I have a requirement for a machine that can easily be reimaged to various versions of Windows (all 32 bit). This PC gets lent out, to be reimaged on return. It is also used as a reference machine for support purposes, so the systems should be 'pure' Microsoft (meaning Backup & Restore for the system image rather than the more reliable Macrium Reflect). As I may need to switch images while away from base I want the images to be kept on another partition on the same HDD. For some added protection this partition has no drive letter while out on loan.
I have made such a system with Windows 7, 10 (1511) and 10 (1607) images. I can reimage from any one to any other in about five minutes, but the process is a bit clunky and requires booting from different media depending on which image is to be restored. I want to make this process self-contained and would like to remove (or at least reduce) the need for multiple external boot media.
Problems found (and worked around) so far:
Multiple images can be made in D:\WindowsImageBackup (provided each image is of a machine with a different name). However, under some circumstances not all the images will be recognised as available to be restored. This seems to happen most often if one of those images is for Windows 7. One acceptable solution is to keep a separate WindowsImageBackup for each version, renamed to WindowsImageBackup<version_name> when not in use. These can be renamed (or better still copied - keeps the image safe from being modified/lost) to WindowsImageBackup when needed for a restore.
In Windows 10 there is a subtle difference between booting to the recovery environment from a USB recovery drive or from Advanced Start-up via Settings. When using Advanced Start-up, before you can start an image restore you have to provide the name and password for an administrator account from the system you want to overwrite. Booting from a recovery drive doesn't ask this.
There is a problem with Advanced Start-up on my version 1511. Whatever account or password is tried, it always comes back with 'The password is incorrect. Try again'. 1607 has no such problem, it checks the password successfully. 1511 did work once but only had the September cumulative update then. Subsequent updates seemed to break it. Asking for the password to a system you going to wipe seems a little pointless. Especially as the same system can make a recovery drive that will go straight to restoring an image without the account/password step.
1607 and 1511 seem happy to restore each other's image, but Windows 7 is a law unto itself. The W10 recovery environment can see W7's image, but says it cannot be restored because the OS architecture doesn't match. Restore is only possible by booting from the recovery CD (it doesn't know how to make a USB) made by Windows 7 Backup & Restore itself.
I already have a workable method, but where I'd like help is in streamlining the process. Ideally I'd like to boot the PC to the recovery environment of my choice without the aid of external boot media. Failing that, I'd like to reduce my collection of CDs and USBs down to a single USB with a choice of recovery versions at boot. As explained above, the images must remain pure MS. Other tools could be used to create a multi-boot USB but the recovery environment(s) it boots to must be pure Microsoft.
Also, if anyone knows a fix for my 1511's 'bad password' problem in Advanced Start-up that would be a help too.