How To Dual Boot Vista and Windows 7

I moved Windows 7 onto my primary laptop this weekend after testing it on another machine in my lab. Rather than wipe out the Vista installation on my laptop, I decided to set it up as a dual boot machine. The process generally is pretty easy, though you can run into some snags along the way. Here's the process for (and my experiences) converting a Vista machine into a dual boot Vista and Windows 7 machine.

Before we get started, here are some things you might want to keep handy:

  • Locate a Vista installation DVD as there are some situations where you'll need it to get Vista back up and running, as you'll see below.
  • The Windows 7 license key you received when downloading the beta software.
  • Your Wi-Fi connection information, such as the SSID and security key (WPA, WEP, etc.). Windows 7 will ask for this during installation or you can supply it later.

1. Download Windows 7 public beta and burn the ISO to a DVD. Download the Windows 7 ISO file here. Use your favorite ISO burning software, like Nero or ImgBurn (free), to burn the ISO onto a DVD. Print out or write down the Windows 7 software key you received so you can use it when installing Windows 7.

2. Back up what you want to keep. I know, everyone always says to perform a back up before you do anything major to your system. Restore points are also recommended. We're going to be partitioning your hard drive which could yield your C drive unbootable so I'd suggest you at least copy the data you'll want to keep and use under Windows 7.

In my case it was a wise idea to back up my system as you'll see in a few moments. I did a simple backup by copying a few folders from my laptop hard drive to a USB drive. Why not just copy the contents from your Vista partition to the Windows 7 partition we'll when we're all finished? Apparently, Windows 7 hides partitions with other operating systems on them. In my case, the Vista partition doesn't show up when I boot into Windows 7. I haven't read anywhere that this is a new feature of W7 but apparently it is.

Here's some suggestions of what to copy:

  • Either copy everything from your User folder or pick selected contents. I have over 60GB of music, audio and video on my laptop so I only moved over the Documents, Downloads, Pictures and Favorites folders.
  • You may also want to copy of the Desktop folder if you keep files on the desktop.
  • Grab your Outlook folder which has all your .pst and .ost files. You can find it at c:\Users\{account name}\AppData\Local\Microsoft. You'll find the Outlook folder there.
  • Email settings: If you don't know these from memory, such as your POP and SMTP server host names and ports, go copy those settings into a document and back it up so you can access the information under Windows 7.
  • Anything else you don't want to lose.

2. Create a partition for Windows 7. From here, you have two options: create a partition using Vista's Computer Management utility or use 3rd party partitioning software. I elected to do the latter after having problems during my first attempt to do this using the Computer Management program.

Create Partition using Vista: Go to Control Panel > Administrative Tools > Computer Management. Expand Storage in the list and click Disk Management. You'll see an image representing your C drive. You're going to need to shrink this partition so you can create a partition for Windows 7. Right-click the C partition and select Shrink Volume.

Now's the time to decide how much room you want to free up for your Windows 7 partition. You can probably get buy with under 20GB but I'd suggest shrinking the partition to free up 40GB or more. Once the shrinking is complete (and it might take a while), create a new partition in the freed up portion of the disk where Windows 7 will live. You'll want this partition to be formatted NTFS. (You can do this now or during Windows 7 install.)

Using 3rd Party Partitioning Software: I ran into an issue trying to create a partition the Vista way. In some situations, Vista reports there's 0GBs available to shrink when in fact there is plenty of free space in the partition. A quick Google search yielded a number of possible causes/solutions, including disabling Vista's page file and restore point features. After trying those solutions with no success, I used the free GParted LiveCD to shrink the existing partition and create a 85GB partition. This required booting from a CD with GParted LiveCD on it, make the changes and then shutting down.

3. Verify Your Vista Installation Is Still Okay. Before you jump the gun and start installing Windows 7, take a minute and boot your computer from the now smaller Vista partition. If everything works okay and you get into Vista with no problems. Congratz, you're ready to move on.

In my case, Vista had trouble finding WinLoad.exe and would no longer boot successfully. Things like this happen sometimes when disk partitions or Master Boot Record get jostled around. I repaired the problem using the Vista installation CD's repair option. After that getting into Vista worked fine. Problems like this are why you back up your data and have a repair disk handy whenever you are performing surgery on your system or hard drive. Though my data was never in serious jeopardy in this particular situation, you never know what problems might arise.

4. Boot from the Windows 7 DVD. Installation of Windows 7 from here is very straight forward. But you want to pay attention and make sure you select the new partition you just created as the destination for Windows 7 (not the partition with Vista on it). Select the complete install option (not upgrade) and sit back while the installation software does its thing. In later installation steps you'll be asked for the Windows 7 key and your Wi-Fi settings.

5. Let Windows 7 Apply Its Updates. When the Windows 7 install completes and reboots, you'll be presented with the option to boot either Windows 7 or Vista. Now I know you're all excited about getting some software installed in your new Windows 7 beta, but let it run through the download and update process first. That also goes for programs like Office 2007. After installing any additional software, make sure you run the update process first so you'll havethe latest patches.

You probably want some anti-virus software for your Windows 7 installation too. Microsoft OneCare doesn't support Windows 7 so you'll have to get your AV software from Kaspersky, AVG or Symantec. They already have Windows 7 compatible versions of their products available.  

Good luck and I hope you enjoy using your Vista and Windows 7 dual boot machine.

Note: If you find any errors in this write up, please let me know so I can correct them. Thx.

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