restore dell studio one all-in-one desktop - new hard drive


Extraordinary Member

My friend has an 8-year old Dell Studio One all-in-one desktop computer that appears to have a bad hard drive. My friend doesn't have a recovery USB nor DVD. Question is, if we get a new hard drive, is there a way we can install and activate Windows Vista legally, without buying Windows? I'm thinking maybe that Windows will recognize the computer based on the BIOS? (This was before EFI).


Edit: It has a Windows Vista Home Premium product key on the bottom. Will this help me install and/or activate Windows for free? Also, how can I determine if the existing key is for 32-bit or 64-bit?

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Windows Forum Team
Staff member
If it still works, there should be a Dell utility to create the recovery media. If not you will need to contact Dell to order the media because it's not under warranty they will likely charge for the media, but it generally a lot cheaper than buying a Windows license. Contact Dell Support | Dell US


Windows Forum Admin
Staff member
Premium Supporter
A lot of times on machines like these the Recovery partition is still accessible even when the hard drive has gone bunk (unless it's physically clicking, head stuck, platter damage etc). If you hook it up to a different machine, give the recovery partition a drive letter, and find the Vista .WIM file, you can use a tool such as ImageX to apply it to a new hard drive, of course you'll also have to make that drive bootable via diskpart, make it active, and possibly run tools such as bootrec and bootsect. Good luck!

I was unsuccessful in trying to buy a new activation key for my Vista Dell Inspiron notebook. Somehow my key got corrupted. So I get the black screen and the nag box telling me I have to put my key back in. I couldn't figure out how to get Dell support, because it is out of warranty. So purchasing another copy of the setup disk wasn't an option.

The only solution I know of is to buy a new copy of Windows, and hopefully your hardware is industry-standard enough for current drivers to load and operate your devices correctly. Even if your hardware is supported by WDM drivers, the compatibility across a vista-to-Win10 upgrade is not likely, because binary compatibility is not supported. And it is not likely that Dell would get Microsoft to compile drivers to support 8 year old hardware.

I know this is a Windows forum, but a second solution is to migrate to Linux.

If you get it working, go get a copy of Clonezilla and make a backup hard drive. I wish I had done this for my system.

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Extraordinary Member
What I did was install Windows (either from free Windows 10 downloadable media from Microsoft’s website, or from my own windows 8 media, using my own windows 8 key — I don’t recall for sure). Then I used a free tool I found to extract the old windows vista key from the “Windows.old” folder left on the hard drive.

Then (I don’t remember the exact process) somehow I was able to use the old Vista key to activate and/or upgrade windows to Windows 10. This way I was able to use the machine’s original product key and also reclaim my own windows key for my own personal use.

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