/ Technology

Ask Which? – Why can’t I reinstall my operating system?

Clive asks: Four years ago I bought Microsoft’s Vista Ultimate, which was a state of the art operating system for PCs at the time. Recently, my hard drive failed and I re-installed Vista from the disk I’d bought.

I was told that my product key was out of date and had 30 days to load a new key in. I thought it must be a mistake and carried on.

Microsoft then cut most of the functionality from my PC and keyboard and demanded £109 to “fix” my PC. I refused and now cannot access anything on my hard drive and am limited to one hour on the internet. Surely this cannot be right? If you buy an operating system it should be for as long as you want it. 

Which? Computing helpdesk supervisor, John Bogue, responds:

Sorry to hear you’ve been having this trouble. You are of course allowed to use your Microsoft operating system for as long as you wish – there is no termination date set.

However, this is a common issue when re-installing Windows, because it effectively ‘resets’ the system. All you needed to do was simply enter the key again as you would have done four years ago and it would have carried on working as normal.

We’ve never heard of Microsoft charging anyone for a new key under these circumstances. When a similar thing happened to my Vista system I phoned Microsoft and it simply gave me a product key to enter and all was fine. There was never any charge for this service. And once you have entered the new key you should have complete functionality of your system back.

I would recommend you contact Microsoft again and to ensure you are getting through to them, use these contact details:

Microsoft Campus
Thames Valley Park
Telephone: 0844 800 2400

I hope this helps and that this time it goes according to plan.

Have you ever encountered problems reinstalling your operating system or using a product key? What other problems have you had when your hard drive has failed?


You can have issues if you need to change bits of your computer. At one time it would let you change pieces but scored different components and if you exceeded a certain figure it supposed this was a different computer and request reauthorisation.

I guess that this is another plus for Linux which is free and you can reinstall all you want.

Interestingly some business vendors remove this sort of license software so you do have more flexibility how you use the software and as long as you don’t exceed your licenses there is no worry. They rely on trust and coming down hard on you when you don’t comply.

Yes, you can indeed reinstall Windows OS but sooner or later so-called Windows Genuine Advantage
will find out yours is a fake and invite you to PURCHASE genuine stuff, and will indeed shut your PC down or give you a lot of hassle or both if you decline their offer… you’re better off switching to the likes of Linux or Ubuntu and it’s free.

Am referring to WinXP Home or Pro in all its versions.

xcom says:
12 January 2012

OEM machines can be reinstalled as often as you like, they do sometimes fail the validation if its not installed correctly,

Antony Hipkins says:
28 June 2012

I repair computers for a living. Generally you are OK with a reinstall as long as you don’t change the motherboard as this can cause problems with the software verification. Most of the problems caused by system crashes or hardware failure could be prevented if customers created a back up set or rescue disk when you first got their PC. When you create the backup set the windows licence key is stored in the backup. Most customers I deal with haven’t created a backup set and realise that they should have.