Installing Windows XP from a network. RIS, but not Microsoft

PXE and the process of network boot

The standard PXE (Preboot Execution Environment) allows to transfer the network card into one of the devices, from which a computer can boot up. At first Intel started developing this standard, even in 1999, and then other computer industry giants like 3Com, HP, Dell, Compaq got involved in the development process. The standard became adopted. And now it's probably not possible to find a modern network adapter to support PXE.

Of course, it's not enough to use one PXE to help the computer to boot up. The TFTP and DHCP servers have to be available.

The process of network boot can be simply described as follows.

When the computer is turned on, PXE loader, located in the network adapter memory (boot ROM), starts working. The network card sends a request to the DHCP server to receive an IP address. Having received the request, DHCP notifies the network card about the IP address, network mask, TFTP server address and the downloading file name. After processing the received data, PXE addresses the TFTP server and downloads the file. Having received the file, PXE stops working and transfers the control to the downloading program.

What can we do, if the the network card does not have PXE

You can use the utility, that is included in the distributed version of Windows 2000 Server and Windows 2003, called "Microsoft Windows Remote Boot Disk Generator" (rbfg.exe). A boot disk is created with the help of this program; this disk includes an executing code PXE and this way it allows to perform a boot from a network. Unfortunately, this utility is limited by supporting only 32 network adapters. If you haven't found your network card in the list of supported devices, it is worth it to pay attention to the website ROM-o-matic.net. At the moment of writing this article, this site supported 290 network cards.