I want to install Windows XP on a desktop, the original media for which is long lost. I haven't been able, so far, to use the key on the sticker on the case, probably because none of my XP images are exactly the right OS version to accept the key, and I've heard that XP is finicky about that.

I have a known good image and key that I used to install a XP home on a virtual machine. When I use them to install XP on my target, however, I still get an "invalid key" error message. This happens during the OS install, long before it would have a chance to phone home (I've retired the VM in question, but that shouldn't matter anyway).

What could be going wrong?

2 Answers 2


It also depends on your known good image. If that is gotten from the original media for another manufacturer or another computer, that may explain the problem. Windows is sometimes configured to only recognise specific hardware for OEM purposes. As a result, if you had a Fujitsu machine and used an Acer media to install it, it would not recognise it as a good install. I know because I've tried.

Your best bet would be to contact your desktop manufacturer and get them to send you an OEM copy of their original media. This is typically okay because the XP license is not tied to the CD but to the sticker you have on your machine.

  • Be prepared to pay $10-$20 for the service, but that's still much cheaper than a license. Sep 27, 2009 at 22:24

If you reinstall too many times or change your hardware configuration too many times the Windows Installer thinks you might be violating your license and installing on multiple machines.

This happened to me when I was messing with a vmware-based install.

The error message should have a toll-free number... you can call it and they will give you a new license key. :-/

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