What do I do if my system asks for a installation disk and I don’t have one?

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I have a desktop computer with Windows 7 pre-installed. It won’t startup. It’s asking me for the installation disk which I don’t have. Can I buy that somewhere? Do I have to buy Windows 7 and install that or can I just buy Windows 8.1 and install that?

There are a few things you can try. I’ll list those, as well as one technique that will let you avoid this problem completely in the future.

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The death of the installation disc

It’s very common that machines not come with installation discs these days, much as I prefer it otherwise. There are certain things can happen that absolutely require an installation disc.

Some manufacturers will provide that disc, perhaps for a small fee, should you need it. So the first step is to contact the computer’s manufacturer or the retailer that sold you the machine.

Purchasing Windows 7

It may be possible to purchase Windows 7, but there are couple of problems.

One is that I believe you need to resort to the secondary market sites, such as Ebay, to get it. That means you’ll need to be particularly careful of who it is you’re buying from.

DiscsDepending on the issue that you’re facing, it’s possible that buying a new copy of Windows 7 still won’t help. What you would probably buy is Windows 7 “Retail“. What you probably have on your machine, however, is Windows 7 OEM. The retail disc will work for some issues but not for others.

While technically against the license terms, you can purchase an OEM disc. But be careful to purchase an OEM disc for your computer, or at least for your computer’s manufacturer. A Windows OEM disc for an HP computer, for example, probably won’t help if you’ve got a Sony.

Repair or recovery discs

On the other hand, it is possible that you don’t need an installation disc. One thing you can try is to boot from a system repair or recovery disc. One may have been provided with your system. If it has been, it may be able to repair the system from a pristine copy that’s typically kept on a hidden partition. You may also be able to reinstall Windows using this disc.

You can certainly reinstall Windows 7 from a retail disc. And if your machine meets the minimum requirements for Windows 8, you could install that instead. However, you need to plan on the installs actually erasing everything that’s currently on your hard drive. If that’s painful, then you should take an image backup first.

You can do that with, for example, Macrium Reflect’s free edition. You’ll need to use another computer to download Macrium Reflect, and then burn the rescue disc. You can then boot from that rescue disc, and actually back up your system to an external drive. After your system has been reinstalled and is working, you would then recover your data from that backup.

A reminder about backups

Finally, since we’re talking about backup software, I need to point out two things:

First, if you had been backing up regularly, none of this would have been an issue. You could simply restore your machine to a backup image taken before it started asking for the install disc.

Second, backup images are actually my strongly recommended antidote for a lack of installation media. As soon as you get a working system, be it a rebuilt system or a brand new one, take a complete system image. Save that somewhere; make a copy of it for good measure.

Then if you ever need to start over for any reason, you can simply restore your machine to that image.

18 comments on “What do I do if my system asks for a installation disk and I don’t have one?”

  1. Another potential option that depends on knowing your product key: Borrow an installation disk from someone. Then, when it asks for your installation key, put your’s in instead of the key that is on the disk. Many manufacturers place an OEM sticker on the bottom of laptops or back of desktops that will include the Windows product key. Or, look at the online backup copy of the Belarc report that you ran a long time ago (you did do that – right?). Microsoft might still gripe at you and make you jump through some hoops to show you are re-installing and not just using on two machines. But, it would save you the money of buying. I’ve done this earlier versions of Windows and it worked well! Of course, you have to use the same version of Windows. E.g., you can’t use a Windows 7 Home Premium product key and a Windows 7 Ultimate disk.

  2. “the installs actually erasing everything that’s currently on your hard drive. If that’s painful, then you should take an image backup first. … After your system has been reinstalled and is working, you would then recover your data from that backup.”

    That may be overcomplicating, a little.

    As our starting point is that the installation is beyond recovery, all we’d want to save is our documents (including media files). This can be achieved simply by booting up an alternative OS (including the Windows Recovery Environment) and copying the specific files to our external hard disc. Probably, much quicker and requiring a lot less external hard disc space, than capturing a full image (unless your “media” archive is so massive it dwarfs the OS). Plus, it’s then straightforward to copy your files into your fresh installation; you don’t need to mount a disc image.

    If you’re worried you’ll miss some of your files, during the copying (or, perhaps, think there might be some Windows setting you’ll later decide you’d like to have recovered from the wreckage), then copy all folders and files to your external drive.

  3. I’m sure I’ve seen on the web:
    Instructions for converting a retail Windows DVD to an OEM one. (I.e. one that will accept a – valid – OEM Windows license key, rather than one that includes specific drivers and the copy of Power DVD, etc.)
    Instructions for converting a Windows DVD that provides a specific grade of Windows (Home Premium, Professional, etc.) to one that gives you the choice of grade – to match your license key – during the installation process.
    Instructions for modifying your Windows installation to make it accept an OEM, instead of a retail, license key (or vice a versa).

    In my opinion, unless you’ve done something desperately clever – and wrong, if Windows says it’s activated, using a license key to which you are entitled, then it’s legal, irrespective of the hoops you jumped through to take it to that state.

    It’s OK for Microsoft to be upset at people using its software without paying, but if it really wants to profit as you battle to repair your system, then I hope you just make it a Linux machine!

  4. Can I restore original windows OEM copy to a formatted hard disk using Macrium Reflect rescue CD or c drive copy?

    My hard disk was formatted and there is no C drive D drive etc as there is only unpartitioned hard drive left. Model of my computer is Lenovo G500. My onekey recovery is also gone. But fortunately I have copies of Macrium Reflect boot CDs of C drive copy and Windows PE and linux based rescue media CD.Can i use any of this to restore my Original windows with OEM license so that I can upgrade to Windows 10 free of cost as soon as it release? Please help me

    • You can use Macrium to restore a Macrium backup image. If you don’t have a backup image of your original installation, then no, it doesn’t help to have that to try and install an OEM copy. The way you would do that is boot from the OEM Windows Installation CD and install Windows from scratch.

  5. Hi Leo!
    I have made an image of my drive onto a external disk. It included personal and system files. The original disk had only one partition for system and personal files. So I schrinked it and created a new partition (E) called “DATA” (very original). Because of some problems with previous OS, I have installed a new copy of it on C:. Windows installation moved the old System to a folder called “Windows.old” as promised. Now I would like to format this C: partition, and recover the previous system from that image I have created. Is this possible? How ?

    Thank you
    Amadeu

  6. Recently my cousin accidently drop my computer and now it want start up its making a beeping sound n its saying that the hard ware could be damage what should I do? please let me know asap

  7. 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.
    https://askleo.com/where_can_i_download_windows/

  8. Leo, my Acer window 7 product key is missing some letters. I am trying to re-install it after it stop working and requesting for “insert a bootable media error”. Is there a way around this? I also got a windows 7 Pro product key for another computer but it is for Dell (product key is complete). What can I do?
    Thanks for your prompt response!

    • “insert a bootable media” would have nothing to do with a product key. WHatever disk you’re attempting to boot from isn’t bootable. So I’d have to know how you’re going about trying to reinstall it.

  9. My HP laptop (Notebook, purchased 2016) with Windows 10 would not reboot after about two months of use. The computer merely starts on a brain-dead page telling of an error, but nothing else can be done, APPARENTLY, without recovery disks. As they were not available online, it looked like an HP scam, perhaps with HP even causing the reboot-problem in the first place by sending some simple crash-command into the computer. Maybe my imagination was running away, but you need to try the following because it worked on my computer, yet I cannot find this fix anywhere from any HP help-page, as if HP is hiding it.

    Start the computer. Tap the Escape button a few times as it starts until options appear. Choose the F11 option, and voila! A page comes up giving the option of saving your files first, and also an option to recover the computer to factory status…NO RECOVERY DISKS NEEDED. If HP has this easy fix built into the computer, why does it tell the owner that recovery discs are needed??? If HP did not provide this easy fix for any other computer refusing to boot-up, why not?

    To save your files (you must do it before you do the recovery option), you need only an external / flash drive (cheap), but the system wouldn’t save my files unless the flash was put it into NTFS format, easy to do. Google on how to do it, or ask your local store. Yet, the HP technician either didn’t know, or pretended not to know, that the flash drive needed to be in NTFS format (didn’t come that way off the shelf), nor did the HP computer notify me of this need when I went through the correct steps to save the files? Is HP really that dumb, or did it deliberately leave the information out?

    In my tentative opinion, HP does not reveal this fix so that you’ll call HP techs, and get charged a small fee to get it fixed, which helps HP to pay their employees. So, in effect, HP can get free employees by pre-building booby traps in its computers. This could be the way of the future for corrupt computer companies. I’m mad. If this crash happens again, I’ll go through the roof. It took a lot of time to find the fix, and hours more to recover files, etc. HP will NEVER see my business again.

  10. Well, it wasn’t long after the post above when I found the following from HP:

    “You might not need recovery discs or a USB recovery solution from HP to recover the software on your computer…If the hard drive is still functional, you can still perform an HP system recovery from the hard drive as long as the recovery information has not been destroyed or corrupted.

    To do a software recovery from the hard drive, turn on the computer and repeatedly press the F11 key until “Windows is loading files…” displays on the screen. If your computer originally came with Windows XP or earlier, press F10 to enter recovery instead of F11.”

    I don’t know what happens to the computer when pressing F11 without first pressing Escape, but even if F11 alone allows the same fix I was able to get, the BIG QUESTION is: was the quote above slipped online by HP as an after-thought when the cat started coming out of the bag, or was it slipped online to keep HP legally / ethically safe? To put my sentiments in proper perspective, why doesn’t HP put that quote on the crashed computer????

    To put it another way, most owners with crashed computers are not likely supposed to find that quote online, but are supposed to get tech help. Isn’t that right? HP techies were even going to charge me to tell me how to get the updates from loading whenever they wanted (takes a couple of hours) rather than when I want the updates to load. I slammed the phone and started looking for a sledge hammer to smash the HP computer. It might happen some day.

    I now get a nasty HP box popping up every few minutes demanding that I register for a warranty, giving my personal information to a company, in the meantime, I don’t trust, and the box has no option for me to kill it either temporarily or forever, according to MY wishes. . It’s HP in my face as though it owns my computer even after I paid for it. HP, NEVER AGAIN.

    At the same time exactly (to the day or half-week) that the computer crashed, Indians (in the Orient) called me up several times (from 1 800 425-4999, an HP number, I assume) in a known scam to fix the virus on my computer. The HP techies are from India, and then one of the scammers even knew my name, John, though it’s not listed anywhere in any phone directory. In other words, it appears that the only way the scammer could know my name is by getting it from HP’s files…because the scammer works for HP.

    Here’s the HP page for the quote above:
    http://support.hp.com/ca-en/document/bph07143#AbT0

    • The problem is that if the hard drive is damaged, you might not be able to run the recovery. If you perform a system image backup when you purchase the machine, you will have be able to restore it to factory conditions from that backup. If you haven’t done that, you can at least perform a system image backup now so that you will have a working system to restore to.

      Some laptops I’ve gotten recently have a utility to create a set of DVDs you can use to restore to factory state. Now that laptops are coming without optical drives, performing on the bare bones system backup right away might be the only way to be able restore your system to factory state.

  11. Sorry for another post if Leo finds me taking too much space. But I came across an HP page offering FREE download for recovery disks, indicating that HP is doing some damage control, for in earlier times, HP had this: “Read this before ordering your Recovery Discs! (US and Canada Only)” You see, life was good, computer crashes were big money for HP.

    The same page also says: “HP stopped shipping the Windows XP operating system recovery discs in 2005, and did not ship recovery discs with computers that had Vista or Windows 7 operating systems. The HP Recovery Manager program…can be used to recover the operating system from files stored in a partition on the hard drive without needing recovery discs.”

    Okay, so HP gave their computers an inside, easy fix for a Windows-crash situation, yet, way over in 2016, more than a decade after 2005, when my computer crashed, there was no option flashed on the brain-dead, Windowless HP screen aside from the need to get recovery disks. I could not find them online even though some HP page, perhaps nicely hidden in the jungle, offered them for a free download. I ask you, why wasn’t the free-dowload page up-front-and-center when I Google-searched for the HP disks? HP likes to create headaches for its customers, apparently.

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