Deploying Windows 7 to new NVMe drives


When new laptops such as the ThinkPad P50 started showing up with NVMe drives, many people ran into issues when they tried to use their typical deployment process to apply Windows 7.  The gotchas that folks weren't aware of at the time were:
  1. NVMe drives only work when the computer is configured for UEFI boot
  2. Based on #1, NVMe drives need to be formatted GPT instead of MBR
  3. The original Windows 7 SP1 install source files do not include support for NVMe drives
To get around these and successfully deploy Windows 7 the computer had to be configured for UEFI with CSM support.  This provides an emulator layer on top of UEFI to provide support for the older OS.  When UEFI is enabled, the 64-bit version of Windows 7 is required - cannot support 32-bit with UEFI.

Additionally, instead of deploying Windows 7 SP1 original bits, you have to deploy a captured WIM of Windows 7 SP1 which has been updated to include the Microsoft supplied NVMe drivers (https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/kb/2990941).  If you are using PXE boot to initiate your deployment it is recommended you use WinPE 5 or 10 as these have built-in support for NVMe drives.

So these challenges are not insurmountable; however, some folks may not want to make the change to UEFI boot for their Windows 7 deployments and don't want to switch to GPT partitions on their drives.  To address this, Lenovo has published BIOS updates for most of the commercial-class ThinkPads to add support for Legacy boot of NVMe drives.  NOTE: This now means a fully patched Windows 7 32-bit image can be deployed to NVMe drives.

The following lists the versions in which this update was added for the various models:
  • ThinkPad T460s                    version 1.11 or newer
  • ThinkPad Yoga 260                 version 1.41 or newer
  • ThinkPad X1 Carbon(4th), X1 Yoga  version 1.14 or newer
  • ThinkPad P70                      version 2.03 or newer
  • ThinkPad P50                      version 1.24 or newer
  • ThinkPad T560 and P50s            version 1.06 or newer
  • ThinkPad T460p                    version 2.04 or newer
  • ThinkPad T460                     version 1.10 or newer
  • ThinkPad X260                     version 1.19 or newer 

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