According to Microsoft, you can apply a Windows Vista image to PCs with different Hardware Abstraction Layer (HAL). You only need different images for computers with 32 bit and 64 bit CPUs. This sounds like a revolution for Windows imaging and deployment. So I was quite curious to try this killer feature of Windows Vista.

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I started to play with imaging technology since the availability of the first cloning tools. At this time, the hardware of master and target PC had to be more or less identical, otherwise Windows NT wouldn't even boot up. When I first heard that Windows 2000 would bring major improvements in regard to plug-and-play, I was hoping that Windows imaging would become hardware independent. Although, the situation improved with Windows 2000 and again, with Windows XP, we still had to create new images for every bigger rollout with new PCs.

In theory, one should be able to use the same Windows XP image for computers having the same HAL. This basically means the computers have to be compatible with respect to APIC (Advanced Programmable Interrupt Controller), ACPI (Advanced Configuration and Power Interface) and MPS (multiprocessor systems). This is the theory.

However, in practice we had quite varying experiences. Even though computers had the same HAL, we often were not able to apply images to computers with different hardware. Sometimes, we found the reason, sometimes not. Meanwhile, we are not wasting our time with this anymore. If we buy a new series of computers, we always create a new image.

When Microsoft introduced the SMS OS deployment feature pack, there were rumours that the situation improved with the new WIM format. So, I tested again. The results were pretty much the same as with third party imaging tools, though.

You can imagine how suspicious I was, when I heard that Windows Vista will finally make hardware-independent cloning possible. Well, today I tried it. I created an image of a Windows Vista installation using the capturing feature of WDS (Windows Deployment Services). Vista was running on a virtual machine (VMware Workstation 5.5.2). I wasn't able to upload the WIM image to the WDS using Windows PE 2.0. WinPE didn't recognize the network card of the VMware VM. However, I was able to copy the image manually to my WDS server after I started Vista.

I, then, applied the image to a 4-year old PC with an Intel CPU, again with WDS. Everything was running smoothly then. WinPE had no problem with the network card of this old PC and the image was copied without any problem. But the big question was, will the PC be able to boot-up again after the image was applied? Surprise, surprise - this old PC really swallowed this Vista image without choking. Remember, the image was originally created on a virtual machine. The HAL of both installations was different, and most of their hardwares too.

Afterwards, I copied the same image to a relatively new computer with a 64 bit AMD CPU. Of course, most of their hardwares were different too. And - it worked again! You are probably wondering how this could work, since I said before that one needs different images for 32 bit and 64 bit machines. The answer is simple. This 64 bit CPU has a 32 bit mode. So, if you don't want to install the 64 bit version of Windows Vista on your desktops, you can use 32 bit WIM images for 64 bit machines. Later, when you really need 64 bit, you can deploy the 64 bit Vista edition.

That was the moment when I decided that I want this OS as soon as possible in my network. Forget about WinFS, Avalon, Indigo, UAC, etc. This new imaging technology is indeed a killer feature.

The point is not the reduction of the number of images one has to maintain. I think, this technology will change the way we deploy Windows and applications, fundamentally. In fact, in my view the number of images you will need will even increase. Why? Think of how I created my test image. I used a virtual machine.

If you worked with virtualization technology, you know how easy it is to maintain different installations. With VMware Workstation, for example, you create a new installation within seconds, working with linked clones. This way, you can create different images with different settings and applications very fast. If you messed up your reference installation, you simply go back to an earlier snapshot instead of spending hours looking for the error. So, installing the reference machine is much easier now.

And why should you roll out new applications using a complicated software deployment solution, if you simply can deploy the complete OS with all applications? You can easily test and tune applications in a virtual environment, and then deploy Vista to all PCs with this special setting without worrying about hardware or software compatibility issues.

Perhaps, I am bit too enthusiastic about this. I, only, tried three different PCs so far. But it is quite obvious that Microsoft adjusted the Windows Vista setup for this purpose. Imaging is now at the heart of any Windows deployment and not just a domain for third party tools. So, you can expect Microsoft's increasing interest now to address problems that might occur in this area. When the first imaging tools came out, Microsoft recommended not to use these tools and refused any support, if you did it, anyway. Now, things look quite different.

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So what do you think? Are you unhappy that WinFS was cut? Do you want Vista because Aero looks so cool? If you are a sys admin, you probably don't care about desktop search and transparent windows. You want to know how you get this thing running on all your PCs without much hassle.

  1. Avatar
    AniMatrix 17 years ago


    When I was on college (still am, another one) we had a SWAP Drive, a removable hard disk.

    So when we did our swap drive in the swap thing it boots from that disk. But we had computers with different hardware on college. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it dont. So sometimes we needed to reinstall our hard disk to get back to ‘work’ again because windows was a little messed up and wont boot anymore.

    So if this technology was implemented on Windows 2000 we, students, didnt have that problems 6 years ago.

    So I think this might be interesting like you said 🙂

    Nice article.

  2. Avatar

    You’re right, this might be another interesting feature. If you buy a new computer, you could move the hard disk of your old computer into the new one. This way, you don’t have to install and configure your system again. However, I am not sure if this works without imaging.

  3. Avatar
    Paris 16 years ago

    I agree, the deployment tools, hardware independant imaging, and image management tools (SIM) are fantastic. Bravo Microsoft. Now can you please fix Vista?! 😉

  4. Avatar

    Paris, hardware independent imaging is something Microsoft has already fixed. I don’t even want to know how much time we wasted with XP which doesn’t support it.

  5. Avatar
    John 15 years ago

    but I cannot understand the point.
    Since you talk about deployment (i.e. applying a pre made image to different hardware through cloning/imaging) you do like this (I have been doing with XP since several years):
    – Install OS (XP, Vista, ..) on hw (or VM)
    – Customize it (install apps, tools, …)
    – Add extra drivers not natively supported (video cards, net adapters,…)
    – Sysprep the machine
    – Clone

    Upon the bootup, clones will redetect hal, regenrate SIDs, …

    I am missing something on your “vision” (a part that vista deployment does this for you): before it was not impossible nor difficult, no ????

  6. Avatar

    John, please check out my reply to Phil here.

  7. Avatar
    rolf 15 years ago

    That is great.
    It is funny how the great things Microsoft do are mostly never advertized 🙂
    Im really glad to hear that. Im gonna go vista asap, so that I dont have to maintain half a dozen XP images. And being able to have the master image in a virtual machine is great too!!
    Thanks for the news.
    I just hope Vista will run properly on some of the old hardware we have. I hear its a bit resource intensive.

  8. Avatar

    rolf, Vista will run fine with at least 2GB

  9. Avatar
    ATXStables 14 years ago

    Although i would like to use this on Windows VISTA and Windows 7, our company decided to hold off.

    Regarding the posts about XP, consider the following when using the Windows AIK Toolkit:

    – Windows XP can be Hardware Indepenent Imaged(HII) for FREE with the Windows AIK toolkit which can be downloaded from Microsoft.

    – Windows XP HII is elusive and can be a bit tricky to get past Blue Screens. We support a user base of about 650 users and thousands of servers in the field. Our tests of HII show that the biggest hurdle to overcome imaging is the disk drivers and HAL.

    – In your HII, you can change the disk drivers to Standard Dual Channel IDE and this will suffice for any servers or desktops. Even if the machine is a SATA machine the machine will boot. If you receive the infamous stop 0x000007b error it means that your bios has SATA enabled. Change the SATA to IDE in your bios, reboot and it will boot to windows. Once in windows, install the correct boot disk drivers, change the BIOS back to SATA and all is well. This was a terrifically large hurdle that took quite some time to solve and is most evident in the Dell T3400 and TXX towers.

    – Also, you can change the HAL on the fly in Windows XP. When preparing your HII, you should change this to AICP HAL. Go ahead and just do it, it will work 95% of the time. Our labs show that it did not work on HP laptops, so another image was required. i.e. Go into device manager and expand the computer icon, click on update driver, answer no to connect to the Internet and will select from a list. Change to AICP HAL. OK, so that worked but guess what? If you have a hyperthreaded machine such as a dual core proc after you drop the image down you will need to change the HAL to a dual proc. So change it on the fly after the image is installed.

    – There is also another website that gives you cookbook instructions and alot of other information. Try

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