After you configure the reference computer, your next step is to prepare the computer for imaging. Many settings on a computer running Windows XP Professional or Windows Vista must be unique, such as the Computer Name and the Security Identifier (SID), which is a number used to track an object through the Windows security subsystem. To address this requirement, Windows XP Professional and Windows Vista provide a tool called the System Preparation Tool (Sysprep) that removes the SID and all other user-specific and computer-specific information from the computer, and then shuts down the computer so that you can use a disk duplication tool to create a disk image. The disk image is a compressed file that contains the contents of the entire hard disk on which the operating system is installed.

Sysprep can be used to prepare a reference computer with Windows SteadyState for disk imaging. You can then replicate the disk image on multiple computers with the same or similar hardware configurations.

Before you run Sysprep on a computer with Windows SteadyState, ensure that:

Typically, when a client computer starts Windows XP Professional or Windows Vista for the first time after loading a disk image that has been prepared with Sysprep, Windows automatically generates a unique SID, initiates Plug and Play detection, and starts the Mini Setup Wizard. The Mini Setup Wizard prompts for user-specific and computer-specific information, such as the Microsoft Software License Terms, regional options, user name and company, and product key.

You can further automate the imaging process by including a special answer file named Sysprep.inf with your master image. Sysprep.inf is an answer file that automates the Mini Setup Wizard. It uses the same INI file syntax and key names (for supported keys) such as Unattend.txt in Windows XP or Unattend.xml in Windows Vista. Place the Sysprep.inf file on a floppy disk or in the following folder:


If you use a floppy disk, insert it into the floppy disk drive after the Windows startup screen appears. Note that if you do not include Sysprep.inf when running Sysprep, the Mini Setup Wizard requires user input at each customization screen.

To learn more about how to use Sysprep, see the following resources: