tough luck” They told me that the recovery data was hard wired in the BIOS but would not offer any assistance even though I provided them with the serial # etc.

  194. Would like to become a tech and need all the recovery discs to perform clean installs, a driver disc, etc. Can u help?

  195. Hi Leo, you warn that downloading an ISO file is not likely to work, undoubtedly with good reason. I just would like to add that it may work. I had the hard drive fail in an HP Windows 7 Home Premium desktop computer. I put in a new hard drive. I had made what I thought was a backup, on an external drive, but that backup did not work at all, did not install anything. Using another computer, I downloaded Windows 7 SP1 ISO from Digital River, put it on a cd, and used that cd to put Windows on the empty hard drive, and activated it with my product key. This was a few years ago, and it has worked fine ever since. Last year, my nephew’s laptop failed. I had saved the ISO file, and he used it to make a cd and install Windows on his laptop, and he activated it with his product key. So it worked twice, in two different instances. Of course, a backup would be better. The experience has left me believing I should make several different backups using different methods, such as Macrium, Easeus, and Windows.

  196. I got really bogged down and confused trying to go through all these steps and recommendations. I decided to install Linux MINT to get me by while I gathered all the disks and so forth, although the key was clearly printed on the computer. I know this is not the answer that everyone will like, I didn’t like it either, but I quickly got to appreciate MINT and have not gone back to Windows. I had tried Fedora a year ago and
    decided not to leave Windows yet, but MINT was a breath of fresh air. It comes with WINE to run many Windows programs, but I found that you have to right click and select WINE to get the Windows program going. (Left clicking as the instructions say doesn’t do it.) I spent less time learning MINT than it would have taken to do all the other things that everyone is suggesting.

  197. Hi Leo!! I have an installation CD for my laptop. I am not great with computers but I do know that with the installation CD I have restored to factory default on my laptop with it and it worked fine. My son just recently had problems with his laptop so I decided to use my installation CD on his and there are 4 cd s and the when I was installing them the 3rd CD popped out before installation was done and I popped it back in and now nothing will work I cannot get to the desk top and all I get now when starting it up is No bootable device found…insert boot disk and press any key I dont know what to do now and I have spent too much already in the past on his laptop Please help

    • There are two types of installation discs for computers. The preferred kind is the Windows installation DVD this includes everything to install a bare bones version of Windows. In most cases, this can be used to install Widows on any computer with a license and the specs to handle that version of Windows.

      The other kind is a set of DVDs which is an system image copy of the preinstalled Windows. Those include Windows plus whatever crapware, programs made specifically for that computer and maybe even a useful program or two. Those can’t be used to install Windows on another machine, because they generally have only the drivers for that specific machine or a certain series of machines.

      From your description, unfortunately, it appears you have the system image discs, not Windows installation discs.

  198. Hi I would like to have your help. I got a PC, originally it was Windows 7 but for some reason the previous owner turn it to windows xp. So the thing is that I want to turn it back to its originals. I want to turn it to Windows 7 again, but I have no disks. Can that be possible? How can I do it by my self? Your help would be much appreciated. Thanks in advance.

  199. All this info about previous windows versions is useful but not when you are running windows 10. The question is with windows 10 being installed by downloading the windows 10 update using windows update, how do you get a windows install disk for windows 10. Do you use the media creation tool to download an ISO and then burn the ISO to a DVD or USB. If so is this sufficient to re-install windows 10 on a fresh hard drive and is it acceptable to tools such as sfc?

    I tried this and when I copied the ISO to the DVD, what I got was a file, a copy of the original ISO file. Will this work to install on a new hard drive, what about sfc. For sfc, maybe I need to mount the DCD as a virtual drive which gives me the contents of the ISO.

    Also, if this works and I create the DVD, what happens when a new version of windows 10 is released will the DVD work for sfc, I believe sfc requires an installation disk to match the version of windows that is running?

    Finally, I need to know if the downloaded image of windows 10 is the same for a HOME installation and a PRO installation, or as in the past is each a separate entity. If separate then I need to create separate DVDs for each version as I have multiple machine with different versions.

    There seems to be several questions here, maybe an explanation is required.

    • Actually you nailed it in one: use the media creation tool to create an ISO and you have your Windows 10 setup disk. You do need to burn the ISO so that its contents become visible on the disc – search Ask Leo! for “burn ISO”, as I have an article, but I believe if you right click on it there’s a burn option as well.

      You may need to keep the disc updated periodically for SFC to work.

      I believe home and pro use a single disc image.

  200. when I was installing an operating system I chose a custom choice and I formatted my computer’s operating system partition…….and after it loaded 22% ….it showed me an info….it says that the DVD is corrupted…..I tried again and again but finally i can’t fix it…..even if i ‘ve bought another new DVD……..please what do I do now ……how can i fix it

  201. For those who’ve upgraded from preinstalled versions of Windows 7 or 8, that’s one advantage of upgrading to Windows 10 that isn’t discussed enough. ISOs for Windows 10 which can be used to create installation media are available as a download from Microsoft. I don’t know if this would work with a preinstalled version of Windows 10. I assume it would work on some but not all.

  202. “insist on getting actual installation media when you get your machine”??? > Good luck! Not with Dell, their policy now is no installation disc. I purchased a Dell laptop at OD, opened the content, no OS disc; tried to chat with Dell, some retarded agent in India, telling me this is the new policy and if I encounter problems I should contact Technical support. Then I asked what if I will need to reinstal or reformat after the one year limited warranty (surely they will charge me heavily on that after), so he said- no problem, you can purchase an extended warranty. That’s how they get you….

  203. Leo –

    Hi. Your above article gave me the impression that the Windows Installation Media is something that only the computer manufacturers may provide the purchasers. When I purchased my Win 10 PC and all my other PC’s, no such media was ever provided.

    Now, from another article, I learn that we can legally download a clean version of Windows 10 from the following Microsoft website:

    Is the Windows Installation Media you wrote about in the above article the same as the Windows Installation Media in the aforementioned Microsoft website? If so, then is it the case that we no longer have to worry about getting the media when we buy a new PC? (My apology if this question was already answered, but I’m just not sure.)


    p/s They’re nice to have, but I’m getting little confused with all the different recovery/restore/repair/reset/rescue/reinstallation tools that are available. Frankly, I’m hoping whatever problem I may encounter down the road, my Macrium Reflect backup disk image will solve.

  204. I believe this article is years out of date and maybe needs updating? – windows 10 is activated with a digital license so it can be downloaded from microsoft as mentioned – i have done this on several machines and laptops over the past couple of years or so to be donated onwards as a clean machine – and on a laptop that I updated with a new ssd with no issues. Only pain has been having to install with a dummy microsoft account then having to create a new local admin account and then deleting the dummy microsoft account – unless anyone can advise an easier way to get round this!


Leave a reply:

Before commenting please:

  • Read the article.
  • Comment on the article.
  • No personal information.
  • No spam.

Comments violating those rules will be removed. Comments that don't add value will be removed, including off-topic or content-free comments, or comments that look even a little bit like spam. All comments containing links and certain keywords will be moderated before publication.

I want comments to be valuable for everyone, including those who come later and take the time to read.