This guide contains instructions for Downloading Windows 7 (OEM and Retail) Installation Media, Creating a Media Refresh January 2020 Bootable USB (with slipstreamed updates and driver support) and Clean Installing Windows 7 either on 3rd-6th Generation Intel Dell Hardware that has a UEFI BIOS with Secure Boot Disabled (Windows 7 does not support Secure Boot) or 1st-2nd Generation Intel Dell hardware that has a Legacy Only BIOS.
Windows 7 was released in 2009 and Windows 7 Service Pack 1 was released in 2011. Windows 7 was meant to be superseded by Windows 8 which was released in 2012. Windows 8 was updated to have inbuilt driver support for storage controllers and USB 3.0 ports as well as support for Secure Boot which Windows 7 lacks. Due to the unpopularity of Windows 8.x systems were sold with Windows 7 until 2016 using downgrade rights or routinely downgraded by the end user.
Unfortunately Microsoft never created Windows 7 Service Pack 2 Installation Media which had driver support for the supported 2012-2016 models. This meant most Windows 7 installation issues were due to the installation media lacking updates for example the patches for NVMe SSDs which addressed a BSOD. Also the lack of driver support for example USB 3.0 drivers meant that the installation media could not recognise the keyboard, mouse or even Windows 7 Bootable USB during installation and the lack of Storage Controllers meant the installation media could not see the solid state drive or hard drive during installation.
This guide therefore takes the time to instruct in creating media refresh January 2020 Windows 7 Installation Media which has the necessary updates and driver support and also takes you through adjusting the UEFI BIOS setup to accommodate Windows 7.
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
- Tutorial Video
- Windows 7 End of Life and Free Upgrade to Windows 10
- OEM Licensing
- UEFI BIOS Settings
- Downloading Installation Media
- Creating January 2020 Media Refresh Installation Media using NTLite
- Preparing Folders
- Converting a Dell Windows 7 Professional Reinstallation USB to another Edition
- Using NTLite
- Creating a Bootable USB using Rufus
- A Clean Install of Windows 7
Dell OEM Only
I demonstrate creating the January 2020 Media Refresh Installation media with full driver support and automatic OEM System Locked Preinstallation for an OptiPlex 7040 (6th Generation Intel Skylake Hardware).
Lenovo (and other OEMs e.g. HP)
Although this guide is Dell based and utilises a Dell ISO we can make a small number of modifications to install Windows 7 OEM and activate manually with OEM System Locked Preinstallation on other OEMs such as Lenovo and HP. I demonstrate on a Lenovo Workstation P320 Tiny (6th Generation Intel Skylake Hardware).
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.
This guide discusses both OEM and Retail product activation mechanisms however will focus primarily on activating Windows 7 the OEM way using a method called Original Equipment Manufacturer System Locked Preinstallation (OEM SLP). OEM SLP requires a System License Internal Code (SLIC) of version 2.1 (version 2.0 is for Vista only and version 1.0 is for Windows XP only) embedded within the ACPI tables of the UEFI BIOS or Legacy BIOS. The presence for a SLIC can be checked with a utility called RW-Everything. Launch the portable utility and select Access → ACPI Tables then look for the SLIC tab (no SLIC tab means your system motherboard is not eligible for OEM SLP).
All OEM Systems that came with a Windows 7 OEM License had a Code of Authenticity (COA). However the Product Key on the COA was not used instead a generic OEM SLP key was input from Dell Media and activated only with a SLIC Version of 2.1.
Systems running up to 6th Generation Skylake hardware that came with a Windows 8.1 Pro License or Windows 10 Pro License were eligible for OEM downgrade rights. There was no Windows 7 Pro OEM key and no COA but they possessed a SLIC of Version 2.1 mentioned above and activated using the OEM activation mechanism discussed above.
UEFI BIOS Settings
You may or may not have these technologies depending on the age of your system.
Dell UEFI BIOS
- 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
If you have an early UEFI system is recommended to update the UEFI BIOS before clean installing Windows 7. This can be done using a FreeDOS Bootable USB.
On a Dell system press [F12] when powering to enter the Boot Menu. Other OEMs may use different usually function key combinations and have slightly different BIOS General User Interfaces.
Look for the term "Boot Mode" or "UEFI".
If these terms are not present on the Boot Menu you have a Legacy only BIOS.
Next look for the Secure Boot status (a handful of early UEFI systems don't have Secure Boot) such as the OptiPlex 790 boot menu below. These system will use a UEFI Boot that always enables Legacy ROMs:
In the UEFI Boot Menu above some systems will allow you to select Change Boot Mode Settings to UEFI without Secure Boot or Legacy Directly:
Windows 7 does not support Secure Boot and it must be OFF in order to Boot to Windows 7 installation media. A UEFI Boot (when available) should be used for Windows 7 64 Bit but a Legacy Boot must be used for Windows 7 32 Bit.
In other systems you may need to enter the UEFI BIOS setup to amend the settings.
Lenovo UEFI BIOS
HP UEFI BIOS
When powering up press [F9] to get the Boot Menu and [F10] to get to the UEFI BIOS setup. On some older systems you need to power up pressing [Esc] to get to a startup menu which you can use to access the BIOS setup or Boot Menu respectively.
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. Create a new folder on your Desktop and call it Win7. Then copy its contents to a folder and perform the slipstream from it. You 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 and you'll need to use these workarounds if you are wanting to install Windows 7 on a non-Dell system). 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 and there are issues when using the August 2018 ISOs to slipstream updates 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.
Rufus can be used to check the SHA256 Hash. Launch Rufus:
Accept the User Account Control:
Select the ISO and select Open:
Select ISO Checksums:
The SHA256 should be displayed:
The SHA256 should match that stated by the Windows ISO Download Tool:
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.
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.
Create a new folder on your Desktop called Win7 and copy all the contents from the ISO to it:
Boot Drivers Folder
Next download the following and launch the setup to extract them to folders USB3 and SATA respectively. Copy all the files from the 64 Bit or 32 Bit driver subfolders (depending on the architecture of your original Reinstallation DVD) into a new folder bootdrivers. You should have the following for 64 Bit Windows (it will look similar for 32 Bit):
Extract the Gigabyte Windows USB Tool and get the KB2990941 and KB3087873 hotfixes subfolder that matches your architecture. These should be added to the Updates folder alongside all other Updates. The updates needed for 64 Bit are listed below (it will look similar for 32 Bit):
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, Lenovo or HP (Business Model) Driver Pack
Download the Driver Pack file for your model:
Note: Home Models such as the Inspiron Range may not have a Driver Package.
The Dell Driver Pack is packaged as a CAB you will need to extract it with 7zip. For the Lenovo or HP Driver Pack, launch the exe and select the folder to extract the drivers to.
Open the extracted folder and then select the 64 Bit or 32 Bit Drivers depending on your architecture.
Go to the extracted folder, select the model subfolder, then the win7 subfolder and then select either the x64 (64 Bit) or x86 (32 Bit) subfolder that matches the architecture of your Windows 7 ISO respectively. Rename the x64 folder installdrivers:
You should have the following folders:
Converting a Dell Windows 7 Professional Reinstallation USB to another Edition
Skip this section if you are sticking to a Dell system with Windows 7 Professional.
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 or Retail Edition
The OEM Cert File included within the Windows 7 Installation Media is only applicable to Dell. The cert file works with all Editions of Dell Windows 7 on Dell systems but not for other OEMs.
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.
To activate with OEM SLP you will need to skip the Product Key during installation and then use a script to manually install the OEM cert and change the product key to the appropriate OEM SLP key.
I have put together a collection below. Select your Computer Manufacturer and Windows 7 edition and copy the OEM folder to the Win7 folder on your Desktop.
This will result it begin added to your updated Windows 7 installation media, but OEM SLP won't be automatically applied like in the Dell case. The OEM folder will have to be manually copied to the C:\ Drive and the script file ran as an administrator to apply the OEM SLP (more details are given in the product activation section).
Install NTLite. Download and install NTLite (we will use the free version):
Update the Boot.wim
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:
Close down and relaunch NTLite.
Updating the Install.wim
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:
If you are paid version you can instead use Latest Online Updates (which will download and slipstream the updates from Windows Update).
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 installdrivers folder (note if you do not have a driver pack, 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
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 slipstreamed the drivers pack,all the drivers will be installed at this stage and you should observe your screen resolution change:
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 (other OEMs won't be automatically activated so it won't quite be in a factory state).
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.
Note Windows 7 has reached End of Life and is likely to be insecure on the Internet.
If you have slipstreamed the driver pack and are connected to an ethernet, the following screen should display and you can select the network type:
If you have slipstreamed the driver pack and are not connected to an ethernet but have a wireless card you will be prompted to connect to a wireless network. Then see the screen above.
If you have not slipstreamed the driver pack, the Windows 7 setup will be unable to connect to the internet and skip these screens.
The setup will Finalise (it may take a moment to do this as it will silently install the Microsoft .Net Framework 4.7.2) taking you to the Windows Desktop.
Microsoft Product Activation
If you have used slipstreamed Dell Installation Media on a Dell System, your installation should already be activated, the standalone updates and all the system drivers will be installed.
Right click the start button and select Properties:
You will see your activation status.
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 another Edition on a Dell), Windows 7 should be activated offline automatically using OEM System Locked Preinstallation.
If you have used Retail Installation Media (or Dell OEM media with the $OEM$ folder removed) on a system that has a Windows 7 OEM License (or downgrade rights from Windows 8.x Pro or Windows 10 Pro OEM). Windows won't be activated and you will need to manually apply OEM System Locked Preinstallation. Note you will also not have the Dell customised wallpaper or Dell branding (logos):
This activation mechanism is an offline activation mechanism so you don't need to risk connecting an end of life operating system to the internet to apply this activation mechanism.
If you have used Retail Installation Media with a Full Retail Product Key you should be able to change key in this screen and automatically activate when online.
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 online by using the Command Prompt instead.
You may get this is you attempt to activate normally, to get around this, we can use the Command Prompt:
Install the Latest Security Updates
If you have slipstreamed all the updates into the Windows 7 installation media using NTLite as outlined above skip this step as you already have all the standalone updates installed. Otherwise it is recommended to install the following standalone updates.
You'll need to use another computer to download these and save them to USB as an unslipstreamed Windows 7 installation is unlikely to contain the system drivers for the network adaptors.
If you have slipstreamed a driver pack for your system into your Windows 7 installation media all drivers needed should be installed. Right click Computer and select properties:
Then select Device Manager:
If you have slipstreamed your Driver Pack then all drivers should be installed and there should eb no warnings in the Device Manager:
If you haven't slipstreamed drivers you'll need to visit your OEMs drivers and downloads page (likely on another computer as you'll have no drivers for your network adapters) and download each driver and save to USB.
System drivers will be system specific but you should try and stick to the following installation order. In some cases you will need to make sure the drivers extracts and then manually run the setup.exe from the extracted driver folder:
- 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
*indicates components which vary over region or can be customised when ordering the system.
Ensure there are no errors in the Device Manager after installing the drivers.
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: