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By using Windows AIK, you can perform unattended Windows installations, capture

Windows images with ImageX, and create Windows PE images.

Pre-Boot Execution Environment (PXE)
It allows a workstation to boot from a server on a network prior to booting the operating
system on the local hard drive. A PXE-enabled workstation connects its NIC to the LAN
via a jumper, which keeps the workstation connected to the network even when the
power is off. Because a network administrator does not have to physically visit the
specific workstation and manually boot it, operating systems and other software, such as
diagnostic programs, can be loaded onto the device from a server over the network.
Windows Preinstallation Environment (Windows PE) 2.0 is a minimal Win32
operating system with limited services, built on the Windows Vista kernel. It is used to
prepare a computer for Windows installation, to copy disk images from a network file
server, and to initiate Windows Setup.
Benefits of Windows PE
Windows PE was created to help original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and
corporations boot a computer with no functioning operating system. In the past, OEMs
and corporations often used an MS-DOS-based boot floppy disk to start a computer, and
then either to:

• Connect to a network share where a Windows installation source or disk image

was located.

• Troubleshoot and recover a copy of Windows that did not start.

MS-DOS-based boot floppy disk has a number of limitations that make it awkward to use
for preinstalling Windows or recovering existing installations or data:

• No support for the NTFS file system.

• No native networking support.

• No support for 32-bit (or 64-bit) Windows device drivers, making it necessary to
locate 16-bit drivers.

• Rudimentary support for custom applications and scripts.

The limitations of MS-DOS-based boot disks led Microsoft to develop Windows PE,
which is Microsoft’s primary tool for booting computers with no functional operating
system. Once you boot a computer into Windows PE, you can prepare a computer for
Windows installation and then initiate Windows Setup from a network or a local source.
Otherwise, you can service an existing copy of Windows or recover data.
Because Windows PE is based on the kernel for Windows Vista, it overcomes the
limitations of MS-DOS-based boot disks by providing the following capabilities:
• Native support for NTFS 5.x file systems, including dynamic volume creation and

• Native support for TCP/IP networking and file sharing (client only).

• Native support for 32-bit (or 64-bit) Windows device drivers.

• Native support for a subset of the Win32 Application Programming Interface

(API); optional support for Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI) and
Windows Script Host (Windows SH).

• Can be started from different kinds of media, including CDs, DVDs, USB flash
devices (UFD), and Windows Deployment Services (Windows DS).
What Is Sysprep?
System Preparation tool (Sysprep) is a technology that you can use with other
deployment tools to install Microsoft Windows operating systems with minimal
intervention by an administrator or technician. Sysprep is typically used during large-
scale rollouts when it would be too slow and costly to have administrators or technicians
interactively install the operating system on individual computers.
You typically use the Sysprep tool in conjunction with a non-Microsoft disk imaging tool
or Microsoft Windows Server 2003 Automated Deployment Services (ADS) to perform
image-based installations. Image-based installation is a method of copying or cloning
preconfigured operating systems (and, optionally, software applications) onto destination
computers. After you set up a master installation — an installation with the operating
system, software applications, and configuration settings that you want to install onto the
destination computers in your organization, Sysprep prepares the master installation so
that you can create a disk image; that is, a functionally identical replica of the disk
containing the master installation, that can be copied onto multiple computers. The disk-
imaging program creates the disk image of the master installation. After the disk image is
copied onto a destination computer, and you start the destination computer, a shortened
version of the Windows Setup program runs. The shortened version of Setup configures
only user-specific and computer-specific settings, such as computer name, domain
membership, and regional options. You can automate this last part of the setup process by
using an answer file, a simple text file that instructs the Setup program how to configure
the various operating system settings.

Fewer errors during installation

Because image-based installation with Sysprep uses preconfigured disk images and
answer files to install and configure the operating system, there is minimal administrator
or technician interaction during the setup process. This reduces the number of errors that
are introduced during the setup process.
Greater consistency
By using the same disk image and answer file to install and configure operating systems,
you can ensure that all of the computers in your organization are set up exactly the same
Shortest installation times
Image-based installation with Sysprep is faster than interactive setup because the
operating system and applications are preinstalled and preconfigured on the disk image
and require only minimal configuration after the disk image is copied to a destination
computer. In addition, you can speed up the installation process by using an answer file.
Instead of prompting administrators or technicians for configuration information, Setup
reads configuration settings from an answer file.
Lower support costs
By minimizing errors during the setup process, increasing the consistency of the
computers in your organization, and reducing the amount of time a technician needs to
spend setting up a computer, you can reduce the overall support costs in your

Common Sysprep Scenarios

Several installation scenarios are particularly well suited for image-based installations
with Sysprep.
Homogeneous hardware configurations
If you are installing the same server configuration on computers that have similar or
homogeneous hardware, you can customize hardware configurations on the disk image,
thereby avoiding many post-installation configuration and installation tasks. For example,
you can use image-based installation with Sysprep to rapidly roll out the same file server
configuration to a group of computers that have similar processor configurations and
similar storage configurations.
Rapid rollout scenarios
If you need to install the operating system as rapidly as possible, you can copy a
preconfigured disk image onto a destination computer much faster than you can perform
an unattended installation or a Remote Installation Services (RIS) installation. For
example, you can use image-based installation with Sysprep to quickly deploy critical
servers in your organization or quickly reinstall an operating system on member servers
after a hard disk failure or some other catastrophic event. .
Application deployment
If you want to roll out applications at the same time that you roll out the operating
system, you can include the applications on the disk image. For example, if your
organization’s standard computer configuration includes an antivirus program, an e-mail
program, and an office suite, you could install and configure these programs on the
master installation so that the disk image includes these programs.

Sysprep Limitations
You can use Sysprep and image-based installation to deploy operating systems and
software applications onto many types of servers. However, image-based installation has
several significant limitations and can be used only when certain conditions are met.
Clean installation only
You can use image-based installation with Sysprep only to install a clean version of the
operating system and clean versions of software applications. You cannot use image-
based installation to upgrade an operating system or software configuration.
Limited server configuration
Some server components must be installed and configured after an image-based
installation with Sysprep is complete. These components include Certificate Services,
Cluster service, and any software that is dependent on the Active Directory directory
service. They also include any application or service that stores the computer name or the
computer SID and cannot recover if the computer name or SID changes.
HAL compatibility
You can perform an image-based installation with Sysprep only if the hardware
abstraction layer (HAL) on the disk image is compatible with the hardware on the
destination computer. In some cases, Windows Server 2003 automatically upgrades the
HAL that is on a disk image to suit the HAL requirements of a destination computer, but
this upgrade can occur only if the master installation is built on an APIC uniprocessor-
system (UP) computer and the image of that master installation is copied to a compatible
multiprocessor-system destination computer.
Special domain controller installation process
You cannot deploy preconfigured domain controllers by using image-based installation
with Sysprep. However, you can configure a domain controller by first deploying a
member server and then automatically running a script that runs Dcpromo.exe, the Active
Directory Installation Wizard.
Limited configuration of some security settings
You cannot use image-based installation with Sysprep to deploy computers that contain
any files that are encrypted by using Encrypting File System (EFS). In addition, you
cannot use image-based installation to deploy systems that have already been configured
with NTFS security settings, such as file and folder permissions, unless the disk-imaging
program supports the NTFS file system. However, you can use a script to configure these
settings after the image-based installation is complete.
• You can use Sysprep only to prepare a master installation that is installed on the
master computer’s drive C.

Sysprep Dependencies
You need two tools to perform an image-based installation: Sysprep, which can be found
on any Microsoft Windows XP Professional or Windows Server 2003 product CD; and a
disk-imaging program. Setup Manager can also be a useful tool for performing image-
based installations with Sysprep, but it is not required.
The Sysprep tool consists of three separate programs: Sysprep.exe, Setupcl.exe, and
Factory.exe. However, you run only Sysprep.exe; Setupcl.exe and Factory.exe are
secondary programs that Sysprep.exe runs as needed. Sysprep is found in the
Support\Tools folder on any Windows XP Professional or Windows Server 2003 product
CD, under
You run Sysprep on the master computer before you create an image of the master
computer’s hard disk. Sysprep configures various operating system settings on the master
computer to ensure that every copy of the master computer’s disk image is unique when
you distribute it to a destination computer. Specifically, Sysprep configures a master
installation so that unique security identifiers (SIDs) are generated on each destination
computer. Sysprep also configures the master computer’s disk image so that every
destination computer starts in a special setup mode known as Mini-Setup. After you copy
a disk image onto a destination computer, Mini-Setup runs the first time you start the
destination computer.
Disk-imaging program
You can use either a non-Microsoft disk-imaging program or ADS to create an image of
the master computer’s hard disk. You also use the disk-imaging program to copy the disk
image from the master computer onto a shared folder or a CD, and from the shared folder
or CD onto a destination computer.

• You can perform an image-based installation with Sysprep without purchasing a

non-Microsoft disk-imaging program by using Windows Server 2003 Automated
Deployment Services (ADS). ADS is an early deliverable of the Dynamic
Systems Initiative (DSI), and can be used to rapidly deploy Windows server
operating systems.
If you are not using ADS to create disk images, you need to purchase a non-Microsoft
disk imaging program.
Setup Manager
In addition to Sysprep and a disk imaging program, there is an optional tool called Setup
Manager that you can use to create an answer file for image-based installations with
Sysprep. You can also create an answer file manually by using a text editor such as
Notepad. Usually, you use Setup Manager to create a basic answer file, and then you use
Notepad to customize the answer file.

Technologies Related to Sysprep

Image-based installation with Sysprep is similar to two other automated installation
technologies: unattended installation and Remote Installation Services (RIS) installation.
Like image-based installation with Sysprep, these technologies are designed specifically
as mass roll-out or deployment solutions. Although you can use all of these technologies
to automate the installation of Windows Server 2003, each of these technologies is based
on a different set of installation processes, and relies on a different set of programs and
Unattended Installation
Unattended installation is a method of automating clean installations and upgrades with
minimal administrator or technician interaction. It relies on an answer file that you create
and can be performed from the product CD or from a shared distribution folder.
Unattended installations are particularly useful if you need to:

• Perform automated installations on computers that have heterogeneous hardware


• Perform automated installations on specific types of servers, such as domain

controllers, remote access servers, and servers that run Certificate Services or the
Cluster service.

• Upgrade Windows-based servers to Microsoft Windows Server 2003, Standard

Edition or Microsoft Windows Server 2003, Enterprise Edition operating systems.

• Configure a wide range of operating system settings during an automated

installation without using batch files and scripts.
In addition to these deployment solutions, unattended installation is a useful method of
creating master installations for image-based and RIS installations.
Unattended installation requires some upfront planning and design, but it is the most
flexible and robust automated installation technology.
RIS Installation
RIS installation is a method of cleanly installing an operating system and applications
over a network with minimal administrator or technician interaction. RIS uses Pre-Boot
Execution Environment (PXE) technology to enable client computers without an
operating system to start up and connect remotely to a RIS server, which installs a
supported operating system.
You can use RIS to perform either CD-based installations or image-based installations. To
perform CD-based installations you use the Remote Installation Services Setup
(Risetup.exe) tool, which installs an operating system on a destination computer by using
an answer file and the installation files that are on the product CD. To perform image-
based installations you use the Remote Installation Preparation Wizard (Riprep.exe) tool,
which is similar to the Sysprep tool and prepares a master installation for disk imaging.
RIS is a suitable automated installation technology if you need to:

• Install operating systems on computers that have similar hardware and a

compatible HAL.

• Eliminate administrator or technician interaction during the setup process.

• Minimize post-installation tasks.

• Perform clean installations of an operating system, rather than upgrade existing


• Install software applications with the operating system.

RIS installation is more complex and requires more upfront configuration and planning
than image-based installation and unattended installation. However, RIS installation is an
efficient deployment technology if you have a high-speed network and you need to
perform clean installations of operating systems and preconfigured applications on a large
number of computers.