If you have bought an off-the-shelf computer recently, chances are that it came with Windows preloaded onto the system. Unfortunately,
many of these systems with Windows preinstalled do not come with a Windows setup CDROM; at best they include a Recovery Disk that
restores the system to its shipping condition. If you plan to reformat and do a clean installation of your
system, you might think that you have to buy another additional Windows XP licence even though you have already paid for one for that
same machine. This article shows you how you can re-create a usable and bootable Windows XP installation CD using your running system.
There are at least a few reasons why you might need a bootable Windows Setup disc:
I'm sure there are many other possible reasons why you might need a Windows Installation CD, but let's get on with the procedure for
Before you can recreate a bootable Windows installation disk, certain things are required:
This guide only applies to Windows XP systems, be it XP Home or Professional. I have not tested this procedure on other versions of
This is essential. Without this, the procedure outlined on this page will not work. To find out whether
you can use the steps listed on this page to re-create your bootable Windows XP setup disk, look for into your
system drive (usually the C: drive), and see if you can find a folder named I386 in the root directory.
That is, see if you have the C:\I386 folder on your hard disk.
If your PC or laptop came from the major PC vendors like HP, Dell or Acer, chances are that there is an I386 folder at the root of drive C:,
unless you've deleted it.
Note that only c:\i386 contains the files needed for this operation. Do not use the files in "C:\Windows\Driver Cache\i386" or any other folders.
When you bought your PC or laptop, it probably already came with Windows pre-activated, which means that you could use the computer out-of-the-box
without having to enter your Windows licence key from Microsoft or needing to activate the machine.
However, when you reinstall Windows, you will need a Windows licence key. You can usually find this taped somewhere on your computer (sometimes on
the underside or back of the computer). Without this, you won't get far in the installation.
Some manufacturers provide you with the device drivers for your system on a CD that comes with your system. Others require you to go to their
website and download these drivers. Whichever the case may be, make sure you have all your drivers handy before you start. Burn them onto a CD or DVD.
Do not leave them on your hard disk, since your clean installation of Windows will probably wipe out everything on your hard disk.
If your computer has SATA, IDE, SCSI or other mass storage devices (for your hard disks) that the Windows installer does not recognize out of the box,
you will need to create a floppy disk with the drivers for that device. At the appropriate time, when Windows prompts you to hit F6 to load the drivers
from a floppy disk, you will need to so. This is however outside the scope of this tutorial.
If your manufacturer has not provided you with any device drivers, or if you have lost the drivers CD or DVD that the vendor has provided you,
all is not lost. You can try using a device driver backup program to extract the existing drivers on your currently running system. Burn the drivers
onto a CD or DVD before starting. You can get a device driver backup program from the
Free Device Driver Backup and Extraction Utilities page
on thefreecountry.com. Note that backing up your device drivers in this manner will not help you if your computer has SATA, IDE, SCSI or other
mass storage devices (for your hard disk) that Windows setup does not recognise. In such cases, you need the manufacturers' textmode drivers
which the driver backup utility will not recreate.
You will need to have a CD/DVD burning software that will allow you to create Bootable CDs. Not all DVD or CD mastering programs allow you to
do this, especially the OEM versions that are bundled with new computers or DVD/CD writers.
For the purpose of this tutorial, I will use ImgBurn, a free burning software that you can find listed on the
Free CD and DVD Burners and Copying Software page.
You can of course use other software, but since it is difficult for me to write a tutorial that covers every possible burning software around,
this guide will assume that you are using ImgBurn. Since the software is available free of charge, I doubt that this choice will pose significant hardship
You will also need the boot sector of an existing bootable Windows 2000, XP or 2003 setup CDROM. The easiest way to get this is to download
the file wxp10.zip from one of the links on
http://www.nu2.nu/download.php?sFile=wxp10.zip. In fact, you should do this now.
Download the file and save it on your desktop. You will need the file later.
I would also strongly suggest that you make a backup image of your entire system before you reinstall it. By entire system, I mean
the whole system and not just your data. This is important in case there is some glitch in your installation or some fault in the setup CD that you create,
resulting in an unusable system. In such a situation, you will be able to restore your working system from your backup image. (If you
are not sure what a backup image is, or think that I'm only talking about saving your documents to another location, or worse, think that
"image" refers to some sort of picture, please do not carry on with this procedure.)
If you don't have a decent hard disk backup and image software, you can check out the
Free Hard Disk Backup and Restore, Hard Disk Image and Cloning Utilities
page. If you are tinkering with your system, you owe it to yourself (and your sanity) to get a good hard disk image (backup) program.
Note that there are NO GUARANTEES with the
procedure I outline here. It is possible that it does not work - for example, if your vendor has deleted some essential file in the I386 folder
(which we will need), your installation may well fail at some crucial point after it has formatted your hard disk! It is also possible that my
procedure will not work on your system, or that I made some mistake in describing it here. So do it all at your own risk.
And make sure you have an up-to-date backup of your system
that you know works.
Create a temporary working folder at the root (top) of the C: drive called "XPSETUP" (without the quotes). Actually, you can name it anything
you want and put it anywhere you like, but for ease of explanation, the remainder of the steps below will assume that you have
created the XPSETUP folder in the root of drive C:. This C:\XPSETUP folder will be where you will create the CDROM directory structure for your bootable Windows CD.
Copy the entire C:\I386 to C:\XPSETUP. When you have finished, you will have C:\XPSETUP\I386. Notice that I said "copy", not "move". Do NOT
drag and drop the I386 folder into the XPSETUP directory. If you do so, you may end up moving it into the XPSETUP folder (depending on where you created the
XPSETUP folder). It is important to work from a copy of the I386 directory so that if you make mistakes, you can simply go back and start all over again.
If you move the directory or drag and drop it, and you make a mistake, your mistake will be permanent. So once again, COPY the entire I386 folder to XPSETUP.
It may take a while for the copy operation to complete, but it's safer this way.
If you're not sure how to copy, follow the following procedure: Highlight the I386 folder using Windows Explorer. Right-click the folder and select
"Copy". Then open the XPSETUP folder. The folder should be empty at the moment. Right click the empty space in the window and click "Paste".
A very lengthy copy procedure will take place.
To verify that you have copied the folder and not moved it, return to the top of C: and check that the I386 folder is still there and that
the original files in that folder are still there.
Create an ASCII text file with only the word "Windows " (without the quotes and including the final space after the word "Windows") in it, followed
by a new line. To do this, open up Notepad. Notepad can be found in your Start menu -> Programs -> Accessories -> Notepad. Type the word "Windows"
without the quotes and following my case exactly (that is, "W" is a capital letter and the rest are in small letters). Then type one additional space.
Finally, hit the ENTER key. Do not add anything else to this file. Do not change anything - for example, do not type everything in capital letters
or anything like that. The contents of the file must be exactly as I said, or Windows setup will issue an error message.
Save the file with the filename "WIN51" (include the quotes so that Notepad will not add a ".txt" extension behind your back)
in C:\XPSETUP. Again, the filename's spelling and case must be exactly like mine.
If your PC or laptop originally came with XP Home, make a copy of the file you just created and call it
"WIN51IC". If you are using XP Home Service Pack 1 (SP 1), make two copies of the file and call them "WIN51IC" and
"WIN51IC.SP1". If you are using XP Home Service Pack 2 (SP 2), make three copies of the file and call
them "WIN51IC", "WIN51IC.SP1" and "WIN51IC.SP2". All the copies of the files should be in C:\XPSETUP.
If your PC or laptop originally came with XP Professional, make a copy of the file you just created
and call it "WIN51IP". If you are using XP Professional Service Pack 1 (SP 1), make two copies of the file and call them "WIN51IP" and
"WIN51IP.SP1". If you are using XP Professional Service Pack 2 (SP 2), make three copies of the file and call
them "WIN51IP", "WIN51IP.SP1" and "WIN51IP.SP2". All the copies of the files should be in C:\XPSETUP.
Note carefully what I said above. You may be running XP SP 2 now, but if your PC came with XP SP 1, you
should create the files for XP SP 1. There is an exception to this. If your PC or laptop came with XP or XP SP 1, but you want your Windows install CD
to install XP SP 2, create the WIN51 files needed for SP 2 and follow the procedure for slipstreaming Windows service pack 2 (SP 2) into the
Windows setup CDROM given in the next step.
If your PC or laptop came originally with XP or XP SP 1 (service pack 1) but you want your Windows
setup disk to install XP SP 2, do the following. Otherwise, skip to the next step.
Note that even if you have since updated your computer to SP 2, you will still need to do this
step if you want your setup CD to install Windows XP Service Pack 2. The reason is that updating your
running Windows system does not automatically update the I386 directory. Your I386 directory still contains
the Windows setup files belonging to whatever version of Windows you had when you first bought your PC/laptop.
Download Windows XP service pack 2 from
Save it anywhere you like except in the C:\XPSETUP folder. For the purpose of this tutorial, I will assume you
saved it as C:\XPSP2.EXE, that is, in the root folder with the filename "XPSP2.EXE".
You will need to update the C:\XPSETUP\I386 folder to contain the updated SP 2 files. As a side benefit,
the service pack 2 updater will also create a few files (including setup.exe) in the C:\XPSETUP folder.
This process of integrating the service pack files into the original XP or XP SP 1 is known as "slipstreaming".
To slipstream SP 2, first open up a command prompt. To do this, click the Start menu, select the Run menu
item, and enter the words "cmd". Click the OK button. A black command prompt window will open.
Enter the following line into the window and press the ENTER key.
After the program finishes, you can close the command prompt window. If you look into your XPSETUP folder, you will notice a few new files there.
At this point, the C:\XPSETUP directory contains all the files that will be copied to your
Windows Setup CDROM. Don't worry if the directory does not contain files like "setup.exe" which
you see on the retail CDROMs. You won't need it for a fresh install from the bootable CDROM. Note: You will only have "setup.exe" if you
had to slipstream Service Pack 2 as mentioned earlier. The Service Pack 2 slipstreamer creates setup.exe for you.
Now open the wxp10.zip file that you downloaded earlier. Simply doubleclicking it in Windows explorer should do the trick. Go into the cds
directory and into wxphome (or wxppro; it doesn't matter which) directory, followed by the files directory. Drag the "w2ksect.bin" file
into C:\ (the root directory/folder of drive C:). Don't get creative and place it in some other directory. If you do that, ImgBurn will not be
able to find c:\w2ksect.bin later.
If you have not downloaded ImgBurn, get it now and install it. You will find it listed
Free CD and DVD Burners and Copying Software page.
The version of ImgBurn I used to create this guide was 22.214.171.124. My cursory test of a later version, 126.96.36.199, found that the resulting disk was not made correctly.
Therefore, you should avoid 188.8.131.52. Either use the earlier version or get a version later than 184.108.40.206, if any, that has the bugs
Open up Notepad, and copy the text from the box below (make sure you select everything - click in the box and type Ctrl+A to select all)
and paste it into a blank Notepad window. Save the file as "XPSETUP.ibb" (including the quotes,
which you need to prevent Notepad from adding a ".txt" extension to your filename) somewhere on your desktop (or anywhere you like). Do not add
or delete anything from the file.
Start ImgBurn. Select Mode -> Build from the menu.
Select File -> Load Project from the menu. A dialog box will open. Select the XPSETUP.ibb file you saved earlier and click "Open". If you
can't find a "Load Project" item on the File menu, it means you did not carry out the previous step. Go back and do it.
Click the "Labels" tab on the right side of the screen. Change the label in the ISO9660 field to one of the following, depending on
what type of bootable setup CD you're making.
This step is probably optional if you can't be bothered. I seem to recall having entered a wrong label in the past without having the Windows installer
fail on me.
Finally, click the "Write" icon at the bottom of the window. To find out which picture the "Write" button is (there are no visual cues, even as to which
picture actually represents a button), hover your mouse over the the pictures near the bottom of the window and wait for the tooltip to appear.
When you hover your mouse over the correct picture, a tooltip will appear with the text "Write". (Note: depending on your version of ImgBurn, your
icon may read "Build" instead of "Write".)
A dialog box will probably pop up saying something like "You've only selected 1 folder! C:\XPSETUP. Does the 'XPSETUP' folder
represent the root directory for the image content? (Otherwise the 'XPSETUP' folder will be visible in the root directory of
the image.)" Click "Yes" to this. Basically, you want the contents of the XPSETUP folder to be what you see when you view the CDROM's top level
If you get an error message from ImgBurn regarding "c:\w2ksect.bin", it means that you have missed one of the steps outlined above.
Return to that paragraph
and complete the step before continuing.
At this point, the bootable Windows setup disk will be created. To use it, place the CD into the CD drive, make sure your BIOS is set to boot first from your
CD drive, and reboot. Voila, if all goes well, the Windows installer starts up and you're on the way to reinstalling your system.
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