Install Windows automatically from a USB drive

You can create a bootable USB key that includes the Windows Setup installation program to install Windows onto a new PC. With a few extra steps, you can automate the installation program to skip screens such as the product key screen.

  1. Download Windows. For more info, see Get the tools needed to customize Windows.

    Right-click the file, and click Mount. The ISO files appear as a new drive.

  2. Set up a bootable USB key with the Windows installation files

    1. From the Start screen, type diskpart, open the shortcut, and click Yes to open the window as an administrator. The DiskPart window appears.

    2. Select your USB drive:

      list disk
      select disk 1
      In this command, 1 is your USB flash disk.

    3. Format the drive using the FAT32 format, and mark it as an active, bootable drive.

      create partition primary
      format quick fs=fat32 label="Setup x64"
      assign letter="J"
    4. Close the DiskPart window.

    5. Copy the Windows installation files onto the USB flash drive.

  3. Automate the Windows installation by using a sample answer file together with your company’s info and a product key

    1. Download the Windows Deployment sample answer files. In Notepad, open the file for your PC type, for example, Autounattend_x64_UEFI.xml. This file contains all of the settings that are needed to automate the installation process.

    2. If you're creating PCs for consumers, add your technical support info to the OEMInformation section, including your company name (Manufacturer) and website (SupportURL). For info, see the Licensing and Policy guidance on the OEM Partner Center.

    3. Optional: change the language shown by the Windows installation program. In the Microsoft-Windows-International-Core-WinPE section, change from en-US to your own language/culture. A list of language/cultures appears here: Available Language Packs for Windows.

    4. Enter one of your product keys in the UserData section under Key. You can re-use the same key for multiple installations because the key is used to identify the edition only (for example, Windows 8.1 Pro), and isn't used to activate Windows.

    5. Save the file as Autounattend.xml in the root folder of the USB drive.

      Be careful with this drive! This USB key is now ready to wipe the hard drive of any PC that it boots to. Label it well, and please don't leave it in your personal PC.

  4. Boot to the USB drive to install Windows on a new PC

    Insert the USB drive and start the PC. The setup program uses the Autounattend.xml file to automatically install Windows. When it's done, the Personalize screen appears. This screen indicates the start of the Out of Box Experience (OOBE) setup.

    You can now turn off the PC by pressing and holding the power button. Do not complete the OOBE for your customer.

If you're only installing a few PCs, this might be all of the customization you need to do. Send the PC to your customers together with their individual product key. The individual product key might or might not be the same as the one that you used to install Windows, but the editions must match.

If you have problems installing Windows by using this method, try the following steps:

  • Try using different USB ports on the computer. Avoid using USB hubs or cables.

  • Make sure that you use the correct Unattend file for your firmware. (64-bit UEFI, 64-bit BIOS, and 32-bit BIOS sample answer files are available.)

  • Restart the computer and, during the boot sequence, press the key that opens the firmware menus. Select the USB flash drive as the boot device.

You can set up Windows with apps, drivers, and languages that your customers need. To do this, you can temporarily skip the OOBE, and make changes from inside Windows in a maintenance mode known as audit mode.

Before you start, review the Windows Engineering Guide (WEG), which describes everything that you are legally permitted to change and shows you how to make the changes.

  1. Turn on the PC. The Personalize screen appears.

  2. Press Ctrl+Shift+F3. The PC reboots, and the Start screen opens.

  3. Open the Desktop. The System Preparation Tool (Sysprep) opens. Close Sysprep for now.

  4. Copy and install apps, drivers, and languages to the PC.

    To download language packs and language Interface Packs (LIPs), go to the OEM Partner Center. For instructions about how to install LIPs, see How to Add Language Interface Packs. Not all LIPs are available at Windows 8.1 release. Some languages might be released at a later date. For a complete list of available LIP languages, see the OEM Partner Center.

  5. Start the Command Prompt as an Administrator.

  6. Create a snapshot of the PC by using Windows image capturing tools. You can use tools in the Windows ADK or other third-party tools.

    Before you can take a snapshot, you’ll need to generalize the PC. This prepares the Windows files to be captured and applied to other PCs.

    C:\Windows\System32\Sysprep\sysprep /oobe /generalize /shutdown
    Sysprep prepares the PC to start at the OOBE and shuts down. Use your image capturing tools to take a snapshot of the image.

    Do not allow the PC to reboot until the image has been captured, or you’ll have to generalize the PC again.

    If you don't need a snapshot, you can prepare the PC for the customer using the following command instead:

    C:\Windows\System32\Sysprep\sysprep /oobe /reboot

    Sysprep prepares the PC to start at the OOBE and then reboots the PC. The Region and language screen appears. At this point, you can power off the PC and send it to your customer. (No shutdown is required.)