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This wiki is part of a series of Manuals For Computer Refurbishers.


  • The method of loading software will depend upon the numbers of computers you will be loading. We will show several methods to assist any size program.
  • Some goals to keep in mind are:
    • Load programs that will assist the users to get jobs or succeed in school. The Microsoft Registered Refurbisher program provides inexpensive licenses for the most popular Operating Systems and Office Programs to be used on donated computers.
    • Be diligent in using free software where needed, be sure to follow product licensing restrictions. We will provide freeware suggestions.
    • Establish a system that non-computer experts can follow.
  • Many programs use volunteers and allow them to earn a free computer. A simpler process means that less knowledgeable people can do more of the work.

Tools needed: Hardware and Software

  • Hardware
    • Your Program computer with a read/write CD drive, Internet connection, and a hard drive. This will help you store information about various computers and drivers in one location.
    • A hub, or switch, for local networking and Internet updates
    • Various tools such as Torx, Flathead, and Phillips screwdrivers as described in the triage wiki.
    • Floppy disks and blank CD disks so that you can burn CDs and copy floppy disks.
    • A flash drive or thumb drive to transfer files between computers.
  • Software
    • The software described in this wiki can be found at unless otherwise noted. The Techsoup site will be updated from time to time so that you can access the best versions available.
    • TechSoup/MarTools will list software for technicians as well as software to be installed for clients.
    • The kinds of programs installed depends upon the clients to be served. The list of programs at TechSoup will include recommended software for all systems and will include some “fun” software as well.

Preparation of the computer

  • Check the computer to make sure it has built-in video, audio and Ethernet, if not, add adapter cards and an audio cable from the CD or DVD drive to the motherboard or sound card. Insert slot covers to keep out dust and to aid cooling.
  • If the built-in video is bad, disable it in the BIOS and cover up the 15 pin adapter with a piece of tape so that it can’t be used. Install a video card. Do the same for the audio and Ethernet connections if they are non-functioning.
  • It is better to install the hard drive and the CD- or DVD-drive on separate IDE cables. With Master/Slave and two IDE cables, you can install four IDE devices.
  • Connect the monitor, keyboard, mouse and power cable.

Additional preparation of the computer

  • Install a wiped hard drive in the computer and plug it into the power, monitor, keyboard and mouse. If this will be your Master Hard Drive to set up additional computers, select a smaller drive to make cloning easier. An 8 to 10 GB hard drive works well.
  • Start up the computer and get into the BIOS by pressing F1 (IBM), F2 (Dell), F10 (HP or Compaq), or Del (the delete key, used by some other systems).
  • Using your Program computer, find the version of the BIOS or the date installed. Look up the information using your web browser and check the website of the manufacturer so that you have the most recent update. You may need to create a floppy disk or save the file on a flash drive. When flashing the BIOS do not turn off or interrupt the process as you can destroy the computer.
  • Update other information while in the BIOS such as the date. Turn off security passwords and chassis intrusion messages.
  • Make sure the BIOS recognizes the hard drive, the floppy drive, the CD-drive and set the boot order to boot from the CD-drive first.

Preparations for updating drivers

  • A very handy program is available at MarTools called Universal Drivers. This zip drive contains an ISO image with 100,000 drivers that can be accessed within Windows.
  • Download the file from and following the instructions.
  • This extensive collection of drivers can be burned to a disk or the drivers can be copied to a shared folder on your network server called drivers.
  • After installing Windows you will want to see if there are missing device drivers. Right-click on My Computer and select Properties > Hardware > Device Manager. If any device has a yellow flag you can update the driver from this folder. Select a device with a flag and choose to update driver. Tell Windows that you want to update from a specific location. Browse to the CD or to your network server with the shared Drivers folder.
  • If the driver is not found you may need to go the manufacturer of the computer for devices included as part of the original motherboard. Add-on devices may be supported by the manufacturer.

Insert the WIndows XP CD disk and boot up

  • During the installation you need to answer some questions.
    • What is your time zone? Use the map to select.
    • Insert your Product Key: it is included with your MAR CD disk. When asked the Full Name we insert “User”.
    • Under organization name, insert the name of your program.
    • You can use the default “Workgroup”.
  • After the initial installation, allow the computer to reboot.
  • If the computer can't find certain hardware drivers, select “skip”.
  • Go to device manager (right click on My Computer > hardware > device manager).
    • Look for yellow flags on the devices listed if Windows did not find the correct drivers for the devices.
    • Go to your Program computer and look for the missing drivers. Search under computer name, model and driver such as Dell GX270 driver.This will lead you to the manufacturer's list of drivers.
    • Create a folder on your Program computer to store the drivers for future use. Use a local network or flash drive to update the drivers on the computer you are setting up.
  • Activate Windows. Select Start > Programs > Accessories –>System > Activate
    • Be sure you are connected to the Internet and select "Do not register at this time."
    • Use the product code from the MAR certificate of authenticity to activate Windows XP. Do not use the code with the XP CD.
  • Now you can go to Start > Program > Microsoft Updates
    • Use the Custom Updates so that you can select Optional Updates as well. You may want to get any hardware updates from the hardware manufacturer. They may be more reliable or current.
    • Reboot and check the updates again. Sometimes updates must be updated, so continue until all updates have been installed.

Selecting software

  • The Community MAR program changes from time to time so check for the latest offerings and rules. This example is from the date this information was collected.
  • Windows 2000 and Windows XP Pro are available. Windows 2000 can be used on older computers with fewer resources where Windows XP Pro would run too slowly.
  • All computers receive application tools such as Adobe Acrobat Reader and Java.
  • MS Office 2003 is available for non-school installations. There are free office suites available but most schools have their own licenses for Office 2003.
  • Family computers are loaded with Windows 2000 or Windows XP Pro, Microsoft Office 2003, a free anti-virus program and some additional educational software.
  • Computers with CD burners or DVD drives need to have the free programs installed so the client can use the drives to burn CDs or play DVDs.
  • Some refurbishers have three set-ups for (1) schools, (2) low-income families and (3) non-profits.

Setting up additional computers by cloning

  • After setting up your Master computer you will want to have a faster way of setting up the next one. You do not want to load each computer from scratch. The updates alone take a lot of time.
  • The simplest method of loading the next computer: use disk cloning or disk imaging software.
  • This discussion assumes that the computers are the same make and model.
  • Two methods of deployment are to:
    • Clone the hard drive
    • Backup (and restore) the hard drive to a new computer.
  • Cloning hard drives by using disk imaging software.
    • You can use licensed software such as Acronis or Ghost but you will need to pay a license fee each time it is used. Check out Clonezilla, a free disk imaging program. Clonezilla is a Linux based program that is very fast. It is recommended that you start using Clonezilla Live so you can create your own cloning CD. You can clone the Master hard drive by installing another hard drive as a secondary drive and running the imaging software. After cloning this drive can be installed in another computer of the same make and model. Be sure to change the jumper from secondary to primary before booting in the new computer. Clonezilla only allows cloning from a smaller drive to a larger one so start with a small drive in your initial installation or run GParted to decrease the size of the partition.
  • If you back up the image to an external drive or server, you can easily restore it to other computers. Restoring is faster than making the initial backup.

Using backup/restore

Block Image
  • Another method of cloning hard drives is to backup and restore the image of the hard drive. With laptops an easy method of backing up and restoring is by using an external USB 2.0 hard drive. The USB hard drive is fast and portable and is very helpful when loading laptops using a USB 2.0 PC Card.
    • Plug in the external USB hard drive, make sure the computer boots to the imaging CD and then start the computer. The software will recognize the USB drive so tell the software that you want to backup the partition to an image. We name the image to reflect the date, make and model of computer, and type of installation such as: 9-28-8-DellGX260-school-img . This is a Clonezilla image file.
    • When we want to load the same image in an un-loaded computer, we tell Clonezilla we want to restore the image to a partition. Clonezilla will list the name of the saved images and we can select the one to load.
    • When loading laptops we have a USB 2.0 PCMCIA card so that we greatly increase the speed of the process.

Sysprep: a great tool for deployment

  • Sysprep is a Microsoft tool for installing your software on computers from a variety of manufacturers and models. Sysprep is including on your Windows Installation Disk under Tools for Deployment. After setting up your initial computer and doing all of the updates, Sysprep is run on the computer. The hard drive is converted to an image. Copy the image to a new hard drive installed in a different computer. When the computer is started, the image installs Windows and all of the programs from the master computer, drivers are located, and the new computer can be set up very quickly.
  • Important! Make a copy of your Master computer and sysprep the copy. It takes a long time for your initial installation so only use copies to sysprep as you don’t want to spend the time for a fresh installation. It is not advised to run Sysprep multiple times on the same hard drive. You can then update your Master hard drive perhaps weekly or monthly, make a copy to Sysprep and really save time.
  • When using Sysprep, it is very important to set the Computer driver in device manager to be ACPI compliant. Go to www.TechSoup/MarTools and check out Sysprep Simplified for a more in depth discussion including sample folders for Community MARS.
  • HP/Compaq computers need a BIOS modification to be completely compatible with other manufacturers. Boot to the bios (F10) and look at Storage > Device configuration > Translation mode. HP/Compaq computers are set to “Bit Shift” mode. Press the right arrow key and select “LBA assisted”. Press F10 to save the changes. The HP/Compaq computers will now be compatible with other manufacturers.
  • The same image can be used in all computers, and the updates will be current! This can be a great time-saver.
  • Drivers can be collected over a period of time and saved on your server or flash drive. When Sysprep starts up it can be directed to look at your desired folder to find the drivers. There are also large collections of drivers already assembled that can be downloaded free from the Internet but they will take a longer time to search as there may be 100,000 files included. There are free programs that will allow you to “snatch” drivers that you can add to your own collection.

A hard drive duplicator

Block Image
  • A hard drive duplicator can be used to make copies of hard drives, as long as they are identical makes and models. The copies of the Sysprep drives will work in any computer. Some hardware duplicators can be used to wipe the hard drives as well. The duplicators are fairly expensive.
  • Duplicators need new cables and power connectors from time to time. Add in the price of the consumables if you want to use this option.
  • The duplicator must be set for the particular model of computer your are setting up. Hp is not the same as Dell, etc. You can make changes to the HP/Compaq BIOS so that it can use the LBA(Logical Block Addressing) mode.
  • Newer computers have SATA(Serial ATA) drives that require different connections. When buying hardware be sure it will meet future needs as the market changes or that you will be able to trade it in for a newer model. Many manufacturers have used systems at a reduced price or will be willing to reduce the price for non-profits.
  • Free software programs such as Clonezilla may provide a less expensive option.

Server-based operations

  • The best method of deployment may be a combination of using a server, disk-imaging software that can multicast, and a Sysprep image.
Block Image

A 32-station computer lab.

  • In the above example, KVM(kernel-based virtual machine) boxes are used so that one monitor/keyboard/mouse station can serve 8 computers on one table. The Internet cables are shielded in separate tubes from the power connectors or KVM cables to prevent interference.

Cloning lab

  • In this case, a 2.4 GHz computer is set up with two Ethernet adapters and a version of Linux. Clonezilla-Server is then installed. Clonezilla-Server can handle multicasting. First, use Clonezilla to backup an image to the server, as you would with Clonezilla for one computer. You can upload one image for a particular installation or even the Sysprep image you have created for any computer make or model. You can use Clonezilla to clone one computer or an entire lab in just minutes.
  • Next, you can set up the server to accept clients to receive the image you have selected so that you can restore the image to the computers. An example is given on the Clonezilla site where 40 computers were loaded in only ten minutes. You set the BIOS of the computers to boot to the network. Most modern computers are set to boot to the network.
  • Ghost and Acronis can also do multicasting, but there is a license fee on each computer cloned, in addition to the cost of the initial software, which are expensive corporate editions. Many refurbishers may want to look at low cost options.
  • Further information and step-by-step instructions can be found at: Computers for Classrooms under Tech tips.

After cloning

  • When setting up the Master computer it was necessary to activate Windows prior to being able to perform the Microsoft updates. After the hard drives have been cloned, they must also be activated. During the Sysprep procedure, we deactivate the computers so the new installation will need to be activated. Use a new COA(certificate of authenticity) enter the license code during the activation process. The easiest method is to activate while online.
  • For computers that were cloned or duplicated without Sysprep: run a program script called ChangeVLKey to deactivate Windows XP. Reboot the computer and you will be asked to reactivate Windows. ChangeVLKey means to change the volume license key. The instructions follow on the next slide.
  • Some free anti-virus programs require installation after Microsoft activation. These programs use part of the license generated by Windows in creating their own, unique license.


  • Copy and paste the following program using MS Notepad and save the file as ChangeVLKey.vbs.

if Wscript.arguments.count<1 then

Wscript.echo "Script can't run without VolumeProductKey argument"

Wscript.echo "Correct usage: Cscript ChangeVLKey.vbs ABCDE-FGHIJ-KLMNO-PRSTU-WYQZX" Wscript.quit

end if


VOL_PROD_KEY = Wscript.arguments.Item(0) VOL_PROD_KEY = Replace(VOL_PROD_KEY,"-","") 'remove hyphens if any Dim

WshShell Set WshShell = WScript.CreateObject("WScript.Shell")

WshShell.RegDelete "HKLM\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\WPAEvents\OOBETimer" 'delete OOBETimer

registry value for each Obj in GetObject("winmgmts:impersonationLevel=impersonate").InstancesOf ("win32_WindowsProductActivation")

result = Obj.SetProductKey (VOL_PROD_KEY)

if err <> 0 then

WScript.Echo Err.Description, "0x" & Hex(Err.Number) Err.Clear

end if

  • We use a flash drive or a floppy drive and have a command such as a:/changevlkey.vbs xxxx-xxxx-xxxx-xxxx-xxxx where the x’s are replaced by your product code from your MS Windows CD. Start > Run and paste the command. Reboot and the computer will ask you to activate Windows.

Final cleaning and check-up

  • Remove all labels and identifying tags on the computer.
  • Adhesive labels can be soaked for a time in an citrus-oil-based cleaning solution to make removal easier.
  • Use a cleaning solution and a green scouring pad to give the case a good cleaning. Use paper towels or washable towels.
  • Whiteboard cleaner can be used to remove even permanent ink marks from the case. Soak first then use a scrubbing pad.
  • Some refurbishers coat the case with a detailing spray, often used for car interiors. Take care because the case can become very slippery. If the case has been badly scratched some refurbishers use a matching spray paint.
  • When cleaning computers make sure to have good air circulation.
  • Label the completed system with the date it was set up. If it doesn’t go out right away, it may need to be updated after Microsoft's monthly update (the 2nd Tuesday of the month).
  • Have one person assigned to perform a final check-up to be sure the system has been configured properly.

Setting a restore point

  • Microsoft allows the refurbisher to insert a Restore Point once the system has been installed, licensed and updated. Perform this action as a very last step of the set-up procedure.
  • Click on start > programs > accessories > system tools > restore point. Click on set restore point. You might like to name it Original Installation. Save, close and shut down.
  • This may make it easier for you to perform warranty work on the computer. You may be able to instruct the client on how to access the restore point so that you won’t need to have the system returned. If the computer is returned, you may be able to return to the Original Installation restore point to simplify repairs.

Checklist prior to sending out the machine

  • You may want to develop your own checklist such as:
    • Boot the computer and check the date and time (on-board battery).
    • Check the amount of memory, the processor speed, and size of the hard drive.
    • Make sure the programs are licensed and have the appropriate COAs attached. Verify that identifying labels from donors have been removed.
    • Go to Add/Remove Programs in the control panel and make sure the updates are current on Java and Adobe Reader.
    • Test the CD, CDRW, DVD or DVDRW and sound card.
    • Test the Internet connection
    • Test the modem by entering the Control Panel. Phone and do the diagnostics test.
    • Update Windows and Office.
    • Update the Anti-Virus if installed.
    • Open Word, it may not have been completely installed. After cloning fresh installs, you may need to use the Office install disk one more time.
    • Check to make sure you have an “Original Installation” restore point.
  • By doing one final check, you will be more likely to have a satisfied customer.

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