What Happens to Windows 7 After Changing Your Motherboard

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.

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?

windows7oemretail-oem-box

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.

windows7oemretail-retail-boxes

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.

20 comments

  1. God almighty. I can’t believe people put up with this asshattery. Someday this will be laughed at hilariously, that a mere software company in Washington once held sway over millions by means of extortion it used on PC manufacturers.

    • OEM and retail versions of Windows have existed for a very long time. I doubt anyone will do anything about it.

  2. Not to sound like a noob, but will the OEM version work if I upgrade the processor, but keep the same mobo?

    • Yes it will. Only the motherboard affects everything. You can even buy a new motherboard of the same model and replace it. Just don’t switch models, because that will imply that you have a new system.

  3. While I haven’t yet tried this with an OEM copy of Windows 7 you used to be able to repair a computer with a different motherboard and reactivate the license.  Sometimes it would work with simply internet registration and others you have to do the automated phone method.  If Windows 7 has changed this to where it gets any worse than this then Microsoft needs to be called out on it.  I’m not rooting/voting for piracy but ones right to change a darned motherboard without having to spend 4 times as much money on a propriatary (sp?) motherboard. It also shouldn’t require you to repurchase an OS you have a legal license to and any BS in the agreement shouldn’t limit you to the hardware the OS came with. 1 computer, 1 legal license key, licensed to one user.

  4. before I only know OEM and bulk licenses…. thanks for telling us about retail version. :)

  5. Not sure why anyone would install a new motherboard but keep their same windows installation anyway. New motherboard = new fresh OS installation. I have been building systems for years and would never change a motherboard but keep the same Windows install. New drivers, system files etc are bound to cause conflicts with an existing OS. Backup your files and start from scratch, it’s not as time-consuming as it used to be a few years ago. 

  6. My grandson and his schoolmate have installed ‘Minecraft’ on its own server on my desktop PC
    Would it be safer to make them use a ‘dual boot’ arrangement for security sake and if so could they use the windows OS from a laptop which isn’t used anymore?

    • I’m not certain what you’re trying to ask. Minecraft is a game and isn’t going to affect the security of your computer, if that’s what you’re trying to ask.

  7. i have a copy of windows xp pro 32bit .if i under stand this right i can transfer my copy of xp to my new build as long as the motherboard is the same .my original board was a evga 780i .the problem was the dreaded ff failure (board now dead).ordered a used evga 780i off of fleabay .will rebuild system and do a fresh install .should be ok or not ????

    • As long as you’re getting the same exact motherboard model, and using an OEM version of Windows, you should be fine. If your motherboard failed, you have nothing to lose in the first place by rebuilding the system.

  8. i want to install a new motherboard and processor, but want to upgrade from windows xp to 7, shall i install windows 7 before putting the new parts in or install it after? and is it better to install the 32 bit version or the 64?

    • Install operating systems after you install any new hardware. That’s the rule. 64-bit is preferable, but it won’t work if your processor is 32-bit. Make sure your system supports 64-bit operating systems.

  9. I have 2 failed older optiplex 320,win 7 pro 32bit, 4gb ram motherboards in less than a month. Since I cannot backup those systems even what makes more sense.?

    Upgrading to a new computer kit for I5 3rd generation and do a total rebuild or
    using existing chassis and just replace motherboard and then refit everything to it.
    The problem is I do not know what motherboards will fit my 320 chassis other than what i already have –thus a kit seems more sensible.to me
    Finally how does one get the win 7 xp pro license and software moved over to new system . whether its a replacement or new kit computer?
    DOes anyone know much about the win8 OS and upgrading from win 7 pro

    • If you use a MicroATX motherboard, you’re set for any chassis. Just measure the internal motherboard space in your chassis and then compare it to these measurements: http://www.sqa.org.uk/e-learning/HardOSSupp01CD/page_31.htm

      You can move a licence to a new computer only if you have a retail version. OEM versions are not transferable.

      Windows 7 upgrades seamlessly (perfectly) into Windows 8.

      I hope this answers your questions.

  10. My motherboard died. Still under warranty, after 3 bad replacement mb..they sent me a different bigger upgrade mb. I used to have windows 7 premium, changed it to windows 7 professional. Now, I can’t get access to any of my movies..say’s that ” I need permission,” and that ” I can only play on computer it was recorded on”.. it also says that I need to ” update playready” …when I try it say’s “It’s incomplete”. Will I be able to keep my movies or have I totally lost them all?

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