Server Fault is a question and answer site for system and network administrators. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I have several of the same machine (Dell Precision T3500) that originally came with Windows 7 Pro (there is a Windows 7 Pro OA product key sticker on top of each one). These were initially downgraded to XP by a former IT colleague, but are now back in the pool of unused machines. I am looking to format and install Windows 7 Pro on one of them using the latest official Win7 installer ISO with SP1 and then clone the hard drive to the other machines.

The questions then, are:

  1. Does this even make sense, or is there a better way to do this considering I'm only doing it to 6 machines?

  2. Does this jive with MS licensing (we are the original purchaser of the machines, and thus, presumably, the license holder...but I'm no expert)?

  3. Is it possible to apply the individual 25-char product keys to the cloned machines after cloning?

  4. How far can I go in the config process (installing corporate standard apps and such) before I have to clone to the other machines considering the licensing/key questions?


My final process was to build one box, sysprep /oobe ... and capture/deploy with imagex. The license keys activate fine online after imaging. I'm not sure how to script domain, printer, etc. after imaging, but that's for another question someday. The time saved with Win updates and IDE installs alone was well worth it. Thanks, all.

share|improve this question
I'm hoping this question isn't seen as a violation of this, but please let me know if it is and I can edit that stuff out. – Tim Lehner Jun 22 '12 at 13:38
You can install whatever you want on there as long as the licenses are good. You can always enter in a product key after the install or do it during the install. As long as it's the correct version of Windows, it shouldn't be a problem. I always recommend sysprepping as this will create a general image that you can use on just about anything. If you can do it with imagex and get some practice with that. This is a free utility from microsoft. If you want more info look up WAIK, imagex, oscdimg. But there are a few ways to do it. – Matt Jun 22 '12 at 20:55
up vote 3 down vote accepted

Yes, imaging is a good idea, even for a small number of machines. You are getting some amount of time savings by not repeating tasks, but you're also getting consistency and the ability to re-image a machine if it needs an OS reinstall. E.g. virus/malware, drive dies, some major file corruption, etc. Our policy is if it's going to take more than 30 minutes to troubleshoot and tweak to fix an issue, it gets reimaged instead.

Regarding the licensing of imaging with OEM licenses, see this Msft article for some more details regarding this scenario: OEMSoftwareLicensingRulesandRestrictions.pdf

Re-imaging rights are a benefit granted to Microsoft Volume Licensing customers. Microsoft Volume Licensing customers may use Volume Licensing media to re-image software (including OEM Software licenses) under the following conditions: The copies re-imaged from the Volume Licensing media are identical to the originally licensed product (the same product and version, contain the same components, and are in the same language). The customer must purchase at least one unit of the product required to be re-imaged through their Volume Licensing agreement in order to obtain access to the product media and receive a key. Volume Licensing media must be used for re-imaging (OEM media may not be used).

In short, if you own at least 1 volume licensed copy of Windows 7 Professional, you get access to the VL installation media and VL product key for Win 7 Pro. You would then use that to do the OS install and imaging. The single volume license is essentially just used to get access to the VL media and product key. This applies when your OEM-licensed product is available as an identical volume-licensed product. E.g. Windows 7 Professional.

You can't use the above scenario for OEM/FPP Msft Office licenses because volume-licensed Office doesn't have the same versions as OEM/FPP. For example, there is no Professional or Home & Business version available through VL, only Pro Plus and Standard.

Regarding your question #2, your company purchased the machines, the legit COA is on the box, you're good. OEM licenses live and die with the machine itself; person who owns the machine owns the OEM license.

Regarding your question #4, install every possible thing you can before imaging! The exact software that can be installed depends on your specifics apps, but for all of our LOB apps and such we install all of it before creating the image, as none of them require unique serial numbers or anything like that.

For unique/specific licensing questions, I always call Msft licensing people directly: (800) 426-9400

Once they provide you with an answer, you can ask them to direct you to some sort of written reference that confirms what they tell you.

share|improve this answer
The above answer is quite good and I agree with almost everything, except this: Do not always install everything. Just install what does not need updating in a few months. E.g. no flash player which will be outdated and full of new security holes next week. You can insert the names of quite a few programs in the place where I used flash. – Hennes Jun 22 '12 at 23:05
When we're imaging 50 new computers, we can't go around and install Flash on each one manually after the imaging is done. I suppose it depends what's most important...efficiency and time savings now or the potential for time savings later. I would argue that just about everything needs updates over time--Office, Acrobat, antivirus, etc. – user78940 Jun 25 '12 at 20:52
The last place I worked at did the same. We needed the efficiency now and made images with all software pre-installed. A year later we changed that. In hindsight it was a lot of extra work. If (a really big if) we had the time to do it differently on our first set-up we would have saved a lot of time. However if you do not have the time right now then it is a moot point. – Hennes Jul 8 '12 at 14:23
Windows severely needs a better system for selling software. – Pacerier Oct 24 '15 at 1:27

Yes, it makes sense to do, especially when you factor in how long windows updates will take.

What you need to look into is sysprep, which among other things will deactivate the machine and get it ready to enter in a new license key for windows. Then you will be able to enter the correct key.

I typically install all the apps we will need (Office, Adobe, etc) then run sysprep and image the machine.

I'm not a lawyer or microsoft rep, so I can't answer the licensing questions...I do know that some COA keys will not activate automatically online. I actually use a few scripts to restore the automatic OEM activation that Dell uses when I image Dell machines...whether that is allowed under the license I can't answer.

Another things you may want to look into if reimaging a few machines at a time is something you do frequently is Windows Deployment Services, with which you can create a generic image and a database of drivers so you can deploy the image to any machine. It works quite nicely and deploys images over the network.

share|improve this answer
+1. Good call on sysprep. – Tim Lehner Jul 12 '12 at 19:10

The other two have covered most of it pretty well, but regarding #1, I'd say that there certainly isn't a better way to deploy multiple machines in an office than some sort of imaging system. How else you gonna do it? By hand? (Eeeew.)

And it looks pretty damn good on a resume too, which is definitely something you should be thinking about.

As in, "not only do I know how to administer whatever image/machine management system that you use, but I designed and implemented one from scratch for my last employers." Having that on my resume's resulted in me being the choice for the job more than once (rather than making it to the final interview and not getting picked), and bonus points if you can implement a free solution, like FOG (Free Open source Ghost) or clonezilla, in addition to the current Microsoft (used to be RIS, now WDS/SCCM) or paid offering.

share|improve this answer
I can definitely appreciate your larger point here. – Tim Lehner Jun 22 '12 at 20:59

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.