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Headless Windows installation

Friday, October 16, 2009

I recently faced a problem with installing Windows on a headless (no monitor, no keyboard) computer. The computer in question was HP MediaSmart Server LX195 – a nice and cheap piece of hardware. The server comes with Windows Home Server preinstalled – a very neat consumer-grade server operating system. But being a geek – the operating system was not for me. I desperately wanted the new features and feel that came with Windows Vista. So I chose the path of installing something else on this server.

Installing Windows Server 2008 R2

My reinstallation adventures started with Windows Server 2008 R2. It didn’t take long to figure out that the server won’t boot from USB and having no DVD drive, the only option was a disk-based install. The other problem was the absence of a keyboard and a monitor. The only option was some kind of unattended installation. This is quite simple to do with Windows:

If everything went well, the new boot sector on the now active partition will fetch the Windows installation on the second partition as if you booted from a DVD. The XML file on the thumb drive will be automatically detected and processed by the installation. After ~30 minutes, you will have a working Windows 2008 R2 installation on the home server.

I really recommend to try this out in a virtual environment first. If you use Windows Virtual PC, you can use a virtual floppy drive instead of a flash drive. Use WinImage to to create a floppy image.

Installing Windows Server 2008

The problem with Server 2008 R2 is that it’s 64-bit only. I don’t have much RAM in my home server so it didn’t really make much sense. So I decided to roll back to Windows Server 2008. I tried the same approach as above – and failed. The problem is that if you try installing Server 2008 from a hard drive, it will hang asking you for a driver. I never figured out what driver it wants. So I had to try another unattended installation option: sysprep.

Topics: Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

2 Responses to “Headless Windows installation”

  1. Polprav Says:
    October 22nd, 2009 at 3:27

    Hello from Russia!
    Can I quote a post in your blog with the link to you?

  2. Michal Strehovsky Says:
    October 22nd, 2009 at 10:33


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