A client’s hard drive recently died and I needed to get them up and running quickly. The computer was an older Dell computer and had been built off of the Dell pre-install. I grabbed a new hard drive, a CD that had Windows XP’s Service Pack 3 slipstreamed into it, and began the install. When the install reached the point of asking for the product key, I typed in the 25-character product key on the sticker for Windows XP Professional from the top of the case. Unfortunately it returned an error saying the product key was incorrect. I believe this was caused from a combination of using the Service Pack 3 installer with an OEM key.
I continued with the OS installation, knowing I’d have to activate Windows XP later. I tried using the Windows Activation program but it gave the same error. I tried calling the automated phone system but it told me that there was a problem with the product key as well.
I read on TechNet about “Preserving OEM Pre-Activation when Re-installing Windows XP” but it didn’t apply. I finally found the solution from Microsoft in the Windows Product Key Update Tool. There is a version of the tool for Windows XP and instructions of how to access it in Windows Vista or 7.
Running the tool, I was prompted to enter the Product Key. I typed in the same product key that was reported as invalid off of the sticker and the tool went right through its process. It prompted to restart at the end and upon booting back up, I was again prompted to activate Windows XP but this time it went through successfully. I restarted the computer and checked the system properties and everything was running properly. I’m not quite sure what the hang up was but as long as Windows XP is still hanging around, I’ll be holding onto this tip in case I encounter the problem again.