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
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:



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


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



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

create partition primary


Now give the new partition a file system:

format fs=fat32 quick


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



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


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


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

assign letter=F


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


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.

Continue Reading to learn about Multicasting and Dual-Booting

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+