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I work at a helpdesk for a university where it is very common for us to reformat people's computers using XP, Vista, and Win7 CD's and DVD's. Of course, the discs get scratched and lost a lot.

It is feasible to have a server which the many different laptops can PXE boot to, to boot up images of these different OSes? Would you imagine that drivers would be an issue? Also, we have a router which provides DHCP services. Could such a PXE boot server be assigned a static IP from the router, and other clients still be able to connect to the PXE server?

Any thoughts would be appreciated, we are just brainstorming at this point.

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up vote 1 down vote accepted

If you are just installing Windows, I cannot see what the complication would be when using Windows Deployment Services on Windows Server 2003/2008/R2 on a domain. The domain controller will provide the DHCP service. It's a lot easier than messing around with TFTP and ethernet crossover cables.

The only problem I can think of, is that some older cheap laptops may not be able to boot from network.

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The client machines would have to also support Boot from LAN. – surfasb Mar 18 '11 at 17:45
@surfasb: Isn't that what the last sentence implied? – paradroid Mar 18 '11 at 17:53

PXE boot without serving DHCP:

If you have a DD-WRT router you can
- enable DNSMasq under 'services'
- add to 'Additional DNS Options' dhcp-boot=pxelinux.0,,

That will send out the correct DHCP additions and point your PXE booting hosts to your tftpd/PXE server

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The router would have to be capable of handing out the PXE information (most small home-style routers can't).

You would need to specify the DHCP options:

next-server <pxe server ip address>;
filename "<pxe image name>";

so it would have to be a fairly advanced router you're using.

Most routers will allow the allocation of a static IP address through DHCP, or if not, just manually assign one that is within the network range and yet outside the DHCP allocation pool.

As for booting CD or DVD images over the network? I haven't heard of anything that can reliably do this.

What I would suggest instead, which may be far simpler than playing around with PXE is to invest in an iOdd which is both a USB hard drive and a virtual USB CD-ROM. It allows you to boot off ISO images as if they were a USB CD-ROM drive. I have one with all the major operating systems on as ISO images, as well as a collection of common drivers and utility software and tools, for helping me in the support of my customers. It's an absolute godsend.

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