Upgrading to Windows 7 with a Standard Image: Overview

Applies To: Windows 7

The Standard Image method is for businesses that have an information technology (IT) generalist on staff and that often use partners to help with technology adoption. Use this method if your business has 100–200 client computers with a small network, possibly in multiple locations. The primary difference between this and the Manual Installation method is that you don’t have to manually install all applications and configure all settings on each computer.

The guidance in section is designed specifically for small and medium business that may not have prior experience with Windows® deployment or do not have enterprise deployment infrastructure.

Instead, you can create a standard, custom image that contains your most important applications and settings, and then install that image on each computer in your business. Customizing and deploying a standard image can help you save time and money by making deployment faster and more consistent with fewer problems. Additionally, you can begin to take advantage of better solutions from Microsoft®, which helps you transition to more automation as your business grows. Like the Manual Installation method, this method advocates a manual installation but with a custom image replacing the retail image.

Watch the companion video tutorial for more information.

Also see the following related documents:


For a complete view of Windows 7 resources, articles, demos, and guidance, please visit the Springboard Series for Windows 7 on the Windows Client TechCenter.
For a downloadable version of this document, see Upgrading to Windows 7 with a Standard Image: Overview in the Microsoft Download Center (http://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/?LinkId=162737).

About the Method

When installing the Windows® 7 operating system manually, you run the Setup program from the retail or volume license (VL) media and answer each prompt. This process is repetitive, problematic, and inefficient. You must perform the same manual steps, leading to inconsistent configurations that don’t always work correctly.

You can create a more efficient deployment process, however. The Windows Setup program supports customizing and installing a custom image, which is a snapshot of a computer that you’ve configured with applications, device drivers, settings, and so on. This process also helps automate installation, allowing you to bypass interaction with the Setup program during installation.

After creating a standard image, you use Windows Setup to refresh client computers with the new image instead of with the retail or VL image that Microsoft provides. Refreshing a computer means installing a clean copy of Windows 7 on the computer while transferring settings from the old Windows version. Using a custom image provides such benefits as:

  • Fewer problems and reduced support issues, because configurations are consistent across all client computers.

  • Faster deployment, because the images include settings, applications, and so on.

  • Reduced deployment validation and testing time.

  • Many updates to the standard image can be performed offline (without having to install, customize, and recapture the image).

Method Requirements

The following elements are required to use the Standard Image method:

  • Windows 7 VL media provided by Microsoft.

  • Windows Automated Installation Kit (Windows AIK). To download and install, see Windows Automated Installation Kit in the Microsoft Download Center.

  • USB flash drive (UFD) or USB hard disk from which to install the standard image.

  • Reference computer on which to create and customize the standard image.

Deployment Process

Creation of the custom image for the Standard Image method is an online process, which means that you install Windows 7 on a reference computer; customize it as required by installing applications, device drivers, and updates; and then capture an image. After capturing the custom image, you can then deploy the image to your client computers. Additionally, you can maintain images offline, which allows you to update images with new operating system updates and device drivers as they become available without installing them first.

The following table describes the high-level deployment process for using the Standard Image method. The left column describes the step, and the right column contains links to detailed information about completing that step. Because each image supports only a single architecture (x86 or x64), perform the steps in the table for each platform used in your business.

Step More Information

1. Analyze application compatibility. Optionally, use the ACT to rank your company’s applications, determine their compatibility status, and consolidate them. The ACT can help you triage and remediate applications that have compatibility problems.

2. Prepare a boot device for capturing images. Using the Windows AIK, prepare a Windows Preinstallation Environment (Windows PE) image. Later in this process, you’ll use this Windows PE image to start the reference computer and capture a custom image. Make sure you include the tool Imagex.exe in it.

3. Install Windows 7 on the reference computer. Install Windows 7 on the reference computer from the retail or VL media.

4. Customize the Windows 7 installation. On the reference computer, install any applications, device drivers, and updates you want to include in the custom image. Additionally, configure settings that you want to include in the custom image.

  • None

5. Start in audit mode to finish preparing the image. On the reference computer, prepare the computer to start in audit mode by running sysprep /audit. Then, reboot the computer, log on to it as Administrator, and clean up the computer’s configuration. For example, remove temporary user accounts and user profiles from the computer to avoid including them in the image.

6. Prepare to capture the image. On the reference computer, generalize the image by running sysprep /generalize, and then shut down the computer. Some applications are not compatibile with the System Preparation Tool (Sysprep), and it’s important that you test them fully. If there are Sysprep issues, we recommend that you automate the installation of these applications at deployment time by using an Unattend.xml file.

7. Capture an image of the reference computer. Start the reference computer by using Windows PE, and then capture an image of it by using ImageX. You can store the image on a network share or local USB hard disk.

8. Create media for installing the custom image. Prepare the media for installing Windows 7. Do one of the following:

  • Store the image you captured in the previous step on removable media or a network share. Then, create an answer file (Unattend.xml) that points to the image.

  • Create new installation media, replacing the Install.wim file on the media with the file you captured in the previous step.

9. Save users’ documents and settings. Optionally, use Windows Easy Transfer to save users’ documents and settings from the computer, which you can restore after refreshing the computer with a new Windows 7 version.

10. Install the custom Windows 7 image. Install the standard image on each client computer. If you created new installation media, start the computer by using the media or run Setup.exe from the previous Windows 7 installation. Otherwise, run the Setup program with the answer file you created earlier.

11. Restore users’ documents and settings. Optionally, use Windows Easy Transfer to restore users’ documents and settings to the computer.

12. Activate Windows 7. If your company does not use the Key Management Service (KMS), manually activate Windows 7 with Microsoft.


By using the Windows AIK, you can easily service custom images offline, which means that you can update device drivers and install other updates without installing, configuring, and recapturing the image. Offline servicing makes it easier to keep your standard image updated. You can also service images online by repeating the process described by this method. For more information, see Phase 5: Managing and Servicing Your Windows Image.

Method Limitations

The Standard Image method can help automate much of the Windows 7 installation process for your business. However, it has limitations that could lead you to consider network deployment with the Automated Installation method. For more information, see Automated Installation: Overview.

If any of the following describes your organization, consider using the Automated Installation method:

  • The method doesn’t scale. The Standard Image method doesn’t scale to larger organizations, because it requires media (USB hard disk, DVDs, and so on) and a technician to deploy Windows 7 to the client computer. Larger organizations can consider the Automated Installation method to better automate installation and provide a self-service capability to users.

  • The method works best with one image. This method works well if your business has similar applications and configurations across most of its client computers. If your business requires multiple images (maybe each department requires different applications), you should consider the Automated Installation method that uses thin images. By using a thin-image method, you install the image that Microsoft provides, and then automatically install applications, device drivers, and updates after installing the image.

  • The method works best when you rarely change images. Licensing restrictions limit the number of times that you can update an image to which you apply the Sysprep online. For best results, start the image creation and update process by installing Windows 7 from retail or VL media. If you update your images frequently, consider using Microsoft Deployment Toolkit (MDT) 2010, which allows for automation of the standard image creation process. For more information, see the Automated Installation method.

  • This method doesn’t support in-place upgrades. When deploying a standard image, upgrading an existing Windows installation and preserving users’ applications (an in-place upgrade) is not supported. Instead, you must refresh computers with a new Windows 7 installation and transfer users’ files and settings. This method recommends using Windows Easy Transfer for migrating users’ files and settings. Optionally, you can replace Windows Easy Transfer with the Windows User State Migration Tool (USMT).