Although I was looking for a pre-installed linux laptop, found a too-good deal on a thinkpad x230t with sufficient capabilities for xen server needs while in a compact 12" formfactor.
Step 1: Shrink the volume on the default Windows 7 install.
Windows provides better support now adays for volume resizing. If you go to the control panel, search for 'partition' as a key word, you will see the disk management tools. This provides you the ability to shrink the volume....sort of. It appears it isn't an exact tool, and you will need to shrink, reboot, defrag, reboot, then shrink some more...repeating....until you get to the target size desired. I was aiming for 120GB, and it took 4 tries to get there.
Step 2: Backup the Windows image
Although there is the familiar Ghost image software if you have the money, I wanted to look at alternatives. Lenovo provide it's own backup/restore software that looks like it would work well. I got a backup USB harddrive (not USB flash), and the Lenovo Thinkvantage backup/restore did the MBR and backup images flawlessly. However, being an individual that wanted to avoid lockin, and try to move towards automation/repeatable provisioning, I kept looking.
Cobbler is a tool I'm keep falling back to for image-based provisioning (versus kickstart-based installs), and it has support for provisioning images from Clonezilla (http://clonezilla.org). Clonezilla has support for Windows imaging, sharing my findings:
1) Reformat your external device (usb harddrive in my case) to have a smaller partition, such as 250MB, with a FAT32 filesystem as the first partition on that device. This is important to avoid a lot of trial/error - other versions of FAT will not work, and too-large volume causes problems. Don't worry, you still want a second partition that is much larger (at least 32GB) to store the actual images.
2) Use tuxboot.exe. Clonezilla highly recommends it, and they are right to do so. Once you get the partition straightened out, everything else is cakewalk. And, yes, you can use it directly from Windows without requiring to have a linux install.
3) plug your device into the Windows machine you want to image. If it is only for one machine, good-to-go. If you are trying to create a 'gold image' for distributing to multiple machines at once, look into 'sysprep' and other tools to prepare the windows install.
4) reboot your machine, and use your bios to choose the alternate start location. If you do not see your device, some of the USB3.0 ports/devices are not recognizable as bootable locations, so plug into a usb2.0 port to be sure.
5) the provided directions with clonezilla were excellent! If you want to review beforehand, you can check their site. Create the image, store it in the large partition, takes about 40min (minimal windows install) to create image then do a double check.
That is all for tonight, more updates later.....