I'm having trouble getting my head around using MDT. All guides say that I should first deploy windows to a reference computer, then capture that image and deploy it to the target computers. Why can't I just cut out the middle man and deploy windows to straight to the target computers without capturing an image from the reference machine?
You can just use the install.wim from the DVD if you want a basic, non-updated, non-customized image to deploy. If you create your reference machine as a virtual machine, you can completely update the system, create a snapshot/checkpoint, then sysprep and capture the updated machine and then restore the snapshot for future image updating. This allows for faster deployment of the image with updates, as opposed to having MDT run Windows Update during the deployment. Additionally, it is possible to customize the start screen to your company preferences, or add software that everyone uses into the image. For example, if everyone gets Office, you may want to have that installed in your reference image (again, to save time during deployment).
The TechNet Magazine article ‘Desktop Image Management: Build a Better Desktop Image’ discusses the trade-offs of thin images vs. thick images and may help you in this situation.
Finally, there is a (free) Microsoft Virtual Academy class called 'Windows 8.1 Deployment Jumpstart' to help you learn how to deploy Windows 8 that even has labs available.
Hope this helps,
The reason for that is that you can automate the creation of the reference image using MDT, which installs software, patches and stuff automatically, instead of building the reference computer on your own from scratch (which is not very "repeatable" as well)
There's nothing stopping you from doing it manually though if you prefer to...