How To Install: Deploying Windows 10 on multiple computers – alternative to MDT

Sometimes, you have to re-image the whole bunch of computers with a new Windows, best if done in a short amount of time. Typical scenario: I have about 10 PCs, most of them are older Dell 790, some Dell 7010, a few Dell 3050. Quite a bunch of different hardware, but they have one standard part – shared network connection.

Many of us had the “pleasure” of using MDT (Microsoft Deployment Tool). It’s not bad, but it’s far away from excellent. Any Windows Update can break it, and you have to be a mind reader sometimes, to find out why it’s not working. Also, if you don’t have a PhD in Microsoft Deployment and Windows Server, you can get lost in it. I’m not bashing MDT, it has its place, but there are so many deployment situations where MDT is not the best tool for the job.

ENTER THE AOMEI DEPLOY

It’s a deployment tool, in my situation: perfect for the job. Just like MDT it utilises shared network connection to re-distribute to other computers your standard image created via AOMEI Backupper earlier. It’s the power of AOMEI Deploy – it will deploy ANY operating system, not only Windows as long as you have an image for it.

I have to admit, and an AOMEI Backupper is my go-to in most backup situations. It’s easy, and what’s more important: reliable. It’s free if you are using it for yourself at home, but doesn’t cost arm and leg if you want to use for your business. Let’s be honest, and if you are running one, you should be able to afford such a great tool. One of the options (“Utilities”) is the possibility of creating “AOMEI Bootable Rescue Media” with additional drivers if needed. Pick yourself a 32GB memory stick and dump this ISO on it. You will be able to do a backup without using the system on the machine itself. If your Windows dies, then this will be able to boot from it and create a backup copy if you’ll need later and save it over the network.

1. WHERE TO START

I will divide it into parts, for easier reading. The main idea is to create source image first, update to the latest version of Windows, then add all the software, drivers, users to the computer. Create image via Backupper and re-distribute to other PCs via AIOMEI Deploy. Important notice: do not enter any serial numbers, or run any newly installed software. Like everything Windows, it may break the generalisation process.

CREATING IMAGE WINDOWS SHARED FOLDER

Open File Explorer and go to the folder you want to store your Master Image. I keep them in “Images” on my desktop, so open folder with RMB (Right Mouse Button) on that folder. Pick Properties -> Sharing -> Advanced Sharing. Tick “Share this folder”, below chose “Permissions” and add yourself as “Full Access”, and keep “Everyone” – you will not get access without it, read-only. Add comments “Backupper Image Store”.

This is your main shared folder you will refer a few times.

CREATING THE AUDIT IMAGE

Install your Windows version (Pro or Enterprise) on one of the computers. Update to the latest version, with no more updates waiting for a download or install. Open CMD as Administrator (type “cmd” in the search box, right-click and chose “Run As Administrator”) and type:

cd C:\Windows\System32\Sysprep
sysprep.exe /audit /generalize

The PC will shut down and restart. Here is worth it to use AOMEI Bootable Rescue Media to do a backup of Audit mode (boot PC from the USB and do a backup of the whole drive to external USB memory/Hard Drive), or if you use Hyper-V VM, do a snapshot. Save it as “1. PC Audit Mode – Ready for Audit”. Why? In case you are run into trouble you don’t have to wait for all updates etc. It will only take about 15GB per image anyway at the beginning as the Backupper is compressing data, also next backups as we progress, you can add as incremental backups.

Why do we generalise Windows installation? It will reset the security signatures and other essential things linked to you or your machine. After generalisation, Windows set defaults like a brand new installation.

Now, you can add all your software, drivers, users. If you have installed Office or anything like this, do not provide any serial numbers nor start the software. If you want all new users to have the same desktop shortcuts, copy all your icons on your desktop then go to “C:\Users\Default\Desktop” and paste all of it there.

After you have finished, shutdown and use AOMEI Bootable Rescue Media to do another backup, save it as “2. PC Audit Mode – Finished”. If you add it to the previous image, it will create an incremental backup, not as big as the first one. This image is the important one, as you will have the return point if you want to add anything more to the system. Of course, if you use Hyper-V like me, you can do a snapshot or shut down the VM, change bootable media to AOMEI Bootable Rescue Media, and boot it off that to do a backup. As it might be on your network, you can save the backup on any Windows share if you don’t have a USB at hand.

Your image is ready for deployment. Now, start your machine again, and it will boot in the Audit mode. If you closed the Sysprep by accident, go to:

"C:\Windows\System32\Sysprep\" and start "Sysprep.exe". 

Make sure that it’s “System Cleanup Action” is showing “Enter System Out-of-Box Experience (OOBE)”, and “Generalize” is marked below. Alternatively, you can go to CMD in Administrator mode and type

TING"C:\Windows\System32\Sysprep\sysprep.exe /generalize /oobe"

WHAT IF I DON’T WANT ALL THOSE QUESTIONS WHEN INSTALLING NEW SYSTEM?

If you want to bypass all questions on your new Windows 10 installation, copy/create the XML file below and save it in C: drive under Deploy.xml file.

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?>
<unattend xmlns="urn:schemas-microsoft-com:unattend">
    <settings pass="oobeSystem">
        <component name="Microsoft-Windows-Shell-Setup" processorArchitecture="amd64" publicKeyToken="31bf3856ad364e35" language="neutral" versionScope="nonSxS" xmlns:wcm="http://schemas.microsoft.com/WMIConfig/2002/State" xmlns:xsi="http://www.w3.org/2001/XMLSchema-instance">
            <OOBE>
                <HideEULAPage>true</HideEULAPage>
                <HideLocalAccountScreen>true</HideLocalAccountScreen>
                <HideOEMRegistrationScreen>true</HideOEMRegistrationScreen>
                <HideOnlineAccountScreens>true</HideOnlineAccountScreens>
                <HideWirelessSetupInOOBE>true</HideWirelessSetupInOOBE>
                <NetworkLocation>Home</NetworkLocation>
                <ProtectYourPC>3</ProtectYourPC>
                <SkipMachineOOBE>true</SkipMachineOOBE>
                <SkipUserOOBE>true</SkipUserOOBE>
                <UnattendEnableRetailDemo>false</UnattendEnableRetailDemo>
            </OOBE>
        </component>
    </settings>
</unattend>

Then start SysPrep command from CMD using Deploy.xml file as a guide:

C:\Windows\System32\Sysprep\sysprep.exe /oobe /generalize /unattend:C:\deploy.xml

Your computer will login to the first account it had created, in this situation “Admin” I’ve used when installed Windows 10 for the first time.

When it’s finished, Windows will shut down. Your next job is to create a “Master Deployment Image” of this system. Run Backupper and create full hard drive backup. Save it on the computer you want to use with AOMEI Deploy aka the one with “Images” Windows share. Now you know why we created this share in the first place. Here I will note something: if you are using the AOMEI Bootable Rescue Media with a bigger size memory stick, you can also copy this master image there. You can use it later, as a local deployment tool, if the network is unavailable or somehow AOMEI Deploy is not working.

2. DEPLOYING THE IMAGE ON YOUR NETWORK

Start AOMEI Deploy on your computer. If you have older PCs to boot from network, then there is a big chance that you don’t have to do anything more than that. Press “next” and Deploy will download standard WinPE bootable iso and you can use it. If your network doesn’t have the DHCP setting, you may turn on the small “DHCP” button.

If you, like me had one of the i210/i211 Intel-based then there is another option “Create bootable WinPE manually”. You will be able to save your custom ISO in a different folder or you can pick the same path as with “Create WinPE automatically”. Either way, you can add drivers via .inf file to the image. I went to Dell’s page to pick specific WinPE additional driver set for Optiplex 3050.

Once it is up and running, you will have this screen waiting for connections. If there are all your computers from the network press, “I confirm” button at the bottom of the page. If you have a screen where there is no local IP and no server IP, just blank, then it may be just a case of wrong network or WinPE doesn’t have the drivers for the network card. If you have a USB-to-Ethernet based on Ralink, then you could run both at the same time. A neat trick I’ve learned before. When your primary NIC is running from BIOS/UEFI, you can boot to PXE, but when Windows PE takes over, then old fashion USB will kick in. Here, it’s also worth notice, when I’ve mentioned about having a USB stick with the image, just in case.

Now, select “Browse” to get to your Master Image we’ve created earlier. Of course, you will have to add share first to the list. Remember to keep IP addresses only and not the hostnames, as you may not have the DNS set up, to resolve those names. Also, all computers must be on the same network, in my case, it’s 192.168.123.0.

All we have to do now, it’s picking the correct image and press “Start Deploy”:

Next windows will give you the option to restart or shutdown already deployed computers. Once they rebooted, depending on which method you have used, you have to answer the typical new installation questions. When it asks you for username, you cannot use the one you have used to create the image. If you have used XML file, just type the password (or not if you didn’t use one before, you should NEVER have a user without password, ESPECIALLY one with ADMIN rights), and you are in Windows desktop.

AUTOMATING WINDOWS AND OFFICE ACTIVATION, JOINING DOMAIN

To automate this monotonous task, we can use PowerShell, and CMD commands in Administrator mode, by creating a text file and copy from it after your Windows’s installed on a new PC. Keep it on your AOMEI Bootable Rescue Media for further needs. To use it, open CMD with Administrator rights, type PowerShell, then just copy commands with correct information filled beforehand.

  • 1. CMD commands to insert serial number and activate Windows 10.

Open CMD with Administrator rights, type PowerShell, then just copy commands

slmgr /ipk "XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX" #"KMS generic key as per OS Version "
slmgr /ato #activation
  • 2. CMD commands for Office there are in different versions, depending on whether you have a 32-bit or 64-bit Office and Windows. Create a file called Office.bat and save chosen command:
Office and Windows 10 versionCMD Command For Activation
32 bit Office 2016 or 2019 on 32 bit Windowscscript “C:\Program Files\Microsoft Office\Office16\OSPP.VBS” /inpkey:XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX
32 bit Office 2016 or 2019 on 64 bit Windowscscript “C:\Program Files (x86)\Microsoft Office\Office16\OSPP.VBS” /inpkey:XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX
64 bit Office 2016 or 2019 on 64 bit Windowscscript “C:\Program Files\Microsoft Office\Office16\OSPP.VBS” /inpkey:XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX

In our situation, I have Microsoft Office 32-bit. I prefer this one as it has more compatibility with older software. The 64-bit version doesn’t do anything more, so I stay with 32 bit.

cscript "C:\Program Files\Microsoft Office\Office16\OSPP.VBS" /inpkey:XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX

If you want to check your licence details, then try this one:

cscript "C:\Program Files\Microsoft Office (x86)\Office16\OSPP.VBS" /dstatus
  • 3. Joining Domain if needed, powershell command
Add-Computer -NewName NewComputerName -DomainName your-domain-name -Credential your-AD\AdminUserName -Restart -Force

Remember that NewComputerName will pass over to your domain your new computer name. If you don’t want to change it, then remove it.

SUMMARY

That’s all. Yes, I know that MDT can do other stuff like automatic serial insertion, domain joining, creating users, but I always had problems with it. It still requires extensive testing before you can use it. You’ve changed one thing it breaks the others—more testing. When I use AOMEI Deploy, 90% of my time is creating my universal image, loading software, drivers. The only time it failed me was those network drivers on Intel i210/211. The WinPE used for PXE didn’t have them, but after adding them, it was working fine. I had the same situation with MDT, so 1:1 in this case.

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