As usual, I will not be answering licensing questions.  All emails and comments will be deleted without a response.  Please ask your reseller these questions instead – that’s why they add a margin to the license when they sell it to you, so make them work for it.

You cannot legally deploy an image of an OEM media installation of Windows.  According to a Microsoft licensing brief:

Organizations do not have the right to reimage by using OEM media.

An OEM image can only be preloaded on a PC by the OEM during manufacturing. An image can be individually recovered by the organization (or a service provider it chooses) by using the recovery media. The OEM recovery media should match the product version originally preinstalled on the system; no other image can be used to restore the system to its original state

That means a company that buys hundreds or thousands of PCs, intent on using the OEM license, cannot create a custom image from OEM media (assuming OEM media can even be acquired!).  Businesses hate OEM builds because they are full of crap-ware and unmanaged security vulnerabilities.  So what can you do to re-image these PCs?  Do you need to buy a VL for every single machine?  There are benefits to doing that, especially with SA attached, but that’s not for everyone.

There is a little known legal trick that you can apply.  According to Microsoft:

Reimaging is the copying of software onto multiple devices from one standard image. Reimaging rights are granted to all Microsoft Volume Licensing customers. Under these rights, customers may reimage original equipment manufacturer (OEM) or full packaged product (FPP) licensed copies using media provided under their Volume Licensing agreement.

These finer points are detailed in the licensing brief.


  • Say you buy 2,000 PCs and want to use their OEM licensing for Windows 7/8 Pro
  • You want to deploy a custom build/image to these machines
  • You buy a single volume license for Windows 8 Pro (includes downgrade rights)
  • You use the MAK/KMS key to create and deploy an image of Windows 7/8 Pro
  • You’re legit!

You must be sure that you understand:

  • The OEM and the VL license must be the same edition, e.g. you cannot deploy a Pro VL image to Home OEM licensed PCs using this licensing technique.
  • You must ensure that the versions are matched, e.g. the OEM license entitles you to Windows 7 (including downgrades) if deploying Windows 7 images.  For example, you can’t deploy a Windows 7 VL image to a PC with a Windows Vista OEM sticker/license using this licensing technique.
  • The languages must be matched as well.

What if you company does not have a VL agreement?  You need to 5 products to start one.  You can buy a single copy of Windows (to get the ISO download and MAK/KMS keys) and 4 cheap dummy CALs – now you have a VL at minimum cost, and you can re-image your OEM-licensed PCs with an image made from your VL media.

8 comments so far

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  1. You must also match the product exacte processor version (32/64 bits)
    The easiest way is to match exactly the OEM sticker on the PC/Laptop.

    Also there is cheaper way to have the VL: Buy one SA (and 4 dummies) for one of your OEM within 90 days of purchase, it’s way cheaper than a full VL and you have more rights while the licence is active (the SA will expire with the agreement, but you will still have the VL)

  2. Regarding the 32/64 bit issue, Microsoft has addressed this in their latest Reimaging Rights document dated November 2013 as follows:

    Q: have a 32-bit OEM PC running Windows 8.1 Pro. Can I reimage it to 64-bit Windows 8.1 Pro with 64-bit Volume Licensing media?
    A: Yes. You can reimage between a 32-bit and 64-bit platform if they are the same product and version, contain the same components, and are in the same language.

  3. Hi all,
    A colleague built an image (“image A”) using the OEM license that came with the laptop. We have WDS server and a volume license. I copied Image A onto an identical laptop, updated the BIOS and added a couple applications, captured onto WDS under a new name (“image B”), tried to copy it back down onto a third laptop, but it errors out when reaches 100%.

    We have hundreds of licenses under our VLA. But what changes the OEM on the image to VLA? Does that happen automatically via KMS server as a result of the capture process? Or on my reference laptop, am I first supposed to manually change the OEM license to the volume license number when building the image? I’ve built numerous images on machines pulled right out of the box and later re-used those images to make new ones and never had this problem before.

    Thanks for any help. Truly appreciated.

    • See above.

  4. I am just going through my EA renewal and my license representatives are telling me I need to purchase Software Assurance on my Windows Enterprise Licenses in order to be able to continue to re-image my computers. This doesn’t make sense as I already purchased the licenses, if I don’t wish to upgrade, I shouldn’t be forced to keep SA I don’t believe. I have asked for the Microsoft Legal document that states this, still waiting…

    • I can’t get involved in specifics. I also don’t work with EAs – they have some funny specifics. Best you contact another large account reseller to see what their opinion is.

  5. I own a small computer shop, and when we reinstall windows for a customer whose Hard Drive has crashed, we reuse the customers OEM key. Most PC’s are Home Premium (win7) & Core (win8) editions. I started to sysprep a few images to save time along the way. Came across this article. Legally can I use a Retail Windows 7/8 DVD to reinstall a customers computer whose hard drive has crashed ? What are my options as far as creating a generic updated image to deploy to customers PC. Technically, the PC’s do not belong to the business.

    • Ask your MSFT distributor.

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