I have a large batch of laptops that all have identical hardware. Right now each laptop has its own backup image (ie Norton Ghost) that contains the installed OS as well as all the relevant software.

What I'd like to do is create a master base image that can be loaded onto any of the laptops but requires the product keys to be installed when the system is initially booted.

Is there a built-in way to invalidate the install to force a re-activation and/or can Windows be installed in a pre-activation state to meet the same requirement.

Currently, with updates and software install it can take 5-7 hours to create each image so anything I can do to cut down on that time will save a ton of time on deployments/re-imaging.

Note: Assume that all of the laptops are distributed geographically so leveraging a central network for deployments is not an option.

  • Are you using MAK activation, or a non-volume license? – jscott Mar 9 '12 at 0:19
  • @jscott A non-volume license. Unfortunately, that's what the computers came with and there's no option to change that now. – Evan Plaice Mar 9 '12 at 0:21
  • 2
    Use VAMT from the WAIK to make activation a piece of cake. – Chris S Mar 9 '12 at 0:32
  • If you are part of a volume licensing program you might want to check with the contract. Some allow you to use your volume license to activate them. – Phillip R. Mar 9 '12 at 0:40
  • @PhillipR. Uunfortunately, the way the laptops were purchased, volume licensing is not an option. Each computer will need to be activated individually. The driving motivation to this question is to use a base images for deployment but activate post-install on a case-by-case basis. – Evan Plaice Mar 9 '12 at 5:05

Yes, When you run sysprep it will strip the activation out of it. However, if you plan on using KMS server I would not suggest it. KMS client key is installed by default and when you try to activate via KMS it should attempt to search for first one it comes across.

If you have a windows 7 restore dvd from the manufacturer that only has the OS on it. You can install that disk and run audit mode on it. Major manufacturers use SLP BIOS activation in order to activate. Example is if you buy a dell computer and use a dell restore disk you don't have to put in the key normally.

I would research Microsoft MDT and windows automated installation kit. Plus, there are tons of websites out there these days that have walk throughs on how to get you started. Be warned that if you try to use WAIK to join a domain it does not work properly due to the pass that it does the join.


You'll be wanting to use Sysprep. Put simply, this is a simple tool that lets you prepare a Windows installation for bulk deployment, including presenting nice GUI's for entering hostnames, product keys etc.

It should be as simple as creating an image of an existing install with all the updates and software that you need (I'm not sure if you can use Ghost for this, I'd be surprised if you couldn't), and then using sysprep on the resulting image. This should then be happily able to install itself on a target machine, prompting the user for whatever you've configured it for.

You'll want to read through the documentation and understand what's going on, as this is an area that can get very complex. You might also want to look into the Windows Automated Installation Kit (WAIK) as I've used bits from that to do some deployments as well.

I've only ever done small scale rollouts on the same network in conjunction with SCCM. I'm sure there's others here who have more experience with the distributed side and what you need for that.

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