Introducing How-To Geek School: Learn Technology Here for Free

Most of our readers are familiar with Windows 7, but just how knowledgeable are you? Could you pass a Microsoft certification test? In our new Geek School series, we’re going to try and teach you about technology in a more in-depth fashion – starting with Windows 7, but we’re not stopping there.

Be sure to check out the other articles in the series (so far)

What is the Geek School?

Getting your certifications isn’t the easiest thing in the world, and it’s definitely not cheap. Books are expensive. Taking classes is even more expensive. It’s a huge industry, and if you want a good job you usually need to invest a ton of time and money, and at the end, you might find you weren’t that interested in the first place.

What if you just want to learn, without spending any money?

How-To Geek School is your solution. Each weekday we’ll have a new technology lesson on a specific subject. We’ll explain everything the way we always do, with lots of pictures and advice.

We’re going to start with Windows 7 – an in-depth look at the operating system, based on the same material covered in the Microsoft certification test. Once we’re done with this series, you should know enough to feel comfortable taking the test – though obviously we can’t guarantee that you’ll pass the test, and we do highly recommend doing even more study on the subject.

Not every one of our courses will be tied to an existing test or certification though – we’ll be creating courses that cover general geek subjects like building a computer or server, electronics, photography, and photo editing.

Upcoming Geek School Courses

The first two courses that we’ve already put together will make you an expert on the client side for the Windows ecosystem.

  • Windows 7 – covering Microsoft’s 70-680 exam, which is the only exam you need to become a MCTS (Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist)
  • PowerShell – learn how to use this powerful scripting language to control your Windows PC or Server.

Over the next few months, we’ll be creating certification courses for Windows 8, Windows Server, Microsoft Exchange, Microsoft SharePoint and SQL Server. We’ll also be creating non-certification courses as well. If you have any ideas for courses, be sure to let us know.

As usual, you’ll be able to read the entire series on our site for free, forever.

Learning Without Breaking Things? It’s Time for a Virtual Machine

If you’re going to be installing and tweaking and customizing your operating system, we strongly advise that you don’t use your primary computer for this task. You are much better off downloading and installing a virtual machine software, and then loading up Windows in a virtual machine for testing.

There’s a lot of choices, depending on whether you want a free solution or something more powerful, like VMware Workstation. You can even install some of the free server versions if you wanted to get elaborate.

  • Free: VirtualBox
    This is a great solution for the beginner, it runs just about anywhere, and Windows 7 will work just fine in it. You can also use this on your Linux PC to install Windows, or on your Windows PC to install Linux.
  • VMware Workstation
    Using this virtual machine solution isn’t cheap, but it does have an extremely useful Snapshot feature, that will let you literally take a snapshot of the current virtual machine state, do your testing and configuring, and then roll back to the previous state. That way you can test things without worrying about breaking, or even just do the same thing over again.

If you have an extra PC, you could also use that for testing, but with a newer computer you can run more than one VM at a time, making it the ideal place to test.

In This Edition… Microsoft’s 70-680 Exam for Windows 7

In the first edition of Geek School we are going to cover Microsoft’s 70-680 exam, which is the only exam you need to become an MCTS (Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist) on Windows 7 subject matter. This series is going to span 3 weeks with one article each weekday.

What Does the Exam Cover?

If you’re going to study and learn in order to pass a test, you should definitely find out what the test is about before you begin. So here’s a brief overview of all of the things that this exam is going to cover, which is also a solid guideline for what this series is going to cover. You can read Microsoft’s official list of topics on the exam information page.

  1. Installing, Upgrading, and Migrating to Windows 7
    Learning hardware requirements, installing, dual-booting, installation methods with different sources, upgrading from Vista, migrating from XP, upgrading from one version of Windows 7 to another, and migrating user profiles, side-by-side or wipe and load.
  2. Deploying Windows 7
    Creating a manual or automated system image, creating a WIM file, prepping an image for deployment, adding drivers and updates to images, setting up tasks to run after image deployment, deploying automatically or manually, setting up VHDs.
  3. Configuring Hardware
    Dealing with drivers: Installing, updating, disabling, signed drivers, conflicts, settings, problems.
  4. Configuring Applications
    Compatibility mode, shims, IE, software restriction policies, app control policies, group policy, local security policy. Internet Explorer compatibility view, security, providers, add-ons, certificates.
  5. Networking
    Setting up connections with IPv4 and IPv6, name resolution, locations, resolving issues. Adding wired and wireless devices, configuring security settings, setting preferred networks, setting up location-aware printing. Remote management, Powershell, Windows Firewall profiles, rules, and notifications.
  6. Configuring Resource Access
    File and folder access and permissions, encryption, EFS, NTFS permissions, copying vs moving files, printers, queues, homegroups, user account control, secure desktop, credentials, certificates, smart cards, multifactor authentication, BranchCache.
  7. Mobile Computing
    Bitlocker, BitLocker to Go, TPM, data recovery agent, DirectAccess, Offline File policies, caching, remote connections, VPN, dial-up, remote desktop, published apps.
  8. Maintaining Windows 7
    Configuring updates, rolling back updates, managing disk volumes, fragmentation, RAID, removable device policies, event logging, event subscriptions, system diagnostics, performance settings, cache, page files, drivers, power plans, mobile performance issues.
  9. Backup and Recovery
    System recovery disks, backing up files, folders, full system, restore points, last known good, driver rollback, restoring damaged files with shadow copies, restoring user profiles.

Be sure to read through the official Microsoft list when you get the time.

Installing Windows 7

Windows doesn’t just magically appear on your hard drive; someone has to put it there. However, the method you use to get Windows onto your home computer differs dramatically from the method big companies like Dell and HP use to deploy Windows to thousands of computers at a time.

In the first part of the series we are going to look at all the different installation methods, hardware requirements and versions of the operating system. If you are already running an operating system like Windows Vista or even Windows XP we are not going to leave you behind.

In the second part of the series we delve into your options concerning upgrades and migrations, as well as the difference between the two. Once you have Windows 7 up and running smoothly you will need to configure settings. The next few articles will cover topics like:

  • Configuring applications and application restrictions
  • Managing and troubleshooting hardware and driver issues
  • Disk configurations such as RAID 0,1 and 5

You will want to get your PC onto the network as well so we will start by explaining what an IP address is and why you need one. However, an IP address is not all that is required for computers to communicate on a network, as such we will look at how subnet masks work as well as how your computer uses a bitwise AND operation to check if the device you want to communicate with is on the same network as you are.

Once you are connected to a network you can take advantage of some cool features like being able to share files with people, as well as being able to remotely access your PC from anywhere in the world. Of course we will show you how to tighten up security using network locations and firewall profiles as well. Finally, you will want to keep your system up to date using Windows Updates and have a good backup plan using Windows Backup. So lets get started.

Hardware Requirements

One of the first things you will want to do is identify whether your PC is cable of running Windows 7. The following table summarizes the hardware requirements.

Architecture x86 x64
Processor 1GHZ 1GHZ
RAM 1GB 2GB
Graphics Direct X9 with WDDM 1.0 (Aero) Direct X9 with WDDM 1.0 (Aero)
HDD 16GB Free 20GB Free

Note that you only need to meet the graphics requirements if you wish to make use of the Windows Aero experience.

Installation Methods

The exam objectives cover a number of different methods that you could use to install your copy of Windows. The one you are most probably familiar with is installing Windows from a DVD, which is still possible in Windows 7. One potential caveat with this method of installation is that many mobile computers, such as netbooks and ultrabooks, don’t come with built-in DVD drives. In this case it is useful to install Windows from a USB. In order to install Windows from a USB, the flash drive needs to be at least 4GB in size. You will also have prepare it using the following steps, which can be done from any PC running Windows 7.

Creating a Windows Install USB

The first thing you need to do is open an elevated command prompt. image

Next we need to use the diskpart command line tool:

diskpart

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Now we need to identify which disk is our USB, you can use the following command to find out:

list disk

image Once you have your disk number you will need to select it:

select disk 1

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Now we need to wipe all the existing partitions off the drive, you can do this by using the clean command:

clean

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Next we need to create a single primary partition on the USB:

create partition primary

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Now give the new partition a file system:

format fs=fat32 quick

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It is crucial to mark the partition as active, so that Windows knows which partition to boot from:

active

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Finally we need to give our USB a drive letter so that we can copy the installation files to it. To do that we need to get a list of volumes on our machine:

list volume

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You will easily be able to identify the correct volume by looking at the size column, once you have found it go ahead and select it:

select volume 3

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Then assign it a drive letter that is not is use:

assign letter=F

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Now open explorer and select all the files on your Windows DVD and send them to your USB.

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That’s all there is to it. Of course in the real world we would use a utility to do this for us, but unfortunately that isn’t a valid exam answer.

As you can imagine, using a flash drive is faster than installing Windows from the DVD, but it still doesn’t scale well. In order to try and eliminate the scalability problem we can also install Windows from an ordinary network share.

While this may sound like a viable option at first, it certainly isn’t without its flaws. You see, in order to access the installation files on your network you would still need to boot each PC from either a DVD or a USB that contains the WinPE (Windows Preinstallation Environment), you could then connect to the network share using the command line and kick off the installation. However, the most common method used in large scale deployments of Windows 7 is a technology called WDS (Windows Deployment Services). In order to use WDS you must have the following:

  • A server running at least Windows Server 2008
  • Your environment will need to have Active Directory, DHCP and DNS
  • Your clients must support PXE Boot (Since the installation will be done over the network).

If you have all of these things already in place there are huge benefits over an ordinary network deployment, such as:

Multicasting

During a typical network installation (when not using WDS), the client will first download the 3.5GB of Windows installation files to each PC before performing the actual installation. This method is tedious and a waste of bandwidth. When using multicasting instead of each PC pulling its own files from the server, the server will use a one to many method of copying the files to your clients, thus saving massive amounts of bandwidth.

Updates

Since your source files are stored in a single repository, you only have to update the image you have on your WDS server. This way any new installations you do will automatically have the latest service packs installed. You can also slipstream drivers if you get new hardware in your environment.

Automation

While partial automation is possible using ordinary answer files and a network share, you can get total automation by using tools like the Windows AIK (Automated Installation Kit), SIM (System Image Manager) and SCCM (System Center Config Manager) along with Windows Deployment Services. Just remember that no matter which method you choose to install Windows, including WDS, you will need to change the BIOS settings on the PC to boot from the correct piece of hardware.

Clean Installations

When we talk about a clean install it typically implies that the hard drive is either empty or is going to be formatted, and the previous operating system will be lost. This is in contrast to an upgrade where files and settings are kept. Starting with Windows 7, it is possible to do a clean installation on a drive that already contains an operating system. In this case you will be warned that your old Windows installation will be moved into a Windows.old folder on the root of your hard drive. One example of when a clean install is required is when you want to change the architecture of your Operating System. For example, if you wanted to change from a x86 (32 Bit) to x64 (64 Bit) copy of Windows.

Dual Booting

We are big fans of virtualization over here at How-To Geek, however it’s a fairly new concept. Before the days of quickly spinning up a VM, if we wanted to try out a new OS, or heaven forbid we had to support legacy software, we would have to dual boot our computers. In a nutshell that means we had to run two distinct operating systems, side by side.

These days, there are hardly any compelling reasons to dual boot. However, as far as exam objectives go, you will need to know that you might dual boot in the case of resource constraints. You should also note that this requires at a minimum two partitions on your hard drive. You could also opt for two separate drives altogether, one exception to this rule is the new “boot from VHD” feature which allows you to run a dual booting Windows 7 machine without partitioning your hard drive. Finally, remember that when dual booting it is always easier to install the older operating system first, this way Windows will automatically set up the boot menu for you.

Note: Since this is a Microsoft exam we will stick to Microsoft software, but you should note that there is nothing stopping you from dual booting Windows and Linux.

Choosing the Correct Version of Windows 7

It’s no secret that Windows is expensive, and even more so in the corporate environment. The key to saving on licensing costs is to pick the right edition. Lets take a look at some of the differences.

Windows 7 Starter Edition

While you cant go to your local PC shop and pick up a copy of Starter edition, you do need to know about it for the exam objectives.

  • Availability: OEMS
  • Missing Features: Aero, DVD Player, Windows Media Center, IIS, Internet Connection Sharing, Domain Membership, EFS, Applocker, DirectAccess, BitLocker, Remote Deskop Host, BrancheCache
  • Other Limitations: 2GB Memory Limit, Only 1 Physical CPU, 5 Installed Applications, x86 Only

Windows 7 Home Basic

The Home Basic version sports the same features as the Starter version, bar the application limit. It also allows for up to 4GB of memory on an x86 install and 8GB on an x64 install.

Windows 7 Home Premium

Windows 7 Home Premium comes with all the features a student or a standard home user would need on a PC.

  • Availability: OEM and Retail
  • Missing Features: Domain Membership, EFS, Applocker, DirectAccess, BitLocker, Remote Deskop Host, BrancheCache
  • Other Limitations: 4GB Memory (x86) or 16GB Memory (x64), 2 Physical CPUs

Windows 7 Professional

Aimed at the small business owner, Windows 7 professional increases the memory limit on your system by quite a bit.

  • Availability: OEM and Retail
  • Missing Features: Applocker, DirectAccess, BitLocker, BrancheCache
  • Other Limitations: 4GB Memory (x86) or 192GB Memory (x64), 2 Physical CPUs

Windows 7 Enterprise

You can’t buy Windows 7 Enterprise from the shop either as it is only available through volume licensing.

  • Availability: Volume License Customers Only
  • Extras: Boot from VHD
  • Other Limitations: 4GB Memory (x86) or 192GB Memory (x64), 2 Physical CPUs

Windows 7 Ultimate

The Ultimate edition is aimed at geeks and enthusiasts and contains all the features that the Enterprise version does. It is also available for purchase from a retail store.

  • Availability: OEM and Retail
  • Extras: Boot from VHD
  • Other Limitations: 4GB Memory (x86) or 192GB Memory (x64), 2 Physical CPUs

Screenshot Guide: How to Install Windows 7

Now that we know the requirements and have a tiny bit of background knowledge about Windows 7, let’s take a look at how to do a clean install. We will be using a DVD to do the install, so fire up your VM, mount an ISO and follow along. The first thing you will need to do is choose a language for the install wizard, its worth noting that this isn’t the same setting as locale in Windows. image

Since we are doing a clean install you can go ahead and click on the Install now button. Note: You might ask as opposed to what, if you look at the bottom left hand corner of the dialog you will see some diagnostic links, they are very useful and you should take some time and play around with them.

image

In typical Microsoft fashion you will have to accept the license agreement before you continue.

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To do a clean install, choose a Custom (advanced) installation.

image

You should only have one hard drive, which shouldn’t contain any partitions at this point, so go ahead and click to kick off the installation.

It’s worth noting that the exam will quite possibly ask you about loading drivers during the installation process. This is where you would stop and click the Load Drivers link to install your SCSI or other hard drive controller driver, and then the installer will detect the new hard drive.

image At this point there’s not much you can do, so go grab a cup of coffee and check back in 10 minutes. image Once you reach the post installation wizard, you have made it. image

Congratulations on your first Windows install.

sshot-7

Homework

There’s a lot more to learn, and we’ll have new lessons each weekday to help you out. In the mean time, you can study up on a few things on your own if you want to.

Tomorrow we’ll cover upgrades and migrations, so stay tuned for the next lesson.


If you have any questions you can tweet me @taybgibb, or just leave a comment.

Taylor Gibb is a Microsoft MVP and all round geek, he loves everything from Windows 8 to Windows Server 2012 and even C# and PowerShell. You can also follow him on Google+