Each year, I find myself installing Windows 7 dozens of times, on both brand new PCs and before passing on a used PC from one user to the next. I'm sure a LOT of network administrators are in the same boat.

Windows Updates take a LONG time and it would save so much time being able to create an image that's up to date with all Windows Updates and deploy it using Windows Deployment Services (WDS).

Having installed a Dell OEM image onto a VM, updated it, snapshotted it, ran sysprep generalize, captured an image to WDS and deployed that image to a physical Dell OptiPlex box, I had issues activating the OEM key from the COA sticker online and had to phone up for a manual activation... which went through fine, but was a painful process of listening to an automated system and punching in loads of numbers.

  • Was this just a fluke? Should this scenario normally work without the need to phone up for a manual activation?
  • Can OEM media be used for imaging, or do I have to use Volume License media? And if using Volume License media, do I need to enter the OEM key found on the COA sticker?
  • Moving forwards, with OEMs like Dell embedding keys into the UEFI BIOS on new PCs, does this make the process any easier?

3 Answers 3


At the last place I worked we bought a ton of new and refurbished Dell PCs, they either had Dell Windows 7 Certificates of Authenticity or they came with Windows 8.

On those systems, I did essentially the same thing you said you're trying to do - build a base system, sysprep it (it has to be the OOBE option), make an image, then restore that image.

With an image made from generic MS OEM media, during the OOBE setup you're prompted to enter the license code. Entering the license code from the Dell COA sticker always worked fine.

With an image made from Dell OEM media, I never had to enter a license code on either Win 7 PCs or ones bought with Win 8 on them.

  • My test machine was a Dell OptiPlex 380 (circa 2010) with a COA sticker, rather than an embedded key. I wonder why I had issues with the activation? I'll try again on the next PC I have to reinstall and see if I come across the same issue. Mar 23, 2016 at 10:59

Purchase 1 copy of Windows under a Volume License Agreement, and you receive permission to use that key to register your OEM licensed machines (image rights). Put your VLK MAK License in your answer file, and register windows like normal.

  • Not sure why this answer has been down voted. This seems to be the solution that Microsoft wants us all to go with. See microsoft.com/en-gb/Licensing/learn-more/… Mar 23, 2016 at 10:57
  • I've had 2 large reselling LAR's in the US tell me to do it this way. I even ran out of registrations on a license for a client and had the registrations increased for this reason, with full disclosure to MS. This is the MS recommend method.
    – Linuxx
    Mar 23, 2016 at 12:37
  • This doesn't make a lot of sense to me - not your answer, but rather Microsoft's stance on this - wouldn't it be more straight forward just to let us activate with the OEM license key on the COA sticker or UEFI BIOS? I wonder why Microsoft wants us all to buy at least one volume license to allow us to image our own Windows 7 OEM PCs? Mar 23, 2016 at 12:55
  • Well, the future is to use the key in the BIOS for enterprise activations. I'm moving my enterprise away from 7. Most users tolerate 10 better than geeks. I think this was a bandaid, a way to reduce piracy, and to give enterprises a way in include a single key with either KMS, or MAK activations. Don't think about it on the scale of 20 machines, think about it on the scale of 2000 machines.
    – Linuxx
    Mar 23, 2016 at 13:34

Newer Dell PCs with the Windows 8 logo and downgrade rights to 7 seem to be missing readable codes altogether (maybe they are stored in the EFI, but I don't know for certain).

You get a shared OEM key in the Windows 7 system settings on all computers (or at least on identical models), and even full images (like Clonezilla) work without problems or difference to normal installations.

I have read that it is more difficult if you are using Windows 8 or want to extract the key for resale of the operating system, but unfortunately I don't remember the source.

  • Yeah... all our newer Windows 8 Dell PCs from 2014 onward have the keys embedded in the BIOS. Supposedly Windows setup extracts the key for you during setup, so you don't need to know it yourself. Since it's illegal to resell an OEM license, I can't really think of a good reason for extracting the key, except perhaps if the motherboard failed, but by that point you've probably missed your chance! Mar 23, 2016 at 11:33
  • It is not illegal, this depends on your location. For example, it is legal in most countries of Europe. Microsoft does not like it, but there is nothing they can do against it.
    – user121391
    Mar 23, 2016 at 12:20
  • Care to explain the downvote or how to improve the answer?
    – user121391
    Mar 23, 2016 at 14:26

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