Dell Notebook Computer Problem Leaves Me Windowsless

When Andy bought a notebook computer from Dell, he also bought a license for Windows 7 and the right to use it on that computer. But when something went wrong with that installation of Windows 7, and the code on his Certificate of Authenticity wore off, he was stuck. Windowless.

Sure, he could just run Linux on it and call it a day. He was using Windows, though, and he paid for Windows.

I am having a serious issue with Dell, one day on my studio xps 1647 laptop it informed me that my windows is not geniune and prompts me to activate. No problem, I know the key is stored from the install and I hit activate and it prompts me that the key is invalid. Okay, look on the bottom of the laptop for the COA and its there but a couple characters are worn off so I can’t tell what exactly they are.

So I decide to call Dell Tech support, I know it’s a bad idea but I have little choice. They inform me that I need to buy a software warranty in order to fix the problem. I ask them if why they need more money from me to fix a problem that isn’t mine? No answer, as expected.

Then I contact explaining my problem and I get contacted from executive customer support. We exchange a few email and he asked me to try changing a registry setting, which I did and didn’t help. Then he informed me that the only way to help would be a reinstall from the dell disk. Frustrated, I back up my data and reinstall only to find out that when reaching the desktop it tells me windows is not genuine and I need to activate now?!

I contact the dell rep again and tell him what happened and he said that’s impossible that he himself installed it on something 5 years old and told me he could send me another disk or I could buy the aforementioned software warranty or just buy a copy of windows 7. I am now heated and ask him how another Dell disk would help since this one obviously didn’t work, no answer. At this point nothing on earth could force me to give Dell any more money for a random problem no one knows the answer to.

We all know how ludicrous buying another copy of windows 7 is. Why can’t they help me out with this issue, or is Dell not actually selling me a copy of windows that will expire who knows when?

Andy should at least try giving Microsoft a call if Dell can’t help. If he has most of that COA, maybe Microsoft can help him out. Or charge him for assistance. While Crap Happens, especially to technology, why is it Andy’s responsibility to pay when the software that he paid for went wrong?


Edit Your Comment

  1. luxosaucer13 says:

    This is why, whenever, I buy a pre-built computer, I make backup copies of the OS, put the COA on one of the disk jackets and put the discs in my fire safe. It may sound like an extreme measure, but it makes sure I don’t have to worry about things like this.

    I also don’t buy from Dell, but that’s another story entirely.

  2. Almighty Peanut says:

    request a windows installation disc. when installing it just reads the bios that it’s a dell and uses a volume license key. i reinstall dell machines all the time with the windows discs (well they’re now USB “discs”) and you never get prompted for the key.

    • Almighty Peanut says:

      i should have said request the DELL windows 7 installation disc.

    • BigDragon says:

      Many years ago my first and only Dell machine (an XPS Gen 2) became convinced it was not a Dell machine. Apparently a BIOS update posted on Dell’s own website corrupted the information. It was beyond irritating to watch a Dell machine claim it wasn’t a Dell machine.

    • jvanbrecht says:

      It does not use a volume license key. Volume license keys are only used for businesses who use the same key across many images.

      Dell uses an OEM install CD, but unique windows keys for each machine (on the non business and gov side of things). The OEM install CD looks for certain information in the BIOS to make sure you did not take the disk and try to install it on another brand.

  3. YouDidWhatNow? says:

    This is a symptom of a virus/trojan, or class thereof, that’s been floating around for a while. Particularly nasty stuff. If you google around for it, you can find techniques to eliminate it.

    Or just restore your machine from the last backup you made after getting a fresh copy of your data off it. Because you’re all making regular backups of your machines, right? Because excellent backup imaging software is absolutely free and easy to use…right?


    • somedaysomehow says:

      Can you suggest a good software program? I have an external hard drive but no idea what’s good (and free) to use to back up alllll my photos, songs, etc. efficiently.

      • YouDidWhatNow? says:

        The last few years I’ve been using Macrium (the free edition). Just google “macrium free” and get it. It is made of win.

        Use it once in a while to make backup images either of your whole PC or individual drives/partitions. Done and done.

      • Not Given says:

        Not free, but I bought Acronis to image my hard drive onto a network drive. I have most of my data on the network drive and I pay $4.95/month to back that up online with iDrive.

      • jeffpiatt says:

        Windows 7 has an pretty asome one built in to it. it will even reimage your system when it crashes from the install disc.

    • samandiriel says:

      Can’t be that – the OP mentions that he Wiped & reinstalled the system and got the same message.

      • BugsBunny says:

        He said he reinstalled, not “wiped” it and reinstalled. HUGE differance. I have seen nasties write to the hidden boot partitions on drives that could survive even a full format and reinstall. Only way to get rid of them was to wipe out all partitions and recreate them frm scratch.

  4. Hi_Hello says:

    Who is responsibility to keep track of the ‘paperwork’ (CD key) in a safe place? Dell or customer?

    Something doesn’t add up. Win was release 3 years ago. The laptop is 5 year old. Dell os discs doesn’t require you to enter the key.

    The only time I had this issue was when I tried to use a dell win 7 CD on a dell vista computer. I’m just saying..

    Op need to contact MS.

    • meh_cat says:

      You must be new to Microsoft. One day, out of the blue, my copy of Office 2010 just declared itself invalid, refused to start, and told me to call Microsoft and get it validated. I don’t know why it did that. I did not uninstall/re-install Office or do anything that would trigger this notice. Sometime last year, on another computer, my legitimate copy of Windows 7, which I was given by Microsoft by taking part of their launch party, suddenly went to the black screen declaring the copy of Windows illegitimate. I am a nerd so I had the keys and re-verified by calling in, but I would believe OP’s copy of Windows just blew itself up one day.

      As for the keys, it was on the Certificate of Authenticity on his laptop, but it was unreadable. You can re-install using the Dell disc, but that would entail wiping everything. OP was probably trying to get the keys so he could validate Windows like I did without wiping everything.

      • jvanbrecht says:

        MS publishes (through its windows genuine advantage program, as well as windows updates) a list of keys that have been used in the pirated copy’s community. It is not perfect, but sometimes, legitimate keys end up on that list, the next time you do an update, when WGA runs, it will invalidate your legit installs..

    • tsume says:

      It is up to the OP to keep the COA in readable condition or to copy the key somewhere. Dell has no control over the sticker on the computer once it leaves the factory.

    • Not Given says:

      Belarc Advisor can tell you what your product key is.

      • samandiriel says:

        Or Magic Jelly Bean. Or Belarc Advisor, if you want a full hardware/software profile of the machine.

      • dorianh49 says:

        I ran across this exact same issue with my brother’s 3 year-old Lenovo laptop. I was reinstalling Windows 7 (with my own non-branded OEM disc since he couldn’t find his) on a newly-installed SSD, and couldn’t read most of the Windows 7 key characters on the faded sticker underneath. No problem, just run Belarc Advisor on the Windows 7 installation on his old hard drive, and use that code. Except that the original Lenovo (or Dell, in the OP’s case) Windows 7 installation uses a generic key exclusive to the manufacturer that gets installed on all of their computers. It’s NOT the same key on the sticker on your computer. Essentially, you MUST use the manufacturer’s disc in order to use that code, but the manufacturer’s disc installs the key automatically, so you don’t even need to worry about entering it in.

        I had a few Windows 7 Home Upgrade Family packs (they include one code good for up to 3 computers at any given time) that I purchased on sale for $90 earlier this year, so I just used one of the installations for his laptop. Family packs are usually $120 – $150 so, for most people, it would just make sense to buy a $90-$110 OEM copy of Windows 7 Home. Still, there should be a way to recover your key if the sticker fades.

  5. oldgraygeek says:

    I have a Technet subscription for my small business, allowing me to reinstall Windows on everything I buy just because I can’t abide by the OEM crap-laden configurations. For only $249 a year, I get fresh copies of everything I want. (Windows 8 is already here).

    One thing I learned the hard way, by surviving a defective HP dv9000 laptop with a three-year warranty, is to do the clean installations on a new hard disk. When I purchase a computer, I turn it on to make sure it works. Then, I put my own drive in and install whatever flavor of Windows I want on it. I keep the OEM drive in a box, marked “DO NOT USE UNTIL [date the warranty expires].”
    If a machine needs to go back for warranty work, I just pop the OEM drive back in.

    • joe80x86 says:

      Hate to tell you this but what you are doing it in complete violation with the Technet Subscription Agreement! You are only suppose to use the technet software and keys for testing purposes in a non-production environment (i.e. not a machine you do actual work on) or for demonstration purposes. You, people like you, and those who sell the technet generated keys are the reason MS keeps getting more and more stringent and gives less and less keys with each subscription.

      • Almighty Peanut says:

        A-Men! My MSDN subscription is used for my sandbox server(s) and it’s subsequent VMs. It’s also used for my and my IT staff work machines since we’re constantly reinstalling with new hardware anyway.

      • YouDidWhatNow? says:

        Yup. The OP here is categorically in the wrong. That is absolutely NOT what the Technet subscription gets you.

        R&D work only.

    • GodfreyOriole says:

      All technet software will now unactivate when your subscription expires. I hope you know that. This was instituted this past june.

  6. Almighty Peanut says:

    you’re better off just backing up your data to an external drive and reinstalling.

    you can try system recovery or the dell recovery partition that is on just about every machine in the last 5 years?

    during bootup, keep pressing f8 to get the boot menu and choose advanced boot options and select the system recovery.

  7. AustinTXProgrammer says:

    Get a Dell OEM CD and it will not prompt for the code.

    • AustinTXProgrammer says:

      I just read the article. Download the latest bios update and install it. If the computer model s in fact licensed for windows 7 OEM it should solve it.

      And make sure the recovery disk used is Dell and not another brand. This matters as their is a license key in the bios.

  8. EP2012 says:

    “…the code on his Certificate of Authenticity wore off, he was stuck”

    Yup, SOL. Next time take a photo of the COA and then put clear tape over the original.

    • quail20 says:

      My first task with any new machine is to copy the authenticity codes into whatever accounts for a manual these days, make the recovery discs, and plop the whole thing in my filing cabinet.

      Those keys are crucial.

      That said, there’s freeware called SIW. It will sniff your PC for all of the keys. It’s a godsend when dealing with an idiot family member’s PC.

  9. Ashman says:

    Simple answer,

    Call Microsoft. speak to a representative in the activations department, explain the situation and see if they can provide you with a new key for activation.

    Thats what I would do if I actually used windows anymore. Switched to Mac a few years ago, so I only run windows XP that came with my dell on my dell that is over 8 years old and works just fine for a data storage server. Other than that it sees no other duty.

    But I have in the past needed to call microsoft to get a new activation product key when one has been compromised.

    I used to do Technet, but back when I did it a subscription was very expensive – havent looked into it in the last few years since I barely work with windows boxes much.

    • paulw says:


      I have done this on at least 2 if not 3 occasions and providing you have a physical disk and/or a majority part of the key they will spin you a new one on the fly for your machine.

  10. Red Cat Linux says:

    This is the brute force method: you have a choice of 10 numbers and 26 letters. Although I’m almost entirely certain that they don’t use all of them. It’s only two characters – all you need is time and patience.

    …or the Magic Jelly Bean. This little bit of software recovers installation keys for a number of products by picking them out of your registry. If you do not actually already have the licensed product installed (and therefore the key embedded in your registry already) it will not help you.

  11. cactus jack says:
  12. mikec041 says:

    A couple of weeks ago a Microsoft update caused a “not authentic” message on my HP.
    I called Microsoft and after about an hour on phone they were able to fix the problem.
    Call the 800 # about trouble authorizing windows. It was the 2nd time it happened to me in about a year. Last time was b/c i added a video card to my desktop, apparently that’s a big NO NO with windows.

  13. Wathnix says:

    Flash the BIOS then reinstall windows from the factory reset folder.

  14. kobresia says:

    Seems like a good opportunity to try Kubuntu or another desktop flavor of Linux.

    Microsoft is a terrible company that treats its customers like would-be criminals. Their behavior is far more atrocious than the reviled door-receipt-checkers at stores like Best Buy; at least those checkers only bug you once, but Microsoft needs to “check your receipt” every time you make a modest hardware upgrade or you want to install critical updates, and the assumption they make is always that you’ve stolen your software unless you prove otherwise.

    There’s hardly a more anti-consumer company out there, though most software developers behave like this to some degree.

    With Valve throwing its weight behind Linux now (Gabe loathes Windows 8) even the last bastion of objections to desktop Linux, “I can’t play games on it”, seems that it will probably be a thing of the past soon.

    Anyway, this is not a Dell problem. It’s a Microsoft problem, and good luck getting anywhere with them. If M$ had any customer service to speak of, they’d have a means to exchange a damaged CoA for a new one, but of course their answer is just that you need to buy a new copy, especially if you had an OEM CoA that didn’t bring them much money in the first place.

    • Press1forDialTone says:

      On the other hand, I helped a friend who also only had
      a partial Cert of Authen for Windows XP a couple of years
      ago and the Microsoft Customer Service person was very
      helpful and was able to resolve the issue in one call.
      Fortunately, my friend has kept all the purchase information
      and everything off the pc but did not copy down the C of A.
      It too, wore off in time but enough of it was available plus the
      ourchase info that Microsoft was able to re-issue the C of A
      and also mailed him a paper certificate that arrived in a few

      • kobresia says:

        They sometimes will help for a retail one, but it’s not their problem if it’s an OEM. They really just don’t want to help with anything OEM.

  15. wackydan says:

    I used to work for Lenovo. Starting with Vista, MS required us to to place a tag in the bios that would further secure the OEM Preload from a licensing standpoint. This created nightmares when we ran out of service boards for Vista machines and substituted the ones that shipped with XP loaded systems instead… while the replacement motherboards worked, the bios tag wasn’t there and the users would get a notice that their copy of windows wasn’t legit….


    1. Either he had his system serviced recently….
    2. The area in the bios for that vendor preload authentication is corrupt… and NO, updating the bios will not correct it.

    Bets are he actually needs a new motherboard. If not under warranty, then it is entirely his problem, not Dell’s.

    • wackydan says:

      I might add… Or he can buy a copy of Windows which is cheaper than paying out of pocket for a new planar from Dell.

  16. consumed says:

    When an old friend recently wanted me to fix his 2007-era Dell Inspiron that had a major virus infection in Vista, I was also plagued by the rubbed off COA/product key.

    Of course, I had no Dell OEM Vista install DVD’s laying around, so I just pirated a copy of Vista Enterprise from BitTorrent and installed it on the laptop. Installed Service Pack 2, seems to be working like a charm.

    Unfortunately, Microsoft is driving its own customers to pirate its software. I can’t say I blame anyone else but them for losing market share to Apple products.

    • who? says:

      “I’m absolutely sure that pirated version of Vista I torrented didn’t come with any rootkits preinstalled.”

      “Oh. Wait. Why is my computer trying to talk to Russia?”

    • Press1forDialTone says:

      Don’t be surprised if you get a call from Microsoft…..
      I’m just sayin’

    • MrEvil says:

      The Dell discs are just as easily found on torrent sites. Definitely worth hunting for to save your friend some grief in the future.

  17. Dell-Lorna M says:

    Hi, my name is Lorna and I work for Dell. If the Original Poster registered the copy with Microsoft, they can help him. Alternatively, if this is a Dell version, his media should not ask for a product key. Any one experiencing this issue is encouraged to visit the Dell Community Support Forum, Laptops,, for assistance with reinstalling Microsoft Windows on a Dell Computer. Post your issue to the attention of Dell-Terry B who will respond to your concerns via private message.

    • luxosaucer13 says:

      Starting with Vista, under Microsoft’s contract with OEMs, OEMs are responsible for supporting the original version of Windows as installed by the OEM. Microsoft does directly support retail, MSDN, TechNet and DreamSpark versions, but, under the licensing terms beginning with Vista, support for OEM versions are provided by….you guessed it….OEMs.

  18. dicobalt says:

    Windows licenses are supposed to be stored in the ACPI SLIC table of an OEM’s computer BIOS. This can sometimes fail though. Either you will need to crack the copy of windows or have them flash the BIOS or replace the physical BIOS chip with a properly flashed version. See I can’t find work as a computer tech but these hacks at Dell still have jobs and can’t solve this basic problem. That’s how we do business here in America.

  19. sloweddi says:

    At regular intervals, I always make a backup of my drives with Acronis. That way if anything goes wrong I can be up and running in no time.

    • Press1forDialTone says:

      What do make the the backup to?
      And how do you activate the recovery software assuming
      that your C: drive is blank but formatted?

  20. apasserby says:

    Download and install Belarc Advisor. If I remember correctly It will tell you what the product key is toward the bottom of the page.

    • dorianh49 says:

      Which doesn’t help on an OEM Windows installation. The code that gets installed on all OEM computers won’t ever match the code on the label.

  21. Press1forDialTone says:

    Um, did Andy write down all the info on the
    laptop related to it’s identification and software
    hardware license, um, like I would imagine -everyone-
    with a brain would? Why would anyone not do this?
    Why would you not do this and keep it with all the purchase
    info, receipts, emails, etc in a folder with other important

  22. Overheal says:

    Actually my hot tip for keeping that sticker intact and in a safe place is to stick it to the underside of the interior of your CD/DVD Tray: you infrequently access the tray (really), and it’s always still on the laptop, reducing the chance of misplacement unlike trying to keep the manuals etc. in a separate location. Always worked for me; I had to reinstall Vista about a dozen times in 3-4 years before switching to 7.

  23. dcatz says:

    Consider this a lesson in the dangers of proprietary, user-subjugating software.

    You should use a free operating system such as a GNU/Linux distribution that respects your ownership of your computer.

  24. P=mv says:

    I make full backup copies of my computer and I take a high quality photo of any codes I need to keep, such as the Windows authentication sticker. I’ve had those wear off in a shocking amount of time and they wanted me to buy another copy instead of helping me fix then problem.

  25. hexx says:

    Andy should call Microsoft. I had a problem where my certificate of authenticity was not recognized by HP, despite the fact it was pre-loaded by HP on this machine… To make a long story short, I had to call Microsoft since HP wouldn’t help. Microsoft was helpful, even sent me a brand new licensed copy of Windows 7 for free.

    Note: When calling Microsoft, it will take a lot of effort to get past Tier 1 support. Like in most companies, Tier 1 is useless, but they really go out of their way to try and help you and exhaust all options before escalating you to Tier 2. You just have to be persistent.

  26. GodfreyOriole says:

    If you have a dell windows 7 disk you can reinstall without activation needed. So if your machine came with the wdell windows 7 disk reinstall and you should be fine.