Activating Windows XP with OEM Keys using Retail or VLK Installation Media

Have you installed Windows XP on a retail PC or laptop and want to activate it using the sticker on the computer? Maybe you’re installing with a retail key or Volume Licence key (VLK) to get it installed but want to make use of the OEM licence but it is not accepted by the installer (you have the wrong XP media for your key)?

If this applies to you then maybe what I am about to show you in this post will help.

I like Windows XP but I don’t have loads of spare retail installation keys. I also have many OEM machines with their own licence but not always the OEM installation media. In this situation, rather than build a HP or Median etc specific install disc, I use my Windows XP retail version and then change the OEMBIOS after the install is completed and before I activate the licence. This way I can use the same key to install with on every machine and then switch to the OEM licence after it has installed. This will also work with VLK installation media and a VLK key to install with.

Hint: Use to get a Dell branded XP install disk if it is Dell PC as this will require no further steps and should activate itself as a Dell OEM automatically.

Unless it is a Dell computer, the tool I use to activate any other OEM computer is called OEMBIOSCHANGER and it is provided from My Digital Life forums. You will also need the OEMBIOS files for your manufacturer that would normally be included on the OEM specific installation media.

Step 1

Install Windows XP from some sort of installation media. Try to find one with SP1a or later integrated. I find that SP2 is the “sweet-spot” for retro machines as SP3 mainly introduces the Windows Security Centre which you will not really need if you are keeping the machine offline for gaming or experimentation only.

Step 2

Download OEMBIOSCHANGER. Again I cannot link to it specifically because the links are up and down all the time but you can start on the below thread and go from there.

The EXE is self-extracting and should be copied to your XP machine with a USB key or over a local network.

Run the downloaded EXE and it will extract to C:\OEMBIOSCHANGER on your Windows XP machine.

There are two specific subfolders you need to pay attention to: Compressed Oembios Folder and Uncompressed Oembios Folder.

Step 3

Run the OEM batch file.

If it flashes and closes really quick, see the extra information below.

If it is working correctly, you will have a “VLK to OEM Conversion Program” splash screen and it should give you some basic information about the version of Windows XP you have and ask you to press enter to continue.

Press enter and a new menu appears

Option 1 will allow you to check which OEM strings are present in your BIOS this information is required to confirm you have a valid OEM string that you can use to activate with and also which specific string your particular computer needs.
For example, HP and Compaq could be one of 3 different OEMBIOS files you will need to activate with.

Option 2 would have originally taken you to a working site to download the required OEMBIOS files but this page no longer exists (see Step 4 instead)

Option 5 is needed later to actually perform the swap from your retail/VLK key to the OEM key.

Step 4

Find the OEMBIOS files for whichever manufacturer and string ID you have. I cannot link to each and every one might need but start with this post on My Digital Life.

Step 5

Once you have downloaded the matching OEMBIOS files for your particular computer, copy them to the correct folder as below:

If your files are OEMBIOS.BI_, .CA_, .DA_ and .SI_, then they are compressed cabinet files and you must copy them to the Compressed Oembios Files folder.

If your files are OEMBIOS.BIN, .CAT, .DAT and .SIG, then they are already decompressed and you must copy them to the Uncompressed Oembios Files folder.

Step 6

If you closed it, re-run the OEM batch file in the root of C:\OEMBIOSCHANGER on your Windows XP computer.

This time select option 5 from the menu. A new menu appears.

If you placed compressed OEMBIOS files in the compressed folder, choose Option 2.

If you place decompressed OEMBIOS files in the decompressed folder, choose Option 3.
On the next prompt, choose option 1, 2, 3 or 4 depending on which Windows XP you are activating - Pro, MCE, Home or Home Server.

If you used compressed OEMBIOS files, it will first decompress them when you press Option 2.

It will ask for which version of Windows XP you are changing your licence to. This is Pro so I selected 1 and pressed Enter.

It will ask if you are ready to change them.

It will perform the change when you press Y and Enter

When prompted to, allow the computer to reboot.

Make sure your Windows XP disc is not in the computer.

Congratulations you should have an activated Windows XP installation. Click Start > Run and type oobe/msoobe /a to check activation status on Windows XP.

If you get the issue where the OEM batch file opens briefly but closes itself, your computer will be missing a registry key that the script is looking for to determine which version of Windows you have installed. The key should be present on clean installs of Windows XP with SP1a and later but if you have installed using an original release of Windows XP (Gold/SP0) - maybe using the Devils0wn media and licence key - - the registry key might not be present.

I also believe the key is not always created you manually install SP1 over the top of a Gold or SP0 installation. A workaround is to manually create the key.

Click Start > Run and type regedit and press enter
Navigate to HKLM\SYSTEM\Setup\Pid
Right-click on the Pid key and select New > String Value
Give the new string value the name of Pid and the value 76487 (assuming Windows XP Pro)

It will not matter which Pid number you give it - even if you are using XP Home - as this is only used for information purposes on the initial screen and not for the actual OEMBIOS swap procedure.