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What is Slipstreaming?

By R. Kayne
Updated May 16, 2024
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If you’ve ever had to reinstall a Windows operating system (OS) you are probably familiar with how time-consuming it can be. Once the OS is installed one typically has to visit the Microsoft website to update the installation by downloading required Service Packs (SPs) or security hotfixes. This is tedious enough for an end-user, nevermind for network techs. Slipstreaming solves this problem and drastically reduces the time it takes to install an OS and have it up and running.

Slipstreaming is a process that incorporates all necessary Service Packs and hotfixes into a customized bootable Windows CD that also contains the complete, original installation files. Use the slipstreamed CD to install Windows and the OS will be fully updated and ready to go, saving significant time. You can even slipstream drivers into the CD.

To prepare for slipstreaming, an original Windows CD is required. All files from the CD must be copied to a folder on the computer’s hard drive, such as C:\XP Files. If the CD does not include the latest Service Pack, it can be downloaded as a file from the Microsoft website. Applicable hotfixes or patches should also be downloaded, along with any required device drivers that might not be present on the original Windows CD. These files can be saved in a separate folder such as C:\XP Updates.

The slipstreaming process will combine the contents of these two folders into a single ISO (.iso) image. The ISO format can be burned to CD to create a new bootable disk that contains all of the original files plus the updates. One of the most popular ways to do this is to use the freeware slipstreaming application, nLite by Dino Nuhagic.

nLite is an excellent slipstreaming program that allows the user to point and click their way through the disk creation process. The program can create an ISO image or burn slipstreamed files directly to CD. In addition nLite offers a vast array of tweaking options. For example, the ability to include theme files, set the default theme, set folder options, desktop options, resolution and countless other preferences. The OS installs with preferences pre-enabled, eliminating the need to tweak the desktop after installation.

Though it can take some time to gather hotfixes and other desired files to create a slipstreamed CD, it can be well worth the effort, particularly for network administrators. Microsoft incorporated slipstreaming ability into Windows 2000, 2003, XP and Vista operating systems.

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Discussion Comments
By MrMoody — On Jul 11, 2011

@everetra - Actually there is an alternative to both slipstreaming and the download process if what you need is XP Service Pack 3. You can just order the CD from Microsoft.

They will send you the CD complete with all the updates, and you’ll be good to go. You might prefer that approach if the thought of slipstreaming XP SP3 makes you a little uncomfortable or you’re new to the whole process.

At least with the official Microsoft CD, you’ll know that it will work just as well as the regular Windows install CD.

By everetra — On Jul 10, 2011

@ceilingcat - I had to reinstall Windows XP some time ago, and wish I had known about how to slipstream XP. I basically had to reinstall the Windows XP Service Pack 3 fixes and patches, and the process added an extra hour to the reinstall process.

Of course, this involved being always connected to the Internet to download the patches. This made me a little nervous, because I knew that some of those fixes were for Internet security. How secure am I while the stuff is downloading?

I can certainly see that it would have been better to have all of it pre-installed on a CD, then reinstall it from that, and only connect to the Internet when everything is in place.

By ceilingcat — On Jul 10, 2011

@JessicaLynn - Well if you ever return to using Windows I would highly suggest using a slipstream CD.

The last time I had to perform a reinstall I used nLite to make a CD for slipstreaming and it worked very well. Much faster than the traditional reinstall process!

By JessicaLynn — On Jul 09, 2011

I haven't used Windows in years! I switched to Mac quite awhile ago and I'm very happy with it.

That being said, I did once perform a Windows operating system reinstall. This was about 7 years ago, and boy was it time consuming. By the time I was done I was frustrated, hungry, and ready to throw my computer out the window! I always thought there was probably an easier way to do it, but I didn't know what it was.

Some of my friends are still using Windows so I'm going to have to let them know about the idea of slipstreaming.

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