After one of my recent articles mentioned problems with restoring Windows XP to different motherboards, reader Bob from Australia wrote to ask:
I have a computer with a P4P800-VM motherboard whch partially failed a year ago — there was no video output. I then fitted an NVIDIA video card to get the computer working again. I have now bought another P4P800-VM motherboard.
You said recently that after an Acronis restoration, Windows XP will see this as a new computer, and shut down XP after a while.
Is there any legal way around this — I am quite happy to junk the old motherboard.
I wrote back to Bob to explain that replacement of the motherboard with the same model is not a problem under the license nor with the OS. It shouldn't be a problem with an Acronis image restoration, either (I say "shouldn't" because of Murphy's Law — "If something can go wrong, it will…".
Conceptually, the licensing issue has to do with upgrading the computer, rather than replacing the parts with identical. Repairs aren't the issue Microsoft is addressing. If you change the motherboard and/or processor, Microsoft calls it a new computer.
So, the problem is really an anti-piracy measure in Windows XP and later. They're trying to block people from upgrading computers while keeping the same OEM-licensed OS.
The problem occurs when you replace a motherboard and try to use the same Windows installation, whether by just booting the same Windows hard drive, or by restoring an earlier image of the hard drive.
As of Windows XP, Windows stopped loading all the drivers from the Windows CDROM, assuming you had a retail or full-OEM Windows CDROM. The OEM Windows CDROMs from major manufacturers, if they even provided a Windows CDROM and not just a restore CD/DVD, typically only had the motherboard and chipset drivers necessary for their particular models.
The limitation was part of the reason that the manufacturers got reduced prices per Windows installation — the CDROM wasn't easily moved to a different type of motherboard.