Last years I created many Windows XP and Windows 7 reference images with software updates in it. With ConfigMgr 2012 it was also needed to create a reference image, but installing software updates was a lot easier. This because of a new feature: Offline Servicing, which installs software updates offline in the reference image. More about Offline Servicing can be found HERE. With ConfigMgr 2012 SP1 and Windows 8 support it will be easier again. How about that!?
In ConfigMgr 2012 SP1 the Build and Capture proces is updated to apply image in place of Setup.exe installation. It's possible now to use a Windows 7 or Windows 8 INSTALL.WIM from installation media directly in ConfigMgr. This because the D: issue (which was the reason for a reference image) is fixed. When using a Windows 7 or Windows 8 INSTALL.WIM it will be installed on the C: drive now. Just use Offline servicing and you have a up-to-date reference image! (software updates were another reason for building a reference image before SP1)
For Windows 7 there's an additional "Apply operating system action" needed. Just add "OSDPreserveDriveLetter=False" before the Apply OS step, which allows the task sequence to auto-correct the D: issue. Windows 8 will be installed on the C: drive by default, so now worries about that. Over time, Microsoft will deprecate Setup.exe installations for Windows operating systems.
When you want to install applications in the reference image (because of faster deployment) just deploy the INSTALL.WIM in a Build and Capture proces. Then add some applications and/or scripts and capture the image again. Nice to see that Imaging in ConfigMgr 2012 SP1 is better and easier again, but there's still much to learn on this topic!