Most of us don't enjoy reinstalling Windows. Between finding all the essential drivers, downloading every windows update, and reinstalling all of our apps, it's a time consuming and, frankly, tedious procedure. However, there is a way to make it much easier. With slipstreaming, we can add all the necessary drivers, updates, settings, and programs, along with the operating system. Let's see how to create a custom Windows ISO tailored to your needs, for any modern version of Windows.
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Table of Contents
- What is slipstreaming
- Loading the Windows ISO
- Did you create your own Windows ISO?
What is slipstreaming
Slipstreaming allows us to integrate various updates to the Windows installation medium. But what does that mean, exactly? To better understand what slipstreaming is, we will have to take it one step at a time.
Usually, after a clean Windows installation, one of the first things we will have to take care of is the Windows Updates.
First off, our computer will connect to the internet. Then, Windows will search for updates, download and install them, and perform the necessary restarts.
This process can take quite a bit of time. More so, if we’re installing an older version of Windows, which has multiple gigabytes of available updates.
If we also have a slow internet connection, the installation can take literally hours.
Here is where slipstreaming comes in, since it is an advantageous process, but not so well-known by the majority of users.
Slipstreaming allows us to integrate all the updates to the Windows ISO we’ll use for the clean install.
As such, we only have to download all the updates once. Adding them to the Windows ISO will allow an automatic installation alongside the OS’s setup routine. By the time we first see our newly installed desktop, Windows will already have the bulk of its updates installed.
What happened after Windows XP?
In Windows XP, slipstreaming used to be extremely easy; the Windows installation procedure practically just copied the files from the CD to the hard drive.
As such, the user could simply add the necessary updates to the Windows installation medium through the command prompt.
With the arrival of Vista and the later Windows versions, this process has changed. We now use ISO images for the installation. Thus, the slipstreaming method of Windows XP is next to impossible.
Generally speaking, IT professionals were the first to use advanced slipstreaming tools.
It is incredibly convenient for a computer technician to use this method in his job. They can install fully customized Windows in dozens of computers within minutes and without the need of any additional tweaking.
However, slipstreaming can be just as useful for personal use. It can save us precious time, even if we only have a single computer. How would we go about doing it in the newer Windows versions, though?
Fortunately, several third-party applications simplify slipstreaming for any user. That is, without the use of command prompt. This makes it quick and easy to can alter the Windows ISO of our choice and add all the newest updates.
Advancing beyond updates
But, why limit ourselves to updates, when we can integrate virtually any installer with the Windows ISO?
Using the demonstrated method, we will be able to add various drivers and operating system settings to our custom Windows ISO.
But then again, why limit ourselves to integrating components when we can remove the ones we don’t like in Windows?
If only we could also have a Windows ISO that would perform the install on its own in addition to all of the above; everything would be just perfect.
We just want a completely automated installation, without the need to select the language, the computer name, or any other detail.
We want to plug the USB stick into our computer and head off for breakfast/dinner/supper along with our coffee. Then, here goes a fresh install of Windows, ready for use as soon as we are back. Is that too much to ask?
Below, we will see how we can do everything we mentioned easily and quickly by using a free program.
NTLite is here to make our lives easier. It allows us to perform slipstreaming through a straightforward graphic interface. The best part? It's free.
There are, however, a few paid versions with additional options.
For more information about the paid options, we can have a look at the application’s official page.
NTLite gives us a significant advantage compared to other similar applications since it is compatible with all the newest Windows versions. In fact, it gets constant updates so that it can support even the latest Windows 10 updates, such as the Fall Creators Update.
Of course, it does not support older versions such as XP and Vista.
Download and Install
To download the application, we will have to go to its official page.
As we can see, there are two versions: stable and beta.
For this guide, we chose to use the beta version, but you can use whichever you like. The process we will follow is the same for the stable version as well.
To download our preferred version, all we have to do is click on “Download,” depending on the Windows version installed on our computer (32-bit or 64-bit).
We select an install location and press “Next.”
In the next window, we can check Portable Mode, in case we don’t want a full installation.
After the install is complete, we can open the program. The first time we run NTLite, it will ask us to select the license type of our preference.
For the free version, we check the “Free (limited, non-commercial)” field, and press OK.
The install is complete, so we are ready to create a Windows ISO tailored to our needs. Below, we will demonstrate the process for an ISO in Windows 10. The procedure for the other Windows versions is identical.
Loading the Windows ISO
The first time we run the program, we will see that NTLite has a relatively simple user interface.
On the upper part of the window, we can see the menu, along with several buttons we will analyze later on.
Below is the main panel from which we will be processing the ISOs we will be loading into the program. To our left, there are the available options the application provides as soon as we load a Windows ISO.
Unzipping the initial ISO
If we don’t already have a Windows ISO, we can download the operating system of our choice for free, using one of the guides below:
After downloading one of Microsoft’s available operating systems, we will have a Windows ISO in our hands.
To load it into NTLite as our source, we will first have to unzip it by using an unzipping application.
In our case, we will be using 7zip, but any alternative program will get the job done.
Right-click on the Windows ISO of our choice and click on 7-zip. After that, click on “Extract to folder.”
Adding the ISO
To add the Windows ISO we just unzipped into NTLite, click on “Add” on the upper left.
Select the file which we just unzipped and press “Select Folder.”
Alternatively, we can drag the unzipped file on the program. We will immediately notice that a list with all of the versions that we can install from the specific ISO underneath “Image history.” In our case, it is the Windows 10 versions.
Select and load a Windows version
First of all, we select the Windows edition of our choice and click on “Load” from the toolbar.
Alternatively, we can press ”Load” by right-clicking on the Windows version we selected.
Press OK in the window that will pop up.
The image we just selected will begin loading. In the Status column, we can see the loading progress at any given time.
The process will last a few minutes. As soon as it’s over, various options will appear in the column on the left.
Through the options in the left column, we can now proceed to modify our Windows ISO. We will need to click on every component separately, adjusting anything we need along the way.
Enabling and disabling Windows features
At this point, we feel obliged to mention that you should be careful when disabling Windows features.
If we aren’t familiar with what each of those do, the best thing we can do is let them be. We don’t want to end up with a defective Windows ISO.
“Components” is the first option on the list. From here, we can remove any integrated windows features we don’t want.
By clicking on “Components,” a window will pop up.
In simple terms, this window warns us that we should know what we’re doing before removing anything. Press OK, but we would also like to urge you not to change anything if you aren’t confident in its usage.
Optionally, check “Do not show this in the future,” so this message won’t show up every time we click on that option.
The list that will appear next contains drivers, system tools, and other options.
The components marked in blue are only available in the Premium version. Not a lot of options are available in the free version in this category.
The only safe adjustments seem to be in the category “multimedia,” along with tools such as the Snipping Tool...
…and languages in “Localization.”
Of course, it’s not necessary to disable them. The only thing we would get in return is a few extra MB in our disk, as we can see in the “Size (MB)” column to the right.
By advancing to the “Features” option, we can enable or disable additional Windows features.
Here, we get additional choices. We can see, for example, our beloved Internet Explorer among the top options, which we can gladly disable.
This list contains all the options we will find in the “Enable or disable Windows features” in the control panel.
This practically means we can enable those options again at any given time through Windows. That's not the case with Components, which we talked about earlier.
NTLite allows us to customize numerous Windows settings. There are three tabs from where we can achieve that.
From the “Services” tab, we control the execution of several Windows services.
We can customize the way those services start by using the arrow symbol on the right side. Our options are the following: Boot, System, Automatic, Manual, and Disable.
By clicking on any of those services, NTLite informs us on their use.
If we want to reset our settings to their initial state, we press “Reset” on the upper left.
In “Local Machine” we will find several local Windows settings.
We now know the procedure. We make the desired changes through the arrow to the right and see the information in the bar at the bottom. Again, we press “Reset” if we want to revert to the default settings.
This tab enables us to customize Windows’ pagefile, disable automatic restarts after a BSOD, get rid of annoying Windows 10 Apps, and much more.
In the “Users” tab, we will locate settings that affect the interface of each user. In short, we can fearlessly change all the options we like. They do not affect our system’s functionality in any way.
As such, we determine which icons we want to have on our desktop after a format (we enjoy simplicity)...
...and select the desired Explorer settings. Among the most popular parameters is the restoration of Windows Photo Viewer and the appearance of extensions for known file types.
We clarify that all of those options are a matter of personal taste.
At times, we’ve heard about the usefulness of Windows registry in a number of our past guides.
Say, we have a registry tweak that we want to integrate into the Windows ISO we will create. The only thing we have to do is drag it into NTLite, in the “Registry” section.
Alternatively, we can press “Add” one more time, locate the .reg file of our choice, and press “Open.”
This will add the file to the list.
If we don’t know what the registry or .reg files are, then it would be better to bypass this part. Any wrong changes in the registry can intervene with our system’s stability.
Having completed the settings and services, it’s time to get to the central part. We can't Slipstream without updates, and NTLite has taken care of that.
Our primary goal is to download all available updates for the system we are customizing. For Windows 10, there won’t be too many updates, but the list gets bigger for Windows 8 or 7.
Unfortunately, NTLite isn’t capable of downloading updates. That means we will need to use another program.
We recommend WHDownloader. We have described the download and update process in a different guide, which contains instructions for every Windows version to date.
After a short pause to download the necessary updates, we then go back to NTLite, and into the “Updates” tab.
Press the arrow located underneath the “Add” button…
...and then click on the “Folder and subfolders found package” option.
After that, we have to locate the update files. If we have used WHDownlaoder, we will find the updates in the “Updates” folder of the program.
Click on the folder, and then on “Select Folder.”
The driver integration is done through the “Drivers” tab, as expected.
You should note that the desired drivers we want to place inside the Windows ISO should have already been downloaded and ready to go. To download the appropriate drivers, we should proceed to our device manufacturer’s website.
After we download them, we should unzip and gather all the subfolders into a single folder. The final result should resemble the following.
Afterwards, we just click on “Add” from NTLite’s toolbar, and select the folder with all of our drivers.
By clicking on “Select Folder,” the program will perform a search inside the folder.
Some of those folders may contain drivers for both 32-bit and 64-bit Windows. Our program will automatically reject the drivers that don’t match the architecture of the Windows ISO we just loaded.
We merely have to press “OK’, and we’ll be able to see that the drivers are visible in NTLite.
By pressing the arrow located to the left of every folder, we can see which input corresponds to which driver in detail.
We’ve finally reached what is arguably one of the most critical aspects of creating a customized Windows ISO.
An unattended installation allows us to ultimately predefine all the information we manually add during a format.
However, its usefulness doesn’t stop there. We can also add all of the user accounts we desire, as well as input the info of our local network.
Unfortunately, automatically dividing our disc into partitions is a privilege of the premium version of NTLite.
We begin by heading to the “Unattended” tab from the panel to the left. By default, this function is disabled. As such, we check the “Enable” box on the upper left.
To add a local account, we press “Add local account” from the toolbar. Fill in your info in the window that will pop up and click OK.
Using the same method, we can add as many user accounts as we like.
Likewise, for our local network, click on “Join network” and fill in the necessary information.
Towards the center, we should be able to see a list of all of the options for an unattended installation.
From here, we can define our system’s language and select the automatic acceptance or rejection of install pop-ups.
Among the list’s options, we can find the insertion of a Windows activation key, the enabling of automatic updates, our computer’s name, and everything that we can tweak during an installation.
Adding third-party applications
After installing our operating system, NTLite provides us with additional capabilities. It allows us to install any apps we like by automatically running its corresponding installer.
Other than .exe files, it can run PowerShell scripts, .reg files, and practically any type of executable file.
To add third-party installation files, we have to go to “Post-Setup” and press “Add.” Then, we choose the .exe file of our choice and click on “Open.”
A great way of installing several programs at once is to use a .exe file from Ninite.
Likewise, we add as many programs as we need.
If we want a command line script to run after the first restart, we press “Add” and select “Command.”
The only limitation, in this case, is our imagination.
New Windows ISO creation
We are nearing the end of the process, as we now need to navigate to the “Apply” tab.
On the left side, we are given a few more options before the final creation of our Windows ISO.
These options mainly have to do with additional versions found in every Windows ISO. For example, if we have an ISO for Windows 7, it usually contains the Home Basic, Home Premium, Professional, and Ultimate versions.
If we don’t want our Windows ISO to include all those versions, we select “Remove non-essential edition” and disable the unneeded ones. If we want to apply the changes to the other versions, we go to “Image process queue” and check it.
At this point, we are only interested in the creation of the Windows ISO, so we check the “Create ISO” box.
A window will appear, and we can select the desired name for our file…
...and the ISO label.
To the right of the window, we can view all of the changes we have made so far. We are now ready to click on “Process.”
From this point on, the process is automated. Depending on the number of changes we have made, it can last several minutes.
As soon as it’s over, we are ready to transfer the custom Windows ISO to a USB or DVD. For additional details, view our guide on how to create a bootable USB or disk, follow this guide.
It would be a good idea to first try the customized ISO in a virtual machine before using it on our computer. This way, we make sure everything went according to plan, and the Windows installation works as it should.
Here, you will find detailed information on how to install an operating system in a virtual machine.
Did you create your own Windows ISO?
The creation of a Windows ISO that contains all the necessary programs and settings, along with all the updates and drivers we would need can undoubtedly save us plenty of time.
What did you think of our guide? If you have tried our suggestions or need any help, let us know in the comments.
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