Build your own custom Vista installation DVD – Unattended Setup

This tutorial will be split into several parts, as I’ll try to cover more and more about how you can make your own fully automated, customized Vista installation DVD, using Microsoft’s official tools. I will cover also Vista SP1 (Service Pack 1) “slipstreaming” in the next part of this tutorial. You will see why I wrote slipstreaming with quotes.

What you will need:

– A bootable Windows Vista/Server 2008 DVD.

Automated Installation Kit for Windows Vista SP1 and Windows Server 2008 (WAIK).

– Any tool for extracting/inserting boot images. I use MagicISO, as I did in an earlier tutorial.

As a tip: if you don’t have the first requirement (Vista/2008 DVD), you can download a 240 days trial of Windows Server 2008. That’s an 8 months free license!

The first two downloads are quite large, so it will take some time.

What we want to do:

(this is the same for both Vista and Server 2008)

Well, I should explain what’s that WAIK in the first place:

It’s a free tool from Microsoft that lets you customize in depth your Windows installation and deploy resulting custom images. Vista (unlike XP) is modular, and everything is packaged (on it’s installation DVD) into a WIM file. That WIM file is being uncompressed on hard-disk during installation. So there is no more just “a bunch of files placed on a CD” like it was for XP and prior. You can access the WIM image by simply mounting it on the hard-disk, make modifications and then repackage it. It’s just that simple.

What all this means is that you can choose what component you want to install and with what settings. And all the installation can be done automatically in minutes, depending on your system’s speed. You can choose wether to add Service Packs and updates to your installation, software packages, drivers and so on. With just a few clicks.

Isn’t that cool? :-) Well, it’s easy too, so relax if you don’t understand all this stuff right now. Just follow the steps.

So in this part I will cover some basics of WAIK. We will customize a Windows Image (WIM file) using Windows System Image Manager, change some default settings and add/remove Windows components.

1. WAIK installation is pretty straight-forward, you just need to mount the downloaded image using Daemon Tools and “next-next-finish” it :-)

2. Create a folder named WIM, mine is C:\WIM.

3. Insert (mount) your Vista/Server 2008 DVD (image), go to sources folder and copy install.wim to C:\WIM.

4. Click on Start -> All Programs -> Microsoft Windows AIK -> Windows System Image Manager. You will see this screen:


5. Now in Windows Image section, right-click and choose Select Windows Image. Browse to C:\WIM\install.wim and open the image.

6. Select your Windows edition based on your purchased/downloaded license. I will choose Business. Then click Yes to create a catalog file. After the process is complete, you should see this screen:


7. Go to Answer File section, right-click and select New Answer File.

Let’s explain where we are:

We copied a Windows Installation image so we could modify it. We now see all the Windows default components, packages and settings, and also some steps in the answer file section. Those steps are just phases in which the components are installed. Not a big deal, so don’t worry too much about them or their names.

That long string for every component shows:

Platform type, component name, Windows version (not component’s version). I will refer just to a component name directly.

So let’s have some fun:

8. Select Components -> Internet Explorer -> Start Pages -> right-click on StartPage and select Add Setting to Pass 4 specialize.

You can now go to your answer file and in the StartPageKey type HomePage1. In StartPageUrl type :-)

The modified text appears in bold, so you’ll always know what you changed.

You should have this as a result:


Repeat step 8 if you want to add more home-pages to Internet Explorer. It will open them in tabs after installation. You will see that at the end of this tutorial.

I added a home-page for with the name HomePage2. You can choose whatever name you want.

Every time you change a setting, validate your answer file using Tools -> Validate answer file!

Let’s do one more setting:

9. Go to Components -> Setup -> UserData -> ProductKey -> Add Setting to Pass 1 windowsPE. Here you can enter your license key and display an error dialog during setup if the key is invalid.

Up in UserData you can accept EULA, type your name and organization…

So you can see how far you can go with those settings and how customizable your Windows installation can be. Just browsing thru all those settings can take a great amount of time, but it’s nice when you think that you’ll need to do all this just once, not after every default Windows installation. And here you have all this control in just one place.

Go and play with some settings. Add/remove some Windows Games. Can you find them? :-)

Another tip: if you don’t know what a setting does or means, just click on it and press F1. A Help window will appear with useful information about that setting.

Now let’s save the answer file!

Oh, have I defined what an answer file is? It’s the file which automates all the installation process and it contains all your settings. So you can even edit it with notepad if you know XML structure. The help for Windows System Image Manager contains examples for settings, written in XML.

Even so, I don’t recommend you to do any manual modifications to that XML file.

10. Choose File -> Save Answer File. Save it as C:\WIM\autounattend.xml and close the program.

We’re almost done!

Steps 11-14 are optional and shows how you can edit your WIM image and add files so you can have them available after Windows installation. Or just for curiosity purposes :-)

11. Click Start -> All Programs -> Microsoft Windows AIK -> Windows PE Tools Command Prompt

12. Create a directory to mount your image in. Mine is C:\Mount

13. Type imagex /mountrw C:\WIM\install.wim 1 C:\Mount

This is how you mount your image in read/write mode. So go to C:\Mount and create a folder named MyFiles. You can also see Vista’s directory structure. Add files and folders if you want, but don’t delete the defaults :-)

14. Now if you did something wrong, you can unmount the image without saving it, by typing: imagex /unmount C:\Mount

If you’re sure about your changes, you can save the Windows image using imagex /unmount /commit C:\Mount

Easy, isn’t it? I’m sure you can redo those steps without reading every line I wrote :-)

So let’s pack all this!

15. Install MagicISO and extract the boot image from Vista/Server 2008 DVD. See the instructions here if you don’t know how to do it (steps 1-4, just replace “XPCD” with “VistaDVD” and of course, the XP disc with a Vista one :-) ).

16. Now you should have all the contents of Vista’s original DVD into a folder called C:\VistaDVD. Copy the following files from C:\WIM (and replace the files):

install.wim to C:\VistaDVD\sources\install.wim

install_Windows Vista VERSION.clg to C:\VistaDVD\sources\install_Windows Vista VERSION.clg  (where VERSION = BUSINESS, HOMEBASIC…)

autounattend.xml to C:\VistaDVD

17. Now all you need to do is to follow the steps here (7-10) for information about packaging a bootable ISO.

That’s all and I hope you enjoyed this tutorial. Please let me know if you’ve found this useful. I also wait for some feedback if there are some errors somewhere or you’re stuck at something. Even for plain-english or grammar :-)

And… the final result:

Your home-pages:



Your folder:


Stay tuned for the next parts, where we will integrate drivers and other software!

The long-awaited tutorial is here – integrating drivers into your unattended Vista setup! :-)

It’s a simple task, but first you need to read part 1 of this tutorial.

Since I have a nVidia system (motherboard and video card, sound… etc.) I will use those drivers as an example. You can use any drivers as long as they follow some rules (I will show you what I mean).

1. Go from step 1 to step 9 from part 1. Now you should have a basic understanding of how you can use WAIK.

2. Create a folder on your root drive, mine is C:\Drivers. Extract from your driver package (if it’s a zip or exe archive) all the files into C:\Drivers. My Forceware (video) drivers will be extracted to C:\Drivers\Forceware96.85, so I will end up with this:


Be careful! You MUST have driver-specific files, like .sy(s), .inf, .cat, .dl(l) and so on, NOT archives like .rar or .zip (the way you usually download them from the Internet).

If your driver comes as an .exe file only, and you can’t extract the files, try with WinRAR (worked for Forceware driver, which actually came as a single .exe file). If that doesn’t work, try to find some .zip files on the Internet matching your driver. Vista Setup will NOT install a .exe or a .zip driver, it looks for .inf files.

Repeat this for every driver you need to install, by creating a directory in C:\Drivers for each driver and extracting there the files.

As an example, I added nForce drivers for my motherboard: sound card, network card (and others), ending up with this folder structure:


I also renamed Forceware96.85 folder to Video, so it can be more obvious about what it contains.

C:\Drivers\AudioDrv contains:


C:\Drivers\Ethernet contains:


C:\Drivers\Video contains:


C:\Drivers\GART contains:


C:\Drivers\IDE contains:


C:\Drivers\MemCtl contains:


C:\Drivers\SMBus contains:


3. Now do the steps 11 -> 13 from part 1.

4. Copy directory C:\Drivers to C:\Mount\.

5. Do step 14 from from part 1.

6. Go to Components in Windows System Image Manager -> PnpCustomizationsNonWinPE -> DriverPaths and add PathAndCredentials to Pass 2 offlineServicing.

Add some string value to Key, like myDrivers and X:\Drivers to Path.

You must end up with this:


7. Continue with step 15 from from part 1 and it’s all done! Install your custom Vista and enjoy! :-)

5 Comments Unattended Setup

5 Responses to “Build your own custom Vista installation DVD – Integrating drivers (part 2)”

  1. » Build your own custom Vista installation DVD – Unattended Setup (part 1) Windows Made Easy on 03 Aug 2008 at 2:42 pm #

    […] Here is part 2. Share: These icons link to social bookmarking sites where readers can share and […]

  2. waltharius on 03 Aug 2008 at 10:46 pm #


    Thanks for nex greate howto. But what about other programs, like winrar, firefox or games? Can we add this programs to unattended setup, like with nLite for windows XP?

  3. Marius on 03 Aug 2008 at 11:03 pm #

    Hello! Thanks for appreciation :)

    Yes, it is possible, but you have to do some “hacks” on the software. If the software supports silent install, as the .msi installers have, it’s easy to integrate.
    Else, you have to manually create an “installer”.

    I will cover software integration later, due the lack of time. I wish the day had 50 hours :)

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