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Move a Hard-Drive to Another System and Re-use Windows Operating System Product Key - Reactivate

Updated on January 22, 2015

Transferring a Hard-drive From One Computer to Another.

Here we cover the aspect of licensing and the question of operating system activation after moving a hard drive from one computer to another containing the C: drive letter, which is most often the Windows system drive, to another different system.

For anyone doing this for the first time, the aspect of the actual physical moving of the drive from one computer to another is not so bad at all and is not covered here. It's what happens to the operating system and in particular to the activation status of the Windows installation that is covered.

A typical Product Key Sticker
A typical Product Key Sticker

Windows Re-Activation

Moving the Windows System Hard-Drive to a New Computer

Not so often, we are faced with the situation of needing to move our computer's hard drive from one computer to another. when that time arises, it strikes fear into many as it should. The reasons may vary but more likely than not, we are faced with a computer whose motherboard has past it's most effective days or no longer functions. One of the quickest thoughts to remedy the problem is to move the hard drive to another computer to access the data on or even to make it run in its new hollow home. Although its the quickest thought to enter many minds it's not always the best choice and the reason for this is hardware differences of the old computer to the new. Then there is the other factor, licensing!. Other options for bringing the old system back to life include virtualization. To many that;s still a foreign concept but it works. The option of imaging the source computer's hard drive with a partition level backup program and then restoring that image to the new is of course more technologically challenging.


How to Tell What Type of Windows XP CD or License Key You Have

Determine in advance of moving the drive what Type of DVD/CD or License Key You Have

For folks how are not-so-techie, not all Windows OS CD/DVDs and Licenses are the equal nor the same. There are many different types of OS CD/DVDs available:

  • OEM – Usually sold with the computer more often from the bigger manufacturers
  • Retail – Brought stand alone in retail stores like BestBuy, Staples, etc..
  • Upgrade – To upgrade from a previous operating system
  • Branded – Specifically branded copies from large computer manufacturers like Dell
  • Volume License – Typically used in large businesses, government and educational institutions

The problem of course with different versions is the license key from one OS version typically won't work on another version. If you have an OEM license key, it wont work on a retail disk


Retail, Volume Licencing, or OEM Product Keys

Perhaps the dominating factor to determine whether or not you will have an issue moving the hard drive form one computer to another successfully will the type of product key that is in use on the source computer. Assuming you get past the hardware differences. One way to quickly determine if the source computer’s operating system product key is OEM is by looking at the product key and checking to see if the OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) is part of it. If they are in the product key, then you could very well have a problem moving the drive to another computer. Transplanting the OS drive into a new system may not be successful even if there are no hardware compatibility issues. Let's say for example the product key is retail, not OEM, after moving a hard drive the operating system will have to be re-activated. This is usually done online right from the computer. When a regular retail key for Windows 7 (I suspect Windows 8 too), XP, Vista, and it does not have OEM in the product key, moving the drive stands a better chance of success.

A Call to Microsoft May be Required

Occasionally there is a problem with activating Windows even an OEM license is not the issue. I've had mostly good experiences with this recently and did not have the need to call Microsoft for assistance but also had the unwanted experience of having to call MC licensing support and explain what I was doing. Should there be a problem re-activating online, a call to Microsoft’s license clearing house will helps resolve the issue. If you have a license then you have nothing to worry about and this is a better option than trying to find a pirated one on the web. It's a toll free number and the call does not last long. Many problems can be solved through the automated system. If an agent gets on the line during the call, simply tell them what you are doing - the hard-drive with the Windows operating system was moved to a new different computer

Re-activation Will Be Required

Microsoft has built into the operating system a kind of counter, a sort of trigger, that kicks in with a certain number of hardware changes. This counter/trigger was put into place starting with XP because with Windows 2000 and earlier editions of Windows, illegal copies were being made and used over and over.


Suggestion for Reducing Some of the Hard Drive Move Pain

Upon the first boot-up after the drive has been moved, plug-n-play will detect all the new devices. So expect the first boot-up of the hard drive to take a little time. The target computer should be on the hardware compatibility list. It's highly recommended to download NIC drivers for the computer the hard drive is going to be moved. Have them ready before moving the drive. Have at least the NIC drivers for the target computer.

Assuming the source computer still works and has Internet access, download the network card drive. Being ready with network card drivers is especially important if the source computer just happens to the only readily available computer with Internet access .With the NIC drivers ready, after the drive is moved the NIC driver can work and connect back to the Internet to retrieve additional drivers if needed.

No spindle, platter or read/write arm. It's all chips.
No spindle, platter or read/write arm. It's all chips.

Suggest SSD SLC Drives for New Computers

In the past recent years, there has been a sharp increase in the SSD drives for desktops and servers. Now, there is a difference between drives for servers and those that are designed and intended for desktop use. The difference mainly lies in the usage of the drives in terms of the number of write cycles that they can tolerate before a potential failure of cells that store data occurs. For desktop drives, the common and practical SSD drive is MLC. This solid state technology is mean to be in desktops as it has a shorter number of write cycles compared to SLC drives. The price difference between these two technologies is enormous. If you have not purchased a new desktop are have stumbled across this post while trying to find some answers as to what hardware would be best, I do recommend MLC drives for your desktop and even more so for your laptop. The added bonus for laptops is that bumps and even drops of the laptop cannot hurt this type of drive. The speed gains seen with SSD versus spindle drives is enormous too. If you've come across this hub while searching out information or recommendations for hard for an upgrade, definitely get yourself a flash SSD solid state drive for your hard drive upgrade. It the next best thing to adding RAM for speed.

Warranty and Support

Most often 1 year for desktop and laptop drives

The warranty on drives, spindle drives or solid state, is most often just applicable for a year but there are also drives that can have the warranty upgraded to three years for replacement and support. Many server class drives will have three year by default, desktop and laptop drives usually not. Support will come in various formats. Although I have not had the opportunity to use all brands of solid state drives in production or lab, some drive manufacturers will use remote support software to assist customer with related issues when possible. Chat is another commonly used method to initiate support. Remote support is usually the method for manufactures to assist and aid their end-users through the web. The support and return policy is most important with solid state drives because when solid state drives begin to fail, it is not a gradual decline, they just cease to work. The failure makes it improbable that any web based remote support is going to helpful and generally requires the drive to be replaced.


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    • pctechgo profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from US

      ib radmasters, these services are mostly improper. A Microsoft Windows operating system product key is required to activate the operating systems. A service like this does not, from my knowledge, correlate to any of Microsoft's EULAs or distribution models. This means the product key most likely not proper and so therefore could be deactivated at some point in time. It could be a corporate key which won't de-activate but because will be limited in some way. Another likely method for performing this type OS service will be the activation process has been altered for the installed Windows 7. This method too often "catches up" with the computer owner and they find themselves with a "not genuine" message on their desktop at some point in the future.

    • pctechgo profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from US

      bdeadcarter ,

      Moving a drive from a Dell to an HP or vice versa is going to produce lots of errors and a system that will most likely not boot from the onset. With some work, you may be able to get the operating systems to boot after moving the drive. The cause of this is that most major manufacturers, such as Dell and HP, have a branded (OEM) version of the installed OS. They image their computer drives to have an operating system with drivers for their products. The HAL, hardware abstraction layer, which is unique to the hardware and will certainly cause a blue screen post hard drive move. You can attempt to fix this situation and drivers for the target manufacturers system in place by running a repair installation of the operating system once the drive has been moved to the new hardware. Again, this will require a lot of work and patience. In addition, it will require an operating system CD/DVD to be available to boot from to start a repair environment.

      The product key will not work. You will need a new product key and will have to re-activate the system.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Can a hard drive from an hp be used in a dell safely

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      My Dell Optiplex 755 just died. It’s not the hard drive; it’s the motherboard. Real emergency for me as it’s tax time for my wife’s business (Sept 15 is deadline), and I need to boot up that hard drive to get to all the bookkeeping information.

      So, I just bought a used “hollow” Optiplex 755on ebay. Everything other than the harddrive. So, when I put my hard drive into it, will it boot up? What should I do?

      My good hard drive has Win XPPro SP3 only. It’s 99% certain to have an OEM product key from Dell, which I have because I had marked it down three months ago from Belarc Advisor. (When I bought the original Optiplex 755 new from Dell, it was going to come with Vista, but I asked Dell to downgrade to XP Pro. The old dead Optiplex 755 has a Vista sticker on its case, but its Vista product key is different from what Belarc Advisor shows in the hard drive for XP.)

      FYI – I am now looking to buy a Win 7 Pro64-bit machine for my home office, but I don’t have the time to move everything due to my tax deadlines. I really need the old hard drive to start up ASAP and work for the next month!! I just need help to get past any issues when I boot it up in a replacement, similar PC.


    • pctechgo profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from US

      Although there are many levels of licensing. One of which would be a volume license that costs a little less. However, the volume license is supposed to be used within an enterprise or organization, not distributed to many non-connected separate independent individuals. Since the cost of a retail license is much more that 45.00, it is likely they are using a volume license key - perhaps not even their own. By using a "loose" product key, they maximize on profits.

      End users who bring their computers to such places are typically unknowing of the facts and to them they see a great deal. As long as their systems keep working, I guess they are of course happy. Microsoft can disable volume license keys - all at once. I have seen it. All installed instances of the OS with a disabled key reverts the system to requesting a valid key.

    • ikepius profile image


      6 years ago from Twittosphere: @ikepius

      Hey, I use Win xp on my hp nc6000. Thing crashed and doesn't seem to want to reload windows. Is is possible to load the xp on my hard disc using another machine and then transfer the hard disc back to my nc6000? will that work?

    • pctechgo profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from US

      45 dollars is a very, very luring price that can make anyone jump at it. I would even go for it if did not have access to everything I need. If it sounds to good to be true, it usually is. My best guesstimate is that a volume license key is being used. No doubt win 7 will activate and work. The question however is for how long? Microsoft keeps track of usage of open license keys more so than ever and have implemented tracking so that if a key is determined to be out in the "wild", meaning it's loose on the web and being abused, they can invalidate the key and deactivate all such installations. Still, it is temping and for just 45 dollars I can easily understand why anyone would take the offer.

    • ib radmasters profile image

      ib radmasters 

      8 years ago from Southern California

      Interesting article.

      I have heard that some people are getting Win 7 installed on computers that they built up themselves. They then take it to people that advertise a service of installing the OS for nominal fees like $45.

      What is your take on this kind of service.



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