Multi Boot Windows 7 - Run Multiple Operating Systems on Your PC

Multi Boot Windows 7 - Run Multiple Operating Systems on Your PC
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Multi Boot Windows 7 – Why is it Complex?

The main thing to keep in mind while preparing to multi boot Windows 7 is that there is no boot.ini in Windows 7. Unlike XP and other Windows operating systems, you cannot manually edit boot.ini to inform your boot loader about other operating systems existing on the computer. You will need some command line entries to report the other operating systems that we discuss in this guide.

Preparing to Set Up Multi Boot in Windows 7

Normally, the rule of thumb is to install the latest operating system first. However, as soon as you load Windows 7, you cannot log into XP or other previous Windows versions. The best method for setting up a multi boot process in Windows 7 is to do a fresh installation of all operating systems. We will be discussing the same here. If you do not wish to reinstall all the operating systems again, you may try troubleshooting when XP won’t boot after a Windows 7 install.

In this article, we will discuss installing all operating systems by creating different partitions for each. If you wish, you may use an additional HDD containing enough space to handle as many operating systems as you wish to install. In the latter case, make sure you make it the primary HDD (fix the jumper using the settings as shown on the hard disk).

For now, we will consider a single hard disk with enough capacity to multi boot Windows 7 with Vista and XP. You may also use Linux, Desktop Ubuntu or anything else.

The first step is to back up all the important data from all partitions. If you need a good backup software, you can use Macrium’s Reflect to back up data - faster than remote backups, burning to a CD/DVD, etc.

Remember that it is very important to have each operating system on a separate partition.

As we’ll be installing Windows 7 first, we will use its disk management software to adjust the partitions. Another method is to re-partition the entire hard disk using Fdisk, a very old yet highly reliable DOS based tool that I use to date. Just remember that Windows 7 will take up 16-20GB space. So your first, active partition should be around 30GB (to reserve space for programs that you intend to install on the operating system). In case you are using Fdisk, you have to delete all of the logical partitions before you can delete the secondary partition. You can’t delete the primary partition before deleting the secondary partition. You need only the primary partition from Fdisk. Remember to format it using the command Format else you wont be able to install anything. Once we install Windows 7 on the primary partition, we can use Windows 7 utilities to create other partitions to save time.

IMPORTANT: Before trying to create a multi boot environment in Windows 7, make sure your computer is compatible with the new OS. Download and run Windows 7 Compatibility Advisor for this purpose. If the compatibility report is in your favor, turn to the next page for the best multi boot method.

Setting up Multi Boot Windows 7 – How to Install Operating Systems

To set up a multi boot environment in Windows 7 so that your computer does not give you problems, we will install Windows 7, then Vista, and finally XP.

We’ll do a clean install of each operating system to avoid possible hiccups in future. This means formatting each partition on which we will install the individual operating systems.

Assuming you did a backup of all the data to a secure place, proceed with the Windows 7 installation. You will have to install any programs that you wish to use. We can do this later once we successfully set up the other operating systems. Now that Windows 7 is ready to use, navigate to Disk Management under Control Panel. You will find it under Administrative Tools -> Computer Management -> Storage. As we need two more partitions, delete the logical drives and then entire secondary partition. The Windows 7 partition is primary.

You’ll need 20GB for Windows Vista and a minimum of 2GB for Windows XP. I’ll recommend you add at least 10 GB extra for each OS so you do not fall short of space while installing programs. This means 30GB for Windows 7, 30GB for Windows Vista, and about 15GB for Windows XP. Create the secondary partition and then the logical drives for each OS as per the calculations. You may use the remaining space for data. Format all new partitions using the Disk Manager so you can skip the “format screen” while installing Vista and XP.

IMPORTANT: Label each partition with the OS name so that you do not mess up while installing.

Next, we’ll move to Vista. To install Vista on a multi boot Windows 7 computer, insert the installation CD into CD Drive. Install Vista to the correct partition as marked when you were creating the logical partitions. After installation, reboot. You can see the boot loader showing you both operating systems. We now achieved a dual boot system for Windows 7 and Windows Vista! Smile - and move on to install Windows XP – the toughest part in setting up this multi boot environment.

Insert the Windows XP CD into the drive and start the installation process. You need not format as you have already done that while setting up logical drives. When prompted for drive letter, select the correct one else you’ll loose all the work. Reboot after Windows XP installs. You cannot see XP in the boot loader! You need not worry. XP is on the machine (fully installed and ready to use) but the boot loader doesn’t know it.

The problem is that XP installation changes the boot loader, sometimes making it corrupt. To fix this, use the Windows 7 installation DVD to boot. Select Repair and then select the operating system that is not appearing (in this case, it is Windows XP). Once you are at the command prompt type the following lines – one at a time – and hit Enter for each:

Bootrec.exe /FixMBR

Bootrec.exe /FixBoot

This will restore the boot loader. In case you want more information on bootrec.exe command, you can visit the Microsoft website.

Remove the Windows 7 DVD and reboot into Windows 7 again. Click Start, RUN (if RUN is not visible**,** press Windows key +R) and type cmd to get command prompt window. Now we’ll add Windows XP to boot loader for setting-up multi boot Windows 7 with XP and Vista. To include Windows XP into boot loader, type the following and hit Enter for each line:

bcdedit –set {ntldr} device partition=C:

bcdedit –set {ntldr} path \ntldr

bcdedit –displayorder {ntldr} –addlast

bcdedit -set {ntldr} description “XP”

Close the command prompt. Reboot and see Windows boot loader. It should show all three OS. We are done with setting up multi boot Windows 7.

NOTE: Sometimes XP may not appear in Windows boot loader even with the above commands. Boot into Windows 7 normally and change the drive letter of Windows XP partition (to something like M, N, or X) using the Disk Management tool so that it appears few letters above the last drive letter in your computer.

Tip: After creating a multi boot Windows 7 computer, you may never want to go through the entire process again. After you install programs on each OS, create a disk image and a rescue disk using Reflect or any other disk imaging software. This may prove helpful if anything causes problems in the future.

Additional Resources:

Dual Boot XP 32 bit and XP 64 bit

Dual Boot Home Server

Windows XP Won’t Appear After Windows 7 Install

This post is part of the series: Multi Boot Windows 7 and other Types of Multi Boot - Problems with Multi Boot

This series aims to cover types of multi boot, including Windows 7 multi boot, dual boot Windows XP 32 bit and XP 64 bit. It also covers Dual boot Home Server. Often, multi boots also create problems. This series will cover how to fix multi boot problems under different scenarios.

  1. How to Multi Boot Windows 7
  2. How to Set up Dual Boot for XP 32 Bit and XP 64 Bit
  3. Is it Possible to Dual Boot Windows Home Server?
  4. Windows XP Wont Boot After Windows 7 Install: Troubleshooting Windows Dual Boot Problem
  5. Where is Windows XP? I Cannot Find My Windows XP Operating System after Setting up Dual Boot Windows 7