Tip: Legally Deploying Images Windows To OEM Licensed PCs

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.

33 thoughts on “Tip: Legally Deploying Images Windows To OEM Licensed PCs”

  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.

  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…

    1. 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.

  6. During the imaging, do you use the VL key in the unattend/MDT (or slmgr.vbs), or do you leave that out entirely? When I was imaging WinXP I was prompted to enter the OEM key during OOBE, but in Win7 I don’t get that prompt, even if I don’t have an unattend. Originally I had the key in the unattend, but I took it out for fear of using that key too many times. I read something in MSFT’s MDT documentation that led me to believe a key wasn’t required on Win7/8.

    I took the key out of the unattend and just had a recently reimaged user call and all that was required was to click the Activate link in Properties. Would using “slmgr.vbs /ato” do the same thing for me and still be legit?

    1. In a small deployment you can use the VL key. In a larger deployment you should configure KMS and let the machines auto-activate.

  7. We don’t have an SA or EA -I think we’re just using “open license” (pay as you go?). When I login to our Volume Licensing center, I see KMS keys. We have well more than the minimum number of client/server seats to activate KMS. But I don’t think we ever specifically bought into a volume license program. Anyway the question is: since MS is granting me KMS keys though the VLS, can I assume we met the minimum requirements to go ahead and use them (we are)?
    I use MDT to deploy an image equal or less to the version of OEM license that came with the machine.

  8. Quick question, does this still work with Windows 10?

    We have 150 laptops with Windows 7 Professional that we are thinking about taking the free upgrade on, and then purchasing a VL with 5 keys as recommended above.

    If we do the free upgrade first on all machines, and then reimage them all with our VL, will we be in the clear, or will we end up with 145 PCs that won’t activate?

    1. I -think- it still applies. I was at MSFT partner training and I asked this question … based on the unclear answer I got, I’m sure the trainer hadn’t a clue. Best to ask your reseller/distributor and get it in writing.

  9. Hello, I have a win 7 pro VL key, with no Ea or Sa. Probably looking at refreshing my laptop fleet with new machines with 8.1 pro. If the machines I buy come with a key for 8.1 pro, I only have to buy 1 VL key for 8.1 pro with a handful of CAL’s? I can then use the VL install media to create my image and then activate with the key the individual device came with, legally?

  10. Kody, the Windows 10 upgrade is an in-place upgrade only, which then upgrades your Windows 7 key to a Windows 10 key.

    What this means is that you cannot do a fresh deployment of Windows 10 and expect your Windows 7 key to work.

    Instead you need to Upgrade from 7 to 10, only then will that key work with a fresh Windows 10 install.

    You can of course build that into a Task Sequence in MDT. Massive PIA though!

    1. You can absolutely use a normal windows 7 license to active a fresh windows 10 machine as long as it’s windows 7 Pro and windows 10 Pro.

  11. Hi there.
    Can i (as a reseller) use my Open License(win10) from WDS to image a custumors new win10 OEM laptops?

  12. can i capture a wim of a windows 7 pro device using DISSM… say of a lenovo carbon x1…. update it with all of microsofts recent updates, then apply that same image to 100 more identical carbon x1’s that came with legal copies of windows 7 pro pre-installed from the OEM? No product key sticker is on the devices so i would assume its in the bios. Manufacturer says i can, as long as its of the same device type… but i want to know if its legal / allowed.


      1. I thought for sure i’d get a more substantial response than that, lo. I saw above, I read it, and I still had to ask.

  13. Mr Finn,
    I have many new OEM Win7/8.1 Pro commercial Lenovo PC’s my question is. When you state that I can use my VL Key to deploy to my PC’s do I have to purchase the amount of VL licenses as the number of OEM machines I have? IE I purchase and pay for the one VL license can I then deploy an image to 5 PC’s and be legal?

  14. Thanks for this 🙂

    I had a very difficult time every getting a straight answer on this, from multiple re-sellers and even a Microsoft account rep. They have made it even more confusing now with Windows 10, as the only option for Windows 10 Pro licensing in VLSC is an upgrade license. Now no one seems to know whether this rule still applies with the upgrade licenses. Microsoft can be a bit frustrating at times. Regardless, thanks for the post!

  15. Thank you Aidan Finn so much for this post and your responses to the comments! This post was instrumental in wrapping my mind around Windows licensing and in determining the path I’m taking with updating my organization to Windows 10. I just thought I’d throw this in the mix, after reading your post, I found this Microsoft blog post and the Reimaging Rights brief. I think this will help answer some questions people have when they stumble upon your post. https://blogs.technet.microsoft.com/volume-licensing/2014/02/13/licensing-how-to-reimaging-rights-top-5-questions/

  16. Aidan, thanks a mil for this post. It saved my bacon last week when I had to get 17 laptops ready in a 12 hour window including hardware upgrades. I really appreciate you passing on the knowledge!


  17. How does this work with activations? If I plan on reimaging systems on a regular basis (we have a lot of turn-over), if I keep having to activate systems, won’t I eventually run out of activations? I thought the KMS had a finite number tied to it.

  18. Hey, I see this is an old thread and hopefully you can respond.

    I work for an MSP. We have a VL agreement with Microsoft. Can I use the VL from our MSP and use it to deploy to our customers PCs? We will then, of course, activate with the OEM license that came with the machine.

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