When Windows XP was released in 2001, it was not foreseen that specialized hard drive controllers for a new generation of hard drives would become the norm. As IDE died its slow death, the rise of SATA prevented the venerable floppy drive from going with it. While Vista accepts CDs and flash drives containing SATA drivers, XP recognizes only the dreaded floppy. Adding insult to injury, those lucky few who have a drive and the appropriate disk are met with scores of updates once Windows is installed. Pleasantly, there is a solution to these common irritations known as “slipstreaming.”
Once the domain of OEMs, slipstreaming allows a user to bundle newer service packs, updates, drivers or even applications right into the Windows install media. With the recent release of Windows XP Service Pack 3, there has never been a better time to build a disc to suit. In the following pages we’ll tailor your old Windows XP CD to reduce its size, install faster, recognize your SATA drives during install and pre-install your favorite applications.
All this customization was made easy by the 2006 release of nLite, which made the cryptic art of slipstreaming broadly accessible. A clever combination of intuitive menus, concise documentation and easy-to-use automation has made it a rapid success. In this feature, we’ll be using nLite to help us to customize a US English version of 32-bit Windows XP. Because any good project requires a little prep work, we’ll begin the process there.
Getting nLite Ready
Step 1A: Download and install Microsoft .NET Framework 2.0 SP1
1B: Download and install nLite (v1.4.5 Final at the time of publication)
1C: Lastly, prepare a directory structure as seen in figure 1-1:
Preparing Items For Integration
Step 2A: Download the Windows XP Service Pack 3 Network Installation Package to the Service Packs directory you created in step 1C. Because nLite will integrate SP3 automatically in later stages of this guide, do not extract or run the executable.
2B: As previously indicated, it is possible to build SATA drivers directly into the Windows CD, thereby averting the need for a floppy drive. These drivers are often difficult to locate, so we have prepared a driver package for the major AMD, Intel and NVIDIA chipsets of recent make. You can download the driver package from our repository and extract it to the drivers folder created in step 1C.
More About SATA Drivers
The advertised features of a motherboard are shared between the northbridge and the southbridge. When Intel or NVIDIA release a new chipset, it is the northbridge to which we refer with such names as “P35” or “780i.” While the northbridge handles speedy tasks such as the x16 PCI Express or front-side bus, of particular interest to us is the southbridge which handles SATA.
NVIDIA and Intel are very supportive when it comes to drivers for their platforms. Both firms release driver packages that clearly state what northbridges and southbridges they support, and the support inside those downloads are quite vast. This means that any NVIDIA owner can go directly to NVIDIA, and any Intel owner can go directly to Intel, bypassing the often-slow motherboard manufucturers for support.
Conversely, AMD has traditionally left it to the manufacturer to decide which southbridge is best for a northbridge. Each motherboard based on an AMD design could be using one of up to three different southbridges, each with their own method of providing SATA support. Because of this, AMD can not provide a single driver package that will cover any motherboard using one of their northbridges. To compensate for this, we have categorized our drivers for the AMD platform by southbridge. Because of the southbridge’s importance on an AMD platform, the manual or manufacturer site for your board will always indicate what is used.
We have done our best to provide a wide variety of drivers for all the manufacturers spoken of here. If you feel your specific chipset has not been accounted for in the package we’ve provided, please post a request in our storage forum and we will do our best to provide the appropriate driver to you.
As per step 2B, these provided SATA drivers will now be in the drivers folder. Within the drivers folder should be three directories labeled “AMD,” “Intel,” and “NVIDIA.” For each manufacturer’s folder, a series of drivers are contained in various directories. In the table below, you can identify the folder which contains the drivers appropriate for your platform.
Intel SATA Drivers (Fig. 2-1)
|Driver Version||Chipsets Supported|
|22.214.171.1249||865 and Variants
915 and Variants
925 and Variants
950 and Variants
943 and Variants
945 and Variants
955 and Variants
963 and Variants
P965 and Variants
975X and Variants
G3x and Variants
P35 and Variants
P45 and Variants
Q3x and Variants
NVIDIA SATA Drivers (Fig. 2-2)
|Driver Version||Chipsets Supported|
|9.64||nForce 790i Ultra SLI
nForce 790i SLI
nForce 780i SLI
nForce 680i SLI
nForce 680i LT SLI
|9.53||nForce 590 SLI Intel
nForce 680a SLI
|8.43||nForce 750i SLI
nForce 650i SLI
nForce 650i Ultra
|9.35||nForce 590 SLI AMD|
|8.22||nForce 570 SLI Intel|
|9.16||nForce 570 SLI AMD
nForce 570 AMD
nForce 550 AMD
nForce 750a SLI
nForce 780a SLI
AMD SATA Drivers (Fig. 2-3)
|Southbridge Used||Chipsets Supported|
|SB600||AMD 790 and Variants
AMD 780 and Variants
AMD 770 and Variants
AMD 740 and Variants
AMD 690 and Variants
AMD 580 and Variants
AMD 570 and Variants
AMD 480 and Variants
CrossFire Xpress 3200
CrossFire Xpress 3100
CrossFire Xpress 1600
|SB700||AMD 790 and Variants
AMD 780 and Variants
AMD 770 and Variants
AMD 740 and Variants
|SB750||AMD 790 and Variants
AMD 780 and Variants
AMD 770 and Variants
AMD 740 and Variants
|ULi-M1575||AMD 480 and Variants
CrossFire Xpress 3100
2C: In addition to drivers and service packs, nLite presents the opportunity to integrate applications with your Windows XP CD. These applications should be downloaded to the addons folder from figure 1-1, and should not be extracted or executed. These applications will be ready to use immediately after the installation of Windows is complete.
Extensive repositories of nLite-compatible add-ons can be found at the following locations:
It is also possible to design your own add-ons, and MSFN is an excellent resource on the subject.
Preparing XP For Modification
Having prepared the items we want to slipstream in advance, it’s time to start integrating these objects into the disc. At this time, you can launch nLite and press “Next” to skip the welcome screen (Fig 3-1).
Step 3A: Press browse on the window indicated in figure 3-2, and locate the ROM drive that contains the Windows XP CD you’ll be using as the basis of the new disc. In this case, my original Windows XP CD is in my F:\ drive.
3B: Once you have selected the Windows XP CD, nLite will ask you where to save the contents of the disc. Direct nLite to the Windows CD directory created in step 1C. When nLite is done copying the disc, it will give you information about its size and version as in figure 3-3.
3C: Because of the vast variety of options nLite presents when customizing an XP disc, it’s very easy to select one that will cripple support for a feature or type of hardware you find critical. Thankfully, when you are done customizing your XP CD you can save a presets file as a record of all the options you selected. If you load this file now, repeat steps 3A and 3B, and then proceed as prescribed throughout the remainder of the guide, you can easily correct any mistakes and burn a new disc in less than twenty minutes.
3D: nLite breaks the slipstreaming process down into four stages. In the “Integration” stage, all the materials we downloaded in steps 2A – 2C will be decompressed and added to the Windows CD we put on the hard drive in step 3B. In the “Remove” stage, you’ll be able to flag components of Windows for removal; these components include services, hardware support, languages and drivers. In the “Setup” stage, you can add custom Windows themes to the disc, tweak the appearance of the desktop, supply a CD key for automatic usage and more. Lastly, the “Create” stage will allow you to decide how you want your disc created: Either as an ISO, or directly to CD. Because all of these stages are important to us, configure this screen as in figure 3-5 and press next.
Integrating Prepared Customizations
3E: For the first step in our integration stage, we’re going to add SP3 to our Windows disc. To do this, press select and navigate to the service packs folder we downloaded SP3 to in step 2A. Once the file has been opened, nLite will decompress its contents and update your disc. When the process is complete, your nLite window should appear as in figure 3-6.
3F: In this step, all the applications we downloaded in 2C should be added via the insert buton. If you have any Windows hotfixes you would like to add, you can also add those at this time. Any hotfixes you’ve added will appear in the window, as in figure 3-7. Secondly, hit advanced and configure your window as shown in figure 3-8. This will save space on your CD and accelerate installation. When you’re all finished here, press next.
3G: Windows XP recognizes two different types of drivers, the first of which is called a “PNP” driver. This is the kind of driver you install inside of Windows, such as the sort your video or sound card would use. The second kind are known as “Txtmode” drivers, and these are drivers required by the Windows XP setup routine to activate various pieces of hardware. To wit, all the drivers in step 2B are txtmode drivers that activate your computer’s SATA controller for use during installation. This is what will finally allow Windows to understand how to talk to your SATA drives and, subsequently, install on them!
Alternatively, if you have drivers you can extract to a folder that contain a .INF file, you can add them as PNP drivers and these hardware devices will be ready to go when you first install windows. Popular options include network drivers, video card drivers extracted from their executable installers, or the more simple sound drivers.
You may recall that in step 2B we provided an archive which contains various drivers for today’s most common chipsets. Because my computer uses the Intel P35 chipset, we can see that driver version 126.96.36.1999 in the Intel folder will support my SATA controller. At this time, press insert then single driver. Navigate to the folder which contains the driver appropriate for your chipset, and then add the .INF file contained in the folder. You’ll often be presented with a list of controllers the driver supports, so it’s best to select all of them if you’re not sure. Refer to figure 3-9 for a visual example.
The Removal Stage
As operating systems tend to be a “One size fits all” solution, they come pre-packaged with support for hardware, features and files you may never use. In the removal stage nLite allows you to eliminate unnecessary components, giving you the opportunity to shrink the size of Windows both on the CD and on the hard drive, with the added benefit of a small increase in performance.
When first accessing the window represented in figure 4-1A, nLite will give you the opportunity to select aspects of Windows XP that you do not want to remove under any circumstances (Fig. 4-1B). We have gone ahead and selected the four features that should not be removed under any circumstances. Doing this will hide the various options that work to provide these features from the extensive menus in 4-1A.
As can be seen here, there are a great many components that go into making Windows XP what it is. When expanding one of the dropdowns, you will be given a list of items of that specific category that can be removed. As a general rule, any item written in red is a critical component of the OS. However, virtually all the components you can select for removal come with a description of their function when you mouse over them. This way, even if the item is flagged as critical, you can determine if it’s truly critical for your needs. For example, there is little reason why an owner of an Intel-based machine would want to keep support for Transmeta or AMD CPUs in the hardware support section.
More About Components
In figure 4-1A, we have pre-selected the four categories of components that virtually everyone can safely remove:
- Drivers: These are the drivers for common devices in 2001 when Windows XP was released. In 2008, there is little reason why any user would need or want such ancient drivers, so it is recommended that you remove them.
- Keyboards: Windows XP ships with support for dozens of keyboard layouts for various languages. This will remove all of them except the standard QWERTY layout for US English. UK users will undoubtedly want to keep their own at the end of this expanded category.
- Languages: Windows XP ships with support for displaying dozens of languages. Checking this will remove all languages but US English. Again, UK users will want to keep their dialect support at the end of this expanded category.
- Directories: If you have never opened your Windows XP CD and extracted any of the administrative utilities on it, it’s a pretty safe bet that these directories are unimportant to you.
Other categories also have extensive documentation that you can consult when deciding what to remove:
- Services: BlackViper has long been the authority on services for Windows. His site has an extensive list of the services, what function they perform, and under what circumstances you can keep or remove them.
For the remaining categories, you can invest the time to research each component, remove only the ones you’re explicitly familiar with, or simply move on to the next steps.
Automating Windows Setup
In the unattended section, elaborated upon in 4A through 4J, you can supply answers to boxes and prompts that Windows generates during the graphical portion of the XP installation process. This means that any page you have fully filled out in advance with nLite will no longer require your intervention; the answers will be automatically entered. No more selecting your time zone!
Step 4A: General tab
Here in figure 5-1, we have configured the page as we would use for my own PC. Here is an explanation of each option:
- Unattended Mode: Determines how Windows should react if an answer is not supplied for a box during the graphical setup portion. The question mark explains each option in detail, but “Hide pages” is generally best.
- OEM Preinstall: Determines whether or not XP should look for your floppy drive or the XP CD when loading SATA drivers. Leave the function set to enable, as we have slipstreamed drivers.
- Program Files path: The location of your Program Files folder. Unless you’re particularly compelled to alter it, the default is suitable.
- Data Execution Prevention: Enables or disables the use of a CPU’s buffer overflow protection
- Product Key: Enter your Windows XP license code here.
- Computer Type: Determines what HAL Windows should use. In this case, Windows really does know best, and this option should be left at its default.
- Turn off Firewall: Disables the firewall introduced to Windows XP in Service Pack 2. If you are behind a router, it is recommended that you turn this feature off to save yourself considerable trouble.
- Skip OOBE: Bypass the last stage of Windows XP setup where you create user accounts. Disable this, because this will be taken care of with nLite.
- Turn off Hibernate: Not a fan of hibernation? Disable it from day one right here.
- System Restore Service: The system restore service takes snapshots of critical Windows components and stores them on the hard drive. The idea is that these snapshots can be used to restore XP’s functionality in the advent of a catastrophe. Unfortunately, it rarely works as advertised and often ends up hogging disk space. We turn this off.
4B: RunOnce Tab
This tab allows you to launch applications or run commands the first time you get to your desktop. To the average user, it’s not terribly useful, but if there’s any command you can’t live without on the very first desktop access, this place is for you.
4C: Users Tab
nLite permits you to pre-configure user accounts that are immediately available after Windows has been installed. Different users will have varying requirements, however I have configured figure 5-3 as appropriate for my own system.
4D: Owner and Network ID Tab
On this tab you can define the parameters of your computer’s identity on a local network you may have. This screen also dictates some of what will be displayed when check the properties of the “my computer” icon on any Windows desktop; figure 5-4 shows the correspondence.
4E: Regional Tab
With this tab, you can completely skip the screens that prompt you to select your language, keyboard and timezone. If you’re using a US English copy of Windows, configuring the window (Adjusting for your timezone) as seen in figure 5-5 will set you right. Users of other languages or keyboard layouts will want to select the options appropriate for them.
4F: Network Settings Tab
If you elected to add PNP network drivers during step 3G, you can customize all the settings for that card now. Sadly, this tab isn’t terribly useful for WLAN devices, so we have configured ours as though it were wired.
4G: Themes Tab
If you have ever installed a custom theme for Windows XP, or are currently running one, hitting insert all local will automatically add your custom themes to the Windows CD. You can then determine which one is the system-wide default for your first boot to desktop.
4H: Automatic Updates Tab
As a matter of preference, I prefer to manually obtain my updates rather than Windows phoning home to do it for me. Under this tab, you can decide how to best manage Windows updates. These features set the options for the automatic updates tab as seen in figure 5-4.
4I: Display Tab
If in step 2B you also chose to slipstream your video card drivers, you can set the properties your display will use at boot under this tab. If you have not slipstreamed a video card driver, this tab will have no effect.
4J: Components Tab
Unless you intend to run your machine as a web server, which we strongly advise against if you’re running XP, it’s best to leave IIS disabled on this screen.
Options and Patches
These settings are the mundane sort that generally affect responsiveness and “Behind the scenes” elements of Windows. More advanced users can feel free to change the settings, but what we have provided in figures 6-1 and 6-2 are a solid solution for virtually anybody.
Hard-Wire Windows Tweaks
In the tweaks section, you can alter a myriad of settings that most people turn to the registry to enable once Windows XP has been installed. Rather than explain each setting in detail, we’ll show each category configured with some common choices that eliminate annoyances and speed up the operation of XP.
For the remainder of the tweaks and settings contained within the categories, they are largely up to user preference. Mousing over each one will generally reveal a small explanation about that setting’s particular role.
Compile and Burn
At this point, the next screen will result in a prompt that asks you if you wish to continue. If you feel that everything is in order, pressing yes will begin compiling every setting, addon, driver and hotfix you added to the CD in prior steps. If you feel you’ve made an error, or wish for once last chance to verify all your settings, pressing no will allow you to review what you have done. If satisfied, figure 8-1 demonstrates the integration process:
Once the compilation process is finished, you will finally be presented with the option to burn the disc you have created. In this stage, the label field should correspond to the version of Windows that you have. For those who don’t know, TackTech has an excellent list that shows the relationship between the version and the volume label. At this point, the only thing left to do is burn your disc! The settings file which we mentioned early on will automatically be saved to your fresh Windows CD.
As you can see, the slipstreaming process is a powerful one. In just a few hours, we have shrunk the size of our disc, sped up the install, hard-wired speed enhancements and laid the floppy to rest! The more you use nLite, the more comfortable you become with adding and removing Windows features. Because your original disc is never modified, reformatting back to the original disc to try your hand at another custom disc is always possible. As always, we’re on hand in the IC forums to provide continued to support for this and other articles.