Installing Windows XP is a miserable experience. Fact. Whether you’re installing it on a new computer or reinstalling it on your current machine, it’s the sort of activity that’s more than likely to ruin a weekend.

First, you sit twiddling your thumbs, waiting to enter your product code. Next, you specify your language, keyboard layout and time zone. And once the initial installation finishes, the real fun and games begin.

If your Windows CD doesn’t contain Service Pack 2 (SP2), you’ll have to install that separately. And then there’s the 80 or so updates that have materialised since SP2 was released. It never ends.

There is a solution, however. Over the following pages, we’ll show you the art of ‘slipstreaming’. No, we won’t be tucking in behind Lewis Hamilton and belting down the Hangar Straight. Instead, we’ll be demonstrating a handy time-saving process. You simply copy the files from your Windows CD on to your hard drive, weaving all the updates into them (including SP2), then burn the result to a blank CD. Nearly as much fun, then.

If you’ll be using your ‘slipdisc’ only on your current system, you can configure Windows to install itself in ‘unattended’ mode. This allows your product key, regional settings and other details to be entered automatically – your hands will never have to touch the keyboard. If you like, you can also slipstream your hardware drivers.

We’ll walk you through slipstreaming with nLite, a free utility that’s available from nliteos.com. Follow our tips and you can rest assured: never again will a Windows installation be comparable to ripping out all your fingernails and dipping your hands into lemon juice.

1. You’ll need version 2.0 or later of the .Net Framework installed to slipstream Windows; if it isn’t showing under Add/Remove Programs, install version 3.5. Next, download nLite 1.41. But don’t launch the application just yet.

Step 1

Step 1

2. Create a folder in Windows Explorer called ‘Slipstream Source’. We’ve created ours within My Documents. Pop your existing Windows CD into your optical drive, close the setup wizard if it autoplays, then copy the entire contents of the disc to your new folder (highlight everything then drag-and-drop).

Step 2

Step 2

3. Now assemble the Windows updates. To make this painless, download and install Windows Update Downloader (WUD). Before launching it, click ‘Update Lists’ on the same page. Click the file appropriate to your operating system and select ‘Open with’.

Step 3

Step 3

4. Launch WUD. Select all the updates shown in your Update List. Some updates won’t slipstream; let nLite worry over those later. Naturally, if your CD already contains SP2, you don’t need that. When you’re finished, click Change and create a folder called Slipstream Updates. Click Download.

Step 4

Step 4

5. Download hardware drivers specific to your PC. (We’ve got drivers for our G33 chipset, GMA 3100 graphics, Realtek ALC883 sound and Marvell 88E8056 LAN.) If your PC needs a driver loaded before Windows will install, get that driver now. Put everything in a new folder called Slipstream Drivers.

Step 5

Step 5

6. Most of your drivers will be compressed. That’s no good – nLite will need access to all the individual files (particularly the .inf files). To uncompress a driver package without launching the driver’s setup wizard, simply use your favourite zip utility. Be sure to retain the folder structures the files extract to.

Step 6

Step 6

7. Launch nLite. Skip the welcome screen, click Browse and navigate to your source folder. First, you’ll get a summary confirming which flavour of Windows you’re playing with. Next, after skipping the presets screen, you’ll be shown a list of tasks. Select the ones you’re interested in – probably the whole lot.

Step 7

Step 7

8. One by one, work through your chosen tasks. First up is the integration of SP2. Click Select, navigate to your updates folder, locate ‘windowsxp-kb835935-sp2-enu.exe’, then click Open. nLite will immediately begin slipstreaming and SP2 will be integrated into your Windows source files.

Step 8

Step 8

9. Now integrate your updates. Click Insert and navigate to your updates folder. You’ll find several subfolders, so open each one in turn and add the contents. To add multiple files at once, click the first file, press Shift and Ctrl, then click the last file. If nLite flags anything as unslipstreamable, click ok.

Step 9

Step 9

10. Now you can add your drivers if you wish. Click Insert, select ‘Multiple driver folder’, then navigate to your driver folder. nLite will analyse the subfolders – select the entries appropriate to your hardware and OS. Windows will ask if it should install any storage-controller drivers in text mode. Yes, it should.

Step 10

Step 10

11. Now’s your chance to remove any unwanted Windows components. Skip the compatibilities screen and you’ll see a list of 10 categories. Cast your eyes over the several hundred entries and tick the things you think you can live without. We’ve removed MSN Explorer, Sound Recorder and the XP Tour.

Step 11

Step 11

12. You can configure Windows to install without user intervention. Under the General tab, enter your product key and set Unattended Mode to ‘Fully automated’. Specify language, keyboard layout and time zone on the Regional tab, then give names to your PC, workgroup, owner and organisation under Owner and Network ID.

Step 12

Step 12

13. Run through the Options screen. Here, you can enable, disable or modify various settings. When you’re finished, take a look at the Tweaks screen. Listed here are dozens of options best described as miscellaneous. We’ve selected the one that sets Internet Explorer’s homepage to google.com.

Step 13

Step 13

14. Your ‘slipdisc’ will now be finalised. Again, if nLite flags anything as unslipstreamable, simply click ok. When you’re ready, pop a blank disc into your optical drive, set Mode to Direct Burn, then click Burn. From now on, your Windows XP installations should be relatively pain-free!

Step 14

Step 14