Windows XP install code won't work

I bought a Dell with Windows XP about three years ago and my computer had crashed and I had to reformat it and reinstall XP, but it doesn’t work. I was told by Dell and M.Soft that my code number is on a sticker on the computer, but the one there won’t work. Fortunately, I had a copy of Vista to install, but I was wondering if there was a way to get the XP code? Calling M.Soft/Dell is a nightmare in that you go through voice mail jail and when you do get someone you get the same advice; on the sticker. I need help.

Are you trying to reinstall the same edition of XP? Home and Professional have different sets of license keys. Make sure that the edition listed on the sticker on the computer is the same as the one you’re trying to install.

There’s some kind of trigger on Microsoft’s activation server that means activation codes for windows can only be used a few times within a certain period, or they lock up - likewise, if there are a number of significant hardware changes, the activation process might think you’re trying to install it on a different machine.

If it’s the same Windows license you’re trying to reinstall on the same hardware, you’re going to need to persevere in talking to MS over the phone - explain that the hardware manufacturer was unable to assist, explain that you’re reinstalling after a complete wipe of the system - they should be able to provide an activation key (you tell them the key on the sticker and a string that the activation wizard produces, they read back the activation string - have a pen and paper ready).

The alternative is to buy a new copy of Windows and install that. There’s no workaround for activation - at least, you’re not going to find it on this message board.

I’ve been through this exact same situation. Dell, instead of giving you a CD, puts your copy of XP on a partition of the hard drive. So what do you do when the hard drive dies? Your copy of XP is gone and there’s no getting it back. If you have 6-8 weeks to wait, Dell might mail you a CD if you ask the right person nicely. But by and large you’re probably screwed… unless you can find an OEM copy of Windows XP that is Dell-specific.

Fortunately, these copies do exist and can be found in any of the usual places where you might look for such. It’s not even illegal really. Microsoft doesn’t care where you get the software from. They only care about that key. So once you find an Dell OEM copy of XP, you’re golden. But no other copies of XP will suffice.

It’s nowhere near as strict as that, and you won’t have to buy a new license. I’ve done many of these types of install. If you reinstall with an OEM key you just tell them you’re reinstalling, and they give you the activation code. Reinstallation is not a violation of the OEM license as long as it’s the same machine, which in the OP’s case is true. Nowadays, you may not even get a real person. A recording will probably ask you the questions.

You’ll need an OEM CD to reinstall. You don’t need a “Dell” CD either. I’ve done this type of install with regular XP discs. It’s Retail or VLK (“corporate”) CDs that won’t work out of the box. If you can’t find an OEM CD, this site will show you how to “convert” a XP CD to OEM.

I also recommend you download the drivers from the Dell website. You can look up the system by service tag. At the very least you should have the Ethernet driver.

Not sure if it has relaxed a bit since I last did it then (admittedly, a year or two ago) - I had to insist quite strenuously that I had already tried talking to the hardware vendor, and that I was reinstalling on the same hardware.

I think your expectations concerning calling MS is not based upon reality. I had the same issue (albeit with Vista) yesterday. Called the MS activation number and had a rep on the phone in under a minute (only VRU was a prompt asking which OS I was calling about). Total conversation and issuance of a new key was less than 5 minutes.

Well, clearly we have collectively experienced some variety in the service.

This hasn’t been the case for me. One of the first things I do whenever I get a new PC (and once or twice a year after that) is to take out my plain old retail XP Pro disc, format the hard drive, and reinstall a non-OEM copy of windows. I always use the OEM product key from the sticker on the PC. I’ve never once run into a situation where the OEM product key was tied to a special OEM copy of windows. Maybe it happens, but it’s definitely not universally true. And specifically, I’ve done this with many Dell machines.

Also, several times I’ve had product keys stop working and I called Microsoft, expecting to have to argue with them that I’m not trying anything shady, and they have always simply flipped a switch or something on their end that made the product key work again. Never a bit of trouble.

Just curious: Am I the only one who backs up the hard drive of a new computer the minute it comes out of the box so that I always have a copy of the hard drive and its restore partition to use later in case of trouble?

I sure don’t do that. I want all that OEM shovelware off the machine pronto.

Oh, I delete all the stuff I don’t want after I actually boot the machine, I just want to make sure I can always take it back to exactly the way it was when I got it.

Actually, I got one in about 4 days after requesting it via an online screen. All I had to tell them was that I was replacing my hard drive with a new, larger one. (And it turned out I didn’t actually need that after all – I was able to transfer stuff from the old hard drive.)

But now I have that CD if it is ever needed. And I’ve suggested to friends with Dells that they request this in advance, even if they have no need at present. (Dell will send you one copy for free, after that there is a charge. I think others have similar policies.)

Just so that we’re clear on this, what sort of disk are you using to install XP? Is it a MS XP disk? or is it a Dell Restore disk, that returns the computer to factory settings?

If you are using an XP install disk, then it should come with a license key that you can use. Note that this will be a slightly different version of XP than the pre-installed version, and will have incompatible keys.

If you are using a , then it needs information stored in a hidden partition on your hard disk. By formatting you may have erased or damaged this partition, at least partly, making restore impossible.

All the Dell machines I’ve seen both at work and at home have always come with a plain OEM Windows CD instead of a proprietary craptastic “factory restore” CD that restores all the crapware along with your OS. In fact, this is one of the major reasons I prefer Dell over other vendors.

Dell reserves a very small partition on the hard drive for its BIOS, but that is not a “restore partition” like the way many other vendors set up their system. I always just delete it and re-partition with one big partition for the whole drive, then reinstall from the Dell Windows CD, and I’ve never had any problems.

If you’re using the Dell OEM CD on a Dell machine, there should be no need to manually enter any key at all. The OS will automatically be installed pre-activated and it should all just work.

If you have activation issues and you genuinely haven’t installed onto multiple PCs, do phone activation. Answer no to the questions “Was this software preinstalled” and “Is this software installed on other computers” and you’ll get a working activation code.

MS are trusting you not to lie, so please don’t!

That’s the Dell business line. Their consumer line does come eith only a restore disk, and contains a restore partition on the hard drive, just like other vendors.

Ok, I stand corrected!