Legally reinstalling Windows 7 without the disc
January 2, 2011 7:06 PM   Subscribe

How can I replace the hard drive on my laptop and then get the operating system which I legally have installed right now back onto it?

My hard drive is in the process of dying. I've backed everything up, and I'm ready to replace it. However, I don't have install discs for Windows Vista or Windows 7. My computer came with Vista and I purchased a Windows 7 upgrade. So I have that Windows 7 upgrade disc, but no way to install Vista, as far as I can tell. Does anyone have tips on how I can get Windows 7 legally installed on my new hard drive?
posted by brenton to Computers & Internet (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
How did you back it up? You should make a disk image of the dying hd and burn it to your new hard drive. Unless Windows 7 has really draconian DRM (?), it should work.
posted by wayland at 7:12 PM on January 2, 2011

download a trial version and type in your vista and 7 product keys.
posted by k8t at 7:18 PM on January 2, 2011

Response by poster: Old hard drive is still working... mostly. Every once in a while I have a really difficult time with it. Upgrading to Windows 7 helped it for a while, then it started acting up again. It's running ok again now after I turned off page file and did about a million disc checks (they take forever). But I'm convinced the hard drive is only going to get worse, not better.
posted by brenton at 7:19 PM on January 2, 2011

Clone the drive using Acronis TrueImage, Driveimage XML, or similar software.
posted by sinfony at 7:32 PM on January 2, 2011 [3 favorites]

Buy a new drive and a $20 USB bridge cable. Run the laptop with both drive connected and image the new drive with the contents of the old. Then remove the old drive and install the new drive internally.
posted by Rhomboid at 7:42 PM on January 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Unless something has changed, you can use the upgrade disc to do a full install. Your activation code, however, is only good for an upgrade. Here is how to trick a fesh install into thinking it is an upgrade:

1 - Install your new hard drive and and boot to your win 7 disc.

2 - When it asks whether you want to do an upgrade or custom (clean) install, select custom. Cant remember if it asks you for your activation code during installation (pretty sure it doesnt), but do not enter anything, your code will only work as an upgrade.

3 - Once setup is complete and can boot to desktop, do not install or change anything, no updates, no new programs (makes the upgrade process slower).

4 - While in windows, navigate to your windows 7 DVD and run the setup application. This time when it asks if you want to upgrade or custom install, select upgrade.

5 - When it completes you have successfully "upgraded" from win 7 to win 7, and your activation code should work. Enjoy your fresh install!
posted by Esefa at 7:47 PM on January 2, 2011 [6 favorites]

You're right about the hard drive. Ideally you want to use a program like Norton Ghost to clone the drive to another hard drive. Then you can just destroy the dying drive and work from the new drive like nothing's happened. (Note: Since it's Windows 7, when you try to boot from the cloned drive, you will enter an infinite reboot loop. You'll need to insert the windows 7 disc and perform a startup repair. Then it will work properly.)

If cloning isn't an option for some reason--it will take a long time and may fail if your hard drive is too close to death--then you may need to try just installing windows onto a clean drive. If you have the Windows 7 and Vista product keys, then give it a shot. Worst case scenario, it'll fail to activate and you'll have to erase the new drive and start over.

If you don't have the product keys, you may need to pull them from the old drive using produkey. It's a free program.
posted by JDHarper at 7:59 PM on January 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Have you called MS license support folks? It has been my experience that they are very reasonable and may, upon hearing your situation, give you working key for a clean full install from your upgrade disc,

They've done it for me in a similar situation.
posted by bz at 10:34 PM on January 2, 2011

Windows 7 comes with its own imaging/backup software, but I believe it will only work if you are restoring to the same size disk.

Here are the instructions on how to make the backup image.

Here are the instructions on making a system repair disc in case you can't use the Win7 upgrade disc to get into "repair" mode.

And here are the instructions on how to do the restore once you've put the new drive in the system.

And after the imaging, I would run disk check etc again because it will have copied everything exactly as it was (good stuff and errors)
posted by cathoo at 7:47 AM on January 3, 2011

The Windows 7 licensing in your situation works (from what I can tell and I do third-party work for MS that has included licensing stuff but still, don't quote me here) something like this:
  • If the copy of Windows Vista was one you purchased in a retail store, you can use your subsequent Windows 7 key to clean install on another machine no prob.
  • If Windows Vista was installed on your machine new (an OEM installation) then you can use the Windows 7 key to upgrade a different OEM installation of Windows Vista.
Basically, just backup your drive, try to clone it directly onto a new one, and if that doesn't work then reinstall Windows 7 using your upgrade disc. There are many methods, some already in this thread, and available elsewhere online.
posted by truex at 3:18 PM on January 4, 2011

And if the product activation gives you any trouble, just call the number and tell them that you had to reinstall your OS when upgrading a drive and now it's not accepting your key, what's up with that? Then they'll do something on their end and the activation will work.
posted by truex at 3:20 PM on January 4, 2011

Response by poster: I just did a software check for the key, and it's finding the Windows 7 upgrade key, not the Vista OEM key... and the OEM key on the sticker on the bottom has worn off so I can't read it!!!! (A likely story, I know, right??) It sounds like I will be able to get Windows 7 installed with my upgrade key only if I can get my hands on a full Win7 install disc, but I only have the Win7 upgrade disc.
posted by brenton at 4:50 PM on January 5, 2011

Upgrade disc is good enough.
posted by sinfony at 12:34 AM on January 6, 2011

« Older (Much) older student needs academic reference.   |   Dr. Seuss's rhyme, perfect every time? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.