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In my company we have 8 laptops that we use to deploy on the field. These machines get assigned to a user for a certain time and run Windows Vista. All the machines are the same model.

After the machine is returned, it is company policy to completely format the machine and go back to a predetermined configuration. Right now, what we do is we use the recovery utility in the laptop (we are a small shop so we use the OEM Windows license that the laptops come with) and manually uninstall and change the configuration in order to bring it to our baseline config.

I know that there are ways to create an image that gets copied to the hard drive with a specific configuration and with specific software installed (thats what OEMs do right?).

I'm looking for a tool or a tutorial or something that explains as simply as possible how to create such an image.

Thanks a lot

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5 Answers

Take a look at Windows Deployment Services. It allows you to install one image over the network onto multiple computers that are PXE boot capable (most today are), this is one of the fastest approaches. You will need a Windows CD.

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please email us at team@superuser.com immediately, thank you –  Jeff Atwood Sep 24 '09 at 4:32
Ghost (the real suite) can both multicast an image to multiple computers simultaneously and of course image separate machines in parallel. WDS and the various add-ons and solution accelerators is still the way to go though... try serverfault.com for more info –  Oskar Duveborn Sep 24 '09 at 17:38
You can combine WDS + WAIK to get what you need - WDS boots the images that you create in WAIK to install exactly the configuration you want. You can also look at Microsoft Deployment Tool Kit (MDT) which combines these two tools and adds a simplified post-boot task runner for custom configurations. –  Christopher_G_Lewis Sep 25 '09 at 14:25
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I like Clonezilla for imaging and multicasting. Free & easy to use. As far as a tutorial, you essentially have one system loaded how you want it. Load the imaging tool (boot from cd or flash drive in clonezilla's case) and it will save the image to a location you specify. The software can then be used from a server to send out the image to multiple systems through multicasting, or can be loaded on an individual basis. Very simple once you get the hang of it!

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You should be looking at the Windows Automated Installation Kit. This most liklely how the OEM deployed your image to the laptop in the first place, and will be exactly what you need.

What I would look at is creating a WAIK XML file with your base configuration (Networking, machine name, etc) and then use the SynchronousCommand section for your post-build installs.

Create a WinPE boot disk that runs the setup, deploy the image and you're good to go. Since each OEM laptop will have a separate key, you'll need to leave it blank in the xml file, but windows will prompt for it at first boot.

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My favourite way is a mix of techniques.

If you are trying to deploy 1000 desktops, the John T's solution is brilliant, however I think it can get quite annoying, quite quickly.

I build 15-25 computers a day on average, at different times and my favourite (and I think the fastest) method of deploying Windows Vista is simply to copy the root of the DVD drive to a USB Flash Drive - a 4GB one costs around £7.

I then download the WAIK (Windows Automated Installation Kit) (as Christopher_G_Lewis recommends) and generate the unattended XML file.

I have about 10 other Flash Drives (mainly ones I got for free, or just low capacity old ones) and have a mixture of XML files on each depending on what is needed - I label them with a sticky note.

Next, I just put in both the Windows USB stick, and the correct configuration USB Stick, and Windows will be installed in around 15 minutes.

I love this method and would recommend it to anyone!

FYI, I leave the KEY section blank or use one of the "default" product keys - not sure if they are public knowledge so I will not give them out, the last stage of the unattended is a generalisation / lock so the end user gets the OOBE (out of box experience)

The WAIK is generally meant for big companies deploying to their own servers. If you create an OEM partner account with Microsoft, you can download the OEM deployment tools, they are basically the same but the help files are much more targeted towards OEM deployment and customisation.

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I use Acronis True Image and it runs with Windows XP, Vista or Windows 7. Costs $49.99 per machine but you get a discount if you get a license for 3 PC's or more. A special trial serial key valid for 30 days product evaluation is available for Acronis True Image Home 2012. Its listed as number one among the Top 10 Best Disk Imaging Software by www.toptenreviews.com. For Windows software deployment an appliance based solution is a possibility.

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