Change the product key on Windows XP

“For most Windows XP installs, you’ll never need to worry about the validity of the product key assigned to your copy of the OS. However, software does tend to get installed without authorization, even in the most carefully managed shops, and so from time to time you may need to reset the XP product key.

For example, perhaps a user installed a pirated copy of XP but now wants to go legal. Maybe you’ve been hired by an organization that installed 100 pirated copies of XP but now has a legitimate volume-licensing key (VLK). Perhaps an end user purchased an additional retail license for XP but needs to use his original CD to install the software. When situations like these arise, changing XP’s product key is often the most practical—or only—solution.”

  • Chris

    I have a question. I have read that if my computer came with XP loaded, it will have a generic key that won’t work for re-installing. I’ve never had to reinstall before but need to now. I have kept all the original documentation and discs and seem to have not received a backup disc.

    If I change my key and then get it, can I use someone else’s disc to re-install or am I just screwed?

  • Marc Erickson

    It’s not necessary to change your key before a reinstallation – even a Repair Installation – and you can use any disc, so long as it’s the same version – the discs aren’t locked to a Product Key (serial number). The generic key is used by the computer’s manufacturer for the initial installation but the appropriate disc will work when used with the Product Key that’s on the sticker attached to your computer.

    That is, if your computer came with Windows XP Home OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer – Windows was installed on the computer when you bought it) , you would have to use a Windows XP Home OEM CD and enter the Product Key that’s on the sticker attached to your computer when Setup asks for it. Or if your computer came with Windows XP Professional OEM you would have to use a Windows XP Pro OEM disc and enter the Product Key from the sticker at the appropriate time. If you used a CD from the retail or upgrade or Volume License version and tried to use the Product Key from your OEM sticker, Setup wouldn’t accept it and wouldn’t go any further.

    You may have to telephone to activate your copy of Windows (it might not activate over the Internet if the manufacturer used a generic key and you reinstall using your Product Key. Don’t worry – the people on the phone have always activated Windows for me when I’ve phoned on behalf of a customer in this scenario (they haven’t asked for a secret password!). 😉

    It’s a shame that the margins in the computer sales industry are so tight that the major manufacturers (Dell, HP, Compaq, MDG, Gateway, etc.) do not supply the OEM media that is available from Microsoft as it makes a Repair Installation a lot easier. You can order it from the computer manufacturer (or Microsoft if the manufacturer is out of business) but it costs $. Or you can order a replacement CD from Microsoft (if the manufacturer refuses to sell you a CD, this is the way to go). This article will give you more information on ordering replacement CDs or new CDs:

  • Heather

    Question does this method work for XP Professional with SP1 or 2? I have a subscription that I may no longer qualify for and I wanted to just purchases XP Pro Licenses and change the product codes on my machines without re-installation will this method allow me to do this?

  • Marc Erickson

    It should work on XP Professional with SP1 or SP2.

  • John Tyra

    A friend gave me an HP Compaq dc7600 but she could not find the XP Professional CD. She had attempted to delete her data and some special programs and had it in a mess. Drivers were missing on just about everything. I was able to download drivers and get the puter up and running but would like to have the operating system in case I need it. She had the OEM number and the Key numbers written down but nothing else. Can you give me any advice?

    Help would be appreciated.

  • vignesh

    i’ve a question.. Is the product key specific for a particular xp sp2 cd…..? can i use any other key while installing xp other than that cd’s product key