Some here asked for help with the reinstallation method. Some fuzzy spots need to be better explained. [Note: Everything I post here is very well known and is NOT piracy, completely sanctioned by Microsoft, and Lenovo cannot even comment on it; it's legit, just not well documented.]
When you purchase a ThinkPad with XP Pro installed on it as a matter of license, you are allowed to install and use the product key actually provided. To make the one provided actually functional, you have to use the proper release of XP that goes along with it. [Note: There is a parallel universe for Windows 7 and Vista, but different specifics, although oddly enough the two are identical, but off-topic.]
The product is independent of the service pack, a completely different issue. You can install any version you wish, although earlier than SP2 can be a problem to even get installed due to the many bugs that were fixed post-SP2 [and in theory many but not all are in SP3 out of the box].
If you have access to a small system builder OEM install CD [obtained by legal purchase from Microsoft of that kind of system with its own product key] you have ALMOST what you need, but not quite. Here are the different versions:
1) The Volume License Key (VLK) edition that can only be legally installed with a current non-blacklisted product key issued to a corporation. There has been much abuse of this variant for years, but pretty much all keys that claim to "work" will get you nailed for piracy; the companies that own the right to use the legitimate keys are closely monitoring the usage and Microsoft will raise the riot act on them if they do not. [No, I am not in any way advocating the use of the "Devil's 0wn" key; and it hasn't worked for years anyway.]
2) The full retail edition with a legitimate key. This is the only version that can upgrade a Windows 95 [!] existing system. [Note: It is NEVER recommended to actually UPGRADE a system from Windows 9x under any circumstances; many applications will crash for the attempt. Just use a clean partition for a clean XP install. Get your old application disks and try to install anew; it might work, largely it won't, but it's just plain stupid to try it as an in-place upgrade.] The upgrade can only be started from booted Windows, and if win95 this is the only way to NOT get a message stating you cannot do it; thus, in the extremely foolish and unlikely scenario that you actually want to do this, by all means have at it, but this is the only way you can do it. [Note: The VLK edition cannot upgrade.]
For all other constructive purposes, there is no need for the full retail edition whatsoever, even the notion of doing a version upgrade from Windows 95. [That's not to be confused with an in-place upgrade as described above.]
3) The retail upgrade edition with a legitimate key. Note that this requires that you do an in-place upgrade from newer than Windows 95 [but it's not recommended to try, with the possible exceptions of Windows NT4 or Windows 2000]. Thus, the constructive usage of this edition is as good as the more expensive full retail edition. In fact, you can do a version upgrade from a Windows 95 CD [I have personally done it.] as instructed on the screen at the key point in the install. [This key point when revealed to some purchasers caused them to feel bamboozled by Microsoft, because they thought that meant Win95 was totally ineligible yet the opposite is true - it is perfectly fine for what you likely want to use it for in reality.]
4) The OEM edition that MIGHT run from the OEM disk as mentioned above. This version is known as the small system builder's edition; it was originally sold in various Windows editions in 5 packs; when XP was released, they reduced this down to first 3 packs and more recently 1 packs. [The smaller the quantity the greater the price per license.] For larger companies, you can get a 30 license key deal with a single install disk at a more substantial discount. In theory, it's negotiable for even larger quantities if you don't quite qualify as "royalty" [see below].
VLK systems by their very name are for VOLUME installs with a head count also known as a "site license". The retail versions are for exactly one install regardless of upgrade or full edition. [Note: All versions use different keys that all have the same overall format, but can only work with the intended installation disk.]
The small system builder OEM edition is more restrictive than the others. The retail editions are allowed to be moved indefinitely to a newer machine; if Windows Update or other validation techniques won't pass muster, you can call MS-India and tell them the former machine is now destroyed and get an over-ride to allow the install to work [and the old one will no longer work]. If you wait 120 days, it will just install. [An inherent way to cheat: Keep the old one off the Internet and away from validation methods and you might not get caught, but you are committing what Microsoft calls "soft piracy" and you will get nailed if you visit certain sights or install certain updates such as Windows Media Player 11 or visit certain MS sights that demand validation to be allowed to download the file.]
The small OEM system cannot be transferred to another machine with one proviso MS documents on their website: If you are the system builder [you could ALSO be the user, but you have to wear the correct "hat" and tell India that you had to change a key component say the motherboard AND you aren't totally lying] then they will give you an over-ride. However, you have to be at least partially credible. The reason is that there is a system "fingerprint" on your machine that is taken from such parameters as:
1) A CPU description.
2) A motherboard description.
3) Installed memory size.
4) Volume serial number of your bootable hard disk partition.
5) The EA [aka M.A.C] address of your primary network card.
If you disturb ALL of these, you will NOT get an over-ride. [If you PASS all of them it wouldn't be a problem in the first place.] Thus, India needs to see that at least a credible PORTION of the fingerprint is intact. [If you change out a disk, always make sure the hard disk boot partition is cloned using Ghost or whatever so that the descendant one on the new disk is the same as the old one. Note: The actual Windows files are not checked, just the volume ID of that partition.]
In any case, the above process is pesky and annoying, but totally legitimate and even documented on Microsoft's site [or at least it was at one point].
Note: Microsoft has been selling this version under some name that suggests the machine is refurbed [I don't know the term exactly, but I have heard of machines needlessly done this way because the reseller is not a brand name maker fixing up and reselling the hardware from a name brand original maker such as Dell, etc.]
Now to the variant that applies to most of us: The "royalty" OEM version. This has different files from the builder's version that makes it operate as a sort-of "hybrid" that partially resembles the behavior of the VLK edition. Each of the brand name makers is one of the "royals" and IBM/Lenovo is one of the most prominent.
What is not well known is that every legitimate ThinkPad that comes with XP Pro has THE IDENTICAL PRODUCT KEY and that to install the product key on the label on the bottom is THE WRONG WAY to install the system.
The contents of the OEM CD are already on the C: drive of every legitimate XP ["preload"] installation of XP, so if you have that pristine, you already have the disk. [Just excise it out and burn to a CD if you want to go that route; you also need some files to make it bootabe, but you need not boot to an XP CD to install it, as there are other ways, most notably DOS. I use MS-DOS booted from either a diskette or a CD and I have all of these files on a disk partition I don't intend to build an operating system on; the CD aspect is not necessary at all, but of course might be less unwieldy to some; I prefer the hard-disk-based method so I can modify the I386 directory as necessary to match what I am working on. [I must confess, I actually install XP on machines other than ThinkPads!]
However, there is a small difference:
On the original builder OEM disk, there are five files that are different. You don't want them because we are discussing a ThinkPad install. On the ThinkPad these five files have been switched to the ThinkPad versions, etc.
The fifth file is a text file called unattend.txt. Within it is the proper product key [and ludicrously the proper key to install XP Home edition, as if we would care] for the mission at hand. [It is also in thousands of places on the net. Just do a Google search for HCBR8.] The unattend file is optionally passed to an install to be what is known as a "response" file which will take away some of the few questions asked during an install to make it more "unattended" to some extent. [Quite overblown, as you really don't get asked much; the most useful is that it gets you out of having to answer that screen that wants the key; it uses the text in the response file, etc. By spending a huge amount of time, you can perhaps save 30 seconds during the install; I don't suggest following in the footsteps of zealous corporate IT guys who make careers out of saving seconds on the theory that it "saves time" because they might have a few hundred identical machines. But that shouldn't save more than a week for even a large fleet, yet this is literally a career position in these companies, etc.]
The first 4 are particular to the specific royalty system, and of course the ThinkPad-specific ones are already present. You cannot use the wrong set on different hardware from what is intended.
However, there are also these royalty product keys. The surprising answer is that ALL of them work on all royalty systems. In fact, on a Microsoft site there are generic royalty keys you can use "if you have lost contact with your OEM system maker". that also work. However, the one described above is the only "authentic" one [why would you want to use a different one if you don't have to? In fact, you can locate in the Internet hundreds of them that match hundreds of royalty makers, and MS is not trying to suppress them as they really just THAT unimportant and largely cosmetic. But you must use one of this set only, nothing else gets you a validated install with no effort].
But what of the product key on the bottom? If you try to use those keys on a non-Lenovo machine, it will not pass validation, and if you call India you are nailed as a pirate. This is by design. If you use it on a ThinkPad instead of a designated royalty key, it will work, but a) only on that machine [in that regard it acts just like the builder oem version] and b) you will have to get it validated by India [but it will pass].
The reason for this is that MS asked the royalty makers to participate in helping MS get rid of "casual piracy" to a small extent. By cooperating on these points, MS extends to them a really good mass quantity discount [rumored to average around $18/machine, a lot less than all the other editions].
Thus, there is no reason to even bother with those bottom-stuck product keys as it is literally not used.
Note: This is why you are not asked in a recovery disk situation. It already has on it the proper royalty key; it is truly generic thus you are always correct to use it as long as your machine likes it [a driver issue, not a licensing one].
I won't add minutia at this time, but I will give a head count:
All variant systems use four OEMBIOS files as a set. You have to use the proper set as required, but by switching to the correct four you are setting up the install for what you are working on; all of the rest of the files are the same for all editions with the following exception:
There are ten other files that are somewhat different depending on the specific edition [unrelated to OEMBIOS files]. If you have all four sets of the ten, you can create any of the 4 from these small sets of files [each set is less than 1 MB aggregate; some of the files are common to more than one variant, but at least some of them are different between variants, thus I have 4 directories that are semi-redundant; this ensures the proper ten are applied as needed.]
The builder OEM OEMBIOS files are the same exact files as both of the retail editions. All the others [VLK and all royalty editions] are all different sets of 4.
Thus, any legitimate owner of ThinkPad-specific XP already has what is needed to do a better manual install. That you also de-bloat your system with stuff IBM/Lenovo made deals with is not under their control; you are not required to use your machine as they preload it; consider it a serving suggestion; you can do better by leaving out such as obsolete McAffee trial editions, etc. For anything else, anyone can download the drivers from the Lenovo support site [a lot of work, but freely available].
And worst case, any ThinkPad recovery CD will cough up those files as long as you actually CAN recover the machine to get them available and then copy them off. [You cannot directly read the restore disks as they are in some proprietary image format; once restored onto the hard disk, they are there on drive C: and they do not have to even be there to install, just available in any of the other viable ways, etc.]
cjl [more details on the exact file if anyone is interested; this covers all cases without exception]