Windows 7 was released in 2009 and Windows 7 Service Pack 1 was released in 2011. Due to the unpopularity of Windows 8.x, systems were sold with Windows 7 until 2016 using downgrade rights however Microsoft never updated the Windows 7 installation media meaning most Windows 7 installation issues were due to lack of updates and lack of driver support within the Windows 7 installation media.
This guide will instruct in creating media refresh January 2020 Windows 7 Installation Media and performing a clean installation.
This guide is Dell Original Equipment Manufactured (OEM) focused however instructions are included to convert the Multi-Lingual Dell OEM ISO into another mainstream OEM ISO for example Lenovo and HP maintaining the automatic offline product activation known as OEM System Locked Preinstallation (OEM SLP).
Table of contents
- Windows 7 End of Life and Free Upgrade to Windows 10
- Product Key and OEM Downgrade Rights
- UEFI BIOS/Legacy BIOS Settings
- Downloading Installation Media
- Creating January 2020 Media Refresh Installation Media using NTLite
- Win7 Folder
- Boot Drivers Folder
- Updates Folder
- Windows 7 64 Bit Standalone Updates
- Windows 7 32 Bit Standalone Updates
- Dell or Lenovo CAB Driver Pack
- Converting a Dell Windows 7 Professional Reinstallation USB to another Edition
- Win7 Folder
- Creating a Bootable USB using Rufus
- A Clean Install of Windows 7
Windows 7 End of Life and Free Upgrade to Windows 10
Windows 7 Reached End of Life in January 2020.
If you came here looking to reinstall Windows 7 because you think you need to pay for Windows 10 then note that all Windows 7 to Windows 10 activation mechanisms still work and you do not need to pay for Windows 10.
The Windows 10 free upgrade offer ended on July 29, 2016. To get Windows 10 you will need to either purchase a new device or, if you have a compatible PC, purchase a full version of the software to upgrade your existing device. We recommend that you don’t install Windows 10 on an older device, as some Windows 7 devices are not compatible with Windows 10 or could experience reduced feature availability.
This statement appears to clash with Microsoft's website where they explicitly recommend you to buy a new computer or purchase a full retail license. Pushing customers to purchase a full retail license is a means of them covering their technical support costs or in other words is an explicit statement saying they won't provide technical support unless you pay for the service.
However in reality all the activation mechanisms for Windows 7 to Windows 10 still function and a very small proportion of users need Microsoft technical support to install Windows 10. The activation mechanisms will likely function indefinitely as it would lead to a surge in technical support and product activation issues for Microsoft from those that have already upgraded and are reinstalling. Also off the record Microsoft want to consolidate their entire Windows user base onto a single version, so they only have the costs of supporting one version of Windows so it is also in their interests to silently leave the doors open regarding Windows 7 to Windows 10 Product Activation.
If in doubt you can see that I tested this in April 2020, with Version 2004 installation media a good 4 years after the "free upgrade ended".
In addition despite Microsoft stating that Windows 10 might not work on older computers, behind the scenes they have carried out a lot of work to up the performance of Windows 10 on older hardware. Windows 10 Version 2004 has substantial performance boosts over older versions of Windows 10 which should make it run a lot smoother on older hardware. I demonstrate this on a Dell OptiPlex 790. Any computer that came with Windows 7 OEM is likely to run Windows 10 fine as most of these computers are under 10 years old. Computers that came with Windows XP OEM on the other hand and were updated to Windows 7 Retail can be approaching 20 years in age and are unlikely to run Windows 10 that well, if at all.
To Download and Clean Install Windows 10 Version 2004 see:
Product Key and OEM Downgrade Rights
All Dell Systems that came with a Windows 7 License had a Code of Authenticity (COA). However the Product Key on the COA was not used instead a generic Dell OEM System Locked Preinstallation (OEM SLP) key was input from Dell Media and the Dell system BIOS contained a System License Internal Code 2.1.
Newer systems came with a Windows 8.1 Pro License or Windows 10 Pro License and didn't have a COA. However these systems are eligible for OEM Downgrade Rights and you can install Windows 7 Pro on them if Dell provide Windows 7 Drivers. Note non-Pro OEM Licenses are not eligible for OEM Downgrade Rights.
UEFI BIOS/Legacy BIOS Settings
The UEFI BIOS and GPT partition scheme should be used where possible with Windows 7 64 Bit. You may or may not have these technologies depending on the age of your system. For reference:
- OptiPlex 390/790 – 2011 (2nd generation Sandy Bridge) UEFI BIOS – No Secure Boot, there is no option for Legacy ROMs as these are always Enabled
- OptiPlex 3010/7010 – 2012 (3rd generation Ivy Bridge) UEFI BIOS with Secure Boot (only with the latest UEFI BIOS Update)
- OptiPlex 7020 – 2014 (4th generation Intel Haswell) UEFI BIOS with Secure Boot
- OptiPlex 7040 – 2015 (6th generation Intel Skylake) UEFI BIOS with Secure Boot
This guide focuses on a UEFI BIOS, if you have an even older Dell System than 2011, ignore any mention of the words UEFI, Legacy ROMs and Secure Boot as the technologies are not available in your system. Such systems have a Legacy BIOS (non-UEFI) BIOS. Installation instructions are otherwise identical however the installation media for them needs to be made using the MBR partition scheme and NTFS file format opposed to the GPT partition scheme and FAT32 format.
On a Dell system press [F2] to enter the UEFI BIOS setup, I'll demonstrate using the newest hardware supported to run Windows 7 64 Bit – the OptiPlex 7040:
Windows 7 64 Bit does not support Secure Boot, it must be Disabled in the UEFI BIOS setup for Windows 7 64 Bit Installation. Look for a tab called Secure Boot, expand it, select Secure Boot Enable and change the setting to Disabled. Select OK at any warning dialog box:
Legacy Option ROMs must be enabled for Windows 7 64 Bit. Go to the general tab and select Advanced Boot Options, ensure Enable Legacy Option ROMs are Enabled. You should leave Enable Attempt Legacy Boot unchecked:
Next go to Boot Sequence and ensure the Boot List Option is set to UEFI:
It is also worth looking at your Drives here – in my case I have one 128 GB SSD drive that is M.2, others may have a HDD and a low capacity 32-64 GB SSD Cache Drive:
For a single Drive use AHCI. If you have a small capacity SSD and a large HDD you would need to select RAID On (sometimes called Intel Smart Response Technology):
Now exit the UEFI BIOS setup to save the changes:
Downloading Installation Media
The Dell Windows 7 Multi-Lingual Reinstallation DVD
Many Dell systems came with a Dell Windows 7 Reinstallation DVD like below which can used to clean install Windows 7 and will automatically apply Dell Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) System Locked Preinstallation (SLP) offline on an eligible Dell system.
These DVDs are out of date however and may not have the necessary drivers to install Windows 7 on your system (missing USB 3.0 and Storage Controller Drivers in particular).
For best performance slipstream updates and drivers to the install.wim. If you have the DVD you can copy its contents to a folder and perform the slipstream from it and do not need to Download the Dell Windows 7 Pro Skylake ISO.
The Dell Windows 7 Pro Skylake Reinstallation Multi-Lingual ISO
An updated ISO was made available to download by Dell in January 2016 which incorporates driver support for up to 6th Generation Intel Hardware for the Professional Edition and Automatically Applies OEM System Locked Preinstallation. Dell only offer an updated Professional Edition (as they could only sell systems with OEM Downgrade Rights to Professional at the time they released the ISO). However this downloadable ISO can be converted into other Editions by modification of two files in a text editor such as Notepad++ (these other Editions are not updated however). Dell OEM SLP can be removed converting the installation media into Retail installation media. The Dell ISO is also multi-lingual:
It can be downloaded officially using the Dell OS Recovery Tool or unofficially via the Windows ISO Download Tool (which addresses a lot of limitations of the Dell OS Recovery Tool). This guide will instruct in converting the Dell Windows 7 Pro ISO to any other Edition and for use with any other OEM.
The Dell OS Recovery Tool
Downloading and Installing the OS Recovery Tool
The Dell OS Recovery Tool requires Microsoft.net Framework 4.7.2 to be installed and requires a Dell Service Tag for selection of the image (if you do not have a valid Dell Service Tag use the Windows ISO Download Tool which overrides the query for a Service Tag giving you a Download Link direct from the Dell Server instead). This is inbuilt into Windows 10. For Windows 7 it is likely already installed however if you require it, it is available here:
The Windows ISO Download Tool
The Dell OS Recovery Tool asks for a Service Tag in order to initiate the download. Sometimes the Dell OS Recovery Tool doesn't show the correct Architecture of Windows 7 (e.g. 32 Bit instead of 64 Bit) or only shows Windows 10 instead of Windows 7. There is another tool called the Windows ISO Download Tool which can be used to get direct links from the Dell Server. It can also get Windows 7 (August 2018 English Only) ISOs from Microsoft and Windows 7 (November 2010 All Languages) from Microsoft however there are some issues with the November 2010 Download Links from time to time so I recommend using the multi-lingual Dell ISO for all systems and converting it if needed to Retail or for use with another OEM.
Select Dell to the right hand side (not Windows 7). Then select Windows 7 Professional 64 Bit or 32 Bit to the left hand side. You will then need to select a model (it doesn't matter what model you select as there is no model to model customisation of the ISO, the ISO is always the same). Then select Download.
Creating January 2020 Media Refresh Installation Media using NTLite
The Windows 7 Installation Media is from January 2016 and by default locked to Windows 7 Pro. However the other editions can be unlocked but are last updated in November 2010. The other Editions lack the USB 3.0 Drivers and Storage Controllers however we will incorporate these.
Create a new folder on your Desktop and copy the contents of your DVD or ISO to it. ISOs can be mounted directly in Windows 10 by right clicking them and selecting Mount. To do this in Windows 7 you will need to install Virtual Clone Drive:
Boot Drivers Folder
Next download the following and launch the setup to extract them. Copy all the files from the 64 Bit or 32 Bit folders (depending on the architecture of your original Reinstallation DVD) into a folder bootdrivers:
Extract the Gigabyte Windows USB Tool and get the KB2990941 and KB3087873 hotfixes that match your architecture.
Windows 7 64 Bit Standalone Updates
Red Updates should only be used if the DVD doesn't have Service Pack 1 (not tested).
Windows 7 32 Bit Standalone Updates
Red Updates should only be used if the DVD doesn't have Service Pack 1 (not tested).
Dell or Lenovo CAB Driver Pack
Download the Dell Cab file for your model from Dell:
Note: Home Models such as the Inspiron Range may not have a Driver Package.
Then extract it with 7zip. Open the extracted folder and then select the 64 Bit or 32 Bit Drivers depending on your architecture.
You should have the following folders:
Launch NTLite. To the top select Add → Image Directory:
Select your Win7 folder:
Next select Index 2 of the boot.wim:
When it is ready it will show up as green.
Select Drivers to the left hand side:
Select Add → Directory Containing Drivers:
Select the bootdrivers folder:
If starting from the Dell Skylake Reinstallation ISO one of the driver will already be present. Select OK:
Now go to Apply:
Then select Yes:
Now select the index you want to update. In this case I will select Windows 7 Professional:
Select Updates to the left hand side:
Select Add → Directory containing packages:
Select the Updates folder:
If using the Dell Windows 7 Professional Skylake ISO and you have Windows 7 Pro selected some will already be present, select OK:
To the left hand side, select Drivers:
Select Add → Directory Containing Drivers:
Select your drivers folder (note if you do not have a Dell or Lenovo Cab File, use the bootdrivers again to enable basic generic driver support):
Select OK at the warning:
Drag and drop the Microsoft .Net Framework 4.7.2 and type
Note in the video and the screenshot below I had the wrong value do not use /u otherwise you will have to go through the setup of the Microsoft .Net Framework. The \q will perform a quiet install, it'll install in the background automatically at the screen which says Windows is finalizing your settings.
In the parameters box:
Check the Create ISO button:
Name the ISO and select Save:
Label the ISO and select OK
If you aren't wanting to change Edition from the original media, select process otherwise minimise NTLite and carry out the following changes:
Converting a Dell Windows 7 Professional Reinstallation USB to another Edition
Switching to another Dell OEM Edition
To change Edition of the Windows 7 Pro Bootable USB we only need to change two files.
Switching to a Non-Dell OEM Edition
We can modify 3 files on the Dell Windows 7 Pro Skylake ISO to apply OEM SLP Activation for any other major OEM for example HP and Lenovo.
Switch to a Retail Edition
To remove Dell customisation from the Dell Windows 7 Professional Skylake Reinstallation ISO delete the $OEM$ folder and EI.cfg file from the sources folder. The installation media will then act as Retail Installation Media.
Creating the Media Refresh January 2020 ISO
When ready select Process:
When done you can close NTLite.
You should have your updated ISO now.
If having problems with NTLite I have also manually created scripts but this is a bit more complicated. These are December 2019 Scripts.
Creating a Bootable USB using Rufus
Rufus can be used to create a Bootable USB from the Media Refresh January 2016 ISO.
Double click Rufus:
Accept the User Account Control Prompt:
Insert a 16 GB USB Flash Drive:
Select your new Windows 7 January 2020 Media Refresh ISO:
It'll display at the bottom and also populate the volume label:
Since the install.wim exceeds 4 GB it will alway have a NTFS file system. If you are installing 64 Bit Windows 7 on a system with a UEFI BIOS select GPT as the Partition scheme otherwise select MBR for an older system with a Legacy Only BIOS or for 32 Bit Windows 7:
Accept the warning to format the USB Flash Drive:
When done Rufus will warn you that this Windows 7 Installation Media won't pass Secure Boot.
You may now Close Rufus:
A Clean Install of Windows 7
Booting from a Bootable USB
Power Down your Dell an Insert your Windows 7 Installation USB and make sure no other USB Devices are connected except for the Keyboard and Mouse. If using a Dell OptiPlex model (or other Desktop) I recommend using the back USB Ports as these are directly on the System Board and Avoiding the Front Ones for Windows 7 Installation.
Hold [F12] while powering up your computer:
You will now enter the UEFI BIOS Boot Menu:
Notice that it says to the top that the Boot Mode is set to UEFI and Secure Boot is OFF. Press [↓] until you get to your USB Flash Drive (in my case it is a Sandisc Cruzer Glide 16 GB), ignore any listings sunder Legacy Boot.
Some systems may tell you to press any key to continue Booting from USB, if they do press the space bar.
You will get a black screen that says "Windows is Loading Files."
Then one that says Starting Windows.
You will then be prompted for your language, time and currency format and keyboard settings, amend these as desired. If you use an English .iso it'll be set by default to English (US), I'm going to change to English (UK):
Select Install Now.
You will get a Setup is Starting Screen:
You may get a file asking you what Edition of Windows you wish to install. This depends if the installation media has an EI.cfg file – the EIF.cfg file is a text file which automatically selects the option at this screen. In my case I am going to install Windows 7 Professional using Downgrade Rights from Windows 10 Pro OEM on a Dell OptiPlex 7040:
Read the license, check to select and then select Next.
Next select Custom (Advanced).
Loading SATA Drivers and Deleting Partitions
Warning: This step will result in data loss of internal drives.
If the Windows 7 installation media can see your SSD/HDD/HSSD on the next screen then you do not need to load a SATA preinstallation driver as it's incorporated. This should be the case for the Dell Skylake Reinstallation .isos which have support for up to 6th generation Intel Skylake systems.
Loading SATA Drivers
The Dell Windows 7 Pro ISO used in this guide should have all the SATA Drivers included for up to 6th Generation Intel Hardware and be able to recognise your internal drives during the Windows Setup.
If using older Windows 7 Installation Media it may not have the SATA drivers required for your Storage Controller and hence be unable to read your drive.
If no drives are listed on the "Where do you want to install Windows?" screen then you must select Load Driver and select the SATA drivers from a USB stick. The SATA drivers essentially allow Windows to recognise the hard drive controller on the motherboard and thus allow Windows to view the drive letting you proceed with the install.
Note the error message above is:
No Drives were Found. Click Load Driver to Provide a Mass Storage Driver for Installation.
Quite often other related error messages show such as:
A media driver your computer needs is missing
A required CD/DVD drive device driver is missing
These normally mean your installation media is corrupt and are not because you need to load a driver. "A required CD/DVD drive device driver is missing" quite often shows on Desktops when the Front USB Ports are used, move your Bootable USB to the back USB Ports instead and restart the computer.
Although it is recommended to slipstream all standalone updates and the complete Driver Cab File into the installation media as demonstrated with the slipstream scripts. It is also possible to manually load the SATA drivers:
If instead you have a previous version of Windows on your drives screen may instead look like this.
Warning 2: This step will result in data loss of internal drives.
You can perform a Low Level Format using the Windows Installation Media by Deleting all the partitions on the drive. You should do this if:
- You are clean installing the latest version of Windows 10 on your PC.
- You are sure your old version of Windows wasn't infected with malicious software.
- You are keeping your computer…
You should instead quit Windows Installation and perform a Secure Wipe using:
- You are clean installing Windows 7 due to a malicious software.
- You have bought your computer second hand (and are not sure what the last user has had on the PC).
- You are planning selling your computer on (and don't want personal data passed on).
To perform the Low Level Format using the Windows Installation Media select every partition on Drive 0 (or the desired Drive you wish to install Windows if you have a system with a multiple drive configuration) and systematically delete any partition.
Delete all Partitions including Recovery Partitions, these are for old obsolete versions of Windows and no longer required.
If multiple drives show you may have a SSD and a HDD.
If your SSD is >128 GB install Windows 7 on your SSD as it'll result in optimal performance.
If it is 32-64 GB it should be a cache drive. Remove all partitions on it and on the HDD. Then install on the HDD. The SATA Operation needs to be in RAID. Notes on setting up Intel Rapid Storage Technology to use the SSD as a cache drive will be given later.
Middle of Installation
You will then a screen telling you the progress of the install and Windows will restart once:
If you have securely wiped your system and are using Dell Windows 7 Installation Media with slipstreamed updates and system drivers using NTLite on a Dell System then this screen is more or less at the same state as an updated Dell Factory Image. You can power off your system if you plan to sell it on to a new end user.
Type in your "username", by default the PC name will be "username-PC" but you can change this as desired.
Next type in your password, retype it and leave yourself a hint.
Alternatively just select next (to have no password – not recommended but optional). Personally for convenience I tend to leave the password blank and add one after the installation of Windows 7, drivers and updates as you will be prompted to restart your computer several times.
The Product Key
You should only input a Product Key at this stage if your License is Retail Full, otherwise select Skip for OEM Licenses and Retail Upgrade Licenses. Note this screen will not show at all if using Dell Windows 7 Reinstallation Media. Installation without a Product Key will give a 30 Day Trial (we only need about 30 mins of this trial before we go ahead and activate Windows).
End of Installation
You will then be asked about Windows Update settings its generally best to go with recommended.
Then select your time and date settings.
The next screen should be about connecting to the internet and/or connecting to a wireless network. In most cases Windows 7 won't have the driver inbuilt for a UEFI system and this screen will not show. The setup will Finalise and restart taking you to the Windows Desktop.
Install the Latest Security Updates
If you've followed my guide to make Slipstreamed Windows 7 Installation Media and drivers, you will only need to install Microsoft .Net Framework. You may need to install the latest Security Rollup (depending on the time you followed the guide).
If you've used the Dell Windows 7 Pro 2016 Skylake Reinstallation ISO (and are installing the Pro Edition) without Slipstreaming additional updates. You will need KB3020369, KB3125574 (restart), the latest Security Rollup, Microsoft .Net Framework and Microsoft Security Essentials.
If you've used the Dell Windows 7 Pro 2016 Skylake Reinstallation ISO (and are installing a Non-Pro Edition) or using the Microsoft 2011 ISO or original Dell Windows 7 with Service Pack 1 Reinstallation DVD. You will need KB3020369, KB3125574 (restart), KB2639308, KB2670838, KB2729094, KB2834140 (restart) then IE11-Windows6.1and the latest security rollup. After these are installed, install the Microsoft .Net Framework.
Microsoft Product Activation
If you have used OEM Reinstallation Media on an OEM System e.g. the Dell Windows 7 Professional Reinstallation ISO or DVD on an eligible Dell System (or modified it for your Edition and OEM), Windows 7 should be activated offline automatically using OEM System Locked Preinstallation.
If you have used Retail Installation Media with a Full Retail Product Key you should automatically activate Windows 7 when online.
If you have used Retail Installation Media on an OEM System e.g. the Microsoft Windows 7 Retail ISO or DVD on an eligible Dell, HP or Lenovo System, you will need to manually apply OEM System Locked Preinstallation.
If you have used Retail Installation Media with a Retail Upgrade Only Product Key then you may have activation issues after performing a clean installation. You should activate by the Command Prompt instead.
You may get this is you attempt to activate normally, to get around this, we can use the Command Prompt:
Press the Start Button and in the search box type in CMD.
Right click CMD.exe and select run as an administrator. This will open up the elevated command prompt accept any user account control prompt.
To input your product key type:
slmgr /ipk xxxxx-xxxxx-xxxxx-xxxxx-xxxxx
Where xxxxx-xxxxx-xxxxx-xxxxx-xxxxx is your product key and then press [↵].
Select ok and then to activate type
This will activate your product.
If you haven't slipstreamed your system drivers to the installation media you should install the following:
- Dell System (Notebook/Desktop) Software – Under System Utilities
- Chipset Drivers – Intel Chipset First – Under Chipset
- Chipset Drivers – Any other Intel – Under Chipset
- Card Reader – Realtek, Ricoh, O2 Micro – Under Chipset or Removable Storage
- Intel Matrix Storage Manager/Rapid Storage Technology – Under SATA Drives or CPU
- Video* – Intel, AMD or NVIDIA – Under Video
- Modem* – Conexant or Intel – Under Modem
- Network* – Ethernet – Under Network
- Touchpad – Touchpad – Under Input
- Audio – Sigmatel, Intel or Realtek – Under Audio
- TVTuners – Under Video
- Wireless Card* – Under Network
- Bluetooth* – Under Network
- Keyboard/Mouse Application – Under Applications
- Dell Quickset – Under Applications
- Webcam Driver – Under Input
If using a SSD Cache Drive be sure to set it up after driver installation following the instructions.
Windows 7 has Reached End of Life and is insecure however it is still a moderately popular Operating System and a lot of companies are still offering security products for it. I usually use Malwarebytes Antimalware: