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How to Install Windows without a CD
Can I use a Recovery Disk on a Different Computer?

Lately I have been getting quit a few emails asking about installing Windows XP from a recovery disk to different computer than the CD is for. Sure you can but not if the disk is from a Dell and you want to use the disk on an HP; or the hardwar is different. Windows will not boot up after it is installed. Here is the email and my reply that prompted me to post this newsletter.

(Sharon): Hi, I am so glad I came upon you on the internet site.  I hope you will be able to help me. Specifically, I want to know if your software and/or written instructions will assist me to install an operating system (and/or other software) from a recovery disk?  Let's say that I have a Dell computer with Windows XP and recovery disks to reinstall XP should I have a need to do so.  Moreover, let's say that I also have an HP with Windows Vista.  I want to remove Vista from the HP and install XP using the XP on the Dell recovery disks.  Can you help me to do that?  What would I need to do so, how would I acquire it, and what would be the cost? Thank you so much for your time.

(Easy Desk): Sharon, You cannot use a recovery disk to install to a different computer. The recovery disk from Dell does not install Windows. Let me explain. The recovery disk merely copies files to the hard drive. The Registry is already created and is merely copied. It does not install drivers based on what hardware you have but rather what hardware came with the Dell. Hence if the Dell had a ViaTech S3G Unichrome IGP card and the HP has a Nvidia GForce 8600 GT card, the recovery disk will only place the files on the hard drive for the ViaTech card. The same goes for all the other hardware.

So after installing Windows from the recovery disk Windows will not boot. You would most likely get a stop error as Windows tries to load the wrong driver for the motherboard.

Your best bet is to see if you have an I386 folder on the XP machine with the file Winnt.exe in it. It will contain 1000 plus files. It should also contain Winnt32.exe.

If you have this I386 folder, I can tell you how to do this. There are several way to go about it. The one thing that will remain the same is that the I386 folder must be a top level folder (E:\I386) and you must have the CD Key. There should be a label on the machine with the CD Key. If not, and you have used the recovery disk at least once; you can get it by using our free CD Key Reader. You will also need to activate XP.

And I must tell you that having the same CD Key (license number) on more than one machine is a violation of Microsoft's License. However, if you have not reinstalled Window XP to the Dell machine since it was new that license number has never been activate. So, I would guess this is legal. I have also seen people install the same CD to a different computer many months apart and MS has activated both machines without a hitch.

You cannot install XP while Vista or any newer versions of Windows than XP are running. So you need to follow one of the 6 methods below.

There is one thing you need to know before you replace Vista, Windows 2008, or Windows 7 with XP is that these newer operating systems create files and folders that cannot be see in the Windows Explorer. These folders are created like a rootkit. So if at all possible you should format.

The first method and best way to go about this is to make a bootable CD and copy the I386 folder to it; if you know how to make a bootable CD. Then simply insert the CD into the HP machine and boot to the CD and install Windows.

The second method is to make a CD without making it bootable and have a Floppy drive.

  1. Copy the I386 folder to the CD.
  2. Make a MS-DOS Startup disk in XP. Insert a Floppy diskette > Open My Computer > right click the Floppy disk drive > select Format. Under Format options , click Create an MS - DOS startup disk.
  3. Download a copy of the Windows ME startup files - these files will load the CD-ROM. Copy them to the Floppy, overwriting the existing files.
  4. Then simply insert the Floppy into the HP machine and boot to the the Floppy drive.
  5. Select boot with CD-Rom support
  6. Once booted and at the a prompt type:SmartDrv and press the enter button
  7. Format the Vista drive to FAT32, type Format C: press enter
  8. Once booted and then type: E:\I386\Winnt.exe (replacing the E with your CD-ROM drive letter) and press the Enter button. You are now installing Windows

The 3rd method can be used if you do not have a CD writer but you have a Floppy drive.

  1. Take the hard drive out of the HP machine.
  2. Install it to the Dell as a slave hard drive or in place of your CD. This will depend on where the drive is a SATA or IDE.
  3. Boot up your Dell
  4. Format the Vista drive to FAT32, type Format C: press enter
  5. Copy the I386 folder to the Vista drive
  6. Follow steps 2 - 6 in 2nd method replacing the E drive with you C drive
  7. Once booted and then type: E:\I386\Winnt.exe (replacing the E with your CD-ROM drive letter) and press the Enter button. You are now installing Windows

The 4th method, can be used if you do have Floppy drive, but you have a CD writer and do not known or cannot make bootable CD

  1. Download PE Bart (it's freeware) or equivalent type of software. I use NTFSPRO not freeware) which is all command line.
  2. Let PE Bart make a bootable CD of PE Bart on the XP machine.
  3. Copy the I386 folder to the same CD.
  4. Insert the CD into the Vista machine and boot to it.
  5. Once into the Bart environment, rename the Windows folder to something like WindowsOld do the same for all the other folders, on the drive. You can delete then later. Do not attempt to format the drive or delete folders with PE Bart. Bart is not stable enough to do the job.
  6. Locate the Winnt32.exe file, run it and install Windows. If you used NTFSPRO use the file Winnt.exe
    *As a side note, the subfolders in the I386 folder are not required to install Windows. Only the files directly in the I386 folder are. But copy them all if possible, you never known what you'll need.

The 5th method is if you have any Windows CD that can install a version of Windows, 98, ME or 2000, and No CD writer or Floppy.

  1. Follow the steps 2 - 5 in method 3, except to be sure to format the drive in FAT32
  2. insert your Windows CD or 98, ME or 2000 and boot to it
  3. Install Windows 98, ME or 2000.
  4. After you have finished, boot into Windows and run the file Winnt32.exe.

The 6th method is if you have a USB memory stick that is larger then 512 Megs any your BIOS supports loading it on bootup.

  1. Make sure the Vista machine supports boot to USB drive. And The USB flash drive must support booting from it (most will). If not you make sure the USB can be made bootable.
  2. From the XP machine; make the USB memory stick Bootable. You can use Bart's mkbt util or a zip version or Bart's. You can also try these 2 HP/Compaq USB Flash Drive Utilities. They work with many other brands of flash drives as well. HP USB Disk Storage Format Tool or HP Drive Key Boot Utility. Or you can get on a 98 or ME machine and format the drive to FAT with the /S switch (Format E:/ /u /s)
  3. Download a copy of the Windows ME startup files - these files will load the CD-ROM. Copy the files to the USB.
  4. If you BIOS supports boot to USB then go to step 11. If not you will need to do steps 5 to 10.
  5. Copy the files from the root drive C:\ - Boot.ini, CMLDR, NtLdr, and NTdect.com to the USB Drive. Removing the Hidden and Read Only attributes.
  6. Copy the XP's I386 folder to the USB drive
  7. Insert the USB Drive into the Vista machine and boot up
  8. Locate the USB drive and notes it's drive letter.
  9. Open the Boot.ini on the USB and change Default=Multi(0)?????, to Default = E:\ (the USB Drive letter) add a line E:\="USB Drive"
  10. Now you need to tell Vista that you are now dual booting. In the Control Panel open the System Applet. Click on Advanced System Settings, In System Properties, select the Advanced tab and the Startup and Recovery, Select Earlier Version of Windows as the default. Make sure you have at least 5 seconds to display the list. If this option is not available you will need to use bcdedit to set it. To do this:
    • In the search window at the start button type CMD
    • In the command window that will appear type bcdedit /create {ntldr} /d “Windows XP”
      bcdedit /set {ntldr} device boot
      bcdedit /set {ntldr} path \ntldr
      bcdedit /display order {ntldr} /addlast
    • If you did everything correct you can go back to step 7.
  11. Reboot and you should be booting to the "Earlier version of Windows" and then to the "USB drive". Now select Minimal boot.
  12. Format the Vista drive(C:\) to FAT32, type Format C: press enter
  13. Copy the folder I386 to the hard drive, and then type C: and press enter. (you do not want to use the USB to install from, too slow) . I have included the File Xcopy in the Windows ME startup files. Type Xcopy /? for help.
  14. Then type: I386\Winnt.exe and press the Enter button. You are now installing Windows


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