How to Install Windows Home Server 2011 from a USB Flash Drive

Now that’s Vail’s released, I’m sure a lot of you want to install it. Well, unfortunately for a number of you, you have headless systems (like the HP MediaSmart Server or the Acer Aspire easyStore Home Server H340) which make installation of Vail a pain No keyboard, mouse, monitor – what’s going on? Or if you’re like me you just want to set it and forget it until it’s completely installed. Which means a fully unattended installation via USB drive is about the only way to go. This can be a relatively complex procedure for the uninitiated, but the good news is, we’ve got an easy walkthrough to help you out.

What You Need

Before you begin, you’ll need a few things:

Step 1: Install the Win7 USB/DVD tool and start it.

Select the Vail ISO and proceed.  It will warn you that it will format the USB drive and you will lose all content.  Assuming that’s fine, proceed, and it will format, prep and copy the ISO to the flash drive for you.  That will take a few minutes depending on the system.

And this is much easier than the old method.

Step 2: Open up the Flash Drive that you used in Windows Explorer.

You should see something like this:

Step 3: Create the Unattended Installation File

Now for unattended install, you’ll need to create a “cfg.ini” file in the root directory of your USB drive.  This will contain all the information and configuration settings needed to get Vail completely installed without your input along the way. The “cfg.ini” file should look like this:

PasswordHint=This Is Your Password Hint

“InstallSKU” and “ConfigDisk” are both settings you should just leave alone. The first is to determine which product you are installing (bear in mind, there is only one SKU you can install – there will not be a “non-premium” or standard version of Vail) , and the second controlling whether to configure the disks. Both are necessary for the install to work.

However, setting “CheckReqs” to “0” means that it will not check against the requirements to install, and the “SystemPartitionSize” setting lets you set the System Volume size manually. However, if you change this setting, you must leave 100GBs available after the install. Which means you’d have to have at least a 120GB hard drive if you went with a 20GB system partition.  So, no CF and most likely no SSD drives for your system disk.

As for “Language”, “Locale”, “Country” and “KeyboardLayout”, I wouldn’t recommend messing with these unless you know the proper values. You can change them post-install anyway.

“ServerName” should be very self explanatory. The name can be any string, up to 15 characters in length, but cannot start with a “dash” or contain spaces, and cannot be numbers only.

The “PlainTextPassword” is just what it sounds like: an unencrypted, unsecure presentation of your password. This must be a “strong” password, which must contain at least 3 of the 4: uppercase letters, lowercase letters, numbers and symbols.  Just remember this, you’ll be using it later.

Again, “PasswordHint” is self-explanatory. This option is required, so make sure it’s set.

“Settings” configure Error Reporting (Watson) and updates.  Setting it to “All” enables both, “Updates” disables error reporting and just gets updates, while “None” does neither.  Considering that this is a public beta, I highly recommend setting this to “all”. What’s the point of testing it if you don’t get a good sampling?

Now with that “cfg.ini” file on the USB drive along with Vail, you’re ready to install Vail on that headless system of yours!

Just a couple of notes:

  • If you haven’t already read the release notes, make sure you hit F12, or F8, or whatever brings up the Boot selection menu, as the install seems to fail if the USB drvice is listed first.
  • The install may take a couple of hours to completely, so you may want to do this overnight or go watch a movie.
  • For those with headless OEM systems, booting of USB isn’t easy. But the best way to make sure it works, is unplug all the hard drives and wait long enough for the system to start booting of the USB flash drive, and then plug the hard drives back in.
  • Remember: This will wipe ALL of your hard drives, so make sure they’re empty first!

If you’d like to discuss USB installation of Vail, make sure you head over to the Vail Preview discussion forums to share your thoughts.


  1. A USB drive works perfectly, though I did have to jump through hoops to get it to work. I used the USB/DVD tool mentioned in the post but I had to sit and take the USB drive out as it was rebooting or else it would just loop back into the initial install every time (no boot option for my BIOS that I could find, F12, F8, nothing). Just had to put the USB drive back in once WHS was loading and it was OK.

  2. the tool doesnt seem to be working with my flash drive so i guess i have to use the time consuming method

  3. Don't forget on a successful install you will have to remove the completed line if you want to use the same flash drive for subsequent installs

  4. Can you install Vail to a HP Mediasmart server without losing the data that's on it? I'm hesitant to try this without hearing a success story from someone.

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