Major hardware upgrade with Windows 7
November 13, 2015 11:52 AM   Subscribe

I'm considering doing a major computer upgrade - CPU, mainboard, and video card. Is Windows going to completely shit the bed after I do this?

It's about time for an upgrade to the old rig, and in the interest of some cost and time savings I'd like to replace the motherboard, CPU, and video card without reinstalling Windows. However, I remember some time ago I had tried to do this on a previous machine (probably Windows XP) and the system totally failed, requiring a complete hard drive wipe and OS reinstall. If I remember correctly, it was because the new motherboard had a different north bridge architecture as the old one and Windows just could not handle that.

Is Windows 7 more forgiving about major hardware changes like this? If it matters, I built this computer with the OEM version of 7, and my understanding when I bought the software was that it was somehow going to register significant hardware changes as an attempt to put it in a new computer and would break in some non-specific way. How badly is this going to go?
posted by backseatpilot to Technology (16 answers total)
Microsoft's OEM terms define a "new computer" as "changing the motherboard". See the FAQ here. It is not legal for you to do what you want to do; you need to purchase and reinstall a new license for Windows.
posted by saeculorum at 12:02 PM on November 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

I've done that on XP and it was fine, I'd assume W7 would be as good or better.

First assume the install is going to die and back everything up, then wipe all your drivers before you change out the gear. Windows should (probably) reacquire everything no problem. But you should make sure you're ready for a reinstall anyway before doing something like that.

A google suggests Paragon Adaptive Restore might automate some of the process?
posted by Sebmojo at 12:02 PM on November 13, 2015

Microsoft's OEM terms define a "new computer" as "changing the motherboard". See the FAQ here. It is not legal for you to do what you want to do; you need to purchase and reinstall a new license for Windows.

Also from a practical perspective: Windows will detect this and require you to re-authorize. Some people have had some success calling Microsoft support after this, YMMV.
posted by selfnoise at 12:04 PM on November 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

The usual advise is to start in safe mode the first time, that should give you a change to get the new drivers it expects. I've used Acronis Backup with Universal Restore before with magical results-- You can download a 30 day trial from here which should be good enough to get you through your hardware upgrade cycle.

Worth having a backup anyway!
posted by Static Vagabond at 12:05 PM on November 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

If it goes south, here are some creative ways to get a Windows 7 license. Possibly the silliest idea I've heard today: buying a refurbished computer can be cheaper than buying an OEM license. You may also be able to do a license "family" transfer.
posted by bonehead at 12:14 PM on November 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

if the hard drive driver changes, it may not boot, and its not easy to fix. IDE vs AHCI vs RAID for example. Im working through this issue at the moment myself.

Doing a fresh OS install is usually a good idea anyway, cuts down on some of the cruft from unused previous software.
posted by TheAdamist at 12:48 PM on November 13, 2015

Best answer: Also from a practical perspective: Windows will detect this and require you to re-authorize. Some people have had some success calling Microsoft support after this, YMMV.

I'm with odinsdream on this. I've done a TON of these at work. You just call the automated number, it's annoying, but i've literally never had it fail to authorize.

I'm also on team do a fresh install with this, but MS will activate your key again super easy. BUT, i'd reactive BEFORE i reinstalled. For some reason i feel like it's easier to reactivate an already formerly activated install and get that system "fingerprint" in their database than just try the key on what appears to be a "new" system, but that's just speaking from experience.

I have had to talk to a live person before in situations like that.
posted by emptythought at 1:21 PM on November 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

You'll almost certainly have to call the Microsoft reauthorization 1-800 number, and very carefully read many random digits to a robot.
posted by gregr at 2:21 PM on November 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'll tell you what I did just a couple days ago. I got my bf a new tower computer with Windows 7 installed on a tiny hard drive. I removed the 2 Tb hard drive with Windows 7 installed on it from his old computer. I put it in the new computer, replacing the tiny one completely. I plugged everything back in (probably should have waited). I had to restart the computer three times to get all the new drivers installed. His Windows install didn't have a problem but his Office Suite refused to authenticate because it had been installed on too many other computers. Windows knew it was in a new computer but apparently lets you move it at least once. I think you'll get away with it.
posted by irisclara at 9:27 PM on November 13, 2015

I just did this yesterday, coincidentally; I did need to reinstall windows (with a lot of pain around usb3 drivers) but the activation on my (OEM) win 7 went through just fine.
posted by thoughtless at 12:28 AM on November 14, 2015

If it's an actual OEM device (i.e. Dell, HP) it may not work. But I've never had a problem activating a retail oem version of Windows 7 on a different computer, and I've got at least one copy that's lived on at least half a dozen entirely different pieces of hardware.
posted by wotsac at 7:43 AM on November 14, 2015

Best answer: If you are basically rebuilding your computer, which in this case you would be, it will almost certainly trigger a need for reactivation. As long as it's not an OEM key tied to the original hardware, Microsoft is totally fine with you calling up and doing phone activation. Just tell the human, if you get one, that you're replacing components in an existing computer, not that it's an entirely new computer.

Note also that you could just (as of the November update to Windows 10) download Win10 to a USB key and use your Windows 7 key to clean install and activate in one step -- the need to upgrade an existing install first has been removed.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:21 PM on November 19, 2015

Or, not: it's been pulled.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:53 PM on November 23, 2015

It's back.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 2:18 PM on November 24, 2015

Response by poster: Parts came in and I'm sitting next to a dead box at the moment.

Win7 wouldn't boot with the new hardware (probably because I was switching from AMD to Intel?). Luckily I had made a Win10 installer... but somehow didn't have a big enough USB stick. I put it on an SD card and stuck that in a USB adapter. It failed after a few tries.

The problem with installing Win10 was that the hard drives were apparently set up wrong; Win7 set them up with Master Boot Records which the Win10 installer told me it didn't like. So I had to use the command line on the installer to change the partitioning scheme to GPT. That's when the hard drive stopped being recognized by the computer. Still not sure what's going on there, but I think I fixed it.

So, I ran out to the store to get a USB stick (and a new DVD drive, because apparently I built the old machine with an IDE drive and guess what the new motherboard doesn't have?) and I'm making a new installer stick. Hopefully this one works!
posted by backseatpilot at 3:51 PM on December 5, 2015

Response by poster: Looks like everything is finally working! I did end up needing to reinstall Windows, but all of my data is safe. Thanks for the advice!
posted by backseatpilot at 6:04 AM on December 6, 2015

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