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

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.

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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 -->

<-- Previous page

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

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292 comments
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  • RE: Lost your Windows discs? How to get replacement media, legally

    Right on Ed! I've had the same experience as you where I've purchased 3 different Dell systems in the past 3 years; an HTPC, a desktop replacement laptop and an Alienware netbook. All 3 came with the recovery disc sets along with a recovery partition. <br><br>Working in the service counter of a large retailer several years ago, you are right that with certain lower end models, they only give you the option to make your own. If Comet is like other stores, they're using this to get more revenue from customers by charging a labor fee for "creating recovery discs". Pretty much, it's an employee just sitting in front of a new system using the same setup utility to generate these discs. Like with any new PC's, retailers are taking advantage of the technically ignorant consumers by overcharging them for a task that they should, with a tiny amount of patience, be able to figure out themselves.<br><br>Sorry Comet, this more in the best interest of your accountants and investors, not your customers. But then again, if customers is so lazy that they refuse to even learn the basics of using the products they purchase, maybe they deserve to lose that money.
    Those who hunt Trolls
    • RE: Lost your Windows discs? How to get replacement media, legally

      @Those who hunt Trolls ...yep, you can't legislate stoopid.
      dwhipple
    • RE: Lost your Windows discs? How to get replacement media, legally

      Are you sure Dell don't charge? Because in The UK at least they charge 5 pounds to have a recovery disc supplied with laptops (well worth the money IMO, even though it should be free). Thankfully this is a standard Windows 7 installation disc but locked to a Dell BIOS. In my experience all missing drivers were added painlessly by Windows Update, most Windows worked out during installation.<br><br>The trouble with Recovery Discs is most are merely images of the crap install they originally gave you. So you gain little by using it. All companies should offer a proper Windows installation disc. The Recovery Discs don't offer any of the Recovery options Microsoft include with standard discs and only let you wipe and re-load. Which can be way OTT.<br><br>Recovery Partitions are a joke because lets face it the average user hasn't got clue how to create recovery discs and even more don't care enough to check.
      bradavon
      • RE: Lost your Windows discs? How to get replacement media, legally

        @bradavon
        I'm in the US, and I got replacement discs for my Inspiron Duo for no charge. That was just a couple of months ago. I only had to fill out a form with my service tag # and an explanation of why I wanted the discs. They shipped them overnight. It's possible that whether they charge depends on location as well as which product line the machine is from. I would have been happy to pay a nominal fee had there been one.
        CWatkinsNash
      • RE: Lost your Windows discs? How to get replacement media, legally

        @bradavon
        The best solution I've found is a Seagate external drive and Seagate DiskWizard software (a version of Acronis). I update and configure my PC the way I want (folder options, settings, activated, etc., but no personal information), then make a back-up drive image onto my external drive (which is not kept connected to my PC). When I want to reinstall the image I also do all updates and make another back-up image, saving the "day 1" image and the most recent back-up. I find this a reliable solution and it saves me hours over reinstalling everything. When I decide to build a new PC, I install the "day 1" image on the old one, update it to current and usually give it away.
        rob07601
      • RE: Lost your Windows discs? How to get replacement media, legally

        @bradavon When ordering a Dell, on-line, one of the options is for Recovery Media. I believe the price is $15.00 (from memory so don't hold me to it.) That is certainly less than ??15.00.
        JAG39
      • RE: Lost your Windows discs? How to get replacement media, legally

        @CWatkinsNash: Thanks. I've not tried ordering replacements but I guess if it's 5 pounds (7.70 USD) to ship it with the original laptop, it's the same to get a replacement.

        I have absolutely no faith in DVD-Rs/DVD+Rs (they just don't last) for important files like a Windows installation. A proper disc is essential.
        bradavon
      • RE: Lost your Windows discs? How to get replacement media, legally

        @JAG39 and ScorpioBlue: That's essentially my experience. You have to pay for recovery media.

        It may depend on the product line, my brother ordered a more expensive (same series though) laptop and his came with it, my Mum had to pay (only a fiver though).

        To be frank though, as it's a proper Windows 7 install, it's well worth it. All I got with my Toshiba laptop was a next to useless disc that only allowed me to completely wipe and reinstall Windows.
        bradavon
      • RE: Lost your Windows discs? How to get replacement media, legally

        rob07601 So you sell or give away multiple pc's with the same product key??
        jimr_r
      • RE: Lost your Windows discs? How to get replacement media, legally

        @rob07601: What program are you using for imaging? Surely you're not using the same key for all your giveaways. Or do you have a corporate one with multiple licenses?
        library assistant
      • RE: Lost your Windows discs? How to get replacement media, legally

        @bradavon The other thing that makes recovery partitions a joke is the fact that the main reason people need to recover the system is due to a bad virus infection and I have seen a couple of computers where the infection had spread to the recovery portion as well. Or the computer is out of guarantee and the hard-drive fails or becomes damaged due to a nasty bump while it it in the process of reading or writing as this can damage the reinstall part of the hard-drive to!
        NZJester
      • Replace restore disk for my XP

        @bradavon Online at emachine -- my pc's mfgr. -- I was informed that Microsoft has discontinued distribution of the Windows XP restore disk. IS there a way to get one?
        birdmanx1x@yahoo.com
        birdmanicx
      • RE: Lost your Windows discs? How to get replacement media, legally

        I am also in the US, and can note that Dell doesn't charge to send you any disks you might need for your computer. I was actually just on the phone with them (following up on a warranty covered part swap), and they are sending me the Windows 7 reinstallation disk, and the disk that has a back up of drivers and programs, free of charge. I've been able to do this with every dell computer I've had in the past 10 years.
        Molly Barist
    • RE: Lost your Windows discs? How to get replacement media, legally

      [i]Are you sure Dell don't charge?[/i]

      They charged me $7 for including them in with a Precision M4500 and that was a year ago. If they automatically include them now, that's great.

      [i]But then again, if customers is so lazy that they refuse to even learn the basics of using the products they purchase, maybe they deserve to lose that money.[/i]

      How do you know they're "lazy"? Maybe they just don't know how to or don't think it's important enough. Not until the machine gets broken. Then they wind up getting somebody else to restore it.

      Not everybody out there is a 'savvy' as you are. Doh.
      ScorpioBlue
      • RE: Lost your Windows discs? How to get replacement media, legally

        @ScorpioBlue Strange, very strange you say that you charged $ 7 for a recovery disk from Dell! I have two Dell laptops purchased at different times and both came with the recovery disk inside the box, including CDs of drivers and applications.<br>Obviously did not come for free, must be included in the price of the computer for sure. When you buy a computer everything is included in the price (recovery disc, drivers, support and so on). At least here in my country is so when you buy from an honest dealer.
        SCBright
      • RE: Lost your Windows discs? How to get replacement media, legally

        @ScorpioBlue I bought a Dell Inspiron over five years ago and it had Win XP on it. Dell said that I do not need the backup disks as there was a recovery partition on the HDD. Two years after owning the laptop I had need to recover the entire system and, guess what, no recovery partition! Dell wanted me to pay for a full Windows XP installation disc and then download the pre installed apps from their web site. This would have cost me approx 75GBP at the time. I installed RedHat Linux instead, and it still works fine. I doubt I will ever buy another Dell computer, ever!
        gazzerjay@...
      • RE: Lost your Windows discs? How to get replacement media, legally

        Hey ya'll,<br><br>If you buy a new machine from Dell, the discs are only 7 dollars. That was a year ago. They might be for free right now but I know they weren't automatically included unless you asked them for it.<br><br>I also had another older Dell that was still under warranty where the discs were missing, but I still had Dell's service tag number under the machine and they sent them to me for free, This is the U.S. so maybe the UK has different rules.<br><br>They sent two discs. A bare bones Windows 7 Home Edition OS disc and a separate disc for the drivers that were specific for that machine. However, that disc had older drivers on it so I then go to Dell's website, enter the service tag number at their drivers download page and it will present you with the latest XP, Vista or Win7 drivers specific to your machine.
        ScorpioBlue
      • SCBright, It depends on what you buy

        @SCBright
        from Dell's consumer side -
        [i][b]Your system does not come with an operating system recovery disk but does include DataSafeTM Local which allows you to create your own recovery disk or USB key[/b]. Please visit www.support.dell.com for more information.[/i]

        The systems I buy for work on the corporate side all come with CD Media.

        But I have never seen Dell cahrge $7.00 for the disks. You just had to choose them as an option, but they where free.
        William Farrel
      • RE: Lost your Windows discs? How to get replacement media, legally

        [i]But I have never seen Dell cahrge $7.00 for the disks. You just had to choose them as an option, but they where free.[/i]

        Well they charged me for mine at the time, but things could have changed. I went down the options list and they were not included on the model I bought.
        ScorpioBlue
      • RE: Lost your Windows discs? How to get replacement media, legally

        @ScorpioBlue<br>"How do you know they're "lazy"? Maybe they just don't know how to or don't think it's important enough."<br><br>That statement itself pretty much backs what I'm talking about. I'm assuming based on that statement it's the car manufacturer's fault because a customer decided it "wasn't important enough" to regularly change the oil in their car. Or if a worker ignores the weight restrictions on a ladder. It's bad enough that people can be stupid by themselves, then we have apologists for why it's okay. This world would be one step to a better place if people in general practiced personal accountability. How can we even accuse corporations of having to be accountable when we as a society can't even practice it on a the most basic, personal level.
        Those who hunt Trolls