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Installing Windows When You Don't Have A CD

written by: •edited by: Heather Marie Kosur•updated: 8/21/2011

This article explains how to reinstall Windows XP without CD on computers that were purchased with pre-loaded Windows XP. The reasons for installation without CD can be anything of the two: you do not have the Windows CD or your CD drive is not functioning.

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    Computers Purchased with Preloaded Genuine Windows XP

    Windows XP wordmark svg In cases where you purchase a computer with a preloaded Windows XP, you also get a Windows Installation CD in addition to other CDs for drivers and extra stuff. However, most vendors do not ship the CD to save on money. Still, they offer a provision to reinstall Windows XP in case you need it. They save all Windows Installation files to any of the drives on the computer. The same folder will also contain the serial key of the product.

    In most cases, you can easily identify the folder containing the Windows Installation files. Open the Start menu and click on Search (Windows key + pressing F). In the search window:

    1. Click "All Files and Folders".

    2. Type "i386" in the topmost textbox without quotes.

    3. Click on "More Advanced Options" and click on the checkbox next to "Search Hidden Files and Folders."

    4. Click the Search button to search for the folder where the vendor has kept Windows Installation files.

    You may get more than one folders with the name. Open each folder, click UP button in the folder window to go up one level – to the folder containing the i386 folder. Look for the file winnt32.exe. If you can see it, this is the folder containing Windows Installation files. You can also locate the serial key in the same folder. Normally, it is a text file named "key" or "serial."

    If you are not able to locate the serial, call your vendor immediately to get the serial key. You may also check out the packaging kit to see if the serial is printed on the box. Once you have the information about the Windows Installation folder and the serial key, I recommend you copy it to a location which you can easily remember.

    Now that you know the whereabouts of Windows Installation files and serial key, you are all set to reinstall Windows XP without a CD.

    However, simply running the winnt32.exe will not be equivalent to reloading Windows XP. Check out the article How to Reload Windows XP to understand what all will you may lose in case you wish to perform a clean install. Accordingly, backup those files. Once you backup the files you want, double click the file winnt32.exe to initiate reinstalling Windows XP without a CD.

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    Using Another Computer to Reinstall Windows XP

    If your CD drive is not functioning and you need to reinstall Windows XP, you might be in a fix. However, there is a simple alternative. Copy the contents of the CD to a portable device such as an external hard drive or USB drive using another computer where the CD drive is fine. Once done, come back to the computer on which you need to reinstall Windows XP. Create a folder on any drive other than the root drive and transfer the files from the portable device to the folder. Once done, you can launch the Windows installation from the local copy easily.

    You may also create a Windows XP network and connect to a computer that has a working CD drive using Ethernet to Ethernet connection. Once you share the CD drive, you can copy the Windows Installation CD contents to your computer's drive and use the local copy to reinstall Windows XP.

    Note: Although there is a provision in Windows networks for remote installations, it unfortunately won't support remote Windows XP installation. Remote Installations support Windows 2003 and Windows NT only.

    Important: You may wonder what if you download free Windows XP from sites such as piratebay. However, I strongly advise you to refrain from doing so; these are not complete versions, may contain spyware, and may also call for a legal action.


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