How to use a VHD to dual-boot Windows 8 on a Windows 7 PC

How to use a VHD to dual-boot Windows 8 on a Windows 7 PC

Summary: Updated for Windows 8 RTM and Windows 8.1 Preview: Want to try Windows 8 but don't want to mess up a perfectly good Windows 7 installation? Follow these simple step-by step instructions to to run Windows 8 from a virtual hard disk.


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It is possible to use the command line Diskpart tool to do everything I describe in this how-to. If you’re comfortable with that, you are a ninja. You don’t need me.

The procedure I describe here uses the absolute minimum number of command-line steps. For this portion of the job, we’ll use the Disk Management console.

Open Windows Explorer, right-click Computer in the navigation pane on the left side of the window, and click Manage in the shortcut menu. That opens the Computer Management console.

Click Disk Management in the pane on the left side of the window and wait until you see all currently installed disks in the contents pane, as shown here:

As you can see, this machine has a single hard disk (with the tiny 100MB boot partition and a much larger partition used for Windows and all data files).

Click the Action menu and you’ll see two VHD options. Click Create VHD to get started.

Click Browse to choose the location where you want your VHD stored, and give it a descriptive name. (The name in this screenshot includes CP, to indicate that I originally did this with the Consumer Preview. For the RTM code, I recommend you use Win8 or Win8-RTM.)

In the example shown here I created a VHD folder on the C drive because it’s easy to remember, but you can put the VHD file anywhere you want and give it any name you want. Specify a size (I’ve used 60GB here). In Windows 7, you can choose between a Dynamically expanding virtual hard disk or a Fixed size VHD. Which one you choose doesn’t really matter; just make sure you have enough room on your current physical disk to accommodate the space you specified.

Click OK to create the VHD file and continue. Watch the progress bar in the lower right corner of the Disk Management console to see your virtual disk being created. It only takes a few seconds for a dynamically expanding disk; a fixed size VHD takes several minutes. When it’s done you’ll see a new entry in the Disk Management console.

As far as Windows is concerned, that’s a brand-new 60GB disk you’ve just installed. You don’t need to initialize it or format it or do anything with it at this point. Make a note of the exact path and filename of the VHD you created; you’ll need it shortly. You’ve now done enough to move on to the next phase.

Plug in the bootable USB flash drive you created earlier or insert the bootable DVD installation media and restart your PC. Do whatever it takes to start your computer using that bootable media. When you get to the Windows 8 setup screens, you’re ready to move on to the next phase.

Page 3: Installing Windows 8 on your VHD -->

Topics: Operating Systems, Hardware, Microsoft, Software, Windows

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  • Parallels workstation makes it a snap...

    It can do this on any version of Windows 7 with enough memory and disk space. I believe this can happen on Oracle VirtualBox, but have not done this successfully.
    • but VHD boot should have better performance

      what with it being a boot image rather than a virtualised image as such...
    • Not the same thing at all

      First, Parallels Workstation costs extra money. This doesn't.

      Second, it introduces additional third-party software into the equation.

      Third, it doesn't allow direct access to hardware, the way Direct Boot to VHD does.

      Virtualization is great for certain scenarios, but Direct Boot to VHD is a much cleaner solution, with fewer complcations.
      Ed Bott
    • Virtual Box is just as good as VMware Workstation

      And it's 100% free (untill Oracle want to start charging for it) :( . Win 8 does not have any VM tools yet, but it runs fairly good considering how clunky the OS is designed. I had at one point both Windows 7 VM and Windows 8 consumer preview, running on Virtual Box on my Mac Mini. Runing both osx and windows allows files to be shared bettween the too via Samba. I can run both Mac apps and legacy windows apps at the same time. But win 8 was so awfull I had to remove it. i would rather put vista VM on it than win 8 any day.
  • The reason I went the other direction

    I did the shrink and install route because I didn't want a clean Windows 8 install, I wanted an upgrade install dual booting with Windows 7 (which I haven't needed to go back to yet) - so I shrunk and cloned the 7 partition, but I did put in a larger Kingston SSD to make room
  • I've seen this before...


    And I'm pretty sure you can do it with Windows 7 Home Premium (that's what I did)
    • According to the specs...

      Microsoft says the feature is only supported on Ultimate and Enterprise.

      See the Direct Boot from VHD entry in this chart:

      As for Scott's post, I have seen it before, along with a dozen other posts that tackle the same topic. This is my independent work and a different presentation. There's plenty of room in the world for multiple people to put their own stamp on ideas.
      Ed Bott
      • Thankfully Windows 8 Pro supports Boot to BHD.

        Thankfully Windows 8 Pro supports Boot to BHD.

        To be clear, Win7 Home Premium and Pro support creating and attaching VHDs but not booting from them.

        Pity, as I wanted to try this simple way to Windows 8 on my Win7 Home Premium PC too.
      • Win 7 Pro

        despite what others are saying I concur with Ed it doesn't work on Pro, you can create and attach the VHD but Win8 'next' box remains greyed out when the vhd is selected for install.
      • VHD

        Ed, can this be done on a USB Hard Drive?
      • Create the VHD in diskpart...

        When you open diskpart from the win8 installer, create the VHD there. Win7 Pro won't boot from VHD, but your article is not about booting Win7. It is about booting Win8 CP which does boot from a VHD.

        I created and attached the VHD in diskpart. installed with no issues and have a dual boot with Win7 Pro. Only Win8 boots from the VHD.

        Command is: CREATE VDISK FILE="C:\VHD\win8-cp.vhd" MAXIMUM=60000

        In order for that to work, the C:\VHD directory must first exist.

        WIN8 boots to the OS selection screen and then I can select which OS to boot.
        Freddy McGriff
  • And they say Win8 is for Consumers!

    It's nice to see some pretty awesome improvements on the enterprise side of Windows 8. I love all the virtualization support.

    I think they've finally reached a point where it's more beneficial to run apps in a "thin-client" style... virtualized OS image and Remote App setup... than to maintain multiple hardware and software configurations. :)
  • Windows 7 Recovery Disk/Flash drive for Ultrabooks?

    I'm having trouble getting my HP Folio 13 to properly recognize a recovery CD (created via an external USB CD/DVD drive). I've also tried creating a recovery flash drive but ran into some problems.

    Any tips, resources?
    • You're still under warranty

      I would recommend a call to HP support. My experience with them has been very good through the years. They can walk through a much more sophisticated and relevant troubleshooting protocol than I can.
      Ed Bott
      • Thanks. Tried it again. It worked.

        I simply erased the CD-RW and recreated a system repair disk. Surprisingly, it only took about 10 minutes to restore the image (~40GB).
  • I used VHDs

    I used VHDs for W8DP and W8CP installs.
    I had no problems with the VHDs (well ... I couldn't do an upgrade from DP to CP).

    W8 CP, on the other hand ... :(
  • Dual Boot

    When installing another Windows OS on a Windows system as dual boot, one need not go through the process of restarting the machine, changing boot options, and wait minutes for installation to start. Just boot to your original OS, insert the boot media of 2nd OS, or just open the iso file (on a virtual drive or just extract the file to a folder), and double click the setup.exe file. Yes, you can install Windows just like any other application by double clicking the setup.exe file. You will save couple minutes booting from installation media.
    Raju Das
  • How can I do this?

    How can I do this if I don't have Windows Server 2008 R2
    Don't you need a server and the correct software to create a virtual harddrive?
    • Say what?

      You don't need a server for any of this. The screenshots in this article were taken with Windows 7 Ultimate.
      Ed Bott
  • Thanks Ed

    Worked great. Nice that the VHD has access back to the original drive.