Unattended installation is a feature that seems to be of little use in small IT shops with only a few Windows NT boxes, but actually it’s helpful wherever manpower is limited. Larger shops can also benefit from automatic installation, since they’re usually busy places that meet a number of different needs; installers might not be able to handle the complexity of the systems required. So it’s in everyone’s best interest to find out just how easy it is to use the automatic installation system.

The first component: The setup script
Setting up a complete automatic installation involves three major components: the setup script, the UDF file, and the SYSDIFF tool. I’ve included links to the applicable Microsoft online documentation at the end of this article, and I recommend downloading a copy for reference if or when you get into the more difficult features.

We’ll assume that NT is being installed on an x86 computer with an active operating system and a network link between your target computer and distribution server. All of the NT files from the CD are on a system named \\installer acting as a distribution server, with the NT source files in the \\installer\source directory and any custom files we generate in the \\installer\custom directory.

While you can build the setup script by hand, it’s a long and tedious affair akin to building a Win.ini from scratch. A far easier way to build the file is with the Setup Manager (Setupmgr.exe). This GUI tool is fairly easy to use, despite being essentially undocumented. Setupmgr.exe is typically located on the NT CD’s /Support/Deptools directory, but some systems might store it somewhere else. As always, the Find dialog box is your friend.

Once you’ve found and run Setupmgr.exe, you’ll see a fairly simple GUI control panel with three options: General, Network, and Advanced. You’ll work primarily with the General setting, but you should become familiar with the other sections. Since there is no Help feature available, I’ll give an overview of each section of the Setup Manager and point out important or unclear items.


  • ·        The section contains user information, software key, type of computer (client, server, domain controller), and general installation information.
  • ·        Leave the Confirm Hardware and Upgrade Option entries blank, or you may encounter problems when the systems you are installing change even slightly.


  • ·        Specify adapters, protocols, services, basic IIS functions, and RAS abilities.
  • ·        You’ll need to check the Adapter list to ensure that your hardware is available.
  • ·        If hardware is not available, you need to make some manual changes and do a little research. First, download the Automating Windows NT Setup document, and refer to pages 60 to 74. On page 72, you can check to see if your adapter’s INF file supports unattended installs. If not, or if the INF file is not listed, you’ll need to open the INF file and see if it possesses the Unattend.txt code provided on pages 66 and 67, adding it if necessary. The INF files provided on the NT4 CD’s locations and names are stored in the file \Winnt\system32\OEMNADZZ.INF. If you have difficulty finding this information, visit your vendor’s Web site.
  • ·        After you enable your unattend INF files, you’ll need to make a change to the setup script file to tell it which drivers to use. Find the [NETWORK] section and make the following replacement:
    Any special parameters required by your adapter, such as IRQ, I/O range, memory address, etc., should now be installed.
    You must now copy the required INF file to the target PC in the directory c:\drivers prior to running the installation. You can also place copies of the INF files on the system for later use by using an $OEM$ directory located with the source files. The NT installer will copy any files located there to the new system.
    So, if you want to place any special drivers in c:\drivers of the new NT system, our test machine should contain the files in \\installer\source\$OEM$\C\drivers. If your office uses a number of cards or devices, it’s probably a good idea to place all the INF files here so that if you need to swap one out later you won’t have to hunt down the drivers.


  • ·        The section contains options for special input devices, unusual mass-storage devices, splash screens, and file systems.
  • ·        Unless you’re a hard-core NT wizard who can build your own hardware abstraction layers, leave the Install a new HAL entry blank. I recommend leaving the existing file system, but FAT32 systems must convert to NTFS.
  • ·        You should check the Reboot After Text Mode and After GUI Mode boxes so that there’s no user intervention required. Skipping the Welcome and the Administrator Password wizards is also recommended—after all, virtually no one uses the Welcome wizard and having a blank Administrator Password is fine for a box that will probably be in storage for some time.
    When finished, click Save. The most common name used for the setup script is Unattend.txt, which is what I use to save it to the \\installer\custom directory. To begin an unattended installation, use this command on your target machine, and go enjoy a cup of coffee while NT installs itself:
    \\installer\source\WINNT.EXE /U:\\installer\custom\
    UNATTEND.TXT /S:\\installer\source

In part two, we will go into the intricacies of the SYSDIFF tool and use it to create application packages for use in automated installations or just as point-and-click install files.

Download these reference materials to help explain the more difficult materials required in using the automatic installation of Windows NT: Automatic Windows NT Setup Guide (132 pages) and the specifics of the Unattend.txt file .
The authors and editors have taken care in preparation of the content contained herein, but make no expressed or implied warranty of any kind and assume no responsibility for errors or omissions. No liability is assumed for any damages. Always have a verified backup before making any changes.