Dual boot Windows 8 without partitioning
In this post, I’ll discuss why you should avoid using virtual machines for evaluating the new Windows 8 Consumer Preview, and how you can test drive this new OS the way it (and you) deserve by fully booting into it.
Some readers may be aware that Windows added support for lossless hard disk partitioning beginning with Windows Vista. This means you could pool your drive’s free space and split it off to create a new drive letter without additional software such as the once-popular Partition Magic. This was perfect for adding dual-boot without time-consuming disk formatting.
Windows 7 added another capability to Disk Management: the ability to mount and boot from a VHD. That’s right, you can boot up from the same virtual hard drives used by Virtual PC and other virtualization options. A virtual hard drive is a single large file that acts like a hard drive.
“But wait,” you might ask. ”Why would I bother when I could just use the virtualization in the first place?” Glad you asked. Virtual environments inherently cannot deliver the same snappy performance as a native installation. Even recent hardware accelerated virtualization improvements are affected by this to a lesser degree, because at least some of your system hardware is still dedicated to the host operating system. Few users have the hardware requirements to virtualize and evaluate Windows 8 (or any operating system) with full performance. The solution in this post outlines a method that negates the concerns of both prior options, because using the VHD drive mount in Windows 7 is easier, faster, and even more reliable than configuring most virtual machines in the first place. Here’s how to get rolling with the Windows 8 Consumer Preview side-by-side your existing Windows 7 setup.
- As always, make sure your backup of important files is up to date (you are backing up regularly, right?). We’re not going to be touching your data, but it doesn’t take too many steps in the wrong direction during setup to erase the wrong drive.
- Open your Start menu, right-click Computer, and choose Manage (providing your permission if prompted).
- Select Disk Management on the left, then choose Create VHD from the More Actions menu at the right. Choose where you want to keep this file and how large it should be (I recommend storing it at the top of your existing real drive, such as C:\Win8.vhd and using a fixed size of 20 GB). Click OK, and wait while the virtual disk is created (you’ll see text at the bottom of the screen showing progress).
- When complete, you’ll see a new disk in the lower pane which reads ‘Not Initialized’. Right-click it and choose Initialize Disk, which adds it as a bootable drive in the Master Boot Record. Leave options at their defaults and click OK.
- Right-click the unallocated space and choose to create a New Simple Volume. The defaults are fine, so cruise through the wizard stopping only to assign a drive letter and volume label name. When you finish the wizard, Windows 7 will appropriately AutoPlay the drive and offer to open the folder. Politely decline.
At this point, run your Windows 8 Setup and choose to install on another partition (note: requires burning a CD or having a flash drive ready). During setup, simply choose your new drive for installation.