Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.

Windows XP is no longer being officially sold by Microsoft. There are copies available, but you need to be careful.

I never got a Windows XP setup CD and now I want to reformat and reinstall it. My machine can't handle Windows 7, so how do I go about getting a Windows XP disk?

There's no doubt that the sun is setting on Windows XP, but that doesn't mean that it's dead. At the beginning of this year, there were still more machines running XP than all other operating system combined!

If you find yourself in a situation where you absolutely need a Windows installation disc and your computer didn't come with one, your options are very limited indeed.

Well, your legitimate and legal options are, that is.


Some larger retail stores still carry Windows XP. Or they will until they run out.

For example, as I write this, Amazon has copies of Windows XP Home Full and Windows XP Pro Full editions. Upgrade and other editions also appear to be available.

"As always, it's worth considering an upgrade to Windows 7 ..."

Other retail outlets may have copies as well.

The good news: Amazon is a reputable source and XP is available.

The bad news: it's expensive.

Online Auctions

Or, more specifically, eBay.

I've hesitated to recommend eBay or the secondary market in general because of the risk of fraud and/or not really getting what you think you are.

As retail copies of Windows XP dwindle in supply, however, my assistant convinced me that it's time to consider the alternative with these caveats:

... if you stick to a seller with a few hundred or thousand sales, not purchases, and close to 100% satisfaction, the seller is not usually going to jeopardize his reputation with a pirate copy. In addition to that, if you pay with PayPal, you can get a refund pretty easily if the software turns out to be bogus.

Those are actually good guidelines for purchasing from eBay in general, but they are particularly appropriate in this situation.

What NOT to get

Don't buy OEM versions if at all possible.

You want full retail products.

The difference is simple: OEM versions of Windows are licensed only for sale with the original machine that they came with. Selling them again is in violation of that licence and illegal. I believe that many OEM copies of Windows on the market are nothing more than the disks that shipped with a machine containing a pre-installed copy of Windows. They may never have been needed, but they were sold with that machine and only that machine.

You can usually tell OEM discs by the packaging - they're often in sleeves with the computer manufacturer's name on it and the discs themselves are often printed with the manufacturer's identification.

Legalities aside, there's a very good chance that an OEM copy of Windows won't work on computers other than the brand, specific line, or model that it was intended for.

If you must purchase an OEM copy, at least make sure that the seller has a good refund policy if it doesn't work and that the copy that you buy matches the computer that you intend to use it on.

What you won't get

As I said, the sun is setting on Windows XP. As a result, one thing that you won't get is support from Microsoft.

You'll get a very limited number of security updates for a while, but you're on your own for the most part.

That might well be acceptable but it's important to know that going in.

As always, it's worth considering an upgrade to Windows 7 or hardware that supports Windows 7. If all else fails, you might consider some of the free Linux distributions, such as Ubuntu.

Article C4866 - July 6, 2011 « »

Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

Not what you needed?

July 6, 2011 11:17 PM

If he is already running XP then all he needs to do is write down his key and download the same version from the net. If you look hard enough you will find untouched copies as long as you have a key of course.

Mark J
July 7, 2011 1:54 AM

There are no legal versions of XP available on the web. Downloading a pirate version may be buggy full of malware and it's difficult to tell which one would be safe. It's a kind of Russian Roulette.

July 7, 2011 11:05 AM

@Mark J
Actually, Microsoft has made available legal and legitimate copies of their operating systems to authorized redistributors including MSDN, TechNet, and other approved (but non-Microsoft) sites such as Digital River and My Digital Life. The software is in ISO form and needs to be burned to a disc. Of course, the end user needs a valid Product Key in order for the operating system to pass muster with Windows Genuine Advantage.

Greg B
July 7, 2011 1:59 PM

"if you pay with PayPal you can get a refund pretty easily if the software turns out to be bogus."

Not the case in my experience. Paypal sided with the vendor when I was sold bogus software, concentrating solely on whether the vendor delivered the software. My argument that they sold me pirated software and made false claims about it were completely ignored by PayPal.

The crooks were allowed to keep my money and PayPal refused to look at ANY evidence regarding the crooks copyright violations or misrepresentations.

I even went to appeal on it, but PayPal's position was the same. Did they promise software? Yes. Did they deliver software? Yes. Whether the software was pirated or misrepresented did not matter to PayPal.

Mark J
July 7, 2011 2:14 PM

I know MS licenses resellers to distribute downloadable versions of its current OSs. In fact, I bought Windows 7 through Digital River, but there is no legal source of XP as a downloadable file. And even if it had existed before, it would no longer be available, as Microsoft has taken XP off its available software inventory list.

July 8, 2011 5:29 AM

I have built several computers and have always bought OEM versions of Windows from Newegg and have never had a problem. Have always activated first time. The downside is that once activated an OEM version is always attached to that computer (i.e. the motherboard), and one gets no support from Microsoft. I recently installed an OEM Windows 7 on my HP notebook in order to have a clean install without all the HP stuff. That said, Newegg isn't selling Windows XP anymore, OEM or any other version.

July 9, 2011 2:50 PM

Does he have a sticker on the computer's case with a Windows product key? I think that makes all the difference. If he has a properly obtained key, then he has a legal right to run the software and where he gets the software from doesn't matter. Borrow a Windows disk from a geek friend (everybody should have at least one of those).

Dean Bower
July 12, 2011 8:57 AM

Dan (July 9) has it correct. I have done that several times for friends using MY purchased-from-Microsoft licensed copy!! Look for that sticker!!

July 12, 2011 11:18 AM

Of course Dan is correct, the person with the quandry said "reformat and reinstall", doesnt Leo read what the person says before replying?
The person either has a sticker or if he doesnt then he can use Magic Jelly Bean and then just borrow the appropriate disk (OEM, Retail etc) from a friend or colleague.
All totally legal.
It does amaze me someone can write an article in response to a problem and not grasp the fundamentals of that problem.

July 12, 2011 11:43 AM

If you have a computer bought with pre-installed software, but no discs were given to you, the computer manufacturer will supply them. You need to give the manufacturer the serial number of your machine. I have two HP Compaq machines and have obtained discs for both from HP; their service is second to none. Bad news though is that one disc has an unexplained function, there are no instructions as to it's use nor, for that matter, anything to tell one what to do with any of them that do not run on insertion. Aagh. So I bought your book about maintaining XP, and hope to find a solution.

July 12, 2011 12:17 PM

I used my old OEM copy of XP (which I was no longer using myself as I had just bought a new Windows 7 PC) to reformat and reinstall XP (using my own product code) on a neighbour's PC with no problems whatsoever, i.e. I managed to download all service packs and security updates for them. Now, whether this was only because there was currently no other PC running this copy I have no idea (plus I was no longer using the PC the OEM copy came with either) but it certainly worked!

July 12, 2011 12:40 PM

I bought my personal copy of Win XP Pro and, over the years have installed it on my various machines after up-grading the equipment or a serious melt-down where I had to scratch from start. Microsoft screamed and hollered about my using it on 'different' computers but I contacted them and advised them of what I did. After the p*ssing contest was over, I'm still running my original XP PRO.
As far as installing from somebody' else's CD the activaction code is what's important. There's a sticker with the code on the jewel case of my copy that's valid for Xp Pro - my purchased code and I can load XP Pro from Aunt Betty's cd.

Loren Barrett
July 12, 2011 1:50 PM

"If you have a computer bought with pre-installed software, but no discs were given to you, the computer manufacturer will supply them. You need to give the manufacturer the serial number of your machine. I have two HP Compaq machines and have obtained discs for both from HP; their service is second to none."

"The person either has a sticker or if he doesn’t then he can use Magic Jelly Bean and then just borrow the appropriate disk (OEM, Retail etc) from a friend or colleague."

First, NOT all manufacturers will provide a disk for your machine. HP will. Gateway will NOT for any machine out of warranty. And if it is not a brand name machine, no can do.

If the machine is accessible, use to download & run the Advisor program. This program will provide all the license numbers for all your software. Save the results & Print it.

This is the first instruction I give all computer users. Once you have your legitimate license number, you can reinstall using anyone’s disk & then change the number. Lots of instructions on line to tell you how. Easiest is to call Microsoft for one of their products.

The second item is that most machines for years have NOT provided the restore disks. You have to make your own. Can’t believe how many service calls I’ve made where the owner does not even know they were supposed to make them. Or they bought the machine from a local store that did not provide the OEM disk.

If you can do a reinstall from the boot line using the files on the separate partition, do so & then make the restore disks.

July 12, 2011 2:57 PM

you can also run belarc advisor on your machine, it will output the codes and registry key associated with the installation you currently have. Using any other XP CD with YOUR code and registry key is legal. You will also get the keys for all other software currently on your machine to reinstall as well, regardless of whether you have the original packaging and keys stored and handy.

john neeting
July 12, 2011 5:32 PM

I was working for the government when XP was issued free to all Government departments with no restriction of machines loaded as it had the unrestricted activation code which could be used for all eternity. I kept this original disk, backed it up add infinitum and use it still today. This was a blatent mistake really by MS as now they are stuck with having to support it until such time as they officially declare they will not. Even when they will not support it, it is still an unrestricted legal copy the world can use as it's released garenteed to everyone that it is LEGAL and can be given away to anyone to use [ it can even be upgraded free to 3 ].
A stupendous 1st issue blunder by MS which they regret but it's too late. There are 3 official copies of this XP with 3 activation codes which went viral on the net when it was given to all government departments. Smartpeople kept these copies even when they left the department [ like me ] It's the only, unrestricted FREE copy of XP in existance today.

July 12, 2011 6:58 PM

Hi there, firstly thanks for all the good info I get from you, very much appreciated.

Regards this specific subject, 2 points.

1) Amazon is not failsafe. I bought a full version of XP at about US$250 or so. It arrived in the correct box with the hologram. When I installed it I was told it was not genuine by the Microsoft genuine checker thinggy. I went back to the seller, no reply. I went back to Amazon and they said they could not help as the purchase was more than 90 days old. What to do ?. I contacted Microsoft and had to go thru a whole bunch of hassles, install the software again, check genuine or not. Only then can you make an official claim to Microsoft. Eventually after 6 months I did receive a replacement.

2) Over the years I have bought several OEM versions not locked to any particular computer. They are much cheaper than buying a 'full' version and all have worked perfectly, no problems at all.

July 25, 2011 8:52 PM

I had two used Dell laptops; one given to me and one which I bought as non-working. It wasn't too hard to get Dell to provide XP OEM disks for one. For the other, I had to jump through major hoops to get it. It seems that Dell does not have a good process in place for transfer of ownership. A Dell PC seems to be tied forever to the original owner, so if you want anything, you better know who that was. I did pay a nominal fee for both (around $20). Don't lose your original install disks, especially if you computer is getting old. It could be difficult to get replacement disks for the OS and drivers. I would love to convert all my systems to Windows 7, but the hardware won't support it or it is just too expensive.

August 4, 2011 9:05 AM

I am another luddite who will only leave XP when forced to do so at gun point. I also never buy branded PCs, prefering to have my machines spec built to my requirements and supplied totally software free. I purchased an OEM copy of XP about 6 years ago (with a spec build box), and have since installed it on 3 different machines (one at a time so there is ever only one copy running) with absolutely no problems apart from several hours pulling all the updates down from Microsoft. To the best of y knowledge, this is perfectly legal, and there are still loads of OEM copies available. Most suppliers will insist that you buy some piece of computer equipment as they are not allowed to sell just the disc and Microsoft will terminate their license if the get caught doing it..Good luck

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