Reinstalling Windows XP is painful enough, but it becomes a real hassle if you have a system originally built by a large OEM and you can’t find the original disks that came with it. With Windows XP, the installation media for this type of system uses a technology called System Locked Preinstallation (SLP) to prevent its use on a system other than
the one it came with one from the same manufacturer and the same product family. [Updated per comments.] The good news is that you don’t have to enter a product key or activate an SLP system. The bad news is that if you lose the CD that came with your system, you’re out of luck.
Or at least you were. I’m not sure how long this Dell Support page has been around, but I was pleasantly surprised to find it earlier today:
Dell Customers can now request a set of backup discs containing the factory-installed operating system as well as the device drivers and utilities specific to your system.
Requests are limited to one (1) set of backup discs per system purchased.
The backup discs requested must match the operating system that was factory installed on the original order.
Please note that Dell will provide you the most up to date Resource disc available, containing the latest drivers and diagnostic tools currently being shipped on new systems. Due to the frequent updates, this Resource disc may not have all the drivers needed for your specific system, especially if it is over one (1) year old.
One widely held belief is that Dell and other big OEMs only provide so-called recovery media that reinstalls the original factory configuration, complete with trial programs and other crapware. In my recent experience with Dell Dimension and Inspiron computers, this is no longer the case. As of July 2004, the disks shipped with those brands include the full operating system and a separate disk with drivers and utilities. The option to get back to the original factory installation using the hidden recovery partition is still there, but only via the Dell PC Restore by Symantec utility (press Ctrl+F11 at startup to access the partition).
If you’ve got a Dell (or any OEM PC), your best bet is not to lose the disks in the first place. But if they do go missing, it’s good to know this option exists.
(If you own a PC built by a different royalty OEM, such as HP, Gateway, Toshiba, Lenovo, or Sony, help me out. Was it purchased after January 2005? If so, did you get OS media or just recovery media? Does your OEM offer an option to get a replacement disk? Add a comment with any details that might expand this post beyond Dell.)