Big Bang LLC – Universal Imaging Utility V4.5 review

convert Windows PC into hardware-independent image for cloning
Photo of Big Bang LLC – Universal Imaging Utility V4.5
£12.68 + VAT (per seat), £8.88 + VAT (academic users)

Building new PCs can be a tedious and time consuming job, especially if you’ve lots to configure. Disk imaging tools help but you’ll need multiple images to cope with the various bits of hardware and other options employed by different vendors. Which is where the Universal Imaging Utility (UIU) comes in, by enabling a single disk image to be used to clone any computer, desktop or notebook, regardless of model or make.

Despite the name, the UIU isn’t a disk imaging utility. Instead it takes an ordinary Windows PC and puts it into a pre-install state complete with an exhaustive database of drivers to handle just about any desktop or laptop configuration you’re likely to meet. You can then create just one image of that system, using any imaging software you want, and deploy it to your target PCs. Boot those PCs and the UIU software works out what hardware is being used and installs the appropriate drivers from the on-board database, with the end result being a working system regardless of vendor or model involved.

We’ve looked at the Universal Imaging Utility before and were impressed with what it could do. Now there’s an updated version (V4.5) which is even more capable, the most obvious enhancement being support for Windows 7. There’s support too for all the Windows XP service packs and Vista with SP2. Plus you can now use UIU 4.5 to put Windows 7 on Intel based Apple Mac hardware, either standalone or as part of a dual-boot Apple Boot Camp setup.

The interface also comes in for a few tweaks here and there, but the procedures involved remain more or less the same, with a wizard to take you through the various steps involved. That includes a best practices integrity check to identify and fix any potential problems on the master PC before it’s imaged, plus the use of Microsoft sysprep to create a suitable answer file to automate the setup procedure when the cloned image is installed.

One issue with the Universal Imaging Utility approach has always been the size of the drive database which, with over 26,000 drivers, can add well over 2GB to the image created. Because of that an optional discovery tool was introduced in the last release, to work out exactly what hardware is in use on target PCs and prune the database of un-needed drivers. This too gets enhanced in 4.5, to make it more accurate, plus it can now be used regardless of the operating system installed.

In terms of performance, the developers reckon on being able to build the master system in under ten minutes. A claim borne out in our tests, but you do then have to create the image and take into account the time needed to install it. Despite which the UIU can be a big time saver, not least because it significantly reduces the number of disk images you need to build and maintain in the first place.

Of course it’s not perfect. We used the UIU in combination with Acronis disk imaging software and had no real problems cloning XP, Vista or Windows 7 systems, whether real or on virtual machines. However, there’s no 64-bit support at all (it’s due to be added later in 2010), you can’t use the product on servers and it won’t install drivers for external devices like USB disks or printers. Plus it’s clearly aimed at technicians already used to using disk imaging software. In its favour we found the software easy enough to follow with plenty of accompanying documentation, but you do need to know what you’re doing.

Another issue is that, although the Universal Imaging Utility will use Microsoft sysprep to reset the Windows SID during cloning, you will still need a volume licence agreement to avoid having to license and activate each cloned copy individually. More than that, the minimum licence for UIU itself is now 100 seats, putting it beyond the reach of most small businesses.

But then smaller companies have little to gain from its use, whereas the Universal Imaging Utility will quickly pay for itself in larger companies, schools, colleges and other organisations with large numbers of PCs to deploy.

Company: Big Bang LLC

Contact: 0800 404 9282

Not a disk imaging tool in its own right, the Universal Imaging Utility converts a Windows PC into a hardware independent configuration ready for cloning to any other make or model of desktop or notebook PC. Compatible with all the leading imaging tools, the latest version includes support for Windows 7 and enhanced hardware discovery options. It's not a small business solution and it is a bit technical, but it could be a significant time saver in organisations looking to roll-out and maintain large numbers of new PCs.