Importing network drivers into the Windows PE Boot image


A lot of questions that often pops up in various newsgroups and on the Microsoft TechNet forums are related to importing drivers in the Windows PE boot image. This article will walk you through this process step-by-step.

This guide assumes that the following steps have been completed:

  • The PXE Service Point are installed and configured.
  • Command line support have been enabled for both the x86 and x64 boot image.
  • The boot image is distributed to the PXE Service Point and a Distribution Point.
  • A Task Sequence has been created and is advertised to the client.
Identifying that a driver is missing in the Boot Image

If you boot a client computer using network boot and the Windows PE image is loaded, but just before the ”Welcome to the Task Sequence Wizard” appears Windows PE restarts, you might need a network driver in the boot image. To verify this, hit F8 while Windows PE is loaded (just before the restart). In the Command Prompt use the IPCONFIG command to check if a driver has not been loaded for the network adapter.


Verifying that you have the correct driver for Windows PE

The next step is to get the driver. Windows PE 2.5 is using the same drivers that should be used for Windows Vista. So even if you’re deploying Windows XP, you should always download the drivers for Windows Vista. When Service Pack 2 for System Center Configuration Manager is released, Windows PE will be upgraded to version 3.0, which is based on Windows 7. All your drivers for Windows Vista will most likely still work with Windows 7, but you should always go for the supported versions.

The first question that pops up when you need to find the driver is, do I need the x86 or x64 version of the driver? The answer is that you need the driver that matches the OS version are you deploying. So if you’re deploying Windows XP x86, you need an x86 driver for your boot image. Some people gets confused when they see that x64 is the initial NBP that in turn downloads the boot image via TFTP but an x86 Windows can only be deployed using the x86 boot image and x64 Windows can only be deployed using the x64 boot image.

If you’re having trouble identifying the driver, you can test the driver using the drvload tool. The drvload tool adds out-of-box drivers to a booted Windows PE image. To verify that you have the correct driver, simply put the driver on a USB key and try loading them using drvload util.

Drvload Command-Line Options:

Importing the network driver to the driver catalog

All drivers that should be added to the Windows PE boot image must be added to the driver catalog. I always create a folder structure for my drivers that look like this:

D: Source$Drivers%OSVersion%%Driver name and version%

OS Versions is created like this:

  • Windows PE x86 – WINPEX64
  • Windows PE x86 – WINPEX86
  • Windows XP x86 – WINXPX86
  • Windows Vista x86 – WINVISTAX86
  • Windows 7 x64 – WIN7X64
  • etc.

This folder structure is inspired by Johan Arwidmark’s post on managing drivers.

So in this case the folder name would be:
D: Source$DriversWINPEX86VMWare AMD PCNet Adapter

When the driver is downloaded and copied to the correct folder, the next step is to import the driver in Configuration Manager. Before importing the driver I also create a folder structure that reflects the folder structure. Some people might disagree with me on create this folder structure. The reason for this is that Configuration Manager does not honor this folder structure, while browsing for drivers. But I still like my folders :o)

Windows PE folder structure in the ConfigMgr console:



1. Right-click the “WINPEX86” folder and select Import.


2. Make sure that Import all drivers in the following network path (UNC) is selected. Click Browse or type in the UNC path to the share that contains the driver, and click Next.


3. Verify that the correct driver is selected, and click Next.


4. Drivers for boot images do not need to be distributed to a Distribution Point. Leave the defaults and click Next.


5. Select the boot image with the correct architecture, select Update distribution point when finished, and click Next.

6. Verify the summary page, and click Next.

This might take a few minutes while the boot image in rebuild and copied to the distribution point.

7. Click Close.

This completes this step, an the new driver should be ready for use.

To list all drivers that have been added to a boot image, simply right-click the boot image in the Configuration Manager Console, and select Properties.


Select the Windows PE tab to list the drivers added to the boot image.


Verifying that that new driver is working as expected

Turn on the client computer and boot using network boot (F12) and hit F8 when Windows PE is loaded. In the Command Prompt use the IPCONFIG command to check if a driver has now been loaded for the network adapter.



About Author

My name is Ronni Pedersen and I'm currently working as a Cloud Architect at APENTO in Denmark. My primary focus is Enterprise Client Management solutions, based on technologies like AzureAD, Intune, EMS and System Center Configuration Manager. I'm is also a Microsoft Certified Trainer and Microsoft MVP in Enterprise Mobility.

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