Recovering XP Product Key.....

Hi all, I’m back with further PC questions.

I am currently trying to install XP on my Imac using Boot Camp. All was going well until I realised I couldn’t find my original XP Box with the product key on it. After several fruitless hours of searching I decided to retrieve the hard drive from my old PC.

This was my master hard drive and had the same copy of XP on it. So I would have used the product key that I now require. I have not deleted the OS from the drive or formatted it or anything, so it’s all still there.

So I take it to a friend’s house and with his permission install the HD as a slave drive on his P4. Hooray. Now, I shuffle online to find out where the product key might be kept. It’s apparently encrypted in the registry someplace. Bugger. Never mind, there a few programs available that will retrieve it. Fine. But they can only retrieve the key from the OS that they are activated in. Since we’ve booted from my friend’s hard drive with his OS on it, that’s not going to help.

So I need to know how to change it so the machine boots from my HD, so that I can go in and retrieve the key. Then, obviously, change it back again so that my friend can boot from his own HD.

I tentatively fiddled with some settings in the BIOS, but have limited experience dabbling in those particular black arts, so after a few unsuccessful attempts I reset everything I had changed (wrote it down) and came straight here :slight_smile: .

So, since most of my PC related questions posted here turn out to have perversely obvious solutions and are answered within 3-4 replies, who wants to make me :smack: first?

Jumper your hard drive to be Master, unplug the power from his hard drive, and make sure your is plugged in to the right place on the motherboard (primary IDE, if it is an IDE drive). That should do the trick.

Ok, this is where my knowledge starts to become a bit fragmentary.

The cable connecting to the motherboard has one HD plug at the very end and one plug halfway along itself. My friend’s HD is connected at the very end, mine on the halfway plug. I have just tried swapping this arrangement over (including swapping the power connectors) but the machine would not boot so I changed it back.

Excuse my ignorance - does this refer to the plastic caps for the little pins on the HD itself? I placed a cap according to the diagram on the HD label (mine) which corresponded to Master. I attempted to remove what looks like a cap from his HD, but it seems to be either stuck or permanent. I have a feeling this is relevant, I just don’t know how :slight_smile: .

Thanks for the advice so far!

I’m sketchy with the actual names of physical computer parts, so I hope I’m understandable.

Remove his hard drive from the chain (completely) while using yours as the boot drive. Having his on the chain for this procedure accomplishes nothing and complicates the boot procedure.

Make sure your drive is set to “Single” or “master”. Be aware that XP will attempt to re-configure your drive to be compatible with the new hardware platform. You may need the XP CD to be at hand for this procedure in case it needs any unusual drivers.

OK, as far as jumpering is concerned: yes, that’s the little plastic cap on the end… if I read you correctly, it sounds like you have that done (assuming the plastic jumper matches the diagram on the HD for the Master setting).

It shouldn’t matter what position on the ribbon IDE cable that you have your HD plugged into, assuming it’s just a regular old ribbon IDE cable (most likely).

If you simply unplug the power cable to your friend’s HD, it won’t spin up, and the computer will never see his HD. It will be forced to see your HD; and will boot off that. Of course, your HD is used to seeing the hardware config of your computer, so you will see “found new hardware” messages the first time you boot up this way. Most likely, WinXP will install all the hardware all by itself.

This should allow you to boot the computer to your hard drive and OS install, assuming all goes as planned (and I’m understanding the situation right, of course), and then you can run whatever you have there to get to the product key.

Good luck!

Um… yeah, what astro said…

sorry if this is wrong, but doesn’t XP have some sort of protection that stops swapping of hardrives? If I remember things like motherboard
etc have to stay the same or it doesn’t work (won’t boot up)

I have run into this problem before, eventually had to run my “XP” drive as a slave, boot up an old win 97 drive and then format my XP drive via CD…(this was when I got a new computer)

sorry if this is wrong, but doesn’t XP have some sort of protection that stops swapping of hardrives? If I remember things like motherboard
etc have to stay the same or it doesn’t work (won’t boot up)

I have run into this problem before, eventually had to run my “XP” drive as a slave, boot up an old win 97 drive and then format my XP drive via CD…(this was when I got a new computer)

Its kinda hit and miss sometimes it will work sometimes it won’t.

I have swapped out dead motherboards for a totally different mobo/cpu and got everything from a decently working system to windows crashing and burning every time.

You can re-install one version of XP across about three or so complete system board/drive changes. This should not be an issue for you in any case as you shouldn’t need to (re) activate/register XP just to get it up and running as they have a grace period built in.


Product Activation

What programs do this? I was planning a search on this very topic… !

Just Google ‘retrieve xp key’ to find a bunch. I’ve only had to use one once, but Magical Jelly Bean worked for me.

Even if he can get the hard drive to boot into Windows as the primary drive, he still needs to find the product key. I don’t think it’s easily obtained from a running Windows system.


Thanks all, I’m about to try this all this extra advice, so will need to shut down the machine I’m posting from.

Bricker, I used:
Magical Jellybean Finder
ViewKeyXP (scroll down)

It’s she :wink: and it is possible to retrieve the product key with special programs, see my above posts.


I have just tried booting again with nothing plugged into my friend’s HD. I jumpered my drive as Master. It runs through a setup screen then hangs at ‘Disk Boot Failure, Insert System Disk, Press Enter.’ I have tried a few times with the same result and have checked and rechecked all the cables and plugs to make sure it is properly connected.

I gather from the message that it can’t find an OS on this drive, which is strange.
I should note at this stage that I have been able to read the drive I am trying to boot from as a slave drive and all the appropriate data appears to be on there to indicate that XP is still installed on it.

I used this drive as my boot drive on a P2 until recently (when the power supply to the P2 died and I decided I didn’t care enough about the P2, which I was only using to run a few games, to fix it just yet). I have not made any changes to the drive at all since that time. Another drive, the slave I was using on the same P2, is also able to be read by other systems, but has no OS.

Any further advice, or should I try to become one with the idea of being screwed? I have run a number of searches for this problem, mostly encountering tech support threads with limited replys and not much advice.

Perhap you might be able to boot from the XP CD and repair the Windows installation on the hard drive.

That’s a good point, as long as it doesn’t ask me for the product key during the repair…

What is the exact make and model # of the drive?

Make sure your drive does not have separate “master” and “single” settings - on some drives these are different jumpered settings where “master” is only used in dual drive setups.

astro, here is the information on the label:

This is the jumper information :
Slave: NO jumpers
Master: 1 jumper, last pin on right
Enable Cable Select: 1 jumper, second-last pin on right
Master with Non-ATA Compatible Slave: 2 jumpers, last 2 pins on right
Limit Drive to 32gig Capacity: 1 jumper, first pin on left

thanks again…