How to Create a Customized Windows 7 Installation Disc With Integrated Updates

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Do you want to save time when installing Windows 7? You can create a customized installation disc and have it perform an installation without asking you questions, integrate updates and drivers, tweak Windows, and remove Windows components.

We’ll be using RT Se7en Lite for this – if you’ve used nLite with Windows XP or vLite with Windows Vista in the past, it works similarly. RT Se7en Lite is a sort of vLite or nLite for Windows 7.

Update: Unfortunately, RT Se7en Lite’s website no longer exists. The domain just points to a spammy, malicious website full of dangerous software. It may be possible to download the tool from elsewhere, but we don’t recommend this because it loads the dangerous website in a frame. If you just want to incorporate the latest updates into a Windows 7 installation disc, we recommend slipstreaming the Windows 7 “Convenience Rollup” instead.

Image Credit: bfishadow on Flickr

What You’ll Need

To do this, you’ll need Windows 7 installed on your computer. You’ll also need to download and install the Windows Automated Installation Kit (WAIK) for Windows 7 from Microsoft – RT Se7en Lite is a more user friendly frontend to WAIK.

WAIK is 1.7 GB, so the download may take a while if you have a slow Internet connection. After downloading it, extract it with a file extraction program such as 7-Zip.

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Run the StartCD.exe file, select Windows AIK Setup, and follow the instructions on your screen to install Windows AIK.

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You’ll also need a Windows 7 installation source – either a physical disc or ISO file.

Next, download and install RT Se7en Lite from here – it’s free and donation-supported. Download the appropriate version for your version of Windows — x86 if you’re using a 32-bit version of Windows or x64 if you’re using a 64-bit edition.

Using RT Se7en Lite

First, click the Browse button and provide your Windows 7 files – if you have an ISO file on your hard drive, click Select ISO file and navigate to it. If you have a Windows disc, insert the disk, click Select OS path, and navigate to the disc.

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If you provide an ISO, you’ll have to specify an extraction path where the ISO’s files will be extracted to – you’ll need several gigabytes of space on your hard disk for this.

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The files will be automatically extracted after you provide your ISO.

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After selecting the edition of Windows 7 you’re customizing, RT Se7en Lite will load the image. If you have a Windows 7 disc without Service Pack 1 integrated, click the Slipstream Service Pack option in the “Select an image to configure” window and you’ll be able to integrate SP1.

Click over to the Task pane and select the tasks you want to perform after the image is loaded. You can manually check the check boxes or select a preset. Selecting one of the check boxes will activate the corresponding configuration pane at the left side of the window.

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The integration pane allows you to integrate Windows updates, drivers, language packs, and even third-party applications into your installation disc. To integrate updates, you’ll have to download their installer files and load them into RT Seven Lite with the Add button.

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On the Features Removal or Components tab, you can permanently remove components from your Windows installation disc and control which Windows features are installed by default. For example, you can remove the included games from your Windows installer disc, or force Windows to install the IIS web server by default.

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The Tweaks tab allows you to customize the default settings for the Windows Control Panel, Desktop, Explorer, and a variety of other Windows components. You can even add custom registry settings to tweak other settings that aren’t present in the list.

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The Unattended section allows you to create an unattended installation disc – you provide answers to installation questions beforehand and Windows will install without asking you these questions during the installation process.

For example, you can enter your product key ahead of time so Windows won’t ask you for it. The other tabs allow you to control other settings – for example, selecting the hard disks that Windows will install on. If you complete enough of these settings, Windows will install automatically without asking you any questions during the installation, allowing you to perform an unattended Windows installation.

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The Customization pane allows you to add custom screensavers, wallpapers, themes, documents, and even logon screens to your Windows 7 disc.

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On the ISO Bootable pane, you can create a ISO image from your customized installation disc. You can also burn it to a DVD or copy it to a bootable USB drive.

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RT Se7en Lite’s developers recommend booting your custom Windows 7 image in a virtual machine and installing it in the virtual machine before you use it on a physical computer, just to make sure everything is working properly.

You can use VirtualBox or VMware Player to do this – both are free.

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.