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In The Lab
Multi-booting - The Hard Way
by chris

Last month I presented the preferred method of creating a multi-boot configuration with Windows XP and Vista. Simply put, this requires little more than installing each OS to its own partition or hard drive, starting with the oldest OS version first and installing the next newer OS version next until all Windows versions have been installed and appended to the start menu.

But what if you bought a new computer that comes with Microsoft Windows Vista already installed? And many of the newer computer systems do not come with Windows Vista media, but use a recovery partition on the hard drive (although most will give you an option to create a system recovery DVD from this backup).

CautionBecause there is a very real risk to your system image and any data you might have created on the drive -- make sure you have anything really important backed up to another drive or media before starting. If you have not created a system recovery disk as prompted, you want to make sure to do this as well before going any further. I warn you to do this because the process that follows will make your existing Windows Vista installation non-bootable, and without Windows Vista install media or a system recovery disk, you will have no simple way of repairing that OS installation.

Creating a multi-boot configuration where Vista is the current OS

The first step is to make some room on the hard drive where you can install Windows XP. It will speed up the Windows XP install process by pre-formatting the partition as NTFS, allowing you to skip this step during setup. You can also give volume names to the existing Vista partition and the new XP partition to help remind you what's being installed where.

  1. Start (Vista) Disk Manager
    Click Start, right click "Computer", select "Manage".
    In the Computer Management window, select "Disk Management"
  1. Shrink the existing Vista partition to create a dedicated partition to install XP
    Right click on the C: (Disk 0) volume and select "Shrink Volume..."
  2. Enter the amount of space to shrink in MB: (the default is typically about 50% of the current volume, but this may vary depending on the size of the drive and what is currently installed)
    Click "Shrink" to start the process.
New Volume
  1. Create a primary partition on which to install XP
    Right click the new unallocated partition and select "New Simple Volume..."
XP Volume
  1. Follow the steps to create a New Simple Volume (Wizard)
    1. Click "Next"
    2. Accept the value for "Simple volume size in MB" and click "Next"
    3. Assign the following drive letter (change or accept) and click "Next"
    4. Format this volume with the following settings:
      File system: "NTFS"
      Allocation unit size: "default"
      Volume Label: "WinXP"
      Add a checkmark next to "Perform a quick format"
      Click "Next"
    5. Click "Finish" to create the new partition.
  1. Rename the existing Vista partition:
    Right click on the C: volume and select "Properties"
    On the General tab, enter a volume name ("Vista") in the box and click "OK"
  2. Close the Computer Management window and restart the system with your Windows XP media in the optical drive. Watch for the prompt to press a key to boot from CD, if you miss it, the system will restart into Vista. If this happens, restart and try again.
You should now have your hard drive divided into two partitions, one labeled Vista" and one called "XP". Nothing else has been changed, and you should still be able to restart the system into Vista without any strange messages (or the startup menu). Our next step is going to change the default OS from Vista back to XP. Because both are capable of accessing NTFS partitions, you will be able to see any files that remain on the Vista partition, although most programs will have to be reinstalled before you can access your data again.

Cannot Install XP If you install the Windows XP install CD, you should see the Auto-Run menu, but the option to install XP will be grayed out. To install XP you will have to restart the system and boot from the CD. If the system does not prompt to boot from the CD, check your BIOS Setup menu settings to make sure the boot sequence checks the Optical drive before the hard drive.

Install Windows XP:

  1. Boot from the Microsoft Windows XP CD-ROM
  2. Blue screen text Windows Setup: Welcome to Setup. Press "Enter" to continue.
  3. Windows XP Licensing agreement. Press "F8" to agree.
  4. Select "Partition 2 (WinXP) [NTFS]" to install XP on. Click "Enter" to start the install.
  5. Format the partition: Select "Leave the current file system intact (no changes)" and press Enter. (Setup will copy files and then reboot into GUI setup.)
  6. Regional and Language options. View or change, click "Next"
  7. Enter owner and company name and click "Next"
  8. Enter XP Product Key and click "Next"
  9. Enter the Computer name and the Administrator password and click "Next"
  10. Date and time settings. Select time zone, confirm date and time, and click "Next"
  11. Network Settings (if detected). Choose Typical settings, and click "Next"
  12. Workgroup or Computer Domain (XP Pro). Enter the workgroup name and click "Next" Setup should finish and then restart to the Windows Desktop and try to change your display resolution to 800x600. Confirm change to the display mode and to start the Windows "Out Of Box Experience" (OOBE).
Install drivers At The Windows desktop, install your chipset, audio, network, and video drivers, restarting as needed. Verify that all devices have been detected in Device Manager. In a few rare cases, you may find that Windows XP drivers do not exist for some of the newest hardware devices. If you cannot obtain XP drivers for the device, it will be tagged with a question mark or other indicator that a problem exists.

At this point, your system should be able to restart into Windows XP, but not Vista, and there will not be a startup menu asking which OS to start. To correct this, we will have to repair the Vista installation...

Repairing Vista and creating the multiboot menu.

  1. Restart with the Vista DVD in the drive and hit a key to boot from the CD/DVD when the message appears. If you do not have a Vista Install DVD, try booting the recovery media to see if there is a recovery console or repair option and use this.
  2. At the Install Window Preferences screen, click "Next"
  1. At the Windows Vista (Install now) screen click on "Repair your computer" (Note that this option appears at the bottom left; this starts the System Recovery process.)
    If your system comes with a Recovery Disk rather than Windows Vista Media, it may have a Repair or System Recovery option at the menu or under advanced options. Check with the manufacturer if you cannot locate one of these choices, as there may be some hidden option to access the menus.
Select OS
  1. At the System Recovery Options screen, select "Microsoft Windows Vista" (This is probably the only item in the list) and click "Next". This will run the Startup Repair and prompt you to click "Finish" to restart. More than likely, this will have "fixed" the computer to allow Windows Vista to start normally.
Recovery Options If the startup repair does not start automatically, you will probably be taken to the Recovery Options screen. Click on "Startup Repair" to try and automatically repair the Windows Vista Installation.


  1. If the Startup Recovery operation works, you now you have a system with Vista and XP both installed, but that only starts Vista, still without displaying a startup menu. From the Vista desktop, click on Start, All Programs, Accessories, and right click on "Command Prompt" and select "Run as administrator". Click "Continue" to open the Command prompt window. Enter the following text commands at the C:\Windows\System32\> prompt. All of these commands have "{ntldr}" which specifies changes to the XP startup configuration. Note that "ntldr" must be enclosed in {curly braces} and not (parenthesis) or [square brackets].
Command Prompt
  • At the command prompt, enter the command to create a boot entry for Windows XP:
    bcdedit /create {ntldr} /d "Microsoft Windows XP"
    (If the entry already exists, you will receive an error; ignore it and continue...)
  • Enter the command to create an entry that will appear in the start menu:
    bcdedit /displayorder {ntldr} /addlast
  • Enter the command to set the path for the XP system loader utility:
    bcdedit /set {ntldr} path \ntldr
  • To change the menu name for XP, enter the command:
    bcdedit /set {ntldr} description "Microsoft Windows XP"

If everything worked correctly, you will now have a startup menu with the choice to load "Microsoft Windows Vista" or "Microsoft Windows XP". Verify that both Windows XP and Windows Vista can both start by choosing the option at this menu.
Once you have all the hardware drivers, critical updates, AntiVirus, and other security software installed (twice), you can get on with installing your applications. By default, Windows will attempt to install programs to the partition that contains the boot system, which might (or might not) be C:. If this is a smaller hard drive, you can normally choose to install applications to the same drive and directory path under both OS versions to save space. Reinstalling is necessary to configure the program's data path and registry or personal configuration settings.

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