Using ESXi 5.1 to create “Golden Master” Windows 8 templates for deploying VMs, with ease-of-use tweaks for your lab

In this video, you’ll see me performing the install customizations listed below, which form the skeleton of this particular post. Over time, I will revise and enhance the details, to improve the ability to follow along without watching the entire video.

But for experienced Windows sysadmins, this list will be more than enough to give you the gist of what is covered in this very detailed walk-thru video. It’ll give you some ideas about how you might want to create your Windows 8 VMs in your ESXi 5.1 lab, and how to deploy VMs from such templates in 2-3 minutes (using SSDs), which is a pretty fantastic experience.

This client VM allows very rapid reboot with no password prompts, and automatically shows your desktop after showing Metro for a few seconds with this simple method, with no 3rd party software or side-effects. Your desktop will show your Windows version, even after activation, and the usual BgInfo details that many sysadmin types really love, seen in the screenshot above. I find it kind of cute how oldie-but-good BgInfo can’t go past 4Gb/s for the indicated Network Speed, even though the vmxnet3 virtual NIC is 10Gb/sec.

Steps to build the Golden Master VM:

  • using vSphere Client logged into vCenter, create a VM with 750GB thin-provisioned C: drive, and type set to Windows 8 x64, VMXnet3 for NIC, 2 CPUs, 2GB RAM, then edit settings
  • add xHCI USB controller, add ISO connected at boot
  • right-click this VM, and update VM type to 9
  • power up VM, watching console, doing normal install, choosing local login account
  • let it finish booting, use local account, choose user named “user” and set a password that you can easily remember years from now, can be changed right after deploying from template
  • choose custom, and ensure Windows Update is turned off
  • sit through Windows 8 Intro. video
  • install VMware Tools
  • set network sharing
  • set 1366×768 resolution
  • configure autologin by pressing Win+R and typing netplwiz.exe
  • configure VMware Tools for clock sync with host OS
  • set clock now that mouse works better, turn off NTP sync
  • show all icons
  • turn off screensaver
  • turn off power off of screens
  • disable “Require a Password on Wake-up”
  • set up drive mapping to network share on home LAN (with account that matches username/password)
  • turn on Remote Desktop
  • create Task Manager shortcut autostarting minimized
  • set Windows 8 to automatically show desktop shortly after rebooting

  • create a shortcut to “c:\util\BGINFO.exe /timer:0 /all” in the startup folder
  • put poweroff.exe into c:\util, then make a shortcut in the Task Bar, changing to Reboot, Force, and Safe Settings
  • login via Remote Desktop Connection
  • turn on details view in explorer and full pathnames, turn off hide extensions
  • turn on show version on desktop
  • HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Control Panel\Desktop\PaintDesktopVersion
  • turn off DVD mount to client, save
  • configure to ignore warnings about backups
  • at admin command prompt, type:
    slmgr.vbs -ipk “YOUR VOLUME LICENSE KEY”
    (since this can be shared across VMs)
  • or just leave it inactivated and only activate after deploying from the template for VMs you intend on keeping
  • click the power icon to reboot, or just “shutdown /r /t 5″ or just use vSphere client to reboot
  • watch vSphere Client Console to watch that autologin to desktop works, and that Task Manager shows
  • right-click, convert to template
  • deploy from template, powering on when done
  • turn on Windows Update in this clone
  • change that clone into a second template and label accordingly

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  • Devin Harris


    I would really love to see how you would go about making a template as small as possible. Things like turning off hibernation, removing the page file, etc. I was also wondering, did you do a template video for windows 7?

    • tinkererguy

      I haven’t done a template for Windows 7 (not recorded on YouTube anyway), but the techniques I use on Windows 8 would all pretty much all apply. But yeah, a new video would be better.
      As far as hibernation and page file tweaks, yes, that does sound of interest, but those refinements have to wait a bit (I have dozens of other drafts in my queue that are more urgent for my own lab’s needs and promoses I’ve made, like automated shutdown from UPS, site-to-site replication, etc). I do like the ideas though, and it’s always good to know what is on folk’s minds. Have you already found some good info on slimming down VMs? It’s been a while since I last researched/tried that, I confess…

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  • John White

    How much of this could be done with the Windows System Image Manager from the MDT or ADK?

    • Paul Braren

      Have not tried that, yet…

    • Thomas Dread

      Using MDT or for instance WDS should be able to do all if not most of the functions in the task sequence list provided by Paul. It is a very viable option instead of making multiple scripts to sequence the tasks out.

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  • Harold Robinson

    Hi Paul,

    I am currently using 5.1 at a client office (free version). I was reviewing this article to create a template. You instruct me to right click on the shutdown VM and select “Create Template” at 48:40, I see that’s what you have done. Except when I right click on my shutdown vm, I do not see “Template” in my context menu. Are you using Vsphere? If so, using the windows client, would clicking on the VM, then clicking on File->Export->Export OVF Template be the same thing?

    Thanks for an awesome video. You can really tell you put some time into these.

    • Harold Robinson

      Ok, I just answered my own question. I hate when I do that. I will post what I found here.

      Because I am using the free edition of the software, the feature to clone a VM is NOT available in the Windows client. Here is how to clone a vm using the free version of ESXI. I did not invent this process but I am passing it on. You can visit this article for all the pictures:

      Here is the text version with some comments I added for clarity sake.

      1. First connect to the VSphere using the vSphere client and power off the source VM.

      2. Select the Configuration tab and Storage settings on the left menu. The Datastores list will come up on the right pane.

      3. Right click on the datastore of the source VM and select Browse.

      4. Right click on the root folder on the left tree and create a new folder. I would make this the name of the template you are making. For example TEMPLATE_WINDOWS7

      5. Select the source folder of the VM to be cloned (2008R2 Machine in this example) and select the configuration file (.vmx) and the virtual disk file (.vmdk). If you have MORE THAN ONE VMDK file then select ALL .VMDK files

      6. Right click and copy them to clipboard.

      7. Now select the destination folder and paste the files

      8. Finally, right click the copied .vmx file and select Add to Inventory.

      9. Enter the name of the cloned VM and finish the wizard. Now the VM has been added to the vSphere hypervisor.

      When you run the Cloned machine for the first time, ansewr “Yes I copied it” and it should start with no issues.

      I tried this and seems to work beautifully.

      – Harold Robinson

      • Paul Braren

        helpful info, thank you for sharing!