At my company we are buying 30 new Identical PC's from Dell so we have standard setup.

What i want to know is if its possible to configure one of these machines to our specification as a master and then create an image/clone of it to roll out to the rest of them. They will all come Licensed with Windows 10 Pro i assume OEM.

I would be using something like Clonezilla to create the clones/images which i have a little bit of experience with.

Is there any kind of techincal or legal issues when doing this ?

Will i need to retrieve the original OEM key from each machine before imaging them and then simply input it afterwards ? Or is it more complicated than that ?

Thanks in advance.

  • Typically you use something like Ghost to image Windows hosts using a standard image. Ghost also has an option to change the Machine UUID. The non-duplicate/unique UUID is needed to properly join the machine to the domain.
    – jww
    Sep 10, 2019 at 2:18
  • By law, any PC sold must come with its own unique Windows CoA (Certificate of Authenticity). OEMs activate their manufactured PCs via special OEM-only license keys, but each PC manufactured will have its own unique CoA with its own unique Windows License Key. With Windows 10 onwards, its recommended to link PCs to a Microsoft account, as once done, the license key is associated with, and backed up to, the linked Microsoft account, eliminating the need for manual entering of the license key and/or manual activation of Windows, as that now occurs as soon as Windows Update is ran.
    – JW0914
    Sep 10, 2019 at 8:18
  • 7
    @JW0914 "By law, any PC sold"? What law did Microsoft get passed to mandate that all PCs have Windows anywhere near them?
    – Chris H
    Sep 10, 2019 at 8:53
  • 1
    Anecdotally, the amount of headache that this very issue caused me around 5 years ago was the tipping point that convinced me to switch to Linux. It definitely was not as simple back then as cloning the drive and inputting a new license key. I still find it rather ironic that it was Microsoft's obstacles to me paying them money for their product that drove me away. Sep 10, 2019 at 13:04
  • 1
    @JW0914 there was no context in your comment to suggest that "any PC" should be ready as "any PC with Windows (or another OS similarly licensed)". Also it's mandated by contract rather than law, at least in many jurisdictions. But I admit I'm nitpicking
    – Chris H
    Sep 10, 2019 at 16:27

4 Answers 4


DO NOT use CloneZilla or any other type of 3rd party tool, as they're not needed, will only result in lost time and inefficiency, coupled with likely causing licensing issues.

Windows natively supports everything you're trying to do via three tools

  • Deployment: MDT
  • Generalizing: SysPrep
  • Imaging: DISM
  • ESDs/WIMs are smart compression image formats
    • Only changed files are added to an image when a new image is appended to it
      (all files are hashed)
      • Newly appended images utilize the same copy of unchanged files already contained within the image from the previous image(s).
      • This allows for an image to remain small in relation to the data contained within.

The way in which the deployment of the WIM (Windows IMage) occurs will depend on the environment.

  • If you want to install additional software so each workstation has the exact same setup, MDT (Microsoft Deployment Toolkit) may be worth your time to setup and configure, as it allows easy updating of the master image with updated software and drivers in an organized fashion, which can then be applied to individual workstations remotely.
    • MDT has a minor learning curve of ~1hr if you've never used it before, but how to utilize it is well documented both on Microsoft Docs as well as by numerous IT writeups/tutorials that can be found via google.

  • If you're only needing to install a handful of programs/drivers, simply setting one system up, SysPrepping and Generalizing it, then creating a WIM of it for deployment to all other workstations will work fine, provided you ensure correct individual or volume license activation across each workstation.

The SpiceWorks Forum will prove invaluable to you regardless of which way you choose to go, as many, if not most, forum members work in IT and Systems Management, along with highly-trained Microsoft Techs that are very active on the site.


Provided /CheckIntegrity & /Verify are always used, it's impossible for a WIM / ESD to become corrupted.

WinPE only has 32MB of scratch [temp] space by default, so /ScratchDir is required
(can be changed in MDT)

  • Capture:

    DISM /Capture-Image /ImageFile:"Z:\Base.wim" /CaptureDir:"C:" /Name:"Windows Backup" /Description:"Base Image 2019.08.24 @ 08:30" /Compress:Max /CheckIntegrity /Verify /NoRpFix /ScratchDir:"Z:\"
  • Apply:

    DISM /Apply-Image /ImageFile:"Z:\Base.wim" /ApplyDir:"C:" /Index:1 /CheckIntegrity /Verify /NoRpFix /ScratchDir:"Z:\"
    • /Name: or /Description: can be utilized in lieu of /Index:

When it comes to licensing in a business environment, don't skimp

  • If unsure about something license-related, contact the developer directly
    • Misconfigured licensing comes with a hefty bill when audits are conducted by the software developers, and they will audit at some point.
  • There's a slew of products that help with licensing (Belarc for example)
  • 9
    The advice to not use the likes of CloneZilla is absolute rubbish. It is a perfectly legitimate solution for capturing and deploying a "correctly prepared" image. The source Windows image is the crucial part as you'd need to have "imaging rights" to be able to make your "gold image" - i.e. Volume Licensing on the "source" image OS. The very community you suggest has a question relating to precisely this situation: community.spiceworks.com/topic/…
    – Kinnectus
    Sep 9, 2019 at 13:53
  • 5
    Please explain why you believe a 3rd party tool with image formats not supported by Windows should ever be utilized over native Windows tools that come with Windows and within every WinPE image? Please find a single article written by anyone with experience deploying Windows advocating for the use of 3rd party tools over the native imaging provided by DISM, which has it's usage in it's name (Deployment Image Servicing and Management). I've yet to come across one... perhaps you have?
    – JW0914
    Sep 9, 2019 at 14:13
  • I haven't said that one should not use a tool that may be written precisely for the job and by the vendor of the OS the tool works perfectly with, but you have stated one should categorically not use any third party tool when, in fact, millions of computers world-wide are imaged using such tools as CloneZilla, FOG and Ghost without problem. We've used FOG Project to deploy hundreds of computers across a multi-campus University. it even uses the part-clone flags to shrink the volumes so we can deploy to devices of varying hard disk size. Again, as I say, it's all about the "source image".
    – Kinnectus
    Sep 9, 2019 at 14:18
  • 5
    Please re-read what I wrote, which is a fact, based upon other facts: "DO NOT use "CloneZilla or any other type of 3rd party tool, as they're not needed, will only result in lost time and inefficiency, coupled with likely causing licensing issues." Simply because people rely on 3rd party tools to image Windows does not mean they're doing so efficiently or in the best way possible. Much of that reliance is on the basic refusal by many Windows users to open a terminal. When it comes to Windows specifically, there is no other imaging solution that works better than native WIM or ESD imaging.
    – JW0914
    Sep 9, 2019 at 14:22
  • 4
    I cover the above in more detail in this answer. As you readily pointed out, CloneZilla is a Disk and Partition imaging software that creates images locked to either, of which creates an issue, resultant in additional steps, when deploying to different sized disks and partitions. ESDs and WIMs do not have this issue, nor do they face possible corruption issues, as they're inherently impossible to corrupt provided /checkintegrity and /verify are always used. ESDs / WIMs can also be deployed over a network to a workstation w/o an OS installed.
    – JW0914
    Sep 9, 2019 at 14:30

You cannot use an OEM image to cast onto other systems. Microsoft does not permit this and it is possible (if you try) that the systems will fail activation.

You need to get a Windows 10 Volume License for 30 users, make your image, and then use Microsoft tools (including Sysprep) to put the image on the remaining machines.

  • 1
    Does this apply even if the destination system has an identical OEM license of its own? Sep 9, 2019 at 13:57
  • 2
    Yes, the Microsoft licensing rules apply even though the destination has its own OEM license.
    – John
    Sep 9, 2019 at 14:01
  • 1
    Do you have a source for this assertion? This Microsoft brief says you're fine with using the OEM licence, as long as the image is created from a VL system. Further expanded on here. There are also cheap ways to legally get that single VL licence: you need 5 licences minimum, but they can be in any combination so a common tactic is 1x Win10 + 4x cheap SKU (e.g. CALs).
    – Bob
    Sep 11, 2019 at 5:08

You can use any cloning software you like, although I don't advise using Linux-based utilities such as Clonezilla. But only do so after each computer's Windows license is activated.

You need to boot up each computer, let Windows start and activate, so that Microsoft will store the hardware fingerprint of the computer in its licenses database.

It is possible that the OEM license is burnt into the BIOS of each computer. But if it is not, doing the activation will avoid 30 computers trying to use the same license and getting it black-listed by Microsoft.

Using sysprep requires some knowledge and mistakes are possible (see issues on our site). Cloning is just a matter of pressing the button, no learning curve at all. Many companies use cloned hard disk as the simplest solution, even using specialized cloning devices for mass production. When the OEM license is burnt into the BIOS, this is by far the simplest solution.

  • 3
    Why would cloning software be helpful when Windows has always natively supported imaging, especially for deployment? Just as anything else in life, there's multiple ways to get to the same result, but there are vastly more efficient methods than others. Simply because one can use an oxy-acetylene torch to cut ice, it's most definitely not the most efficient way to go. DISM, and ImageX before it, is the most efficient way to image and deploy Windows.
    – JW0914
    Sep 9, 2019 at 20:32
  • @JW0914: Why? Sysprep etc. requires some knowledge and mistakes are possible (see issues on our site). Cloning is just a matter of pressing the button, no learning curve at all. Many companies use cloned hard disk as the simplest solution, even using specialized cloning devices for mass production. When the OEM license is burnt into the BIOS, this is by far the simplest solution.
    – harrymc
    Sep 10, 2019 at 7:37
  • 1
    I understand the point you're making, but I disagree on the fundamentals. SysPrep is extremely easy to utilize and should not result in mistakes provided one reads the Microsoft Docs man page. Since most images deployed have 3rd party licenses, using cloning software versus native Microsoft deployment tools will create inefficiencies and additional unneeded steps to address those licenses. If cloning software was the best way to deploy Windows, it would be recommended as the best option by a majority and Microsoft would never have developed MDT, SCCM, DISM, ImageX or the ADK / AIK.
    – JW0914
    Sep 10, 2019 at 8:03
  • 2
    @JW0914: There is no one technique that fits all. For 30 identical computers, mass cloning can be the easiest and fastest. But this is for the poster to decide - our part is only to offer solutions, not to argue about which is better.
    – harrymc
    Sep 10, 2019 at 8:18
  • Excellent point =] @harrymc
    – JW0914
    Sep 10, 2019 at 16:13

Depending on what exactly you're needing to customize, you may be able to avoid all of the licensing problems by using a setup script instead of re-imaging the systems. Systems of the same model coming from a manufacturer will all come with the same image on them. Create a PowerShell script or write a short program that modifies a system to meet your requirements (install/remove software, modify registry, configure system settings, etc etc). Your systems would start in the same state and run the same script, so they should end up in the same state. But, by avoiding imaging, you've also avoided the headache that is Windows licensing.

  • This should be the accepted answer. This is what actually happens. For large numbers, PXE based installs. The users are going to rebuild at least once a year anyway. Store the script responses centrally for automation.
    – mckenzm
    Sep 11, 2019 at 3:46
  • Imaging and deployment of Windows doesn't create licensing issues when done correctly and natively in Windows via SysPrep and Dism [≤Win7: ImageX], as each machine is licensed independently
    – JW0914
    Sep 9, 2021 at 15:23

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