Guide: Quality Control


Well-Known Member
This post contains information about how to efficiently pursue Windows and NTLite tweaking, resulting in a much higher quality image, free of bugs and quirks, saving you a ton of time and headache in the long run.

Whether you are using NTLite, Windows registry files, or post-install modifications and tools, it is best to divide your tweaks into layers (group things together according to similarity). In other words if you are focusing on doing a lot of component removals and registry file integration in NTLite, then create an image that only has component removals and make sure it all works as you expect, before trying to merge those removals into other layers, such as registry file integration, Windows update integration, etcetera.

If you are not sure what a layer is, then just load an image into NTLite and look at the options on the left menu. Notice how there are different sections to click on, like Drivers and Registry? Those are all examples of layers.

By far the most important quality control aspect, is when using NTLite, try to process things in a logical order, and separately. The order that things are processed matters a lot in an image. Specifically, you should always perform the following types of tweaks in this order:

Windows Update > Process > Remove Components > Process > Integrate reg files > Process

Never try to combine any of these 3 steps together in any combination to process all at once, and do not put them into a different order, or you have a chance of experiencing issues in general due to things being overwritten and/or conflicting.

Now, with that being said, NTLite does try to address this in the way it processes, but if you want to preemptively eliminate as many potential issues as possible then this is the way to do it. Windows is a complicated beast, and NTLite is always going to be playing catch up because it is difficult to stay on top of Windows since it keeps being updated all the time.

Do not combine external layers until you are completely done. This means that after you are done processing component removals in NTLite for example, install that into a non-VM machine and test it. Do not try to merge other complexities into your initial testing, such as VM or Sysprep, because these have their own quirks and workarounds that will take time to learn.

Things like VM and Sysprep are layers you need to tackle at the very end of all your tweaking, after everything has been fully vetted and completely free of issues. People might think VM is something useful for this kind of tweaking, but a real Windows install behaves differently than it does in a VM and so a lot of people are experiencing issues that normally are not present for 99% of all computer users out there, since most people do not use a VM (or Sysprep).

Make sure that all of the tweaks stick for the first user created, and that nothing is overwritten by the operating system once you have reached the desktop. On that note, also create a 2nd user after you have reached the desktop, and login to that account to see if all of your tweaks applied there.

If your tweaks do not stick on the 2nd user, then go back to the drawing board because more than likely the method used for your tweaks that did not apply to the 2nd user, are not the best approach. In most cases you can get almost all Windows tweaking to apply to all users, not just the first one created.

Registry compare tools are extremely helpful in tweaking Windows. What they do is allow you to capture which registry keys change and to what value, when you toggle a Windows setting from on to off and vice versa.

There is a hidden problem to consider when using these tools though. There are places in Windows that will automatically pull a lot of default keys and apply them to the same tree you are working in. Inexperienced users will capture all of these, resulting in a lot of extraneous keys that are not needed.

To see this for yourself in action, and to learn how to avoid it, go and create a snapshot. Now toggle a setting, such as “Enable automatic crash recovery” inside the Advanced tab of the Internet Properties in the Control Panel. Then check the tool and see how the before and after snapshots compare to each other. You will notice there are a ton of extra keys that were modified inside the Internet Settings registry tree. However, you should not be using all of those keys, because what is happening is that Windows is pulling all of the other relevant default keys and putting them in the tree you are manipulating.

So to address this issue, create another snapshot, now toggle the “Enable automatic crash recovery” back the other direction, and compare that. Notice how it only changes 1 key this time? That is the key you actually needed. This is how you should approach every setting in Windows, to avoid ending up with extraneous keys, otherwise it will confuse and clutter your registry files.

While testing out your tweaks it is always best to do so without an active internet connection.

Windows now has quite a few self-healing capabilities that can cause problems along the way. For example, during the Windows Setup phase and user provisioning, if you are online it will try to run Windows Update, the Microsoft Store, as well as updating things like Defender. This will cause quite a few registry keys and other files to be overwritten, thus overriding some of your tweaks. The same thing happens once you reach the desktop, and the scheduled tasks eventually run, causing everything to update again.

There are a few options to combat this. You could integrate all of the Windows Updates into your base image and process it first, then go about your tweaking, layering things on top of that image. Another option is to add some registry keys to pause Windows Update, to stop the Microsoft Store from automatically downloading, and to disable Defender. Alternatively, you could disable their services. Having no internet is usually the best option though, because then it is impossible for Windows to download anything.

Once you are all done testing your image, you can enable these things again if desired, and then see what kinds of settings continue to be overwritten that you will need to fix in a post-install scenario. Trying to test things while Windows is actively fighting against you, will just result in more headaches, and cause extra issues that can be avoided by doing it this way.

Do not post any tweaks to the forum for other people to use, that you have not documented or tested. This is why there are so many bad tweaks on the internet nowadays, because there is way too much copy/paste regurgitation going on.

It is a huge problem, because inexperienced people try to use these solutions and then run into all sorts of issues, to which they come to forums like this one to post for help, and then members have to spend a bunch of time trying to solve things that should not have existed to begin with.

Build things from the ground up properly, thoroughly test it all, and document everything along the way, regardless of whether you plan on posting your solutions online or not.

I cannot stress this enough, all solutions should be in the simplest and cleanest form whenever possible, and organized for easy readability. I have read through so many solutions when I was building my own image, that were so unnecessarily complicated that I could not wrap my head around them, or I just did not want to use them because I knew there had to be an easier way.

For example, if a solution uses a lot of post-install commands and 3rd party tools, I often find I can accomplish the same thing with just a few simple registry keys. Once you come up with a solution, take a step back and then re-evaluate it and see how complicated it is to explain your solution to another person. If it is too difficult to explain, too much work to document it, or requires 3rd party tools, then that is a pretty good indicator that your solution is not clean or simple, and more than likely there is a better way to do it.

Keep in mind that most 3rd party tools are really just toggling a registry key directly, or entering a command that has the operating system toggle a key. You could take a registry compare tool and capture these settings and quickly come to realize that a lot of tools are not doing nearly as complicated work in the background as you think they are, and instead you could integrate these things straight into your image without the need of a tool.

Bad drivers are a huge source of issues for many users, and this is because of Windows Update and 3rd party "driver updating" tools. It is important to discuss this topic because bad drivers can result in lower framerates in games, DPC issues, errors, and crashing. Learning how to handle drivers the right way will save a lot of headache, and greatly improve performance.

If you are an advanced tech then by all means do what you want to do, and if you find problems you can troubleshoot them. But otherwise, I strongly recommend against using Windows Update or any 3rd party tool to download drivers, for one huge reason; the hardware matching that they do is quite often incorrect, and you will end up with broken drivers.

This issue has existed forever, on every computer I have ever owned or worked on, going all the way back to Windows XP. Windows Update will consistantly download an incorrect driver on almost every machine I have seen. It should be noted that a lot of these 3rd party driver tools just scrape the Microsoft Catalog for drivers, essentially replicating what Windows Update already does anyway.

To give you very recent real world examples, I have a custom built desktop that is old, and a brand new laptop. If I let Windows Update install drivers for both of them, right now, Windows Update will pull an outdated Nvidia display driver for my desktop which comes with a broken Nvidia control panel (cannot open it). On my laptop it will download an HP monitoring tool that is not required in any way for the laptop to function, and then every time I reboot the laptop it throws an error.

The only way to solve these issues is to not allow Windows Update to download drivers and to manually get them from the official sources instead. Sometimes this can be difficult on an old computer because official sources will remove legacy drivers from their website over time, and in those cases you have to do some detective work to find the right driver from a trustworthy website that archives them. Be sure to save all of your drivers somewhere so you do not lose them, because it will only get harder to find them again in the future.

For more guides like this one, visit the following link:
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Staff member
NTLite in licensed mode has an Updates download wizard, but you're free to use 3rd-party update downloader, or download KB's directly from Microsoft's Catalog site. Afterwards, you have to import the updates by folder or filename.

You can still integrate updates in free mode, it's just extra work. If you're in the habit of making ISO's over and over, or managing different Windows versions then licensing is a benefit.