Forced to Reactivate Windows after Hardware Change?

Dennis Faas's picture

Infopackets Reader Les M. writes:

" Dear Dennis,

In December 2003, I purchased a copy of Windows XP Home Edition as part of an upgrade to my PC (main board, processor, RAM, etc), from a local dealer in the UK. This software cost me over $100.00 US dollars.

During the subsequent time, I have on several occasions had to format my hard drive and reload Windows, due to otherwise insoluble problems. As you probably already know, every time a fresh copy of Windows XP is reloaded, you are required to activate it online within 30 days.

Two or three days ago, I switched on my PC as usual and waited (and waited!) for it to boot, but it just got to the desktop. Half way through the startup, items in the system tray loaded, but then the system hung, with the 'egg timer' spinning endlessly.

After several attempts, and a return to last known good configuration, I managed to boot the thing and it worked. It worked -- that is, until I shut it down and tried to boot it up again the next day, when the same problem returned.

Once I managed to get it going again, I was greeted by a message that read something like 'Your hardware configuration has changed considerably, so you are now required to reactivate this copy of Windows.'

I was given a limit of three days to register Windows again on a PC that would barely even boot, let alone get me on the Internet. This message was absolute rubbish, because the only recent change I made to my PC's hardware configuration was to replace a faulty case fan.

Eventually I did manage to get online so that I could re-activate Windows. Much to my surprise, I was greeted with yet another message (via the web browser this time) that 'according to our records, you have exceeded the number of times this copy of Windows can be activated with the current license key; therefore you are now required to purchase another license.'

I was absolutely outraged -- though not surprised -- because my brother-in-law had the same issue last year. He's now out $100.

The singularly most frustrating part of this problem is that it is almost impossible to find a link on the Microsoft (or, indeed almost any other major company's) website to send a complaint by e-mail. They obviously don't like to talk to angry people, unless it's over an expensive telephone support line ($50.00 per issue is, I believe, the going Microsoft 'support' rate).

I don't intend to waste too much of my precious breath, slagging off Microsoft (it's just not worth it). Suffice it to say, I think it's disgusting the way they abuse their near-monopoly position to do as they want with (or to) their poor customers.

As a final point, I would like to just pose a question: I wonder what the reaction would be from Microsoft's illustrious leader, if he bought say, a Brand new Mercedes and, two years later, he received a letter from the car dealer, asking for him to pay for the vehicle again. I would say that, for him, the price of the Mercedes would be about 1 billion times less than the $100 is to me.

In the light of the story you did on the Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) fiasco, I thought it would be interesting to find out how many of your other thousands of readers have had similar experiences, and/or feel the same. "

My response:

Actually, I have had a number of people contact me with similar issues.

Having said that: I can't see how changing a case fan would cause MS Windows to require an activation. It's usually a major hardware change (like installing a new motherboard or by doing a complete reconfiguration of all your internal cards) that would cause a "red flag" and/or a notification that your system needs to be re-activated. In your case, it may have been a delayed response to your hardware upgrade from 2003. I really can't say for sure, since I don't know how Windows handles these issues. With that in mind, it would have made much more sense if you would have been notified about reactivating Windows when your PC was upgraded (and not 3 years later).

Nonetheless: I believe that if you paid for a valid activation key from Microsoft (and only Microsoft), you should not be required to pay again -- and that is providing that you haven't had any major hardware upgrades (such as a main board, CPU and RAM, as this effectively constitutes a "new" PC).

At any rate, I have a number of suggestions so that you won't have to re-enter your license key repeatedly in the future:

1. Install Windows XP with Service Pack 2 slipstreamed (fresh).

2. Use a valid license key to register the software.

3. Download all the updates direct from http://windowsupdate.microsoft.com.

4. Install Acronis True Image and make an image backup of your entire hard drive. An image backup will take a 'snapshot' of your computer in its current state: byte by byte (and not file by file). Write the image to CD or DVD recordable and keep it in a safe place.

5. Next time something goes wrong, revert your image. An image backup is 1000 times better than doing a system restore or by reverting the registry, and you should never have to reactivate Windows again. Once again: this is will only work so long that you haven't made any major hardware changes (such as a new motherboard, RAM, CPU, etc). In that case, you will be required to do a fresh install of Windows and may be prompted to purchase a new license key.

The only problem with reverting an image backup of your *entire* hard drive is that you will lose anything that you had on the system after the image was made. You can get around this if you partition your hard drive to include 2 drive letters: a C drive to hold only Windows-related files and set aside D drive for all your user files. If you revert your image to C, only C changes (not D). Therefore, all your downloads and personal files will remain in tact.

Aside from that, I don't have any other suggestions. WGA notifications (as you mentioned earlier) is meant only for people who are using known illegal copies of Windows. In your circumstance (providing you did not share your key), you should not be affected by the WGA desktop notifications (which are different than the notifications you mentioned earlier).

Hope that helps!

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