Using Clonezilla for Imaging
When you're managing hundreds of computers and replacing a decent chunk of them every summer you need to utilize some kind of disk imaging software. This allows you to setup one computer the way you want and then capture an "image" of the drive to a server somewhere. Then as you setup the new machines you load the image and every machine is the same.
For years I've been using Symantec Ghost for imaging drives. Ghost runs from a DOS boot disk (floppy, CD, USB Thumbdrive) which has its limitations. The biggest one being network drivers. Since these image files are kept on a network server the network card must be enabled and functioning in DOS for this to work. DOS drivers are getting harder and harder to come by for newer motherboards. The other limitation, which ended up being the deal-breaker this summer, is the 2GB memory limit for DOS. Back when DOS was written the concept of any more than 2GB of memory was just inconceivable so if the machine has 2GB or more of memory DOS won't load. The machines I ordered this summer have 4GB of ram. The way around this is typically a BIOS option called "OS Install Mode". When enabled, it will only allow the computer to see about 256MB of memory instead of the actual amount of physical memory installed. Unlike every other computer I've purchased, the Dell Optiplex 390 machines I ordered this year don't have this option. The only way I was going to get these machines imaged was to go with a different solution. I did a little research and found a program called Clonezilla.
Clonezilla basically does the exact same thing just using different tools. It's a linux based solution that runs off a CD or USB thumbdrive and it's pretty slick. It runs about 3x faster than Ghost did but the compressed image files are slightly larger. I could probably crunch them down more but that would slow it down and my time is worth more than the disk space. Not only is it faster, it's free and currently being developed.
I tried it on a brand new Dell Optiplex 390 and right out of the box it booted fine with 4GB of memory, the network card came up automatically with no issues and it had the correct SATA drivers so it could read the disk. It copied each partition and compressed them at about 1.6GB/minute. I can remember being happy with Ghost gimping along at around 350-400MB/minute. Most of the time Ghost would actually drop down to around 200MB/min or less.
I know there is a Windows version of Ghost meant to be run in a pre-installation environment (WinPE or basically just a windows bootdisk), but I was reading online about people still trying to get network drivers for this setup and it's still something you have to buy licenses for.