How to Install Windows 7 to NVMe SSD
Contrary to the popular belief, Windows 7 can be installed to modern hardware like NVMe and Optane solid state drives — and it will be fast on these storage devices, much faster than Windows 10. It just needs proper drivers.
This article explains how to avoid "No drives were found" warning during installation of Windows 7 to NVMe solid-state drive.
1. Symptoms of the problem
During Windows 7 installation to NVMe solid state drive the following warning appears:
2. Solution — Method #1
Download driver files from vendor of your NVMe solid state disk and put them to USB thumbdrive.
At the very minimum, you need to have .sys, .inf and .cat files on your USB thumbdrive.
Then USB thumbdrive with driver files should be supplied to Windows setup as required.
You must not have any .exe or .zip files on your USB thumbdrive. If there are any .exe or .zip files on USB thumbdrive, then you are doing it wrong and drivers in such form will be outright rejected by Windows setup.
It is especially important not to intermix driver and OS bitness. If you are installing 64-bit Windows, then you must provide 64-bit drivers. If you are installing 32-bit Windows, then you must provide 32-bit drivers. For certain subset of .inf files, Windows is not able to detect wrong bitness of the driver and relies on your honesty and attentiveness.
3. Solution — Method #2
If previous method didn't work, then you need to integrate NVMe SSD driver into Windows setup image. Some of NVMe drivers are boot-class only, it means they must start simultaneously with Windows kernel, before Windows GUI is loaded. This applies to Windows Setup GUI as well.
Just use FlashBoot Pro. FlashBoot will prepare Windows installation USB thumbdrive with slipstreamed drivers, so you can quickly and easily install Windows 7 to any new computer, even on the NVMe SSD.
FlashBoot will automatically detect target Windows bitness and version, and slipstream only matching drivers. FlashBoot contains big collection of builtin USB 3.0, NVMe and RAID drivers. Besides that, FlashBoot can also slipstream user-supplied drivers.
4. How to extract .sys, .inf and .cat files from driver installation .exe file
If you are sideloading NVMe/RAID driver via USB thumbdrive during Windows 7 installation, or if you are integrating custom (not FlashBoot-builtin) driver to Windows 7 installation media using FlashBoot Pro, then you need to provide the driver in form of .sys, .inf and .cat files. But what if your hardware manufacturer provides only .exe file (or .exe file enclosed in .zip file) for download?
You can extract .sys, .inf and .cat files from driver installation .exe file in the following way:>
5. Case study: Samsung NVMe SSD and Intel RSTe RAID
Samsung NVMe SSD controller and Intel RSTe RAID controller (C600+ and C220+ series chipset) represent a special class of devices. These devices are fully compatible with Windows 7 and Windows 2008 Server, but correct integration of their drivers into Windows Setup is possible only with FlashBoot Pro and totally not possible using other driver integration tools.
This is because of a bug in Microsoft Windows offline servicing stack and Setup API. More specifically, after non-FlashBoot integration of the specified drivers, UpperFilters and LowerFilters registry values under HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\CriticalDeviceDatabase registry key are clobbered with unexpected data from the registry key of unrelated device class.
Unlike other driver integration tools, FlashBoot Pro does not use Microsoft Windows offline servicing stack and Setup API, so does not inherit aforementioned bug.