An IT team member installs a new image on a laptop while working at a desktop station

What Is Computer Imaging?

An essential part of device life cycle management, computer imaging prepares new devices with the operating system (OS), applications, and settings that end users need to be productive.

Key Takeaways

  • PC imaging installs a preconfigured OS, software, and settings onto a device for business use.

  • Device imaging is resource intensive, but cloud-based services help streamline the process for fast and cost-efficient deployments.

  • Traditional device imaging is still valuable because it provides more control, trust, and enhanced device security.

  • Intel vPro® technology helps businesses extend the value of their device fleets with features like platform stability and remote manageability.



Computer Imaging Is a Question of Overhead

Computer imaging is an essential step to preparing PCs, laptops, and tablets for end users. IT departments spend considerable time and resources on device imaging, which has been a well-understood process for decades. The question has become: how can an IT organization image and provision the devices it needs in the most efficient manner?

PC Imaging: Traditional vs. Cloud Based

In a traditional device-imaging use case, IT staff creates a golden image that serves as the primary template for the devices they want to distribute to their workforce. Organizations may maintain multiple golden images—one for each device model they want to support—but creating and maintaining all of these images is a tedious process.

Device imaging has entered a transformative era that increasingly relies on cloud-based imaging services such as Windows Autopilot. In this model, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) will ship devices directly to end users. When an end user first logs in, services such as Autopilot will automatically download the OS, apps, files, and settings directly to the device.

Benefits of Traditional Computer Imaging

Traditional device imaging gives IT departments the most control over their workforce’s devices. IT staff members have direct access to devices, and the imaging process replaces any existing OS and software. As a result, decision-makers have assurance that the hardware and software they deploy is exactly what they expect it to be.

It’s important to note that cloud-based imaging services won’t work for every business. Businesses and workers dealing with sensitive data or intellectual property (IP) may prefer traditional device imaging, as the additional effort pays off with enhanced trust and security.

Benefits of Cloud-Based Imaging

In its present state, cloud-based imaging can meet the needs of many businesses and is regarded by many IT professionals as the emerging standard. Cloud-based imaging services offer advantages in speed and cost efficiency, but some organizations may consider this process risky, with less direct control over the imaging process.

Because OEMs ship devices directly to end users, there is less visibility and control into what goes into a device, and there are vulnerabilities in the go-between stages leading up to final delivery into the users’ hands. However, the near future will likely bring innovations in platform hardening that will help ease these security concerns, as the state of the industry will seek to eliminate the need for device imaging as much as possible, especially to support remote workforces.

“Cloud-based imaging services remove a lot of the costs associated with device imaging, but they also remove a lot of the control over what goes into your device.”

Thick and Thin Device Images

IT’s goal in successful device imaging is lowering overhead as much as possible while delivering functional devices into users’ hands. To help meet this goal, organizations can choose between thick device images and thin device images.

  • A thin device image consists of the Windows OS as Microsoft delivered it, with some essential apps and tools layered on top. The purpose of a thin image is to be generic and simple enough to work for the majority of a business’s device fleet. The key benefits to thin device images include simplicity, speed, cost efficiency, and easier manageability over time.
  • A thick device image includes a specific OS version, software tools, and drivers while also being tailored for a specific device. Organizations with multiple devices will therefore require multiple thick images, which demand the most effort and overhead. However, the key benefits of a thick device image are maximum consistency and control. Additionally, once devices loaded with these images are delivered into the users’ hands, users can start being productive immediately without having to install much or anything else.

Imaging and PC Life Cycle Management

Businesses are constantly buying and deploying new devices to equip new hires, replace downed devices, and upgrade old hardware. The good news is that device imaging is a well-understood challenge for businesses and solution providers of all sizes. As a technology leader, Intel provides platform assurance to aid device imaging efforts as part of the Intel® Stable IT Platform Program (Intel® SIPP), available on all devices built on the Intel vPro® platform.

Intel® SIPP Makes Life Easier for Your IT Department

Intel® SIPP aims for no major changes to a product for a minimum of 15 months from Intel’s launch of a new Intel® SIPP platform. For IT departments that rely on golden images across device batches, they can provision new devices without having to change the golden image. As a result, IT can spend less time on imaging, while improved fleet stability leads to higher productivity and less downtime overall.

Read more about the benefits of standardizing on a single silicon platform in this IDC white paper, including fleet stability, time savings, and improved user experience.

Remotely Reimage Devices in Enterprise Environments

Remote workforces are a key instrument of digital transformation, but managing a remote device fleet introduces numerous complications to the imaging process, especially for repairing downed devices. Intel vPro® Enterprise for Windows1 features modern manageability tools such as Intel® Active Management Technology (Intel® AMT)2 3, which gives IT departments the tools to remotely remedy and even reimage devices. Intel® Endpoint Management Assistant (Intel® EMA) extends these capabilities to devices connected over the cloud, outside the corporate firewall.

A Stable Platform for Modern Businesses

The Intel vPro® platform supports IT departments and users alike with professional grade performance, multilayer security, remote manageability, and reliable stability. Intel vPro® is the unrivaled business computing platform for organizations of all sizes.1 Learn more about Intel vPro® to get started.


Frequently Asked Questions

Computer imaging software refers to any application that enables IT staff members to manage and install an image on a device or batch of devices. Device imaging has traditionally been a manual process, requiring IT staff to install images onto devices directly over secure connections in the corporate network. Cloud-based provisioning allows OEMs to ship new devices to end users directly, after which apps, services, and settings are automatically installed on devices over the public cloud.

PC cloning or disk cloning creates a perfect copy of a device’s information, including files and settings, and transfers the copy to another device. This clone is identical, byte for byte, across both devices.

Laptop imaging or device imaging is the process of installing an OS, applications, and settings to a batch of devices from a single image, often referred to as a golden image. Device imaging is an early step in device life cycle management.

Provisioning refers to preparing a device for handing off to an end user. In many cases this process starts with imaging the device to install an operating system, applications, and settings to meet the user’s expectations and needs.