Just got around to reading the updates to this thread, yep should have mentioned about the Group Policy Preferences download. I would have posted that right now if you hadn't already figured it out
As for activating windows, you need to look at installing KMS on a server which will sort out the activations for you. Read the following:
Deploying KMS Activation
Looking into this more, do branded laptops automatically activate windows when using an OEM licence key (something to do with reading a BIOS code on the machine?)
I have found 2 pretty good articles which easily explain how to configure sysprep for Windows 7 at:
Sysprep a Windows 7 Machine
how can I join a Domain using Windows SIM - www.windows-noob.com
On a Win 7 client, I have tried using the same GPOs and config used for the Windows XP setup and everything seems to be working fine, although I expect after more testing I may find problems.
Currently in the same boat as you but I'm a noob with WDS too
Other WDS related sites I found which might help you.
For capturing and deploying using WDS:
how can I CAPTURE an Image using WDS - www.windows-noob.com
how can I DEPLOY an image captured using WDS ? - www.windows-noob.com
And for injecting Network Card drivers into boot.wim
How To Mount and Inject Drivers into Windows 7 PE 3.0 | Commodore.ca | Windows
And that is pretty much everything you need to know on how to use WDS on 2008 R2.
Also sysprep for XP is much easier than for Windows 7.
For XP you just need to run setupmgr.exe in the sysprep folder which allows you to create an answer file called sysprep.inf to automate most of the setup process.
I also came across some older RM laptops which would just not work with WDS, despite injecting the network driver into boot.wim. The only workaround I could find was after running sysprep (XP) instead of using WDS was to use Ghost from a Hirens Boot CD and an external USB hard drive to capture a Ghost image. To quickly apply the images I took the hard drives out the laptops, connected them to a PC, copied the Ghost image back onto them and then plugged them back in the laptops. For individual rebuilds I now just use the external USB HDD and Hirens.
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