Reinstalling Windows on Laptop Without CD Drive
August 7, 2008 12:03 PM   Subscribe

We have a laptop at work that's just so full of crap, etc. that it's near unusable and we've decided to just wipe it and do a fresh install of Windows XP (for which we have the CD). The problem is, this laptop doesn't have a CD or floppy drive - it has some kind of dock connector on the bottom that I guess might have a CD drive, but we don't have that either. Any ideas?
posted by OverlappingElvis to Computers & Internet (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If you check the BIOS, it may be possible for you to boot off a USB CD drive. Some BIOSs include USB drivers and know how to use file systems on them.

If not, then using a dock is the only way.
posted by Class Goat at 12:09 PM on August 7, 2008

Does it have a USB port? You can ask around and borrow an external CD or DVD drive, or buy one for about $60.
posted by Null Pointer and the Exceptions at 12:14 PM on August 7, 2008

You may also be able to pop out the hard drive and connect it via an adapter to another computer that does have a CD-ROM drive, and wipe and reinstall Windows that way.
posted by detune at 12:21 PM on August 7, 2008

if it won't boot off usb (anything recent should) then the other option is to install over the network. i once did that for linux on an ibm x31. it wasn't much fun (i had to run a tftp server to provide the data), but it worked... again, you need to check bios and see fi network install is supported.

oh, also - if you find you can use a usb cd, but the install keeps crashing with errors, try a different cd reader. i've had failures with one cd player (a portable plexor, which has a good reputation); the same computer booted fine off a "desktop" cd reader installed in a "brick" usb enclosure.
posted by not sure this is a good idea at 12:23 PM on August 7, 2008

An external USB cd-rom drive would be your easiest bet.

It is possible to remove the hard drive from the laptop, install it in desktop computer (using an adapter) begin the Windows XP install (this requires some special command line switches, which insure that only the file-copy portion of the install is done,) re-install the drive in the laptop, and complete the windows install (thus tailoring the kernel to your laptop's hardware.)

There are variations of this method, some that rely on a floppy disk that can be problematic because you wind up with a FAT32 file system instead of NTFS.

In short, get a usb cd-rom and only consider a direct to hard drive install if your laptop doesn't support USB boot.

The other way lies madness.
posted by wfrgms at 12:25 PM on August 7, 2008

detune writes: connect it via an adapter to another computer that does have a CD-ROM drive, and wipe and reinstall Windows that way

Care must be taken not to install windows this way, but rather to prep the drive for the install. Two different tasks entirely.

not sure this is a good idea, lives up to his name by suggesting a network install. Even advanced admins will pull their hair trying to do this. Further, any laptop that supports a nic boot, will very likely support USB boot.
posted by wfrgms at 12:28 PM on August 7, 2008

What's the make/model of your laptop? The method will vary.

For example, I recently reinstalled WinXP on a Sony Vaio PCG-SR33K (no integrated floppy or CD-ROM drive) and found that it will NOT boot from a USB CD-ROM or flash drive, but WILL boot from a USB floppy or Sony's own PCMCIA CD-ROM.
posted by Perplexer at 1:30 PM on August 7, 2008

Use a USB CD-ROM drive or buy a used version of the laptop's native CD-ROM. You can install over a network, or by booting from a Flash drive or by Sysprepping the laptop's hard drive, but those are all more trouble than they're worth for a one-time install.
posted by cnc at 4:24 PM on August 7, 2008

Are you sure the thing doesn't have a recovery partition on its own hard disk? Lots of IBM and HP laptops are like this. There is generally some special key sequence you have to press at startup to get into the recovery thing (on Thinkpads, it's the "Access IBM" key).

"Recovery", by the way, is manufacturer jargon for "scorched earth reinstall".
posted by flabdablet at 6:10 PM on August 7, 2008

Alternatively, if you've not got an external USB CD-Rom or cable, it is possible to do a windows XP install over a network.

Probably not for a novice user but if you know your way around a little, it's not too tricky.

Check out:

From what I remember, the only weird thing you might need to do is get your LAN's DNS to resolve the location where you're storing the Windows files using some specific name.

Failing that, you can actually install windows XP from a USB Flash disk / thumb / stick drive (what is the accepted name for those things?). Again, requires half an hour of messing around but pretty much works like:

Best of luck!

posted by tkbarbarian at 11:34 PM on August 7, 2008

A certain generation of notebooks got smaller than laptops by having an external connector for floppies and CD-ROMs. If yours is that old, it's probably very cheap to get one (like $10), and it will simplify using it greatly.
posted by dhartung at 12:04 AM on August 8, 2008

Maybe try running the CCleaner download (instructions here also) and see if you can get it cleaned up and usable again without reinstalling?
posted by gordcarpwall at 1:07 PM on September 8, 2008

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