Windows Vista Imaging and Installation Performance

PC World got the conversation going on installation times in Windows Vista.  While they quote Jim Allchin that Windows Vista can take as little as 15 minutes to install, my installs have been more like 20 minutes (still rocking fast), so I thought I would talk with David D'Souza who manages our Deployment and Installation team to get some more information about the different deployment scenarios and their installation time.  In his own words ...

Hi, my name is David D’Souza and I am the Director of Development in the Windows Core OS Division. I run the development team responsible for the deployment technologies in Windows Vista.

Windows Vista Setup has dramatically improved since Windows XP.  This has been one of the deepest and most comprehensive investments Microsoft has made in deployment.  Our goal was to dramatically enhance the reliability and performance of OS deployment across end users, OEM, and Corporate scenarios.   Windows Vista deployment had to be fast and reliable across a wide variety of scenarios and it had to easily integrate into the deployment processes our customers already used. Generally, our internal goal that rolled this all together was “15 minute OS installation using imaging”.  Technically, we focused on three things:

1)       End to end tool set for local and remote image based deployment of Windows Vista.

2)       Reduction in number of images due to easy addition/removal of language packs and drivers.

3)       Modularization to facilitate agility in engineering, deploying, and servicing all the new Windows Vista flavors.

In this note, I will cover the first item.


Why Imaging

Ideally, installation of an operating system is two fairly simple steps. First, copy all the OS files to the hard disk. Second, configure the machine dependent files & registry settings such as security identifiers, machine name, and specific hardware drivers required for the system.  Install time should scale with the size & number of files in the operating system.

However, the software development process is structured around smaller, isolated, components – kernel, file system, shell - that combine to produce the full OS. Thus, our developers create an installation script that is a long list of individual components, each with their own state, configuration, and instructions for installation.  Each component copies its files, builds its databases, and individually adds its registry keys. This makes it easy for Windows developers to change one component without disturbing other components.  Unfortunately, this means install time scales with the number of components, files, and registry keys.  This is the process we used to install Windows XP.

Imaging allows us to execute the “slow” installation process internally at Microsoft and capture the resultant files and a list of machine dependent state.  Subsequent installs simply copy all the files – the OS image - and reconfigure the machine dependent state.  The imaging process allows us to have the best of both worlds – an agile internal software development process that is component centric and a final installation process that optimizes towards installing the full operating system. Additionally, imaging is highly reliable because significantly fewer & simpler operations are performed to install an image.  Imaging is the default installation process we use in Windows Vista.

How We Image

Windows Vista supports a collection of imaging tools & file formats to enable image based deployment by OEMs & Corporations.

Windows Imaging technologies (WIM) –  Also includes the Windows Image Format that contains all the files required to install the operating system.  WIMGAPI is an API set developers can use to read or write WIM image files so more tools can be developed around this. This is a file based imaging technology that enables a greater degree of hardware independence.

ImageX is the tool that allows users to capture a WIM image, edit certain files offline, deploy it onto a harddisk, and configure the machine dependent state so the OS boots & runs.

Setup provides a friendly user interface around ImageX to install the Windows image stored on the DVD. Setup can do a clean install or upgrade an existing operating system such as Windows XP or Windows Vista. When doing an upgrade, Setup first captures all your documents, settings, drivers, & applications, lays down the clean image, and then reapplies your state into the new OS.  Supporting upgrade scenarios via imaging ensured our imaging technology worked across a huge variety of hardware configurations.  This helps reduce the number of images corporations & OEMs need to maintain.

Windows Deployment Services (WDS) – is a server product that allows you to boot your bare metal PC from the network and install an image onto your hard disk.  This is primarily used by corporations & OEMs for large scale, remote image deployment.


Let’s first look at the overall performance numbers we are seeing from our latest RC builds:

Overall “Mode” External Installs


% of RC1 installs

Mean Time


All Clean Installs



20 minutes

Overall clean installs using any mechanism described below

Clean Installs starting from XP



26 minutes

Overall clean installs starting from XP (DVD, Net)

Clean installs starting from WinPE



20 minutes

Boot from DVD or boot from external media (USB etc.)

Clean installs using WDS



8 minutes

Windows Deployment Services (network boot) installs


This data represents Windows Vista Ultimate clean installation times across hundreds of thousands of RC1 installations on diverse hardware with varying DVD drives and network traffic. The time is based on the start of copying the files to the disk to the time the OS is ready to run – the time to enter the product key (PID), select your drive, and enter the language and do the performance check during OOBE is not included.

Overall, we come very close to our 15 minute install time goal across a broad array of hardware and installation mechanisms using the Windows Vista Ultimate product. There are many things that influence this time - speed of the network or dvd drive, the flavor of Windows Vista you install (Home is smaller than Ultimate), and the number of PnP devices on your system.

Additionally, we also support in place upgrades from Windows XP to Windows Vista. During an in place upgrade, we install the image and ensure your applications, drivers, settings, and documents are properly moved into Vista.  This process of finding and moving your state adds at least 30 minutes to the upgrade process. And some machines with large numbers of files, applications, or drivers can take up to 120 minutes.

The deployment team has put a lot of effort into the install process, and in some scenarios installation is going to be as short as 20 minutes and in others, it will be longer. I hope you all have a better understanding of installation and the great progress we have made. Please install RC1 and try it for yourself.  To get all the deployment tools I mentioned, go to and download the Business Desktop Deployment solution (BDD 2007) – this has best practice guidance on how to use these tools as well.


Comments (16)
  1. Anonymous says:

    How does WDS take only 8 minutes? Because you’re installing from networked hard drives and not DVD???

  2. Anonymous says:

    RC2 is suppost to be out this friday although most sources say it will only be available to beta testers, MSDN and TechNet subscribers… us general public people are getting left out 🙁

  3. Anonymous says:

    Installation of Vista Beta 2, for me, was nothing more than a big hassle.

    Here’s why: according to Microsoft, my system is very weird. I have two physical hard disks: a 160GB and a 30GB. The 160GB disk had about 5 partitions on it: the first is an 80GB ReiserFS partition for my primary operating system, openSUSE Linux 10.1. Next came the Windows Vista partition, which was around 30GB (I think) and formatted as NTFS obviously. Then I had a 25GB FAT32 partition for transferring files between the Linux partition (where all my downloads like Office 2007 are stored) to Vista. The last two partitions are both on one extended partition, and they are two Linux swapfile partitions, a 2GB one used for swapping, and a 1GB one used for hibernation. The second hard disk (the 30GB one) has a copy of WinXP used for gaming and stuff, I rarely use it.

    Naturally, the Vista installer wanted to update my MBR. That’s just the way the NT boot manager (and the old NTLDR method) worked. I figured this would happen, so I wrote down my GRUB (GRand Unified Bootloader, the bootloader I use for Linux) configuration and made a GRUB bootable floppy so I would be able to get back to Linux. My fallback worked great, and I successfully booted Linux and re-installed GRUB to the MBR. Which, of course, left Vista un-bootable.

    Here is where my complaint is: because the BOOTMGR configuration is stored in a binary file now, as opposed to a text file, I had to install a whole new copy of Vista in VMware just so I could format a floppy disk with Vista’s boot record and put 3 files on the freaking disk. Then I mounted my NTFS partition in Linux, copied the boot manager database to my floppy, and I was able to boot Vista using the floppy.

    This is something that almost nobody in the casual user community can do. It was even a significant challenge for me, an experienced system administrator who has used Windows since it was just a GUI layer on top of DOS and Linux for about a year and a half, and writes PHP while administering a Windows/Linux cross-compatible network centered around a server running Fedora Core 4. Having access to a copy of VMware, and having the know-how to create a floppy disk that loads "the Beast."

    Recently, when I installed Ubuntu Linux on my laptop (migrating from Windows XP Pro) I was given the option during the installation to install GRUB to a primary partition instead of the MBR. I would sincerely appreciate a similar option in Vista setup, it would save hours and hours of work for us die-hards that run Win/Lin dual-boot setups.


  4. Anonymous says:

    I was just wondering if you do an update from XP to Vista and it truley is "imaging" then you should be able to undo it right?  Well if so , how?

  5. Anonymous says:

    Can you please put the 5728 build(at least the x86-32) iso for public download again for a day or two? Looks to me.. it has been removed without warning. I had paused the download yesterday and when I tried to resume it today, I was shocked not to find it on your server. I am just 300MB short of completion and I don’t want to download all over again another build. Getting the CD is not an option as it will take ages to reach me (I am not in the US). So please help me!!!

  6. Anonymous says:

    Installl times with vary depending on hardware.

    I’ve had 20 minute clean-installs since Beta 2 on my Dell XPS 1710 Latop but 30-35 minute clean-installs on my Desktop PC.

    One thing is for sure and that’s Microsoft has made some serious improvements with Vista’s install time.

    However, I do think the upgrade install times are a bit too long in my opinion.

  7. Anonymous says:

    I installed on my laptop on another partition i.e. dual boot and it tooked like 28 min starting from when i put the DVD to the when I was ready to use. It was quick a lot quick then i expected. But, it has problem with the xilinx and modelsim softwares.

  8. Anonymous says:

    these times install times sound a bit bogus to me. Firstly it took me 4 attempts to even get it to install at all. at first I thought perhaps my downloaded image was corrupted or incomplete but after hash verification I realized that wasnt the issue. the install would just hang  during the expanding files portion and eventually report that some files where missing. After the 4th attempt it finally took but the total install time (only counting the install that worked not the other 3) ended up being about 55 minutes. Im normally able to install XP on the same machine in about 35 minutes. The postive upside was after the install was complete I didnt have to spend any time tracking down and installing drivers which typically adds another 20 minutes to the XP install time. At first I just thought I had a bad dvd or perhaps my computer just wasnt up for it but after visiting several forums and irc channels I found that almost half of the people I spoke with had difficulties getting vista to install. note. My hardware more than exceeds the requirements for vista at 2 gigs of DDR2 dual channel ram a dualcore pentium D processor and a 256mb geforce 6800 gt video card. My point being I think the installer needs to be reworked. Also I have yet to run into anyone who installed vista in the 20 minutes claimed here. Install times I have heard have ranged from 35 minutes to an hour for a clean install  and up to 6 hours for an upgrade.

    – Kris Roadruck

  9. Anonymous says:

    Here are my specifications: AMD Athlon dual core 4600 processor Socket 939, K8N Neo 4 MSI motherboard, 4 SATA western digital 160 gig drives, 7950 GX2 EVGA videocard, 480 watt PSU. Neither RC1 5600 nor 5728 will load on my PC. Beta 2 loads and works fine because I believe it doesn’t load a driver for my videocard…but that’s a guess. It sure would be nice to have an Vista RC1 build that I could install and test….tried it with RAID and also without RAID.

  10. Anonymous says:

    It took me 31 minutes to install RC1 from I put the DVD into the drive and untill I saw the welcome centre for the first time. This was a clean install on a Dell Inspiron 9100 laptop. So I’d probably be down around 20 minutes if I deduct the time spent on entering information during the setup process.

  11. Anonymous says:

    I just hope we can get RC2 soon, maybe that will boot faster!

  12. Anonymous says:

    +1 on Timing sounds bogus.

    After Six Hours of waiting for the install (most of that time being in the final phase) I went to sleep, but thankfully the next morning Vista was installed.

    I reported the problem with Beta2, Beta2 refresh, RC1 (and I don’t have the time to try with RC1 refresh since no-one ever got back to me that this problem may have been resolved.)

    The RC1 wasn’t a clean install, (as opposed to the Beta2 and Beta2 refresh were clean installs and bug reported) but I cannot see where the timing difference will have been that different as indications are that the delay was during the same stage of the install process.

  13. Anonymous says:

    About the installation time goal, i did see a big improvement (as into time taken). I tested in my lab installing Beta2 takes exactly 1 hour to complete the installation (from copy file to see desktop). With RC1, it shortened to appx. 20 mins. I was first shocked, because the copy file process looked "skipped" to me? and the expand file process took about 2~3 mins. I am not sure how and why it was done this way. But the installation definiately ran considerabely faster.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Ugh, forgot half a sentence 😛

    Having access to a copy of VMware, and having the know-how to create a floppy disk that loads "the Beast" is a rare thing in the user community that Windows Vista is targeting, the average user, and I rarely see this even amongst die-hards like myself.

    rudydanielle: the WIM format used in the Vista installer is kind of similar to the tar file format in Linux/Unix – it is like a ZIP archive, but it contains extended information about file attributes and such. I am pretty sure that installing Vista is not much more than extracting the contents of the image file, detecting some hardware, and updating the registry and boot record. It does not make an "image" of your old configuration, so going back to your previous operating system is impossible at the moment, as far as I know.


  15. Anonymous says:

    dimorphios eat dust…

    I have installed Vista Ultimate Pre-RC1 in 21 Minutes from "Window is loading" to "Welcome center".

    From Copying files to Completing Installation took about 12 minutes… Yes I have very fast machine (core2duo e6400 @ 3.04 /w WD raptor drive, 2 dvd-r/w drive, sata II drive, 2gb mem, onboard sound, dual gigabit lan, 6 usb2 ports, nvidia 7900gt, print).

    With that said I have had problems also with install Vista Ultimate Pre-RC1 where it would take about 45 minutes.  After hours of troubleshooting I found that disabling the  A drive ( PC did not have any A drive but was enable in BIOS) would speed things up.

    I have also installed build 5728 on VMWARE 5.5 (XPSP2 Pentium D 3.2 w/ WD raptor) in under 30 minutes from "Window is loading" to "Welcome center".

    Good job deployment team.

  16. Anonymous says:

    I’ve been seeing some pretty damn quick install times myself. I timed RC1 at roughly 27 minutes to clean install – and that’s not 27 minutes to copy the files, that’s 27 minutes from the moment I put the CD in the drive to boot from it, to when I was finally sitting at the desktop, ready to get started.

    Furthermore, my system has about 6 hard drives in it, and takes at least a minute or two to get past the initial BIOS stage, something that’s generally faster on most other systems. Plus, user intervention was included within that 27 minutes, so on modern systems, I can imagine that you could get unattended clean installs to go pretty damn quick in the right circumstances.

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