So, basically, burn respective .iso to a USB key, boot from it, install, enter the key from the sticker on the bottom of the laptop - done. Caveats are (a) limited choice of languages (b) lack of some brand-specific drivers, but if you run English version on a common laptop, it's very straight forward.
I noticed that starting with Vista, the distinction between OEM vs Non-OEM key seems to have been reduced. This makes life easier when there is no recovery partition or the hard-drive is hosed. Whereas with XP, you did have to use an OEM version for the key to work.
I have not had any issue validating windows using the above versions of Win 7, as well as a few vista cds that I believe are retail, as long as there is an OEM sticker on the laptop. Every so often I have to call in and do the automated telephone activation, but they are valid CD Keys and I think that is probably tied to how often the key was activated.
Having said that, at least with Vista, the disc the manufacturer gives you is often locked to a specific laptop/bios/board.
reason number 1001 why I hate windows
So, not your phone number, or the match of the given code with your computer's IP and usage when you go online?
and then there might be a specific patch or workaround that's been applied by the oem that keeps the computer from exploding, but they sold it anyway because you can blow yourself up as much as you like AFTER voiding the warranty.