Preparing and Installing Windows XP Embedded Images – Part I: Setting up the Environment

Embedded operating systems have been present among us since a long time ago. Windows XP Embedded and several others have been a part of tons of devices for various reasons:

Componentized version of the bigger operating system, with only the components that the user requires.
Small footprint: Around 40mb at minimum for Windows.
Secure operating systems; with selected features installed we can reduce at minimum the attack surface.

Payphone working with Xp Embedded.

Microsoft recently released Windows Embedded Standard 2009 that will succeed Windows XP Embedded. This version it’s not actually the embedded version of Windows Vista. That embedded operating system is still in progress (expected for 2010) with the codename “Quebec” that will contain most of the Vista features, like Aero, Bit locker encryption, Windows Defender, etc.

Windows Embedded Standard contains basically the same kernel than XP Embedded with a few improvements: Silverlight, .Net Framework 3.5, Internet Explorer 7, NAP, among other features.

Diskless Operating System

These types of operating system have been designed for special cases and special type of devices (like the one shown on that payphone), most of them that need a “locked-down” operating system, the smaller and secure as possible.

That’s why the design it’s prepared to use this operating system on diskless devices, having a Remote Boot Manager server that contains the client operating system image and the device requires the image from that server and boots it directly from RAM or an USB device. We’ll see how it works.

Enough with the introduction, let’s start with this step-by-step guide for Windows XP Embedded.

You can find the other two parts of this guide, here:

Preparing and Installing Windows XP Embedded Images – Part II: Building Images

Preparing and Installing Windows XP Embedded Images – Part III: Using Remote Boot

Let’s start with the system requirements.

System Requirements

Remote boot server

– Windows Server 2003

o R2 and SP2 are optional but recommended
o DHCP role must be installed

– Windows XP Embedded Studio Tools

o Component Data Base Manager
o Component Designer
o SDI Loader
o Target Designer
o Target Analyzer
o Remote Boot Manager

Hardware Requirements

– Processor: Pentium III 800 MHz (Minimum)

– Memory: 256mb (Minimum)

– Hard Disk: Enough space to store XP Embedded images


Hardware Requirements

– Processor: Pentium III 800 MHz (Minimum)

– Memory: 512mb/1024mb
It must double the XP Embedded image size, so for 450mb images there should have 1 GB of memory available on the clients

Installing Windows XP Embedded

Installing the Embedded Studio Tools

We are considering using the installation of the Studio Tools with SP1 and then upgrade it SP2. This setup assumes that you are installing the tools in the computer that will act as a Remote Boot Server.

To install Windows XP Embedded SP2 tools, please follow these steps:

1. From the Disk 1 of the installation files, run SETUP.EXE

2. The installation Wizard starts. Select the Tools Setup tab, and click on Next

3. Accept the License Agreement terms, and click on Next.

4. Enter your user name, organization name and your license key number (a trial license number can be obtained from this site). Click on Next

5. On the Installation type select Typical. Click on Next

6. Now you will set the Windows Embedded Server as the local computer. To do this, leave the This Computer option marked and click on Next

Note: You can also change the default folder where the XP Embedded images will be stored when they are built.

7. Click on Install to complete the setup wizard.

After this installation completes, switch back to the Welcome to Windows XP Embedded installation window to install the remaining components.

Installing the Database Engine

To create Windows XP Embedded images, the Designer component requires that a database must be installed and set up. The current version requires that MSDE should be installed the local computer (or a remote computer). This setup assumes that you will install MSDE on a local computer.

1. To set up the database, the first step is to install the database server. To do this, point and click on the Database Engine Setup tab

The database engine will install without requiring user intervention.

2. Let’s install the database. To do this, point and click on the Database Setup tab

3. Click on Next and accept the License Agreement

4. Enter your Product Key and click on Next

5. Select the Typical installation option and click on Next

6. Click on Install to begin the installation. The following message will pop up. Answer Yes

Don’t worry; it just says that to create embedded images, a share folder will be created on the server with read-only permissions.

Upgrading the installation to Windows XP Embedded SP2

To complete the installation, you must access Disk 3 of the installation files and run setup from there. This will upgrade the components and tools to Service Pack 2 and will also install the Remote Boot Server from there.

1. Let’s update the database engine with the latest updates. To do this, point and click on the Database Engine Update tab on the left.

This process does not require user intervention.

2. Now let’s update the Windows XP Embedded Tools to SP2. To do this, point and click on the Tools Update tab on the left.

3. A wizard will pop up. Click on Next to proceed with the installation.

4. Before installing the “Database Update” you must first verify that the Engine is already running on the server. If you don’t reboot the computer after installing the database engine, the service is not yet started. To start it use the services snap-in, following these steps.

a. Click on the Start menu, select Run and type services.msc. Click OK

b. On the services console, locate the MSSQLSERVER service

c. Check that the Startup Type is set to Automatic

d. Check if the service is started. If not, right click on the service and select Start

Note: If the service is not started as it shows and if you try to update the database, this message will appear to you: "Cannot connect to the database – please check the database. Setup cannot continue"

5. Switch back to the installation window. Point and click on the Database Update tab on the left.

6. Before installing the update, a message will prompt with the warning that you should make a backup of the existing database before updating. This is an optional step. To continue, click the OK button.

7. A wizard window will open. Click on Next to continue.

8. The wizard will show the license agreement. Read and accept it, clicking on Install to continue.

The process will take several minutes, depending on your system characteristics. When the installation finishes, a summary will appear, including the modifications it performed on the installation. Click on Finish to close the dialog.

9. [Optional] To set up a development environment you can also use the libraries that are included to test the applications outside the run-time images: Enhance Write Filter API.

Installing the Remote Boot Server

The Remote Boot Server is in charge of providing remote computers the run time image of their OS. In this section you will install the associated component.

1. From the tab list on the left, click on Remote Boot Server.

2. An installation dialog will appear. Click on Next to continue. When the dialog prompts to accept a license agreement, read and accept it.

3. Enter the values in User Name and Organization and click on Next.

4. Select the Typical installation type, click on Next to advance a screen and finally click on Install to start the installation process.

When the process completes, you’ll have your environment ready for preparing Windows XP Embedded images.

Note: Remember that the DHCP server must be up and working on the remote boot server to actually achieve the Remote Boot with the prepared images.

We’ll be reviewing the next steps on two more posts.

Preparing and Installing Windows XP Embedded Images – Part II: Building Images

Preparing and Installing Windows XP Embedded Images – Part III: Using Remote Boot



  1. Win2003 is not required as a boot server — Windows XP Pro works fine. I have being using XP as my boot server for about 4 years.

  2. You imply that Windows 2003 Server is needed for DHCP. This is not true since any full-featured DHCP server can be used. Many kinds of blade computer systems include blade switches that have an embedded DHCP server. This DHCP server is usually the right choice for such systems. In other cases an existing “house” DHCP server that is not Win2003 might be preferred.

  3. Good to know about Windows XP. I wanted to test it also on Windows Server 2008 or Windows Vista, but I didn’t have the chance.



  4. Augusto, do you from Brazil ? I am a brazilian and my english is ‘bad’

    Configuration DHCP ???? Help me please…. I am crazy…. Hahahahaha

      • Realmente solo tengo instalada la aplicacion para desarrollar, tengo dudas de como poner el target analyser en el cliente que quiero configurar, pero al parecer aqui incluyes como, en los proximos dias trato de hacerlo y si sale algun problema yo te contacto, muchas gracias por tu tiempo y estamos en contacto.

        Saludos desde Mexico.

  5. Hi Augusto,
    I am Bi, from Viet Nam.
    I have a problem with Installing the Database Engine.
    The dialog shows “Time remaining: 5 seconds” but it seems be looped forever.
    Could you tell me the reason why?

    Thanks in advance

  6. Hello Bi,
    Did you check the event viewer for any events that are triggered in the installation?
    Can you give me fore background, like operating system used?

  7. Hi Augusto,
    Thank you for your reply.
    Because I am new in Embedded System, I don’t know exactly what is the event viewer. Sorry!!!
    Is it the information in STARTCD.INI file?
    Do I need to install something else before installing XP Embedded?

    System info:
    Windows XP Professional SP2.
    Pentium(R) D CPU 3.4GHz
    1G Ram

    Thanks in advance

    This is the information for Database Engine Setup in STARTCD.INI
    Caption=Database &Engine Setup
    DataText1=Set Up the Database Engine
    DataText2=Choose this option to install Microsoft SQL Desktop Engine (MSDE) locally on this computer.%NEWLINE%%NEWLINE%The component database can run on either of two database engines, MSDE or Microsoft SQL Server. MSDE is included on the Windows XP Embedded installation discs.%NEWLINE%%NEWLINE%If you already have MSDE or SQL Server installed, you can start Database Setup now.
    Action=[hidden,sync] MSDE_INSTALLCHECK
    ErrorSoln=A SQL Server or MSDE database engine is already installed.
    ErrorSoln1=Check to make sure that this file is accessible. If you still have problems, try opening the file from its original location.

      • Hello Monal,
        Please explain a little bit more about the error that you are having, is there an error message? Which step you are not able to complete?
        Remember that these posts are setting a remote boot image and not a stand alone media for installation.

      • hi Augusto,

        by following your steps i successfully installed and boot the image thanks a lot for that
        but i am not still able to add display and network drivers and at the same time i want to install ms office
        on xp embedded please help

      • Monal: AFAIK it is against the Partner agreement installing Office on embedded machines…

  8. Hello Monal,
    About the drivers: You will need the INF files for the devices that are not loaded correctly by XP Embedded and then import them using Component Designer, you’ll get an SLD file that you can add it to your image.
    Regarding Windows XP Embedded and Microsoft Office: it’s not actually permitted by the license to install the Office suite on any XP Embedded installation.
    Check the “Windows XP Embedded Licensing Requirements and Guidelines” at
    “Device Limitations/Limited Use of Product
    License may not use or include Windows XP Embedded, the Windows XP Embedded run-time images, or any components thereof, in (i) the development of a general purpose computing device or (ii) any device or system in which a malfunction of the operating system would result in foreseeable risk of personal injury, death to the operator of the device or system, or to others, or severe physical or environmental damage.”
    “Definition of General Purpose Device
    A “general purpose device” is any computer device or system whose functionality allows unrestricted use of, or access to, “Office Automation and Personal Computing Functions.” Office Automation and Personal Computing Functions refer to consumer or business tasks or processes, including (but not limited to): e-mail, word processing, spreadsheets, database, network/Internet browsing, scheduling, and personal finance. Office Automation and Personal Computing Functions include features and functions derived from Windows XP Embedded, as well as features and functions derived from other software used on the device.”
    Hope it helps!

    • Hi Augusto,

      i am getting an error while importing devices.pmq file in component designer the error is

      Error-2147212504 occurred in CMI utilities1 : could not open
      “C:\program files\windows embedded\utilities\devices.pmq

      • hi Augusto,

        thanks for help i have installed and boot xp embedded

        but finding the problem in cd rom

        instead of cd rom its showing DVD Drive and when i inserted cd it gives error that format is not compatible with windows or disk is corrupted

        pls help

        with regards


      • Hi

        Did you find the solution to device.pmq importing problem??

        I am getting the same error.I would really appreciate if you help


  9. Hola Augusto,

    te pido disculpas sin es el post incorrecto para preguntar, pero:

    es posible instalar algún editor de archivos office en un dispositivo XPe?

    El XPe es compatible con Pen drives USB para abrir archivos word o Excel desde ahí?

    Gracias por el aporte.


    Juan Manuel

  10. You you should change the webpage name title Preparing and Installing Windows XP Embedded Images – Part I: Setting up the Environment Augusto Alvarez to something more generic for your blog post you create. I liked the the writing yet.

  11. I am planning to build an image for an ARM Cortex Tablet, Does one have to add XP applications to the image before I install/flash it onto the Tablet?

    Is it possible to do add XP applications later after XP Embedded has already been installed/flashed onto the device?

  12. hello, I have a problem
    when I install database update in windows xp mbedded sp 2
    I have this message:
    Windows XP Embedded Service Pack 2 Installer

    Copying ‘Windows XP Embedded Client (x86) Service Pack 2’ repository files to \\ComputerName\Repositories\{67C85615-B0C5-42EA-8B8A-E8AB47DB2B1D}
    Error: Cannot delete repository files in the target folder. Make sure you have write access to the files.
    Error: Cannot delete repository files in the target folder. Make sure you have write access to the files.

    The following files have not been imported:

    File(s) processed: 1, File(s) imported successfully: 0

    No objects or files were imported to the database ALCOMSYS-25EC7E.

    WEUpdate Exiting with return code: 9

    **** End Of Run ****

  13. Hello,
    Can anybody write me, how I can do bootable backup OS XPe?
    I have XPe installed on CF. When I create image OS to the second CF, This isn’t bootable :(
    I want to have safe backup on second CF. Quick, replacing CF.

  14. Hola tengo un wyse thin client con XPe sp1, vino con su respectivo serial, trate de actualizarlo a Sp2, con Windows embedded studio, pero me dice que esta en modo de evaluacion, como puedo activarlo?, acaso tengo que poner el serial del thin client al momento de instalar el Windoes Embedded studio? muchas gracias

  15. What motherboard do you recomend me in order to use the XP Enbended operating system on a chip

  16. Hi Mr. Alvarez,

    Does a “general purpose device” include netbooks such as the Eee PC and Aspire One? My AAO D250 came pre-installed with a full XP Home, which runs like a stoned turtle slugging his way through quicksand. ;-) I am interested in installing the Embedded version, which seems ideal for portables like the AAO or Tablets.

    Someone else recommended Linux (which some netbooks already have preinstalled), but IMHO that involves too much of a learning curve. The only distro I was ever able to get working (including wi-fi) was/has been Jolicloud OS, not even Ubuntu Netbook, as Linux is notoriously incompatible with Intel wireless drivers.

    Can I use nLite to integrate SATA drivers without messing with config files? What really attracted me was the 40mb RAM usage, which would make this thing run like the Energizer rabbit high on steroids and pumped up with Air Jordans. :-) Any info is greatly appreciated. Thanks in advance!

  17. Also, I am getting errors when trying to install the database. The PC I am using to prepare the images is a Windows 7 x64 Home Premium SP1 with 5 GB RAM. First I got compatibility alerts and a message “Installation of SQL Database failed.” Then when I tried to run the SQL installer (on disc 1 in the SQLMSDE folder) in compatibility mode (for XP SP3 — Disabled Visual Themes and Run as Admin), I get a message “Not a valid Cabinet file” and after some time, the Windows installer exits, again saying the database cannot be installed.

    I already had installed the Tools (also in Compatibility mode), but no go for the DB. I don’t have another XP machine to use besides the AAO itself; do I have to run this in a VM with XP or some other way of achieving a “compatible” environment? Is it just Win7 that’s causing the trouble and/or the difference in x86 vs. x64?

  18. Hi Augusto

    while i was trying to import the device.pmq file in the target device it gives me the following error.Kindly help me with this

    Error-2147212504 occurred in CMI utilities1 : could not open
    “C:\program files\windows embedded\utilities\devices.pmq

  19. Hello Augusto, I am facing this issue while updating the database

    Windows XP Embedded Service Pack 2 Installer

    Cannot connect to the database – please check the database.

    Setup cannot continue.

    WEUpdate Exiting with return code: 64

    **** End Of Run ****

    all the setup I am installing is on my local machine, I can see the MSSQLServer icon with green arrow (running).

  20. j’ai un système windows XP embedded mais avons la carte mère qui étais la était un petuim III et je les remplacer par un Celeron et le Windows embedded n’aboutit pas il bloque l’appareil qu’est ce que je doit faire?

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