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What Is Sysprep?

Applies To: Windows Server 2003, Windows Server 2003 R2, Windows Server 2003 with SP1, Windows Server 2003 with SP2

What Is Sysprep?

In this section

  • Common Sysprep Scenarios

  • Sysprep Limitations

  • Sysprep Dependencies

  • Technologies Related to Sysprep

  • Related Information

The System Preparation tool (Sysprep) is a technology that you can use with other deployment tools to install Microsoft Windows operating systems with minimal intervention by an administrator or technician. Sysprep is typically used during large-scale rollouts when it would be too slow and costly to have administrators or technicians interactively install the operating system on individual computers.

You typically use the Sysprep tool in conjunction with a non-Microsoft disk imaging tool or Microsoft Windows Server 2003 Automated Deployment Services (ADS) to perform image-based installations. Image-based installation is a method of copying or cloning preconfigured operating systems (and, optionally, software applications) onto destination computers. After you set up a master installation — an installation with the operating system, software applications, and configuration settings that you want to install onto the destination computers in your organization, Sysprep prepares the master installation so that you can create a disk image; that is, a functionally identical replica of the disk containing the master installation, that can be copied onto multiple computers. The disk-imaging program creates the disk image of the master installation. After the disk image is copied onto a destination computer, and you start the destination computer, a shortened version of the Windows Setup program runs. The shortened version of Setup configures only user-specific and computer-specific settings, such as computer name, domain membership, and regional options. You can automate this last part of the setup process by using an answer file, a simple text file that instructs the Setup program how to configure the various operating system settings.

The following figure shows how an image-based installation differs from an interactive setup.

Comparison of Image-based Installation and Interactive Setup

Image-based Installation and Interactive Setup

Like all automated installation technologies, imaged-based installation with Sysprep has many benefits that standard interactive setup does not.

Fewer errors during installation

Because image-based installation with Sysprep uses preconfigured disk images and answer files to install and configure the operating system, there is minimal administrator or technician interaction during the setup process. This reduces the number of errors that are introduced during the setup process.

Greater consistency

By using the same disk image and answer file to install and configure operating systems, you can ensure that all of the computers in your organization are set up exactly the same way.

Shortest installation times

Image-based installation with Sysprep is faster than interactive setup because the operating system and applications are preinstalled and preconfigured on the disk image and require only minimal configuration after the disk image is copied to a destination computer. In addition, you can speed up the installation process by using an answer file. Instead of prompting administrators or technicians for configuration information, Setup reads configuration settings from an answer file.

Lower support costs

By minimizing errors during the setup process, increasing the consistency of the computers in your organization, and reducing the amount of time a technician needs to spend setting up a computer, you can reduce the overall support costs in your organization.

Common Sysprep Scenarios

Several installation scenarios are particularly well suited for image-based installations with Sysprep.

Homogeneous hardware configurations

If you are installing the same server configuration on computers that have similar or homogeneous hardware, you can customize hardware configurations on the disk image, thereby avoiding many post-installation configuration and installation tasks. For example, you can use image-based installation with Sysprep to rapidly roll out the same file server configuration to a group of computers that have similar processor configurations and similar storage configurations.

Rapid rollout scenarios

If you need to install the operating system as rapidly as possible, you can copy a preconfigured disk image onto a destination computer much faster than you can perform an unattended installation or a Remote Installation Services (RIS) installation. For example, you can use image-based installation with Sysprep to quickly deploy critical servers in your organization or quickly reinstall an operating system on member servers after a hard disk failure or some other catastrophic event. .

Application deployment

If you want to roll out applications at the same time that you roll out the operating system, you can include the applications on the disk image. For example, if your organization’s standard computer configuration includes an antivirus program, an e-mail program, and an office suite, you could install and configure these programs on the master installation so that the disk image includes these programs.

Sysprep Limitations

You can use Sysprep and image-based installation to deploy operating systems and software applications onto many types of servers. However, image-based installation has several significant limitations and can be used only when certain conditions are met.

Clean installation only

You can use image-based installation with Sysprep only to install a clean version of the operating system and clean versions of software applications. You cannot use image-based installation to upgrade an operating system or software configuration.

Limited server configuration

Some server components must be installed and configured after an image-based installation with Sysprep is complete. These components include Certificate Services, Cluster service, and any software that is dependent on the Active Directory directory service. They also include any application or service that stores the computer name or the computer SID and cannot recover if the computer name or SID changes.

HAL compatibility

You can perform an image-based installation with Sysprep only if the hardware abstraction layer (HAL) on the disk image is compatible with the hardware on the destination computer. In some cases, Windows Server 2003 automatically upgrades the HAL that is on a disk image to suit the HAL requirements of a destination computer, but this upgrade can occur only if the master installation is built on an APIC uniprocessor-system (UP) computer and the image of that master installation is copied to a compatible multiprocessor-system destination computer.

Special domain controller installation process

You cannot deploy preconfigured domain controllers by using image-based installation with Sysprep. However, you can configure a domain controller by first deploying a member server and then automatically running a script that runs Dcpromo.exe, the Active Directory Installation Wizard.

Limited configuration of some security settings

You cannot use image-based installation with Sysprep to deploy computers that contain any files that are encrypted by using Encrypting File System (EFS). In addition, you cannot use image-based installation to deploy systems that have already been configured with NTFS security settings, such as file and folder permissions, unless the disk-imaging program supports the NTFS file system. However, you can use a script to configure these settings after the image-based installation is complete.


  • You can use Sysprep only to prepare a master installation that is installed on the master computer’s drive C.

Sysprep Dependencies

You need two tools to perform an image-based installation: Sysprep, which can be found on any Microsoft Windows XP Professional or Windows Server 2003 product CD; and a disk-imaging program. Setup Manager can also be a useful tool for performing image-based installations with Sysprep, but it is not required.


The Sysprep tool consists of three separate programs: Sysprep.exe, Setupcl.exe, and Factory.exe. However, you run only Sysprep.exe; Setupcl.exe and Factory.exe are secondary programs that Sysprep.exe runs as needed. Sysprep is found in the Support\Tools folder on any Windows XP Professional or Windows Server 2003 product CD, under

You run Sysprep on the master computer before you create an image of the master computer’s hard disk. Sysprep configures various operating system settings on the master computer to ensure that every copy of the master computer’s disk image is unique when you distribute it to a destination computer. Specifically, Sysprep configures a master installation so that unique security identifiers (SIDs) are generated on each destination computer. Sysprep also configures the master computer’s disk image so that every destination computer starts in a special setup mode known as Mini-Setup. After you copy a disk image onto a destination computer, Mini-Setup runs the first time you start the destination computer.

Disk-imaging program

You can use either a non-Microsoft disk-imaging program or ADS to create an image of the master computer’s hard disk. You also use the disk-imaging program to copy the disk image from the master computer onto a shared folder or a CD, and from the shared folder or CD onto a destination computer.


  • You can perform an image-based installation with Sysprep without purchasing a non-Microsoft disk-imaging program by using Windows Server 2003 Automated Deployment Services (ADS). ADS is an early deliverable of the Dynamic Systems Initiative (DSI), and can be used to rapidly deploy Windows server operating systems.

If you are not using ADS to create disk images, you need to purchase a non-Microsoft disk imaging program.

Setup Manager

In addition to Sysprep and a disk imaging program, there is an optional tool called Setup Manager that you can use to create an answer file for image-based installations with Sysprep. You can also create an answer file manually by using a text editor such as Notepad. Usually, you use Setup Manager to create a basic answer file, and then you use Notepad to customize the answer file.

Image-based installation with Sysprep is similar to two other automated installation technologies: unattended installation and Remote Installation Services (RIS) installation. Like image-based installation with Sysprep, these technologies are designed specifically as mass roll-out or deployment solutions. Although you can use all of these technologies to automate the installation of Windows Server 2003, each of these technologies is based on a different set of installation processes, and relies on a different set of programs and tools.

Unattended Installation

Unattended installation is a method of automating clean installations and upgrades with minimal administrator or technician interaction. It relies on an answer file that you create and can be performed from the product CD or from a shared distribution folder.

Unattended installations are particularly useful if you need to:

  • Perform automated installations on computers that have heterogeneous hardware configurations.

  • Perform automated installations on specific types of servers, such as domain controllers, remote access servers, and servers that run Certificate Services or the Cluster service.

  • Upgrade Windows-based servers to Microsoft Windows Server 2003, Standard Edition or Microsoft Windows Server 2003, Enterprise Edition operating systems.

  • Configure a wide range of operating system settings during an automated installation without using batch files and scripts.

In addition to these deployment solutions, unattended installation is a useful method of creating master installations for image-based and RIS installations.

Unattended installation requires some upfront planning and design, but it is the most flexible and robust automated installation technology.

RIS Installation

RIS installation is a method of cleanly installing an operating system and applications over a network with minimal administrator or technician interaction. RIS uses Pre-Boot Execution Environment (PXE) technology to enable client computers without an operating system to start up and connect remotely to a RIS server, which installs a supported operating system.

You can use RIS to perform either CD-based installations or image-based installations. To perform CD-based installations you use the Remote Installation Services Setup (Risetup.exe) tool, which installs an operating system on a destination computer by using an answer file and the installation files that are on the product CD. To perform image-based installations you use the Remote Installation Preparation Wizard (Riprep.exe) tool, which is similar to the Sysprep tool and prepares a master installation for disk imaging.

RIS is a suitable automated installation technology if you need to:

  • Install operating systems on computers that have similar hardware and a compatible HAL.

  • Eliminate administrator or technician interaction during the setup process.

  • Minimize post-installation tasks.

  • Perform clean installations of an operating system, rather than upgrade existing installations.

  • Install software applications with the operating system.

RIS installation is more complex and requires more upfront configuration and planning than image-based installation and unattended installation. However, RIS installation is an efficient deployment technology if you have a high-speed network and you need to perform clean installations of operating systems and preconfigured applications on a large number of computers.

The following resources contain additional information that is relevant to this section.