OEM sysprep, image, and Depoy

I have 15 brand new HP laptops with Win 7 x64 downgrade preinstalled.  I’m looking to remove bloatware,  install all required software and otherwise customize one laptop and then image and then deploy to the remaining laptops.  
So I fired up one and entered into Audit mode.  I then updated, uninstalled bloatware, installed required software and updates, customized, etc. and then ran sysprep with a pretty basic answer file that I know works.  Everything goes smooth (no errors) and the machine shuts down after sysprep is complete.
 I fire up the machine to make sure everything took.  It goes through the oobe, however it appears that none of my answer file was being applied because it’s prompting for language, time zone, new user, etc. which it shouldn’t be.   I thought maybe I screwed up on the name of the file or when I put it in the command line; I checked and I didn’t.
On top of going through the oobe without processing my unattend.xml, when I get to the desktop of my new user (because I have to create one during oobe setup), the default profile which I customized in Audit Mode was never copied over as it should have been; it’s back to the OEM look.  
I feel like there is an OEM answer file or some sort of setup file that is being processed instead of the one I specify when performing sysprep.  
Any thoughts?

Also….I’m kind of stuck because then I thought “I’ll just do a clean install of Windows 7, then sysprep and deploy”…but the Activation key is embedded in BIOS and I don’t know how activation works without the OEM setup pulling the key from the BIOS.

Attached is my unattend.xml below just in case
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Zac HarrisSystems Administrator Commented:
Can you post the command line you used to process sysprep?
Zac HarrisSystems Administrator Commented:
Im also looking at your answer file and there are 15 errors so it doesn't validate. I am stepping through it to see how much of that is because Im not on your system that created the file and how much of it is actual issues
Zac HarrisSystems Administrator Commented:
Also, where are you putting your answer file?
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Zac HarrisSystems Administrator Commented:
Ok, I looked into your xml and it appears that the SkipUserOOBE was not set to true. Yes, I understand this is a "deprecated" setting, but only in the eyes of Microsoft. I still use it with zero issues.

A validation flag will appear in MSIM but it's more of a hey look at me notification. They don't want you to use it because the system could be setup incorrectly and with that setting being used, it would render the system unusable since no system account is created. However, since you are both activating the Administrator account and creating an additional user account, you should be fine. Again, I have used it to image well over 5000 machines at one time with no  issues.

As far as there being an alternate unattend file, you are correct. There is another place that contains an unattend file. That file gets processed if you use the GUI sysprep window. Since you aren't doing that it should be fine. I have copied the settings from your unattend file and re-created it in MSIM (attached) you are welcome to it if you want it. The only thing I changed was the SkipUserOOBE to "True".
David Johnson, CD, MVPOwnerCommented:
amd64-microsoft-shell-setup_neutral Timezone
US Eastern Standard Time is incorrect
Eastern Standard Time is the correct value
Lee W, MVPTechnology and Business Process AdvisorCommented:
OEM editions are NOT SUPPORTED for imaging.  You need to rebuild using a VOLUME LICENSE copy.  Then you can deploy.  And you won't have to worry about any OEM answer files!
David Johnson, CD, MVPOwnerCommented:
Dell's Thoughts on Sysprep/OEM https://www.dell.com/support/article/us/en/19/SLN167634
Microsoft Unsupported Sysprep https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/kb/828287

There is one supported scenario and it involves when the machine is first powered on and in OOBE before it has been activated. That is to use factory mode CTRL-SHIFT-F3 do your changes and then sysprep /reseal  and then use that image.
BrianAuthor Commented:
Zac, here's the command line : C:\Windows\System32\Sysprep>sysprep /generalize /oobe /shutdown /unattend:unattend.xml; and I put the unattend.xml in C:\windows\system32\sysprep.
David Johnson, CD, MVPOwnerCommented:
if you are in audit mode all you need is sysprep /reseal /shutdown

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