Sysprep: It’s not just for PCs anymore

Outside of IT circles, Sysprep is a relatively unknown utility included on every Windows installation. Sysprep is commonly used to prepare systems for distribution across PC enterprises. But Mac users will find Sysprep very handy when upgrading their Apple hardware.

In the PC world, migrating Windows from one computer to another is not a common practice. New PCs ship with Windows pre-installed, so setting up your desktop involves installing programs and tweaking settings until it resembles a new and improved version of the PC it replaced. This is a time-consuming but necessary process.

Boot Camp is a nice alternative for Mac users who need Windows. The Windows operating system doesn’t ship with Macs, but requires Windows installation using Boot Camp Assistant. Instead of starting from scratch, Mac users have the option of imaging their Boot Camp partition with Winclone and restoring an exact copy to a new Mac.

This is where Sysprep comes in. Among other things, Sysprep removes device-specific drivers so that Windows can be transferred intact to any other computer that supports Windows. “Supported” means that the hardware vendor provides software drivers that allow Windows to communicate with the hardware device.

Removing device drivers is crucial if the old and new hardware vary significantly. Cloning Windows and dumping it into a new computer is the easy part. But if the wrong drivers are present, Windows will refuse to start and present the dreaded blue screen of death.

Sysprep solves this problem by stripping out all of the device drivers in a process called “generalizing”. Creating a Winclone image after running Sysprep makes it possible to move Boot Camp from an old Mac Mini to a new MacBook Pro, for example.

Once the image has been migrated over, Windows will initiate a discovery process, polling various devices (network interfaces, display, bluetooth, keyboard, mouse, etc) to find the new hardware and provide working drivers from its internal library. On the Mac, the selected drivers are often generic but allow Windows to boot into a stable desktop. Apple drivers provided by Boot Camp Assistant can then be installed as a final step.

Is it really that easy? Yes! For a complete step-by-step walk through of the process, please see: Migrating a Boot Camp partition with Winclone.

Note: On some Windows systems, Sysprep may abort and report a “fatal error”. This is due to a running process that blocks sysprep from removing a file. See Using Sysprep when Migrating Boot Camp and Migrating a Boot Camp partition With Winclone for details on resolving the issue.