Monday, 2 October 2017

How to use E2B with Virtual Box to test unattended Windows installs

In a chat session with 'Nathan' today, he explained how he uses VBox to install Windows to a Virtual Machine using ISO files on an E2B USB drive.

Testing E2B's 'Install Windows from ISO' method in a Virtual Machine is problematic because Windows needs to detect a Removable drive (e.g. CD\DVD or USB flash drive) in the system - Setup will only pick up the \AutoUnattend.XML (or \Unattend.XML) file from removable drives.

However, under a VM, a USB drive is 'mapped' as a virtual (IDE\SATA etc.) hard disk when using a .vmdk file (so the drive is not seen as a Removable drive once WinPE\Windows Setup runs).

This means the Product Key and other settings in the XML file are not used by Windows Setup when testing in a VM.

We can get around this by booting in two stages and by adding a USB WinHelper drive:

1. Boot in VBox and allow the E2B to see all three drives (E2B USB drive, HDD1 and WinHelper USB drive). Start the 'install from ISO' process and allow E2B to update the XML files on the WinHelper USB drive and boot to the first Windows Setup screen.

2. Configure the VM to attach the WinHelper USB drive as a USB 2.0 device (Settings - USB).

3. Repeat the 'install from ISO' process again - this time E2B cannot 'see' a WinHelper drive because it is dismounted by VBox and attached to the Virtual Machine as a USB drive, but Windows Setup will now see the WinHelper USB drive as a Removable USB drive containing the XML file and thus pick up the XML file contents for an automated install.

The instructions are now written up on the E2B website here.

E2B version 1.96c has added sample XML files with the target drive set to drive 1 for use with such a set-up.