I’ve been hearing the same question again and again lately from people who are going to replace their motherboards: What’s going to happen to my Windows 7 installation? And why not worry? Microsoft certainly didn’t do a good job of preventing Windows XP from getting screwed up when you replaced the motherboard of a system running the OS. I figured that, instead of answering the question 1000 times, I’ll answer it once right here. The truth is that the result normally depends on what type of Windows installation you have; namely, whether you have an OEM or retail version.
How to Find Out Your Windows License Type
First of all, many people don’t understand the differences associated with Windows license types, except for the fact that OEM versions are cheaper. An OEM version of Windows will allow you to install the operating system within one system’s specifications. The retail version allows you to move Windows to a different computer. We’ll talk more about this later, but let’s first learn how to find out your windows license type if you don’t know what installation you have already. Often times, if you bought your computer from a PC manufacturer, you will have an OEM version. Still, you can never be sure.
Click the “Start” menu, right-click “Computer” and click “Properties.” Once there, you’ll see a product ID at the bottom of the screen. If it contains the letters “OEM,” you have an OEM version of Windows. Otherwise, you have a retail version. Quite simple, isn’t it?
What Happens to OEM Windows Versions?
After you install a new motherboard on your computer, an OEM version of Windows will not work. Simply put, Microsoft interprets a new motherboard as a new system. If you want to transfer the OEM version of Windows to a new computer, you can try your luck and call Microsoft about the issue. Most likely, you’d have to re-install Windows 7 on the system, forcing you to give up all of the programs installed on the hard drive. In other words, you have to be ready to start from scratch.
What About Retail?
Lucky you! If you have a retail Windows installation, you can move it from one computer into another (without copying it on multiple computers at the same time) without issue. As soon as you are done mounting your motherboard, just start the system like you normally would. Windows will take a very long time to start, as it installs the necessary drivers to run with the chipset and motherboard. I’d recommend installing the new motherboard drivers before dismantling the old one. Once you’re done installing everything on the driver disc, you’ll notice that your new motherboard installation won’t affect your Windows startup as much because the computer won’t be overwhelmed with a barrage of driver installations to finish.
Besides the pretty box, there’s a reason why the retail version is almost 3 times more expensive than the OEM version. Still, you must reactivate Windows after you start your computer, to acknowledge that you have moved that Windows installation into a new computer. Remember not to make the mistake of installing Windows in multiple computers at once. Windows licenses only apply to one computer at a time. In this case, there’s a reason why many people prefer Linux.
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