Transfer your Windows 7 installation to a new PC

(Originally published on the Seven Forums)

Windows 7 System Preparation Tool is a powerful, native Windows tool. When for instance used in so called Audit Mode, it let’s you to freely configure Windows 7 to be then deployed to other computers as hardware independent image.

In this tutorial we use System Preparation Tool (sysprep) to prepare your Windows 7 installation to be moved to a new computer, keeping all your installed applications, program settings and user profiles. You can use this method for instance when you have bought a new PC and want to transfer your existing setup completely, without need to reinstall everything, or when you want to make major hardware changes like change the motherboard or GPU, which would usually cause Windows to stop booting normally.

With the speed of today’s hardware evolution, most of us geeks are upgrading the hardware more often than operating system. Upgrading hardware can be painfully slow process if we need to reinstall the operating system and all our installed applications, plus transfer program settings and user profiles.

Using Sysprep makes this easy. Changing the motherboard, or for instance an old ATI GPU to a new nVidia GPU quite often causes Windows 7 not to be able to boot anymore. This fact is usually accepted by the user, who then reinstalls the OS and all applications and transfers user profiles from a backup location.

Same thing when buying a new computer with completely different hardware setup compared to the old one, or trying to restore a system image to different hardware setup. Normally this would include a complete reinstallation of Windows 7 and all applications.

Why not use Sysprep to avoid reinstalling? Here are the different scenarios where you can use it.

Please notice that using this method causes Windows 7 to lose all activation information, and it needs to be reactivated afterwards. If your Windows 7 is an OEM version, you might not be able to reactivate it afterwards, at least not without phone activation option.


Changing hardware components but keeping old hard disk(s)

Use this method if you:
– Change other hardware components but keep your old HD containing Windows 7
– Move the HD containing Windows 7 to another computer

  1. Before installing new hardware or moving the HD to new computer, boot Windows 7 normally
  2. Run Command Prompt as administrator:

  3. Type this to Command Prompt:


    and hit Enter:

  4. In Sysprep dialog that opens, choose System Cleanup Action as Enter System Out-of-Box-Experience (OOBE), select Generalize, select Shutdown Options Shutdown. Click OK:

  5. Sysprep generalizes now your Windows 7 setup and shuts down your computer (Do not run any other programs during this phase!):



  6. Switch the main power of your PC off and install the new hardware OR dismount the hard disk(s) and mount it (them) to a new computer
  7. Boot the PC from Sysprep generalized hard disk. You will notice Windows booting as if it was the first boot after installation, installing default drivers and updating registry. One or two reboots are needed, depending on your system specifications:

  8. When Windows finally boots up, you will need to enter all information as if this really was a new, fresh installation:

  9. Because your old user profiles already exist, Windows does not accept your normal username. Instead you have to create a new temporary user. I normally use username Test for this purpose at this point:

  10. When login screen appears, choose your old user account to login:

  11. Windows boots now to default OOBE first boot desktop, with default 800*600 resolution and default theme. All your installed applications are there, as well as your old user profiles and folders. Windows has installed the default drivers for your setup, you can update them if needed:

  12. Go to Control Panel > User Accounts and delete the temporary user account (in this case Test) that you just created


Change the hard disk(s) or move Windows 7 setup to a new computer using third party imaging software

Use this method if you:
– Replace the HD containing Windows 7 on your old computer
– Move Windows 7 to a new HD on another computer

  1. Follow steps 1 through 5 above (method 1)
  2. Boot PC with an imaging CD/DVD that allows you to create a system image (Paragon, Macrium etc.)
  3. Create a system image of your system
  4. Turn PC off, change the hard disk(s) and reboot with imaging application, restoring the image OR boot the new computer with imaging software and restore the image
  5. Continue from step 7 above (method 1)


Change the hard disk(s) or move Windows 7 setup to a new computer using Windows Seven’s native Backup and Restore

Use this method if you:
– Replace the HD containing Windows 7 on your old computer
– Move Windows 7 to a new HD on another computer

  1. Follow steps 1 through 5 above (method 1)
  2. Change the hardware components you want to, letting the old HD be still mounted as system disk OR if transferring to a new computer, mount the old HD to the new computer as system (boot) disk
  3. Boot computer normally, continuing from step 7 above (method 1)
  4. Launch Windows 7 Backup and Restore, create a complete system image. This excellent Seven Forums tutorial shows you how: Backup Complete Computer – Create an Image Backup
  5. Shut down the computer, dismount the HD and mount the new one
  6. Boot from Windows 7 installation DVD, choosing Repair > Restore an image, using the image you created in previous step. This Seven Forums tutorial shows you how: System Image Recovery
  7. When image is restored, boot your computer normally

This procedure is easy, and works. There is nothing to worry, but of course it is recommended to make a backup before trying this. I have even used this method when some serious driver issues caused the PC to constantly crash (BSOD), to reset all drivers to Windows defaults and then reinstalling them one by one to find the culprit.

What does Sysprep generalizing do to my Windows 7 setup?

  • All system specific information is removed or uninstalled
  • Security ID (SID) of your hardware setup is reseted
  • All system restore points are deleted
  • All event logs are deleted
  • All personalization is removed (taskbar, toolbars, folder options, start orb etc.)
  • Built-in administrator account is disabled (if it was enabled) and needs to be re-enabled if again needed

What happens when booting first time after Sysprep generalizing?

  • First boot configuration is run
  • New SID is created
  • Re-arm counter is reseted if not already re-armed three times
  • Windows 7 is booted using first boot default drivers and settings

I have tested all above mentioned methods with all versions of Windows 7, from Starter to Enterprise. For me it has worked every time, with one exception: for reasons unknown to me, Sysprep seems sometimes dislike Windows Media Player Network Sharing service, which is by default started every time Windows 7 starts. In about every third time I’ve done this, I’ve got an error message when trying to generalize:

However, this is not a big problem. You just need to stop the WMP Network Sharing service, and run Sysprep with generalize option again. You can stop the service in question by typing this to an administrative Command Prompt (see method 1 step 2):

net stop WMPNetworkSvc

and hitting Enter:

If you have any questions, do not hesitate to ask.

Happy computing!


WordPress Tags: Windows 7, Installation, Audit Mode, Tutorial, Setup, Sysprep, Imaging


3 Responses to Transfer your Windows 7 installation to a new PC

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  3. Patrick says:

    I tried sysprepping my Server2008r2 but we had a power interruption while it was running. Now server boots to setup, but fails with error saying it was interrrupted and needs to reboot…and it does this every time. Cannot repair install or startup repair, both fail. Boot to install disk, cmd – bootrec /ScanOs reports 0 Windows installations. Is there any way to get my OS back, or am I totally screwed and need to start with a fresh build. So far I have tried everything that I can find online. HELP

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