Lost your Windows discs? How to get replacement media, legally

Summary:Did your most recent Windows PC come with reinstallation media? Many do, some don't. But contrary to what you might have read, creating replacement Windows discs is easy, and every major PC maker will supply backup discs, sometimes for free. I have details.

Did your most recent Windows PC purchase come with a set of reinstallation media?

Maybe it did, maybe it didn't. As I noted in my coverage of Microsoft's lawsuit against UK retail giant Comet, big PC makers—the so-called royalty OEMs—are required to include a recovery solution as part of their installation of Windows. But the details of those recovery systems vary by manufacturer, so there's no one-size-fits-all set of instructions.

As part of its initial public response to the Microsoft lawsuit, Comet said it was acting on behalf of its customers. In a statement, the company said:

Comet firmly believes that it acted in the very best interests of its customers. It believes its customers had been adversely affected by the decision to stop supplying recovery discs with each new Microsoft Operating System based computer.

That is, as my friends across the pond would say, bollocks.

My research shows that Comet is acting in its own financial self-interest, overcharging customers for something they can get for free or for significantly less money than Comet is asking.

I've done a brief but thorough survey of options available to customers who purchase name-brand Windows PCs, including several brands sold by Comet. Comet asserts that someone (they don't say who) made "a decision to stop supplying recovery discs" with new Windows PCs. That statement is not supported by any facts.

RELATED POST: 12 ways hardware makers screw up a perfectly good Windows PC

I churn through a lot of PC hardware in my home and office. Many currently available PCs ship with reinstallation media. I have an office full of business-class and high-end consumer machines from Dell and HP, purchased over a four-year period. Every one of them included reinstallation media in the box. When I recently evaluated three 2011-vintage consumer laptops from HP, Samsung, and Sony, I found reinstallation media in every box. My wife's new Samsung Series 9, purchased online from the Microsoft Store, included this System Recovery DVD.

Some cheap consumer PCs don't include disks in the box. But every single PC sold with Windows preinstalled offers an easy way for the end user to create those recovery disks for literally pennies. The option is usually presented to the user as part of the initial setup and is included with the option to recover the PC from a hard drive partition. Here's what Sony's Recovery utility looks like:

And finally, a customer of any leading PC vendor should have no trouble ordering replacement media from the manufacturer of his or her PC, typically at a price well below the £15 charged by Comet (that's $23 at current exchange rates).

For this report, I surveyed five PC vendors that were consistently atop the Gartner market share reports for 2011: Acer, Dell, HP (which also sells PCs under the Compaq brand), Lenovo, and Toshiba.

A few general notes about ordering recovery media.

  • In all the cases I looked at, you have to supply a serial number, service tag, or some other identifier to indicate that you own the system.
  • Your replacement media is for the version of Windows that came with your PC. If you bought a PC with Windows Vista and upgraded it, your recovery media will be for the original Vista install. (Sorry.)
  • Some companies require payment of a nominal fee to cover postage and handling.
  • Most companies limit the number of replacement discs you can order.

This report includes as many details as I could uncover about the policies and procedures that each company follows for its products.

I've divided the available information into three pages:

Page 2: Dell recovery and replacement policies

Page 3: HP recovery and replacement policies

Page 4: Acer, Lenovo, and Toshiba

 

Page 2: Dell's fast, free replacement -->

<-- Previous page

Dell

Dell offered the best experience of any company for which I was able to complete a request. Surprisingly, I was able to request replacement media by filling in a form and supplying a service tag number. Within a few minutes, I had a confirmation e-mail. Less than 20 minutes after placing my order, I received another e-mail indicating that the product was about to be shipped.

And within three hours, I had a shipping confirmation with a FedEx tracking number.

The best part? I didn't have to pay a penny.

If you need replacement media for a Dell PC, start here: Request Backup Disks

As that page notes, all Dell systems sold with Windows 7 include one of two backup programs:

  • Dell Inspirons, Studios, and XPS Systems use DataSafe Local Backup 2.0 as the PC Restore/Factory Image Restore option as of April 22, 2009.
  • Dell OptiPlex, Latitude, Vostro, and Precisions use Dell Backup and Recovery Manager as the PC Restore/Factory Image Restore option as of May 26, 2009.

This page and the two detailed pages for the individual backup programs offer detailed recovery instructions, both for restoring a system from a factory partition and for creating recovery media from that partition.

You can also order discs from the same page. Fill in the form at the bottom, using the Service Tag number (found on the Dell PC) or your order number. The only additional information you have to provide is your name and shipping address. No credit card information is required. Finally, you need to specify a reason, as shown here:

Dell limits customers to one set of backup discs containing the original factory-installed operating system. It also provides disks with device drivers and utilities specific to the system identified by the service tag, with this note:

Please note that Dell will provide you the most up to date Resource disc available. This disc contains the latest drivers and diagnostic tools currently being shipped on new systems. Due to the frequent updates, this Resource disc may not have all the drivers needed for your specific system, especially if it is over one (1) year old.

All in all, it's hard to find anything negative to say about this experience.

Page 3: HP is fast but not free -->

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HP/Compaq

HP has a straightforward recovery process, and its policy for providing replacement media is well integrated into its support pages.

I went through the replacement process for a two-year-old HP Pavilion Elite m9600t. This system was built in the summer of 2009, before Windows 7 shipped. Accordingly, my only option was Windows Vista 64-bit media. For first-class mail, HP's shipping and tax added up to $15.80. (I could have upgraded to 2-day or overnight FedEx delivery for another $6 or $12, respectively.)

Start at this page: HP and Compaq Desktop PCs: Looking for Recovery Discs?

It has step-by-step instructions for creating recovery discs for Windows 7, Windows Vista, and Windows XP. It also offers the option to order replacement discs, but warns that these disks might only be available for a limited time:

If you cannot create a set of recovery discs, you might be able to order a set of replacement discs from HP. HP maintains an inventory of replacement recovery discs for several years after the product has been released. However, because of licensing restrictions, HP is only able to provide these recovery discs for a limited time. If the computer is several years past its warranty period, HP might not be able to supply replacement discs for your computer.

I tried with a 2008 model HP (long out of warranty) and was able to locate replacement media.

The process for ordering media was slightly confusing. The key is to start with the correct model number and then click Software and Driver Downloads, as shown here:

On the next page, you're asked to select an operating system. The Recovery Media link in the results list is only available if you select the Windows version your computer originally came with. If you don't see a "Recovery Media" section, HP advises you to "make sure you are on the correct model number page and select another operating system." That worked for me.

Interestingly, the last section on the page is titled "Finding recovery discs from other Web sites." It contains a warning at the top, in bold type: Try all of the other options in this support document before attempting to order recovery discs from outside HP.

If HP is no longer supplying recovery discs for your model of computer and a recovery disc can no longer be created, you might be able to find a solution outside of HP.

Popular online auction sites and some computer part suppliers might have an original recovery disc part in stock. However, be careful and understand the risks when purchasing recovery discs from any source outside of HP. Beware of sites that offer recovery solutions when they are not affiliated with HP.

Even though HP might not have a recovery disc set available for purchase, search the HP part ordering Web site to find the recovery kit part number that matches your computer. Once you find the part number of the recovery disc, use the number in your searches to get better results.

That's actually good advice. If you can find a part number, you might be able to find replacement disks from a legitimate outside supplier that specializes in parts for models from your PC's maker.

Page 4: Acer, Lenovo, Toshiba -->

<-- Previous page

Acer

I don't currently have an Acer PC in my office, so I wasn't able to go through the entire order flow. If anyone has tried this, feel free to send me any details and I can incorporate them here.

Start at this page: Frequently Asked Questions, recovery media and restoring a system to factory load

Click Show Part Numbers to verify that the Acer model you're working with is covered by this page. If so, you can quickly skim through the bare-bones instructions on using the Acer eRecovery Management utility (part of what the company ambitiously calls its support tools, Acer Empowering Technology). Three sets of step-by-step procedures are included:

  • How to make recovery media
  • How to recover your system from within Windows
  • How to recovery [sic] your system from bootup

Acer provides more detailed instructions, with video tutorials, on these two pages:

If the recovery partition isn't available, you can go to the Acer store to order recovery media. Under the Need a Recovery Disc? heading, click Order RCD.

You can also go to the Recovery Media Purchase Program page directly. That takes you to a form where you enter your 11-digit SNID or 22 character serial number to continue.

A side note: Acer's order page says, "Per Microsoft regulations, requests for Windows XP Pro recovery media are no longer supported." I found at least one other PC maker that noted it had stopped supplying XP recovery media as of July 31, 2011.

Lenovo

Bookmark this link, because it took me forever to find it!

How can I get a Product Recovery CD or DVD?

Lenovo's support pages are chock full of information on how to install, update, and use its recovery utilities. But if you've lost your installation media and the recovery partition is no longer available, you need to go to the Product and Parts Detail page to see if replacement recovery media are available:

Clicking that link doesn't lead to an order form, as it does at HP and Dell. Instead, you have to call Lenovo's support line. And make sure you do this while your machine is still covered under its original warranty: the page that includes the phone numbers warns that you might be charged for the call if your system warranty has expired.

Toshiba

The starting point for any Toshiba recovery option is the Toshiba Acclaim Self-Service page, which includes a Recovery Media link.

If your recovery partition is intact, you can get detailed instructions from two separate pages:

  • To restore the original Windows configuration using the Toshiba Recovery Wizard, follow the instructions in Support Bulletin 98082971.
  • To use the Toshiba Recovery Media Creator utility to create your own reinstallation disks, see Support Bulletin 98082984.

If neither of those options is viable, go to the Acclaim recovery media page and enter your serial number to get started.

Topics: Operating Systems, Software, Windows

About

Ed Bott is an award-winning technology writer with more than two decades' experience writing for mainstream media outlets and online publications. He has served as editor of the U.S. edition of PC Computing and managing editor of PC World; both publications had monthly paid circulation in excess of 1 million during his tenure. He is the a... Full Bio

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