Mike Taulty

The Right Way to Maintain a Duplicate PC? Boot to VHD?

This post is really a cry for help  

The other week I reinstalled my Surface Book as it had got itself into a bit of a mess with respect to the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update and so I spent maybe the best part of a day wiping the disk and reinstalling software and getting settings and things all set up the way that I like them. This is helped massively these days by a fast internet connection and a bunch of software (e.g. Microsoft Office and Store apps) being pretty quick and easy to install.

However, it still takes time.

My Surface Book is my main machine but it doesn’t meet the specifications for Windows Mixed Reality development or use and so there’s a bit of a challenge and, consequently, I recently managed to bag another laptop to do that development work (an HP Omen 15).

That left me asking the question of what would be the ‘easiest’ way to duplicate the setup of my Surface Book to this new Omen machine? as I really didn’t want to have to go through and repeat the whole process that I’d recently undertaken on the Book and so I was looking for a cheap way out.

I’m not sure of what the answer to the question is. I read a few sysprep guides but wasn’t sure it would do what I wanted and so in the short term what I tried out was to…

  1. Use Sysinternals Disk2Vhd to make a .VHDX file from my Surface Book’s disk. I had to first make sure that I wasn’t running Bitlocker before making that .VHDX.
  2. Copy that .VHDX file over to the Omen PC.
  3. Attach it as a disk inside of the Disk Management utility.
  4. Use the BCDBOOT utility to make that newly attached disk bootable on the Omen.

From there, I rebooted Windows and let it boot off the .VHDX file and sat back and watched Windows;

  1. Do a lot of disk checking.
  2. Do a lot of ‘getting devices ready’ type activities (not unexpected moving a drive from one PC to another).

and then it let me log in once it had got through its slight discomfort at not being able to log me in with Windows Hello face or PIN because whatever it had cached no longer matched the hardware.

Once logged in, I went through Device Manager and reinstalled lots of drivers for the Omen and that seemed to go fine and then I changed the machine name and tried to reactivate Windows (I’m using an Enterprise copy here) and that worked once I could make a VPN connection to my company.

The only place where I seemed to have a challenge with the Omen was with its Audio driver in that I kept getting the Device Manager showing me a problem with a “High Definition Audio Device” and I couldn’t get any sound of the Omen’s built in speakers but it seemed like a few reinstallations of the Realtek driver from HP’s site and a few reboots and this suddenly started working.

So…now I’m booting to VHD on the Omen and, hopefully, getting “native” everything with the slight overhead of the disk being a VHD rather than just a plain disk.

As/when I make updates to the Surface Book I’d need to repeat the process to get the Omen so that it was back in sync.

I’ll update the post as/when I find problems with what I’ve done here (I’m sure there’ll be some I haven’t thought through ) but I’d welcome people’s comments around whether this is a good/bad/ugly way to try and maintain a common configuration across these 2 PCs? I’d estimate that it took me about an hour to get the HP up and running so it feels like a reasonable trade-off at the moment.

As an aside, in this world of cloud-delivered software, Microsoft Graph and Store wouldn’t it be cool if there was some button that I could press to say “Please make this PC exactly the same as one of my other ones?” and build up some cloud-inventory of what was actually on my PC so that I could replicate it at any time?