It's still a LOT faster than XP. The install takes just a few minutes. You can use the quick format to save time as well.
It's reinstalling drivers, software etc that takes time. Then let it update overnight.
You don't have to use a 3rd party program to make an image, Windows 7 has that ability on its own. It does however have to be stored on a separate drive from the OS install.
You can even update the image as you update your drivers if you want to learn to do so.
Once you get everything how you like it, create the image. Next time you can have this done in just a few minutes and just have to run updates.