Reinstalling Windows can be a long, gruelling experience. Once you get the OS running you have to download updates, track down the right drivers, install your apps, and put everything else together. As an alternative, here’s how to create a custom installation disc with everything already on it.
There are a couple of different ways to simplify a new Windows installation. Your first option is to create a modified ISO of a Windows installation disc that includes OS updates, tweaked settings, personalisation options, and even your own serial number. The other is to create your own Refresh My PC image which can restore your machine to a state that’s “clean”, but with all your favourite programs installed.
Option #1: Create a Custom Windows Installation Disc
In order to create our own Windows disc, we’re going to use an app called WinReducer. WinReducer is somewhat similar to previously mentioned RT Se7en Lite for Windows 7, letting you include your favourite tweaks and OS updates with your base Windows installation. Unlike RT Se7en Lite, it doesn’t let you include your favourite programs (but Option #2 in this guide will let you do so).
Here’s what you’ll need:
A retail copy of Windows 8 or unmodified ISO (downloaded upgrade versions and AIO copies won’t work).
Several apps that WinReducer 8 will instruct you to download (some of which you may have already).
The first thing you’ll see after running WinReducer 8 is a screen with nine pieces of software you need to connect to the app. You may already have 7zip, but the others will probably need to be downloaded separately. In all, there are only four packages to download (one of which requires a forum registration). You’ll need to direct the app to the program file for both the 32- and 64-bit versions to continue. Once that’s done, you’ll need to prepare a Windows ISO.
To create a Windows image from a retail disc, put the Windows 8 retail disc in the drive. Open the root folder of the DVD and copy all of the files on the disc to a folder on your hard drive. Point WinReducer 8 to that folder and away you go.
Once you have the initial image, you’ll get to the meat of the app. There are a lot of settings here you can tweak, including your desktop wallpaper, user accounts and colour themes. Covering all of them would be outside the scope of this article, but there are a few key places you’ll want to check:
Include Windows Updates: Under the Customisations > System tabs, you’ll find the settings for including Windows Updates. To include the packages you need, here’s what you need to do:
Click the “Updates” check box.
Choose a folder to place updates.
Click Updates Download tool.
Click “Check” under “WinReducer Catalogue Updates for Windows 8”.
From here, you’ll be able to select from a list of updates to include. While you may not need all of them, you’ll save yourself a good chunk of time by including Critical, Important, Moderate, Low, and Update Rollup.
Automate the Install Process: Part of the annoyance of installing Windows is waiting around so that you can tick some box. Under the “Unattended” tab, you can choose to automatically bypass certain installation inputs, such as automatically accepting the EULA and setting up user accounts. This is also where you can include your serial key if you wish. This can make it slightly more convenient when setting up your machine, but keep in mind this would effectively lock that install to your machine. If you need a general purpose Windows installation disc, don’t use this (or use the retail disc image you made earlier).
Once you’ve chosen all your settings, it’s time to compile them all together. Head to the “APPLY” tab and click the big blue button that says “Launch”. WinReducer will take a bit of time to put all of your options together and from there you have the choice to create a basic WIM image, create an additional ISO (this is the option to choose if you want to burn it to a disc), or create a bootable USB drive. The USB drive option is hidden under “Advanced Settings”.
Option #2: Create a Custom Image for Refresh My PC
Windows 8 came with a handy new feature called Refresh My PC. This allows you to do a “clean install” without having to actually reinstall Windows from scratch. Windows will back up your system settings and leave your personal files alone, but everything else will be reset. For the most part, this is great, but it does mean you’ll have to download all of your programs again. Windows 8 will back up your “modern UI” apps, but if you have a lot of desktop programs, that doesn’t do you much good.
Instead, we’ll create a custom image that you can use to bring your PC back to a clean install, but with all your favourite programs on the system. To create the image, though, you’ll first have to be using a fresh install. This is a good thing to do when you first get a machine or after going through the above process to create a customised installation. The tool used to accomplish this is a terminal command called “recimg”.
Here’s what you need to do:
Launch a command prompt as Administrator.
Enter the following command:
recimg /createimage [SOMEPATH]
(If the folder doesn’t exist, recimg will create it. Choose somewhere simple like C:Refresh.)
Wait. The app will take a while as it creates a backup image of your system. It will probably linger on 1% for half an hour.
Once the image is created, you can use the WIM that you’ve just created to reset your PC back to its original state via the Refresh My PC tool (which you can use either in Settings on Windows, or via a recovery disk). This will be a snapshot of all the apps you have installed when you create the image, though when you use the tool later, your system settings and data will be backed up from whatever their current states are.