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

Manufacturers sometimes skimp on including installation or driver discs when a system comes preinstalled. I'll review options, and what you should do.

Hey Leo, I just bought a new laptop and I was very disappointed when I found out that my computer didn't have any drivers or cd-roms. As a consumer, can I demand to the manufacturer to send me a copy of the cd-roms system back up? I read about the c:\I386 but I feel like I should have a copy of the system without having to make a copy myself ... am I correct on this?

The only right you have as a consumer is the right to take your business elsewhere if you don't like the practices or service of the vendor you're using. The vendors are actually under no obligation to give you CDs in addition to what's pre-installed on your system, as long as they didn't somewhere state that they would. As we've seen in recent years, they often don't, presumably as some kind of cost cutting measure.

That being said, there's at least one potential confusion in your question that I want to clear up, and before you walk away from your vendor some alternatives that I'd encourage you to pursue.

You indicated that "I found out that my computer didn't have any drivers" - I'm going to assume that you mean that it didn't come with a CD of the drivers. Your computer almost certainly did come with drivers, already installed as part of the pre-installed operating system. What might be missing is a CD or other installation media that you could use should you ever need to reinstall from scratch.

"Your computer almost certainly did come with drivers, already installed ..."

There are potentially three different types of media that accompany a new PC:

  • Windows Setup Disc - this is a disk from which you can setup Windows from scratch, onto an empty hard drive if need be. When present, this disk may also already contain the drivers required for your specific machine. Many manufacturers fail to include this CD, though I firmly believe that it should always be included.

  • Rescue or Recovery Disc - this disc does not contain the operating system and cannot be used to reinstall it from scratch. Rather, this disc typically contains software that can be used to recover the operating system from information such as the C:\I386 folder or a recovery partition on the hard disk. It may also include additional recovery and repair tools, and/or the drivers specific to your machine.

  • Driver Disc - this disc, if present, typically contains only the driver software that is unique to your machine or your manufacturer. The combination of a generic Windows installation disc plus this disc would allow you to install Windows and all the drivers for your machine.

It's rare that a manufacturer won't include one or the other of the last two discs.

As I've advised before, should you find yourself without all of the above, particularly the Windows installation disc, you should make an image backup of your entire machine as soon as possible. This would serve as your re-installation "media" should you ever need to reformat and reinstall.

I have mixed feelings on drivers, though, particularly if you've purchased your machine from a larger vendor that makes their drivers available online.

Even if I have the disc with the original drives I'll often use a re-install as the perfect time to make sure I have the latest drivers anyway. That means, essentially, acting as if I didn't have them, and downloading the latest versions from the manufacturer. Of course, I then save those as well, should I need them again in the future.

In a nutshell, then, my advice is as follows:

  • When purchasing a machine, always specify that you want the Windows installation media included, even if it's an extra cost option.

  • If your machine arrives with Windows preinstalled, but without installation media, take a full image backup as soon as possible, and save that as your reinstallation media for future use.

  • When it comes time to reinstall Windows, consider getting the latest machine-specific drivers online from your machine's vendor, whether or not you have a disc with the originals.

  • Always remember that if you're unhappy with a vendor, you have every right to take your business elsewhere.

Article C3917 - November 8, 2009 « »

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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.

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14 Comments
Alex Netherton
November 9, 2009 11:54 AM

Hi Leo;
My computer came with a hidden partition (Acer Aspire desktop)that contained the setup disk, and I was able to copy this to make a setup DVD. I have used it several times, and it restores the computer to factory defaults including any and all drivers.

I think your writer might be a person who doesn't know much about the workings of a computer. Most computers today have a "recovery partition" which is the same as a CD or DVD, and in most cases can be copied to a DVD or CD for future use if needed.

I had to do this, as I had Mandriva and LILO or GRUB, and it overwrote the boot sector, and when I needed to reinstall Windows, I had to completely wipe the whole drive, including the hidden partition. The setup DVD I made came in handy!

The recovery partition, if it's present, is not guaranteed to have everything you need. There is no standard for what it should or should not contain. And of course it's useless if the hard drive dies or is replaced, since it's only on the original hard drive.
Leo
11-Nov-2009

Lee
November 10, 2009 8:22 AM

Leo,
I plan on updating to Windows 7 (since I qualified for free upgrade), from Vista (new machne). My question is when I upgrade what happens to the recovery partition of my laptop? Does it get upgraded as well or do I just reformat it and free up the space? Other suggestions? Thanks, Lee

The recovery partition is not a part of Windows, and thus is not affected by your upgrade. You'll be left with a Windows Vista recovery partition on a Windows 7 machine - it's unlikely to work, or do what you want. The problem is that recovery partitions are provided by the manufacturer, not Windows, and there is no standard. In your shoes I would actually repartition the machine to remove the recovery partition and make the spec it takes up usable, and after installing Windows 7 take an image backup to use as a recovery point should it ever be needed.
Leo
13-Nov-2009

sirpaul
November 10, 2009 8:30 AM

Ditto with the partition on HP. Although it's not hidden. It also strongly recommends to make your own set of startup disks.

Charles Tilley
November 10, 2009 10:54 AM

The reinstall disks DO include the OS for your particular brand. I bought a PC recently that was a refurb with a new hard drive. It had XP Home preinstalled on it. But the original XP Pro sticker was still on it, so I ran the reinstall disc and was given the option to choose or make a partition. I split the 500GB drive in half, and XP Pro installed perfectly and passed validation with no problem. The program didn't even ask for a serial number. So reinstall disks are a very valuable tool. I have 3 of them and wouldn't take twice what I paid for them.

Just to clarify: not all reinstall disks include the OS. In fact most do not.
Leo
13-Nov-2009

John Sturges
November 10, 2009 12:47 PM

A 4th, or should it be the 1st Option, when buying a new computer, is to take the time to Read The Friendly Manual (RTFM), to see if there is a way to BURN your own Windows Recovery disks. This was mentioned in a previous comment, but, I wanted to elaborate.

Some manufacturers DO "do it right", but as you stated, many don't. And, it's always the first thing the Help Desk asks when you tell them "your PC didn't come with disks".

The trick is:

To exercise this option right away, NOT when your hard drive decides to "go south". Most people don't RTFM, so your 3 recommendations are good to keep in mind, and are often the only choice left.

Just my 2 cents, and I love your newsletter, so keep up the good work.

Silver
November 10, 2009 2:56 PM

I think those manufacturer is included the OEM Recovery into the HDD instead of Discs.
Well, the Recovery contain Boot MBR itself which allow Repairing/Reformating(restore to default factory) for the specific machine.

Ralph
November 10, 2009 3:16 PM

In my experience working with the major name brands: DELL the best, bar none, since for BUSINESS PCs (Latitudes, Precisions, Optiplexes) they will include the OS and Driver DVDs when you have them build your PC--for home versions you may need to ask for them. HP used to provide them but now use the Create your Recovery Disks software which usually pops up as soon as you first boot. HP will mail you discs pre-made, but it costs about $25. Toshiba usually includes the Recovery discs but will mail you copies for a similar fee. I always just get Dell PCs and laptops for my customers--finding drivers is so easy with the http:\\support.dell.com and service tag.
Ralph
http:\\ralph-altman.com

mm
November 10, 2009 3:32 PM

Your defense of the terrible business practices of these companies has just lost you a reader.

Defense? If you say so. I've been fairly clear that I think manufacturer's should include the disks. But be that as it may, people need practical advice when they don't.
Leo
13-Nov-2009

Charles Tilley
November 10, 2009 7:49 PM

To the comment of "mm". I've been reading Leo's column for a while now and on a couple of occasions, he saved my butt. I'm a Dell user, so reinstall disks are no problem for me. But Leo's just telling you like it is, he is not defending anyone's business practices. This is America, so you can choose what you want to read or what sites you get advice from. Leo's runs a straight up column, and I'll be a reader as long as his column is here.

MmeMoxie
November 10, 2009 11:14 PM

I am so thankful, that I build my own computers!!! Having the CD or DVD disks available, is NOT a problem. Plus, with me building my own computer, I have the disks or access to all the drivers of my components, that I chose, not someone else. When I fire up my 'new' computer, I don't have a lot of 'crapware', either, since I chose what I installed.

Now, having said all of that, I do recommend for those who don't know what to do with their computers, when they run into problems/troubles, to purchase a good computer from a reputable company, DELL or HP. Why those 2? I have found that I can access either website and find information on their products, when you are repairing or fixing issues/problems, even download all the drivers necessary.

Of course, first and foremost, you need to have the means to do a 'fresh', clean, full install, in case you have replace or re-format the hard drive. Don't have a Operating System disk? Buy one. I know that they are expensive, but, let's say you only paid $399, plus tax for a whole 'brand new' computer system, OK? Just looking at the price of Windows 7 CD/DVD disk, it is highly doubtful that you will get any kind of 'installation disk'. Otherwise, the cost of your 'brand new' computer would be more like $499 to $599.

Buying a computer brand is no different than buy a car. Check out ALL your options, before signing the 'dotted' line. You can chose all the 'high end' options or simply go for the basic essentials. Plus, a computer will give you just as good mileage, as a car can, when properly taken care of.

Fret
November 10, 2009 11:27 PM

Have I understood it correctly? That if I copy the I386 folder to a dvd I essentially have the Installation Disc that I didn't get with my computer?

Not really. For one thing that DVD won't be bootable, which is something you need. Second, not all manufacturers put the whole thing there. But it can be useful.
Leo
13-Nov-2009

Mike
November 12, 2009 12:21 PM

Just to reiterate what Leo has said, there are no consumer RIGHTS. There are some laws which protect consumers in certain situations, and those are sometimes referred to as rights, but it's a euphemism. They are really just legal protections. Stating the facts does not constitute a defense of them. One does, however, have the RIGHT to decide whether to continue as a reader. Since knowledge (negative or positive) is helpful, I'll continue to be a reader.

Charles Tilley
November 20, 2009 8:28 AM

Well said, Mike. As far as purchasing computers, there are NO rights that I'm aware of that requires the PC company to furnish reinstallation disks. The only exception that I know of is if the ad states that it's included. In that case, you would have rights. In the past, I bought 2 Dell Latitude laptops that came with the OS install disc, plus a Roxio and a Cyberlink Power DVD reinstall discs as well. The new HP MS214 all in one with Win 7 Home Premium that I bought last week did not include discs, but offers a better solution. It has a backup portion on the hard drive, with a couple of choices. You can make a simple recovery disc, or you can make a full fledged backup disc. Also, you can restore the PC to the way it came from the factory by selecting "restore to factory image". This is nice to have. I've already made the simple recovery disc. This weekend, I'll make the full fledged backup disc. And you can set the PC on a schedule to backup. I set mine for once a week on Sunday mornings at 4:00 AM. With Windows 7, things are improving in more ways than just browsing web pages. Windows 7 is the best OS that Microsoft has produced since XP. Finally, all the XP users out there (and there are still many of them) has a chance to step up easily. If a simpleton like myself can learn it, so can about anyone.

cyrus
November 29, 2009 5:29 PM

Leo:
"As I've advised before, should you find yourself without all of the above, particularly the Windows installation disc, you should make an image backup of your entire machine as soon as possible. This would serve as your re-installation "media" should you ever need to reformat and reinstall."
My computer has no discs, has the recovery on a partition, etc.
How do I go about making this "IMAGE BACKUP?"
I do NOT have a writable CD on the machine. I have USB ports, but the computer will not allow me to copy the needed information to an external hard drive.
I do have Firewire on this computer and on another computer that does have a writable CD drive. Can this help in any way?

Use disk imaging/backup software like Acronis or DriveImageXML to create the image to your external drive.
Leo
01-Dec-2009

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