GEEKNOTE: One of the nasty little changes that Microsoft inflicted on computer buyers with the advent of Windows 8 was the use of a tiny “Windows 8” sticker in lieu of a Certificate of Authenticity with a key code. The license key is burned into the BIOS of the computer. This applies not only to Windows 8 machines, but new Windows 7 machines from various brand name manufacturers.
Why should we care? While working on a new Windows 7 notebook this week that came from the factory with a Windows 7 “downgrade”, but with only a Windows 8 sticker, I discovered that the data on the drive was corrupted. My guess is that it came that way from the factory. With EVERY previous generation of factory Windows installations, it has been possible to blow out the system and reinstall it using a standard Windows disk. That won’t work anymore.
The Windows key burned into the system will NOT work with a standard Windows disk. You MUST use the recovery media you created when you bought the new computer or order a recovery set from the manufacturer.
For a consumer, this is an inconvenience. For a business, this is a major issue because the system will be out of service until you get a copy of the recovery set that works. As I write this, I’ve got one notebook on the bench waiting for a recovery kit to arrive from the manufacturer and another notebook that rejects one of the disks that the owner burned when they first got their system.
Contrast this with the custom built systems that we build with Windows 7. The Windows OEM kits we get from Microsoft still come with key codes and we don’t have to deal with the hidden key codes and proprietary versions of Windows that come with brand name systems.
You may save money by buying a brand name system with their version of Windows installed, but you may well find your savings evaporate the first time you have the system serviced. In fact, just the time required to burn a recovery set that may or may not work down the way may well cost you more than the difference between a brand name system and a custom built system.
Our recommendation is that, whenever possible, you insist on a real Certificate of Authenticity with a key code and original Windows media any time you purchase a new computer. At this point, that means buying custom and not brand name.