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How to: What are my options for obtaining Windows 7 reinstall media?

Technical Level : Intermediate

Summary

UPDATE: Persons are reporting issues with the Microsoft Software Recovery website not working, especially when selecting desired languages. Please use the alternative instructions available immediately below for obtaining install media.

For the past 5 years Microsoft made it quite easy for users of the Windows 7 operating system to obtain reinstall media. If you lost your retail installation disc or recovery media; either it was damaged or faulty; you could download a copy of the edition you have a license for from an affiliate website named Digital River. Most recently, Microsoft ended availability of reinstall media which you could download as a .ISO file from Digital River, which is a digital replica of a optical disc.

Details

This was especially handy for persons who could not easily obtain recovery media from the manufacturer, did not want to pay the cost required to obtain it or preferred a clean configuration without the manufacturers bundled software or even a non-functional recovery partition. It was easy to use, all you had to do was reinstall and reactivate using the product key located on the certificate of authenticity and download any appropriate drivers from the manufacturers website.

Since this option is no longer available, what are your options? In this article, we take a look at what users can do if they end up in a situation needing such media.

What to do if you cannot get recovery media from your manufacturer, refuse to use or purchase it or the Microsoft Software Recovery Website is not working?

Your next best option is to borrow the corresponding retail edition (upgrade or full version) or OEM System Builder disc from a friend or family member who has a Windows 7 disc. You can also borrow any of the following editions: Home Premium, Professional or Ultimate and create your own disc which will give you the option of selecting the desired edition you are licensed for.

Identifying the edition - Windows 7 comes in many editions, you need to get the edition that corresponds with your product key. You can easily identify this according to the disc and labelling. Also note, you need to obtain the architecture you desire, so if you need 32 or 64 bit Windows 7, you need to specifically borrow that disc. See below:

Retail

OEM System Builder

If the disc does not look like any of the above, these instructions will not work. If you are running editions of Windows 7 such as Starter and Home Basic, these instructions should also work. Keep in mind, Starter is only available in a 32 bit architecture, so a 32 bit disc will be required if you need to reinstall that particular edition.

Create a digital replica of the disc

Once you have obtained a copy of the disc, the first step is to turn it into a .ISO file. This will require you have access to a computer with a DVD drive. Follow the instructions in the following article to create a .ISO file:

http://notebooks.com/2011/07/08/how-to-backup-your-software/

Once you have a .ISO copy of the software, you can return the disc to your friend or family member and follow the instructions to create your own bootable copy:

You can then use the Microsoft .iso to USB/DVD tool to create a bootable DVD or USB (requires a blank DVD or USB flash stick of at least 4 GB).

Removing the ei.cfg file

Tools you will need for this task:

  • eicfg_removal_utility.zip – is a simple tool that will remove the ei.cfg from any Windows ISO disc image, thereby converting the image into a “universal disc” that will prompt the user to select an edition during setup. It’s a free download here

We will edit the image (ISO) and remove the ei.cfg file so we can reveal all editions of Windows 7 during the installation.

Lets take a look at doing it step by step.

After downloading the eicfg removal utility, you need to extract it, since its in a .zip file. Just right click it and click Extract All.

Double click the eicfg_remover.exe file to launch it.

Browse to where the Windows 7 Image (.ISO file) is stored, select it and click Open.

That’s it! the ei.cfg file is now removed.

Deleting the ei.cfg file from a thumbdrive with the installation files already.

Browse the thumb drive, open the Sources folder and delete the ei.cfg file. If you are planning to install from a DVD, you will need to edit .ISO file before doing so.

Booting from your installation media:

http://windows.microsoft.com/en-US/windows7/Start-your-computer-from-a-Windows-7-installation-disc-or-USB-flash-drive

OR

 How To Load BIOS and Change Boot Configuration

Windows 7 will boot as it normally does into the setup environment, the only difference this time is, you will be given a choice to select the edition of Windows 7 you want to reinstall.

Select the Windows 7 edition you have a license for and proceed with the installation as normal.

This is an involved process, but with a little time set aside, you can achieve the above results. When complete, I suggest you backup the installation to an external hard disk:

http://www.notebooks.com/2009/10/24/how-to-backup-your-installation-of-windows-7/

Create Recovery Disc now for future needs:

For persons who are not in this situation where they need recovery, I suggest you use your working system to build a recovery set now. A lot of manufacturers are phasing out support to focus resources on Windows 8.1 and the upcoming Windows 10 release. This is understandable since Windows 7 is almost 6 years old and warranty obligations for older model systems are starting to end or have ended.

Because of the plethora of configurations, brands and models that exist, this article is not exhaustive. So I strongly recommend you consult your computers documentation or check the manufacturer of your computers support section for instructions how to build a recovery media set. Most manufacturers over the past 5 years have ended the practice of bundling recovery media and instead suggest the user utilize the recovery partition for reinstalling Windows if necessary.

Initiate reinstallation of Windows 7 using manufacturers Recovery Partition

Computers that come preinstalled with Windows often have what is called a recovery partition. This is used to reinstall the operating system in the event of a system crash. To access it, you will need to boot into when you start your computer by pressing a function key. This can be either F1, F2, F9, F10, F11, F12 or even DEL or Tab key. Consult the owners manual that came with your PC for instructions about how to reinstall Windows.

If your recovery partition is not available or damaged, you should contact the manufacturer of your computer and request a recovery disc set you can use to reinstall Windows 7. They might charge a small shipping and handling fee.

  • This is how the recovery partition is accessed for the most popular makes..
  • For Dell, press F8 on the keyboard until the Advanced Boot Options menu appears on the screen.
  • For HP, press F11 directly after powering up the unit
  • For LG, press F11 directly after powering up the unit
  • For Toshiba, press and hold '0' BEFORE and during the power up
  • For Acer, press and hold ALT + F10 as soon as you see the logo
  • For Asus, press F9 as soon as you see the Asus logo.
  • For Samsung, press F4 at power up..
  • For Fujitsu, press the F8 key repeatedly directly after powering up
  • For Advent, restart your computer. Then Press F10 repeatedly until the message "Starting System Recovery" is displayed
  • For Sony VAIO, restart and press "F8" or "F10" repeatedly until the "Advanced Boot Options" screen appears.
  • Lenovo notebooks include a feature called the Lenovo OneKey Recovery button, which is used to boot into the Recovery Environment and reinstall Windows. http://www-307.ibm.com/pc/support/site.wss/document.do?lndocid=MIGR-4HWSE3

Contacting OEM for recovery media:

Using Microsoft Software Recovery Page to download retail reinstall media

NOTES:

The software recovery web page does not work with OEM, volume license or MSDN/TechNet product keys.

Persons are reporting issues with the Microsoft Software Recovery website not working, especially when selecting desired languages. Please use the alternative instructions available above for obtaining install media.

Since discontinuing the Digital River, Microsoft created a web page where you can use your genuine Windows 7 product key to download genuine Windows 7 .ISO files for edition you are licensed for. There is one caveat though, this only works with retail store bought or what are known as shrinked wrapped products. If you have an OEM preinstall or OEM System Builder license, this option will not work for you. See section for other available options.

First step, go to the Microsoft Software Recovery Page;
http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/software-recovery

Scroll down to the Enter product key section

Click Next - Verify Product key

If you get an error, try again and make sure you are using Internet Explorer.

You can locate the product key inside the jacket of your Windows 7 product box. See below.

If the above option does not work, your next best option is to request replacement media directly from Microsoft:
http://support2.microsoft.com/kb/326246/en-us

If you have lost your Windows 7 product key, Microsoft recommends you purchase a new one. 

http://windows.microsoft.com/en-gb/windows/where-find-windows-product-key#where-find-windows-product-key=windows-7

You might be lucky by contacting Microsoft Support who might be sympathetic to your situation:
http://support2.microsoft.com/kb/326246/en-us

Contact the Microsoft store:
US: http://www.store.microsoft.com/Help/Contact-Us
1-877-696-7786
Canada: https://www.microsoftstore.ca/shop/en-CA/Contact-Us

Microsoft Support Contact Information:
http://support.microsoft.com/contactus/?ws=support

General Microsoft contact site: http://support.microsoft.com/contactus#tab0
1-800-642-7676 (1-800-MICROSOFT)

Resources:

How to activate Windows 7 OEM License using a retail disc

How to reinstall Windows 7 Starter

How to check Windows licenses in use.

How to backup your Windows 7 installation

Updated: March 9th 2015

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