How to Customize and Optimize Windows 11 Before Even Installing It With NTLite

Seasoned users know what they want from their OS, and perform the same tweaks after every installation of Windows. That’s NTLite’s primary crowd, but that doesn’t mean you won’t find it helpful if you’re not among them.

NTLite is one of the few solutions that allow you to customize Windows before installing the OS. With it, you can enable or disable features, add or remove drivers, and generally “tweak” the OS in many ways before it even touches your PC. The result is that, after installing the OS, you can hit the ground running. Let’s see how.

How to Make Windows Yours With NTLite

Why install Cortana if you’re not going to use it and believe it’s a security risk? Is there a reason to have the printer service enabled if you don’t even have a printer? Why should Windows consume resources “indexing your files” if it’s running on a never-changing PC that’s “frozen in time” for a specific purpose, like acting as a light fixture controller?

That’s why NTLite was created in the first place: as a tool with which you can add and remove elements of Windows and customize its “innermost” options before even installing it.

As IT workers can tell you, this can prove a lifesaver if you have to apply the same tweaks many times on a large number of PCs. Why not have them pre-applied and invest your time in something better, like binge-watching your favorite series when the boss is not around?

Still, this can also be useful for every user. Average us may not be reinstalling Windows every other day. Nor “administer” dozens of PCs. And yet, when we do eventually reinstall Windows, it’s a chore. We find ourselves hunting down drivers for unsupported hardware, choosing between a light or dark theme for our windows, and fighting with installed “fluff”.

By having installation media for Windows customized as you want it, you won’t have to waste time and energy performing the same actions one more time.

You won’t have to set up the same user accounts, add drivers, control services, and remove elements you don’t need in your OS. Nor have to re-customize the OS again when you install it on a secondary laptop or in a virtual machine for experimenting with questionable software.

If you’re still using mechanical hard disk drives on your PC, may we also suggest you look into how to “optimize” those as well? Apart from installing a customized and “lighter” version of Windows on such devices, it’s also worth considering how they’re partitioned. For more info on that, read our article on how to partition your hard drive for optimal performance.

Getting NTLite Set Up

Start by downloading NTLite from its official site. You will also need the Windows files to complete the setup. And while you can use the files on your computer to do this, we recommend downloading a fresh ISO to ensure you have a clean slate without any corruption.

As such, it’s a good idea to download the official installation media for Windows, preferably in ISO format. You can find more info on Windows 11’s official download page.

The process can be somewhat intimidating for new users and more complicated than ideal for everyone else. You might want to check our older article on how to download a Windows 11 ISO legally for alternative (and more straightforward) ways of grabbing such an ISO.

You’ll also have to perform two more steps before we begin:

  1. Install NTLite.
  2. Extract the downloaded Windows ISO into a folder. You can use any popular archive manager for that, like 7Zip, WinRAR, etc. Or, you could use Windows’ own File Explorer, as we saw in our guide on how to mount and extract ISO files on Windows.

How to Load Windows Into NTLite

To tweak your downloaded version of Windows, you’ll have to load it into NTLite. For that:

  1. Run NTLite and click on its Add button, which will show a drop-down menu with two options. Choose the second one, Image file (WIM, ESD, SWM).

  2. Navigate to the folder where you extracted the Windows ISO’s files, and locate the install.WIM file. Select it as your “source”.

  3. Since they’re pretty similar, most Windows installation media contain most (if not all) versions of Windows: Pro, Home, etc. NTLite will show you all such versions in your selected setup file, and you’ll have to choose the one for which you want to create a customized installer. Double-click on it, and NTLite will start loading, checking, and analyzing its files.

  4. After a while, NTLite will finish loading the version you selected from the Windows installation media. When you see the icon on the left of the chosen version turn green, you’re ready to proceed to its customization.

Incorporating Updates Into NTLite

Unfortunately, one of the most valuable features in NTLite is out of reach for most users: the ability to include updates in your customized Windows installation.

The feature isn’t available on NTLite’s free tier. However, we couldn’t outright ignore it in this guide since it can save precious time.

The short version of how you can use it if you decide to pay for NTLite is:

  1. With your Windows version selected, move to NTLite’s Tools tab. Click on the first button on its toolbar, Download Updates.

  2. Choose which of the available updates you want to download by placing a checkmark on their left. Click on Download to have NTLite download the files to local storage (it mentions the folder where they’re stored at the bottom of the window, under 2. Download). Click on Verify to check their hashes, and if everything’s OK, click on Enqueue to add them to NTLite’s list for inclusion in your customized installation media.

Integrating Options via NTLite

With your Windows version loaded in NTLite, you’ll see a new series of options appearing on the left of its window. Each of those leads to a sub-page with options about your customized Windows installation. The first is Integrate, our first stop.

  • The Updates page allows you to add such packages to the OS. This also taps into what we saw in the previous section, downloading more official Windows updates for inclusion in your customized OS installation. You can add more packages and customize the options using a paid version of NTLite. On the free tier, you can use the list on the left to remove “stuff” from your Windows installation. The change will be reflected in the State column.

  • Even more helpful is NTLite’s support for integrating drivers in your Windows installation. Is your PC using an obscure storage controller Windows can’t detect during installation? Would you like your sound system and gamepad working out-of-the-box? Move to the Drivers page, click on Add and choose Directory containing drivers from its submenu. Then, point NTLite to the directory where you’ve extracted the drivers for a device you want “supported” by the “mutated” version of the Windows setup you’re creating.

  • You can also add Registry tweaks by loading REG files similarly from NTLite’s Registry page. However, we’ll skip that for this guide. Those who need it already know how to use it. Those who don’t should better leave it as is and don’t try tweaking the Registry in any way.

Removing Features With NTLite

Another feature that’s unfortunately restricted in the free version is NTLite’s ability to remove Windows components.

By moving to the Remove sub-pages, Components and Scheduled Tasks, you can remove “such stuff” from your future installation-to-be.

We won’t go through the pretty extensive lists since everyone’s needs are different. Where one might find support for Bluetooth useless, another might require it but prefer to wave goodbye to Internet Explorer.

Note that, as we said, this functionality is somewhat restricted in the free version: you can’t touch the components that appear in blue.

Configuring Windows via NTLite

NTLite’s page, where you’ll probably spend most of your time, Configure contains the most essential tweaks.

  • Visit the Features sub-page and check its list to add or remove support for features like handwriting recognition. You’ll probably want to keep useful apps, like Wordpad. Feel free to remove things you find useless, like support for Windows Mixed Reality or Windows Developer Mode.

  • You may find yourself spending hours on the Settings sub-page. It’s not that it contains hundreds of entries or is complicated. You’ll probably find it hard to decide how to change the available options.
    • Would you like to see desktop icons for My Computer, Network, and the Recycle Bin?
    • How should the Taskbar look?
    • Should its icons be aligned to the left or centered?

    Those are the kind of hard choices that can keep you up all night.

  • The Services sub-page is similar in that you can decide which services, as in “background processes”, you want to keep running automatically, manually, or fully disable. The defaults should work for most people, but seasoned geeks may spend hours pondering if they should disable Telephony or the Touch Keyboard and Handwriting Panel Service.

  • It’s probably best to skip the Extra Services sub-page since it lists hardware-related services primarily. Without them, some hardware – like PCMCIA cards – may not work. Only tweak the options within if you really know what you’re doing.

Automating the Process With NTLite

Most people can also skip the Automate sub-page, whose options are more valuable to system administrators and IT support managing many PCs in parallel.

From this spot, you can, for example, change the default Windows locale, pre-add user accounts so you won’t have to set them up during or after installation, etc.

Applying All Your Changes

The last stop is a visit to the Apply sub-page, where you can change some final options about how the customized Windows installation media will be created.

We suggest you choose the option Save the image and trim editions to remove files related to the Windows editions you don’t plan on using. This way, the produced media will be “lighter” and easier to manage.

Ensure Create ISO is selected since ISOs are easier to burn on optical media or write to USB Flash Drives.

Choose where you want to store your ISO, check the pending tasks on the right, and if you’re happy with them, click the Process button on the top left.

That was it! Soon you’ll have a new Windows installation ISO in your chosen folder. You can use it to install a lighter and pre-customized version of Windows on any computer or virtual machine.

Note: We suggest a test drive in a virtual machine before deploying the installation on an actual PC on which you rely for your daily work. There’s always a slight chance something won’t work as expected.

A Perfect Windows, Right Out Of the Box

If you like your copy of Windows the way you want it, NTLite makes it easy to customize it before installation. Now you can make the perfect OS before it even touches your hard drive.

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