Dell Sells Laptop With External Drive But No Way To Connect It To Computer

David says he bought a Dell tablet that came with an external CD/DVD drive but no way to hook it up, making it all but impossible to install his operating system.

He has to buy another part if he wants to use the drive. He’s also facing issues with authentication. He writes:

I purchased a Dell Latitude XT several months ago. It shipped with Windows XP Tablet Edition and Windows Vista. Today I found myself trying to install Tablet XP from the installation DVD.

The XT does not include an internal CD/DVD drive. It’s not a netbook but it is designed to be used as a tablet. The irony is that Dell did include a CD/DVD drive. It’s not exactly an external drive- it requires a “Media Base” to use (a separate purchase). They couldn’t simply include a cable.

I found a way to install Windows XP from an external hard drive here.

I already had an external hard drive install setup for Windows 7 so this looked simple. I followed steps 12-20 and everything seemed fine until I was presented with product key prompt. The “start here” book that the DVD was delivered with stated “The Certificate of Authenticity label has been removed by your PC manufacturer and should be attached to your PC.” No such label was attached to the PC.

I spent the next two hours on the phone being bounced between Dell’s Technical Support, Customer Care, a “Resolution Specialist,” and eventually a technician. Customer Care had originally diverted me to Microsoft who quickly informed me that Dell would need to provide the product code for OEM software. Total time on the phone with Dell: over two hours. Total time on the phone with Microsoft: about ten minutes.

The technician basically told me I had to use the DVD to install XP. Apparently the product code is embedded on the system board or something.

Dell sold me a computer with an external CD/DVD drive that I can only use after spending more money. They included a DVD with documentation stating that the Certificate of Authenticity label is on the computer even though it isn’t. I found a way to work around the first hurdle they put in front of me but I’m stuck on the second. I’m hoping a Consumerist reader could help me out here.

Any advice for David?

(Photo: Ron Dauphin)


Edit Your Comment

  1. wcnghj says:

    The Dell DVD/CD will have a special ‘thing’ that allows it to install.

    I’d return the dell external drive and buy a cheap one on ebay.

  2. AI says:

    You shouldn’t need the label. The OEM install discs use a SLIC system I believe where they just check if the BIOS is Dell, and if so, consider themselves activated.

    • Taliskan says:

      @AirIntake: Agreed. However the media is usually tied to a certain product or product line, so not any Dell media will work in any machine, if I recall.

      If the machine came with Vista Tablet was the XP Tablet the downgrade option from Dell or was it a separate purchase from Dell OEM or a third-party reseller? Where he purchased the media is where the product key would have to come from. Else, MS should be able to help out – they have helped me in the past recover product keys.

      Also I am going to venture a guess that the “external” drive was really a removable internal drive?

      • MrEvil says:

        @Taliskan: No, the key isn’t specific to any product line. It only seeks a Dell BIOS. I have an entire collection of Dell reinstall media, which makes it incredibly easy for me to reinstall Windows on a customer machine.

        • Taliskan says:

          @MrEvil: Really? I wonder why I have difficulties between Dell models with Dell media then, hmm… not that we use the Dell media anymore – we use our own images thankfully. Ah well, thanks for the info though :)

      • DaveDidNotPay says:

        @Taliskan: The “external” drive is a hard drive which connects via USB.

        @Android8675: XP Tablet because I have been unable to run a certain program (Lookout Direct and NI Logos) with XP mode yet.

    • Android8675 says:

      @AirIntake: Confirmed, you can use ANY OEM version of Windows, but if you use the Dell OEM install DVDs, the product key will be picked up automatically and activation isn’t necessary.

      However, the sticker is basically your proof and your backup. If there was no sticker the OS was sold illegally (exaggerating, but you know what I mean).

      God XP Tablet Edition? really? Why not just go Windows 7 Pro or Ultimate? XP Mode = win.

  3. robdew2 says:

    An external drive that is not usb or a tablet pc with no USB port or that won’t boot from USB?

    The technical details about the specific equipment are missing. This doesn’t add up.

  4. angryneo says:

    Gss wh snds lk whny, lttl b****?

    • pop top says:

      @angryneo: Looks like you’re getting a little lazy with your trolling. You posted the exact same thing in the AT&T sues Verizon story.

    • drizzt380 says:

      Is the answer you?

    • zacox says:

      @neflyguy: That is not his only solution.

      1. Get yourself access to a desktop or other computer with both a DVD reader and a USB port. One of these shouldn’t be too hard to find at work, home or school.

      2. Get access to or buy a 4 gig USB drive ($12 at your local Wal-Mart).

      3. See [] and follow instructions.

    • thomas_callahan says:

      href=”#c16514114″>kpetree10: Glad they finally started putting them UNDER the battery, my first Dell laptop had it on the case next to the battery compartment. I actually use my laptop on my lap quite a bit, and after a few years it had rubbed off so badly you couldn’t have read the number anyway. Lucky for me I had written it down on the DVD sleeve just in case.

  5. neflyguy says:

    It’s exactly as AirIntake said. If you use the Dell XP install DVD the disc checks to ensure it’s being installed on a Dell, and if it is then the disc installs and never needs to be activated. It’s meant to be convenient to customers for reinstallation, but in a case like this I can see it’d be a problem. An external DVD drive is pretty much his only solution in this case (unless it’s a corporate laptop and he has a Microsoft Volume Licensing agreement, in which case he could get a copy and a key from Microsoft).

  6. kpetree10 says:

    Dell always put the COA on the computer, otherwise you wouldn’t know what the computer is licensed for. The OP needs to check under the battery, that is where the COA / product key is on the Latitude XT.

    • ShadowFalls says:


      Exactly correct right there. If you don’t have the COA on the computer, you don’t have a license to use Windows on it. Seems like it would be a good idea to step this right up to the top now.

  7. chaoss13 says:

    Just use an external DVD player/recorder. Borrow one form a friend, if you don’t have one.

    The tablet has USB 2.0 ports, I’m sure. So use those to connect the external. Also, make sure the BIOS is set to boot from USB, so the USB DVD/CD gets attention before the hard drive, and then can be used to install.

  8. The Cheat says:

    In the future with any Dell, you can download the Magic Jellybean Password program (google it) and it will extract your Office and Windows keys so you can just enter them. That is pretty strange that they didn’t include a sticker, every Dell I have ever seen has had a COA sticker on the bottom of the unit.

    Regarding ‘angryneo’ and his “Guess who sounds like a whiny, little b****?” comment… um, you? How is it unreasonable that Dell sells an accessory for a product that includes all necessary equipment to work? Sheesh….

    • mackjaz says:

      @The Cheat: I had the same problem when I bought a SATA hard drive a few years back. No cable. I suppose the “thinking” (read: excuse) is that they don’t know exactly what type of cable you will need to plug in with.

      I feel like I’ve bought a printer or two over the years without a USB cable. Same excuse, I bet.

  9. GitEmSteveDave_ Natural H1N1 Cure says:

    Can’t you image a flash drive to install OS’s? I know I use an internal drive with this AMAZINGLY useful gizmo I got from Newegg [] for installing in computers w/o CD drives, and only USB.

  10. Donathius says:

    I can’t vouch for this particular model, but some Dells we’ve bought recently at the university where I work have had the product key sticker hidden underneath the battery. You actually have to take the battery off to access it. Whether this applies to the above referenced machine I have no idea, but it’s worth a shot.

  11. ChrisC1234 says:

    Sorry, I’ve got a better one. When Vista first came out, my aunt purchased a machine from Dell, which included a Logitech wireless keyboard and mouse. The keyboard and mouse could not be used with the computer out of the box, as the drivers weren’t installed (problem number 1). Luckilly, she had an old computer that we could borrow the keyboard and mouse from. Then when I tried to install the drivers from the Logitech CD that shipped with the computer, there were no Vista drivers on it (problem number 2).

    I had to go download drivers from the Logitech website, to get the keyboard and mouse to work with the comptuer that they came with. What a hassle just to use a brand new computer.

  12. Red_Eye says:

    No COA and Dell is likely guilty of selling you unlicensed software. [] Every copy of OEM windows must include a COA to be legit.

    The problem you have is that OEM versions check for a System Tattoo that is in the BIOS, it then compares that with the hardware in that machine (HD Size, RAM, Grpahics card etc) if the machine has the Tattoo and the hardware doesnt match original config in some cases you cant even install using the original CD that came with the system. My HP is this way. I replaced the 300 Gig HD with a 500 Gig and was no longer able to install from my recovery CD(ok it let me install but as soon as it tried to load the GUI it checked the system hardware and bombed). So for me I had to reinstall the 300, Recover the system, ACTIVATE XP, then image the drive over to the 500. IF I recall right I have the option of sending the machine back to HP for them to verify and update the Tattoo with the new hardware for a fee ( [] ) and then my recover media will work but why bother. Soon I will be installing Win 7 upgrade on it and it will no longer be an issue.

    Its sad that only the honest people suffer. I had a machine once that would BSOD every time WGA ran too, turned out to be a freak hardware compatibility issue (was a Dell desktop) and there was no fix ever made for it.

  13. brokebackwallet says:

    Does the machine have a SD reader?

    Get a cheap card, visit and you’re set. That’s how I installed XP Pro on my Eee.

  14. gjones77 says:

    just go to [] and they should have all the info you need to make it work.

    It’s a matter of inserting the digital license which can be done from a command line prompt then inserting the OEM CD Key.

  15. angryneo says:

    Whiny. Little. B*****s. Prolly all democrats, too.

  16. irieKEN says:

    Normally, I’d just go do a search for Dell’s SLP key for my version of the OS… The problem is that I don’t think Dell has an SLP license for XP Tablet edition; the XT is the only tablet PC they make.

  17. ianbeyer says:

    I’ve worked with the Latitude XT. The media bay is hardwired with a cable that plugs into a high-power USB port that provides both USB and power to the drive. These also work with Latitude D820/D830 series.

  18. jook says:

    This is the sort of thing that can drive someone to piracy.

  19. whytcolr says:

    Your Latitude XT have a connector on it that looks like this: [] It is on the back, next to the ethernet port.

    I’m pretty sure you don’t need to go to eBay. Instead, you can call Dell and order part# RD955. Or if you want to spend $10 more for a black one part# 8X944. (I’m nearly positive that these are the same, with only cosmetic differences.)

    Of course, if you’re already spending $50, why not get a DVD drive with a non-proprietary cable on it? Newegg has about a dozen of them for less than $50. Of course, if you can get Dell to give it to you free (which might be easier if you have the part number)…