Manual Installation of Windows 7: Overview

Applies To: Windows 7



We recommend the Manual Installation method if your business does not have information technology (IT) staff or has IT staff members without deployment experience. This method is best if you have fewer than 100 client computers and small, unmanaged networks with multiple locations.

Manual operating system installation followed by manual application installation is the typical way in which small businesses deploy Windows® operating systems. They manually install Windows from the retail or volume license (VL) media, manually install applications from their media, and then manually configure the client computer to suit their needs.

This method works well in small businesses, because it does not require a significant investment to support an infrequent task, allowing you to focus on satisfying customers rather than on installing an operating system.

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 the Manual Installation of Windows 7: Overview in the Microsoft® Download Center (

About the Method

You can realize the benefits of the Windows 7 operating system without purchasing new client computers. By using the Manual Installation method, you can easily upgrade to Windows 7 by installing a clean copy of the operating system without keeping applications, and you can easily transfer your files and settings from the previous Windows version. This is called a computer refresh. You can optionally upgrade computers running Windows Vista® with Service Pack 1 (SP1) or higher to Windows 7 while keeping your applications. This is called an in-place upgrade.

When performing this process, you typically run the Setup program from the media and answer each prompt. You can leverage your existing knowledge of Setup to save time and effort and to provide a more reproducible outcome by optionally automating the installation using a Windows Setup Unattend.xml file. Unattend.xml files enable you to script Windows 7 installation. They contain settings that configure Windows 7 during installation. Settings include the computer name, organization name, time zone, workgroup name, and so on. You use the Windows System Image Manager (Windows SIM) to create Unattend.xml files. Additionally, non-Microsoft Web sites are available for creating Unattend.xml files without installing or using Windows SIM.

Method Requirements

The following elements are required to use the Manual Installation method:

  • Windows 7 installation media (retail or VL)

  • Windows SIM from the Windows Automated Installation Kit (optional). If you’re going to use the Windows SIM to create an Unattend.xml file, download and install the Windows Automated Installation Kit (Windows AIK)

  • A USB flash drive (UFD) on which to store the Unattend.xml file


A number of non-Microsoft Web sites enable you to create an Unattend.xml file without using the Windows AIK. These Web sites are useful substitutes for quickly and easily creating Unattend.xml; however, do not provide confidential information to them. Instead, we recommend that you enter placeholders and then substitute the actual values in the Unattend.xml file after you download it to your computer. For example, instead of providing your Microsoft product key or password to a non-Microsoft Web site, type XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXX on the Web site. Then, in a text editor like Notepad open the Unattend.xml file you downloaded, find this value, and substitute your actual product key.

Deployment Process

The following table describes the high-level deployment process for using the Manual Installation method. The left column describes the step, and the right column contains links to detailed information about completing that step.

Step More Information

1. Create an Unattend.xml file.

Optionally, create an Unattend.xml file for Windows 7 by using Windows SIM or a non-Microsoft Web site.

If you used a non-Microsoft Web site to create an Unattend.xml file, open it in Notepad to edit your private information (for example, product key or passwords).

Copy Unattend.xml to a UFD. The Windows Setup program looks for this file in a variety of locations, but storing it on a UFD is easiest.

2. Save users’ documents and setting.

Optionally, use Windows Easy Transfer to save users’ documents and settings from the computer, which you can restore after installing Windows 7 on the computer. This step is necessary only if you’re refreshing the computer with a new installation.

3. Install Windows 7 on the client computer.

If you created an Unattend.xml file and copied it to a UFD, insert the UFD in the client computer to which you’re deploying Windows 7. Then, do one of the following:

  • Refresh. Run the Setup program by starting the computer with the Windows 7 retail or VL media in the DVD drive. When prompted to press a key to start the computer using the DVD, press the space bar. (If you are upgrading from Windows XP to Windows 7 use this method.)

  • Upgrade. Run the Setup program by starting the computer using the currently installed operating system and then running Setup.exe from the retail or VL media in the DVD drive. (If you are upgrading from Windows Vista to Windows 7 you can use this method, but a refresh is preferred.)

4. Restore users’ documents and settings. Optionally, use Windows Easy Transfer to restore users’ documents and settings to the computer. This step is necessary only if you refreshed the computer with a new installation in the previous step.

5. Install applications and configure settings. After installing Windows 7 from the retail or VL media, complete deployment by installing applications and configuring the computer as required.

  • None

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

Method Limitations

As you can imagine, manually installing Windows 7 on computers can be a time-consuming process. You can save time and create more reproducible results by using the Standard Image method. Additionally, the Manual Installation method has limitations that might lead you to use other methods:

  • Deploying to many client computers. If you’re deploying Windows 7 to many computers, repeatedly deploying Windows 7 to the same computers (common for Internet cafés and developers), or deploying to computers that have radically different configurations, consider using the Standard Image method or the Automated Installation method instead. The techniques that the Automated Installation method advocates are particularly well suited to deploying numerous configurations by using a single operating system image.

  • Deploying multiple Windows editions. The Manual Installation method is beneficial if you have a small number of client computers and a single edition of the Windows 7 operating system. Using one Unattend.xml file with multiple Windows 7 editions is not supported, as each Windows edition can expose different features and settings through the file. Therefore, you must create an Unattend.xml file for each edition of Windows that you’re installing.