Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.

How can I run an installation of windows XP over a wireless notebook connection? Here is my scenario. The CD-ROM on my notebook doesn't work. I am thinking of sharing the CD-ROM on my desktop, mapping the installation to the CD-ROM on the desktop and then running it from the laptop over a wireless network card (11 mbps) connection. Will this work? Will XP load the wireless driver upon reboot automatically?

It certainly should work, though not exactly as you expect.

I do things a slightly different way, that happens to solve this same problem.

Like I said, I believe your approach will work. Windows Setup actually copies over all the files it needs before its first reboot. I don't believe it will ask for any more files off of the CD-ROM thereafter, (but I could be wrong). In any case, I don't believe that the wireless network will work until much later in the setup process.

My approach is a little different, though. And I actually do this for almost every Windows XP install I make, regardless of whether or not the machine has a working CD-ROM drive.

Before even running setup, I copy the entire "I386" directory tree from the CD-ROM to a new subdirectory on the hard disk of the machine I'm setting up. I usually use C:\I386. The I386 directory on the distribution CD-ROM contains all the Windows XP setup files. Now, even though that includes lots of files I don't need (like drivers for hardware I don't have, for example), the amount of space that takes up is small compared to today's hard disk capacities.

Then, after the files have been copied to my hard disk, I run setup.exe, or winnt.exe, from my hard disk's copy of the setup files in C:\I386. All the files needed are there, and setup never needs the CD-ROM again.

That last point is worth repeating: setup never needs the CD-ROM again. Not just for the setup process, but after that too. Some weeks or months later, when you add hardware to your machine, Windows may need files from the Windows Setup CD-ROM. If you've copied them to your hard drive, as I've just described, Windows will remember to get them there instead of asking you to insert the CD-ROM. That's particularly nice for laptops - if you happen to be away from home or the office at the time, and wouldn't have a Windows CD-ROM to insert.

There is one "catch" (isn't there always?) - you can't use this technique if you want to have the setup process format your hard drive. It would format and erase, all the files you so carefully copied over.

But aside from that, it's a nice way to streamline the setup process.

A final caveat: don't lose that Windows CD-ROM. Keep it somewhere safe. If your hard disk ever dies, for example, you'll need it then to reinstall Windows, one way or another, to your repaired or replaced drive.

Article C2325 - April 7, 2005 « »

Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

Not what you needed?

September 5, 2006 4:51 PM

what kinda stupidity is this??

December 11, 2006 11:58 AM

I've read 3 different articles that I *thought* could solve my problem and you keep going round in circles without ever saying anything worth listening to...

I think what that guy is actually saying is he wants to format C drive and he does NOT have a working cdrom, therefore cannot boot from a cd! And yes, you kinda covered that part by saying "you cannot do this if you really want to format your HD" but then again, you never really answered that either!

Me, like most people with some sense little sense left, realize that "installing windows" does NOT mean "adding" "upgrading" "installing new hardware" or "repairing" but rather format a HD and INSTALLING WINDOWS.

Anyway, to answer the question that you did not bother to: no, you cannot format your HD like that because the network is kept by the OS itself. You can however create a FAT partition in one of your drives (using partition magic for example), copying the windows installation files (through the network) to that new partition, create a bootable floppy (windows 98 is a very good example), boot your computer with the floppy, format c: from dos, access your partition from dos as well and install windows from your HD to your HD (only a different partition. Just make sure the partition is FAT otherwise dos will not recognize it.

February 15, 2007 2:31 PM

Hi, I really like this solution - I've lost count of the times I've been 500 miles from the cd rom when I needed it. However, how much extra space are we talking here? Plus, is there any auto-play stuff to get around?
Many thanks

Lynda Brewer
March 18, 2007 1:27 PM

Don't know about a wireless connection, but if you have a floppy drive and a wired connection, you should be able to boot and do it that way, but remember you have to have the proper drivers installed for either wired or wireless. Is there any way to remove the laptop HDD, hook it up to your desktop via an adapter, and then use the existing OS on the desktop to format the laptop HDD and copy the installation files to the laptop hard drive? It would be a MUCH faster transfer rate than 11Mbps, and once they were in there reinstall the HDD to the laptop and run setup from there. The HDDs on laptops can be removed with just a couple screws on the bottom in most cases, and the laptop IDE to desktop adapters are cheap on ebay as well as simple to install. In your situation that would be the method I would use. Good luck!

September 20, 2007 5:50 PM

Is it not possible to copy the I386 directory to a 2nd partition on the HDD, run setup within windows, and then format the main partition of the HDD? Thinking it through in my head that would work an absolute charm!? Or am i wrong?!

Leo A. Notenboom
September 21, 2007 12:06 PM

Hash: SHA1

You can try it, it may work, I'm not sure


Version: GnuPG v1.4.7 (MingW32)


September 1, 2011 4:08 PM

You guys are very smart, but you forget a simple thing, that if it is a laptop how tha hell we put a bootable floopy, cause laptops dont have flopy drives, i have same problem, i have a Insys laptop, from my mom, she did something to the computer and it have lots of software errors, and it burned 1 memory of 2GB and the wirelless adaptor, so now i need to instal the windows there with no cd, and i was already thinking about do it that way, with a second partition and all filles there, but i dont find anywere the autobat or de dos files from de boot flloppy to put in the second partition to start from there, can anyone help me and give me a link with the filles from the bootable floppy? thks

Comments on this entry are closed.

If you have a question, start by using the search box up at the top of the page - there's a very good chance that your question has already been answered on Ask Leo!.

If you don't find your answer, head out to to ask your question.