Windows PE

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Windows PE is a lightweight version of Windows intended to be used for installation of Windows Vista or Windows7 and for system maintenance. It runs entirely from memory and can be booted from the network.

Uses

Normally, an image of Windows PE can only be created using the Windows Automated Installation Kit (WAIK) on a Windows machine. However, it is also possible to create and modify images of Windows PE using only free software on an Arch Linux machine, and optionally publish them on the network for PXE booting. You may want to do this if:

  • you need to install Windows from the network, or boot Windows PE from the network for system administration, using an Arch Linux-based server. This may be because you do not have a Windows-based server, or you prefer using a Linux server because of its improved security and configurability, or you are already using a Linux server for other purposes.
  • you need to run a Windows environment to run Win32 programs, you do not have a Windows machine available, and you do not want to use Wine or the programs will not run correctly with Wine.

Warnings

If you boot Windows PE on a physical computer, you are placing Microsoft's closed-source code in control of that computer. You do so at your own risk.

In addition, by downloading the Windows Automated Installation Kit, you may be bound by its license, which prevents you from, among other things, using Windows PE as a general-purpose operating system.

Creating a bootable Windows PE ISO

  1. Download the Windows Automated Installation Kit (WAIK) from Microsoft's website. Warning: The download is 1.7GB.
  2. Make sure you have the fuse, cdrkit, and cabextract packages installed.
  3. Install wimlibAUR from the AUR.
  4. Mount the WAIK ISO.
     sudo mkdir /media/waik
     sudo mount KB3AIK_EN.iso /media/waik
  5. Use the mkwinpeimg script provided with wimlibAUR to create a bootable Windows PE ISO winpe.iso. See the man page for mkwinpeimg for more information.
    mkwinpeimg --iso --waik-dir=/media/waik winpe.iso
  6. Unmount the WAIK ISO.
  7. sudo umount /media/waik

Booting Windows PE

After creating a bootable ISO of Windows PE (winpe.iso) as described in the previous section, you may want to boot Windows PE in the following ways:

In virtual machine

Run a virtual machine with winpe.iso attached as a CD-ROM. Be sure to give it adequate memory, definitely more than the size of the ISO, since Windows PE runs from memory. For example:

qemu-system-i386 -cdrom winpe.iso -m 512

From CD

Simply burn winpe.iso onto a CD, and you can boot from it. Again: beware that if you do this on your Arch Linux machine, you are placing Microsoft's closed source operating system in control of your computer.

From Network

Windows PE can be booted from the network using PXELINUX and its MEMDISK module.

  1. Install syslinux and tftp-hpa.
  2. Copy needed PXELINUX files to the TFTP server root.
    sudo cp /usr/lib/syslinux/{pxelinux.0,menu.c32,memdisk} /var/tftpboot
  3. Put winpe.iso in the TFTP server root.
    sudo mv winpe.iso /var/tftpboot
  4. Create a configuration file for PXELINUX similar to the following:
  5. /var/tftpboot/pxelinux.cfg/default
    UI         menu.c32
    MENU TITLE Network Boot
    TIMEOUT    50
    
    LABEL      winpe
    MENU LABEL Boot Windows PE from network
    KERNEL     /memdisk
    INITRD     winpe.iso
    APPEND     iso raw
    
    LABEL      localboot
    MENU LABEL Boot from local disk
    LOCALBOOT  0
    
    
  6. Start the TFTP server.
    sudo rc.d start tftpd
  7. Configure your DHCP server to point to pxelinux.0 as the boot file, with the Linux server's IP address. Beware: if your DHCP server is on a router, it may not be possible to do this without installing custom firmware.

After completing the above steps, you should be able to boot Windows PE from the network. Warning: With the given PXELINUX configuration file, Windows PE will start by default after 5 seconds.

Network boot performance

TFTP is not designed to be used to transfer large files, such as winpe.iso, which may be 118MB or more. Performance may be improved by using the gpxelinux.0 bootloader instead of pxelinux.0 and loading winpe.iso using HTTP rather than TFTP.

Customizing Windows PE

The mkwinpeimg script provided with wimlibAUR supports making modifications to Windows PE using the --start-script or --overlay options. See the manual page for mkwinpeimg for more information.

You may want to do this to add additional Windows applications that you want to run in Windows PE, or if there are any drivers that Windows PE needs (they can be loaded using the drvload command within Windows PE).