Typical Windows Installation Steps

Before you start

Objectives: learn about different steps which occur during Windows installation.

Prerequisites: no prerequisites.

Key terms: disk, network, boot, raid, drive, configure, install, configuration, process, usb, answer


As you probably know, we don’t need to use RAID in our system configuration, so this step is optional. If we want to use a RAID configuration, for example RAID 0 or 1 or 5, we have to configure those before we install Windows. Windows as a desktop operating system does not support configuring RAID levels. To configure RAID we typically boot into the setup program that came with our RAID controller and configure our RAID arrays.

Type of Installation

Before we start the installation we have to decide which type of installation will we perform. If we’re performing an in place upgrade we boot to our current operating system, insert the installation disc, and run the setup from there. If we’re performing a clean (custom) installation, we go into our BIOS and configure the boot order to boot from the optical disk first.

Installation Process

When we do a clean installation, we boot from the optical media and start the installation. This first part of the installation is called the text based portion of the install. During this phase Windows loads the necessary files it needs to start the installation. Those files are initial driver files. During this phase, if we created a RAID array as our destination disk, we need to load the drivers for the disk controller so that Windows can write to the disk. For example, when installing Windows XP we would press F6 when we see the message at the bottom of the screen to load a third party SCSI or RAID driver. For Windows 7 there’s a GUI portion of the installation where we simply select the driver. When asked to select the disk to install Windows, we click the Load Driver link. Either way, we will need to have the controller drivers on a floppy or USB drive.

After the initial files and drivers are loaded we’re asked to select the disk on which we want to install Windows. If we’re using a RAID configuration and we didn’t load the driver, we will not see our array in the list. At this point we can choose an existing partition or create a new partition. We can also format our partitions (the file system is usually restricted to NTFS). That’s because current versions of Windows can only install on NTFS drives. Windows XP allows us to install it on a partition that already has another Windows operating system, which allows us to boot into both versions. For Windows Vista/7, each installation must be on its own partition.

After the disk is partitioned and formatted, system files will be copied to the hard drive. Once the file copy is complete, our computer will reboot. We have to leave the installation disc in the drive, but we must not press any keys as the system reboots. The system reboots using files on the hard drive, but the next stage of the installation requires files on the disc. When it reboots, it will asks us for configuration information. When installing Windows XP, this portion of the install is no longer a text-based interface. This stage is a graphical interface and now we can use the mouse. During this stage we will be prompted for configuration information such as the region and language, product license key, computer name, date and time, network settings, username, and some other settings. After the configuration is done our computer will reboot again, and then we will finally log onto Windows. Depending on the operating system type we might be prompted at this point to activate Windows or to perform any additional post installation activities.

Installation Methods

In addition to using optical installation media, we can also install Windows using some alternative methods.

USB Flash Drive

We can create a bootable USB flash drive, copy the CD/DVD contents to that drive, and use it as the installation source. Then we configure the BIOS to boot from the USB device instead of from the CD or DVD drive, and run the installation process from the USB device.

Network Installation

Another option is to configure a network installation. In this case we copy the installation disk contents to a network share. Using this method we have to boot our computer using some sort of operating system that gives us network access, so that we can connect to the network share and begin the installation process. Also, we may be able to configure our computer to boot to the network itself, but that’s only possible in special environments. We can’t just boot to the network share to start the installation. We have to boot to a special computer which sends special information to our computer and allows it to connect to the network share to begin the installation. In Windows environment this process is done using a server called a Remote Installation Server (RIS) or Windows Deployment Services (WDS). We configure the BIOS to boot from the network. Our computer is then redirected to the deployment servers which allows our computer to access the network share and start the installation.

Disk Imaging

Another method we can use is Disk Imaging. In Disk Imaging we do a normal installation of Windows on one computer and customize it by installing applications. After that we use that computer as a source for other computers. We can use disk duplication software to copy the content of the hard drive, which we can then use on additional new computers. This process of copying the disk image to other images is much faster than the process of installing Windows on additional computers. Once we have our first computer set up we can quickly image or copy the information to other hard drives in order to quickly configure other computers. Note that in this method all computers need to have the same hardware abstraction layer (HAL), ACPI support, and mass storage drivers. When it comes to peripheral hardware, they can be different because plug-and-play will detect peripheral hardware.

Unattended Installation

Last method which we should mention is unattended installation. An unattended installation uses an answer file or response file to automate the installation process. That answer file contains all answers to the questions that are asked during the setup. We can use the Setup Manager to create the answer file, and we can use a text editor to modify an existing answer file. If we have included all of the necessary information in the answer file, the installation will proceed automatically without pausing for user input. We can combine an unattended installation with bootable flash devices or network installations.


We can, but we don’t have to use RAID in our configuration. For the installation we can use optical media, USB flash drive, network installation, disk imaging or unattended installation.