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Creating a WinPE Network Partition Sandbox

Created: 21 Mar 2008 • Updated: 11 Jun 2008 | 4 comments
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Remember that sweet green turtle sandbox that you had when you were a kid still have? Well this article will help you create a WinPE sandbox. Though not as cool as the green turtle sandbox, this one will help you solve some problems you might be experiencing.

Getting Started

First go into your deployment console and you want to open PXE Configuration from the Tools menu. Take note of what the "Prompt" is set to before you go any farther. When a machine is set to PXE boot it will attach to your server and then when it sees it doesn't have a job will display this prompt. I would recommend changing this prompt to something like "Press [F8] for boot options" like I have here so you always know there are options to be seen. Pressing F8 at this prompt is how we are going to boot into our WinPE Sandbox. You might also want to up the Timeout, sometimes 3 seconds is a little fast...especially on Monday. Next you want to go to File and "Choose PXE server".

You want to take the PXE configuration utility out of shared configuration; you cannot create a WinPE network partition with the utility in shared configuration.

Create a New Boot Image

After you get your PXE server selected you want to click on the new button to create a new boot image. You want to select WinPE as the preboot OS and use the Boot Disk Creator as the Image Creation Method. I left x86 checked as I do not have the x64 part of WinPE installed. Be sure to give your new boot image a name, something descriptive should be used. Pay attention to what location is listed as the "Final Location on the PXE server." The location should default to you eXpress share in PXE\Images\MenuOptionXXX where the X's are 3 numbers. In the case of mine you can see its MenuOption161. You can go to this folder later to compare the size of this boot image to any other images you might be using.

Step #1 Description

After you enter the name and get everything else setup click on "Create Boot Image". The first dialog that comes up is going to ask you for a description of the image and its use. This is option but I recommend putting something in. As you can see in the screenshot I have included a description that instructs anyone looking at it not to leave the computer unattended after they boot a machine up to this image.

Step #2 Network Adapters

After your description is entered if you chose to enter one, click next. Step #2 has you choose which network adapters that you want to load into your image. The more drivers you choose the bigger your image will be. I happen to pick "Auto-Detect All Network Adapters" so that I can be sure the NIC driver is generally found for the computer I'm working with. In my WinPE image that I use every day for imaging or FIRMing in drivers I only have about 100 of the drivers loaded and will add drivers if I need to.

Step #3 Load Order

Step #3 just asks about the order in which you want to load the drivers that you selected in Step #2. You can load these in any order you want; I tend to put the most common ones near the top.

Step #4 TCP/IP from DHCP

Step #4 asks about the IP address, I set mine up to obtain automatically from a DHCP server. If you have a static address you wish to use for the client (target) computer, you may enter it here.

Step #5 Connection Details

Step #5 asks how you want to client computer to connect to the Deployment Server. I have mine configured with the Deployment Servers IP address. I also have the option set to run the WinPE stored on the server as I do not have them on the client machines. You should leave "Lock Keyboard" unchecked for this as enabling that would defeat the entire purpose to even creating this image.

Step #6 Credentials

Step #6 is going to ask about Domain and User Name details. You want to use an account here that has enough access to map the express share to F:\ (or whatever you have yours mapping to).

Step #7 Drive Mappings

Step #7 has you looking at the drive map letter and also the area it's mapping to. The default should be mapping F:\ to your \\DS_Server\eXpress share. There is also an option here to create an LMHOSTS entry for the DS.

Step #8 Choose Boot Model

Step #8 has you define which boot model to use: factory -WinPE or factory -minint. Minint mode offers a faster boot time while the WinPE model offers better driver detection. My current production WinPE image and also my sandbox I created are using the minint model. I haven't had any issues with the minint model so I won't be changing it soon. This dialog also has an option for what type of support you want to add to the image. Support for WSH, HTA, and ADO are all clickable. I have just included support for WSH in both of my WinPE images. HTA's are applications written with HTML or dynamic HTML that have the ability to copy, edit, and move files as well as add or remove registry entries. ADO's are ActiveX Data Objects which can be used with programs written to access data.

Almost Finished!

Step #9 Configuration Summary

Step #9 is a configuration summary and review page for you to double check the settings for the image.

Step #10 Add Optional Files

Step #10 is a place to add files to the image. Files you may want to add to this image are the iachi and iastor files for the newer SATA drives in the HP/Compaq and other machines. You can find information on that here.

Step #11 Very Important!!!

Step #11 is one of the most important steps. You want to be sure you select "Network PXE Image" instead of "Automation PXE Image". This is what allows us to boot into WinPE and play around.

Step #12 Create PXE Image

Step #12 creates the PXE image and then it's complete in Step #13.

You're Finished!

A light shone from the heavens, and the task was done. You can now take a look at your shiny new WinPE playpen.

Once you hit save you should be able to boot into your new WinPE sandbox. On the target computer do a reboot and boot from the NIC. Once you see the prompt "Press [F8] for boot options" or "Continuing to load...." as I used to have, press F8 and you should get a menu. Select the new WinPE, it should be the last thing in the list. Once you select it and press enter you should boot into a WinPE environment with an open F:\ prompt. From here you can play with scripts and see what isn't working as well as pull down images manually to see where an issue is.

After you take the Red Pill

Once you're inside of the "sandbox" you can do "cd RDeploy\windows" and then run rdeploy.exe. From here you have several options within the GUI. You can create an image file, restore an image file, multicast local drives to clients, run client mode, run disk to disk mode, multicast master, or convert an .img file to a self-extracting image file (.exe). You may want to run rdeployt which is the text only version of RDeploy. There many switches to use with rdeployt and I have attached a list of the switches to this article. One of the most common that people use is going to be -md and -F these specify that you want to download an image and what the path and name of the image that you want to use. If I had an image named "generic_hp.img" from eXpress\images that I wanted to pull down from the target machine I would use something like the following: "rdeployt.exe -md -F F:\Images\generic_hp.img -nocancel". This would instruct RDeploy to run in text mode and restore (md) the image file "generic_hp" to the target machine without the ability for the user to cancel the process.

Something Neat to Try in WinPE

I have one last thing to include before I wrap this up. I'm going to assume that many have never considered or possibly never even have thought this was possible. As long as you're not running WinPE 2.0 this should be do-able. Did you know that with some work and (always) a little luck, you can connect to a wireless network while in WinPE? The basic premise for this is that you have to edit the INF driver files for your adapter and change the SSID to the SSID of your wireless network. You will more than likely have to disable encryption on the network to get this to work which may be a deal breaker for most. This has been documented to work for Intel and Broadcom drivers however the author was unable to get the Atheros drivers working.

WinPE via Flash Drive

If you google you can also find documentation on creating a WinPE that resides on a flash drive, who knows, maybe you can boot off the flash drive into WinPE, connect to an internal wireless network and image a machine (laptop probably) where no wired connection is available! Kind of a long shot, but at least it's a good piece of geek-ery.

Fin.

I hope this helps everyone who would like to get into an environment where they can learn how the switches for Rdeployt.exe work or people wanting to troubleshoot their scripts without having to run a pause job on a script. This is also quite functional if you're at a machine and want to image it on the spot. Please remember not to boot to this and the leave the computer unattended for any amount of time, you have full access to the network it is attached to.

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MBHarmon's picture

I must admit this is, as you put it, prime geekery. I know that several of the guys on my desktop team are going to love the idea of booting of thumbdrives and connecting wirelessly.
Thanks for the link too.

- Matt

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dfnkt_'s picture

Glad to see that someone is enjoying it :) I havn't had the time recently to mess with modifying the driver files so.... One of these days I'll make time :)

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Ceno's picture

So far I have managed to get interactive only on DOS so that I have managed to start rdeploy manually.

With linux the time limit till it boots again is too short that I'd manage to change directory and then start the rdeploy.

I get the prompt through the F2 or whatever it was during the netboot (writing now at home so can't check what was the method I used to get to prompt).

Maybe if I have time I'll try this instruction but with linux preboot.

Thanks for the nice info. I've meant to find out about such a method, but so far haven't had time at work (or at home).

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champbronc2's picture

Great job. It really was a great thing.

I tried it on my other linux.

I am using windows though

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