I have been asked many times "I have Windows XP, how can I install Windows without having to lose all my files. I only have a Recovery Disk". Well it is really very simple, so long as you have a CD burner; or at least a second hard drive.
If you have a Recovery CD from your computer manufacturer, the Recovery CD will install the Windows installation files to a folder, normally to C:\I386 or C:\Winnt\I386 or C:\Windows\I386 . Open the Windows Explorer and look for them. Make sure you have the file Winnt.exe, Winnt32.exe and EULA.txt. Each version of Windows has a different number of files and almost all the files will be compressed so they will have an underscore at the end of the file extension like "Shell32.dl_"
You can do a search for the folder I386. You will need to copy the entire folder to your CD burner. Do not change the name of the folder and do not make it a sub folder as in E:\Windows\I386 , it must be E:\I386. This folder will contain about 1000 or more files, in some cases nearly 1500 files.
Be sure to review the section A little updated info before making the CD.
A little updated info
If you have proprietary hardware or if you are not sure if you do, you should copy all your drivers to the CD as well. Most of the manufacturers use some proprietary hardware to cut costs in manufacturing. When Windows installs the hardware many times it sees that it needs a standard Windows driver like Serial.vxd. But the manufacturer's hardware may need a different driver. So they either rewrite the standard Serial.vxd or replace it with their own version of the driver once Windows installs it.
To determine which ones they are use the Device Manager. Right Click the My Computer Icon on your desktop, select Properties, click the Device Manager tab, now click on the plus sign, next to the CDROM icon. The first one should be CD-ROM. Click on the CD-ROM device(s). Now select the properties button and then the Drivers Tab. Now select Driver File Details. If the button is grayed out then there are no required drivers that you will need to copy. If not copy all the files in the window that appears after you click on the Driver File Details button. Many of these files may not be needed. But better safe than sorry.
Now all you need is the Windows CD Key, this is easy. Go to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion, and copy the information at the "ProductKey" value, on Windows 95 it will be "ProductID". If you need to install without the CD key click here.
Now comes the tough part, getting the Windows CD Key. The NT platform does not store the CD Key in the Registry in plain text as on the Windows 9x platform. It stores only the Product ID, which is different each time you reinstall windows. So you will need to check your computer for it. My laptop has a Windows CD Key pasted to the bottom of it. Your Recovery CD may have it on its label, or your paper work has it written somewhere. If you cannot find the key you can modify the file I386\Setupp.ini
To modify the Setupp.ini file, open it in notepad. It will look like this:
Change the OEM to 270 on the Pid Value so it looks like this:
This should work on most CDs. This will allow you to install Windows 2000 without a serial number, this will NOT work on evaluation versions of Windows, or Windows 2003.
For those who do not know how to start the installation of Windows for NT, XP, 2000, and 2003 there are two files available in the I386 folder. The file Winnt.exe will start the installation from a DOS prompt, and Winnt32.exe will start it within Windows. If you have a problem with Winnt32.exe when in Windows you can use the Winnt.exe instead, however it is much slower.