Dual boot Win7 with Windows XP/Vista

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How to Dual Boot Win7 with Vista and XP or other OS

Installing multiple operating systems (“e.g.” Windows 7 and Windows XP) on the same computer is called a dual boot configuration.  Dual boot configurations are also called multiboot configurations and the terms are often used interchangeably. But why would someone want to install two operating systems on the same computer?

Installing multiple operating systems on a computer can actually be a very handy option for many individuals.  A multiboot/dual boot configuration is a great way to test or learn a second operating system, or if you have older programs or devices that are only compatible with an older version of Windows (“e.g.” Windows XP) it is a great option because it gives you the ability to still use that software and hardware if needed while at the same time you can run a newer operating system such as Windows 7, Vista, etc. as your primary operating system.

Setting up a dual boot Win7 configuration is pretty easy but your computer will need to meet a few basic requirements. To perform a multiboot/dual-boot configuration your computer must have a hard disk with at least two partitions and enough free disk space, or you can also install a second OS on a separate hard drive if you prefer. See Microsoft’s guide to creating and formatting a hard drive partition in Windows 7 if partitioning is new to you.

Most importantly it is a best practice when setting up a dual boot configuration to always install the old operating system first.  Older versions of Windows do not typically recognize the startup files used in more recent versions of Windows and can overwrite them causing your system to not boot, etc.

You can install older Windows operating systems after a newer operating system though it requires a bit of tweaking and it can be a bit tricky and so it is not usually recommended, so really the optimal dual boot scenario is to install an older OS such as XP or Vista prior to installing Windows 7. 

If you already have Win7 installed but want to run XP without formatting your OS and installing it first, you may honestly be better off running Windows XP using Microsoft Virtual PC and its XP mode feature.  With this method you can run both OS’s at the same time with Windows XP running in a virtual environment, and via XP mode your old Windows XP apps even run seamlessly alongside Windows 7 apps.

A dual boot Win7 installation in contrast requires you to restart the computer before switching between operating systems so running XP or other OS in Microsoft Virtual PC may actually be a better option for you.  The only real drawback with virtual operating systems for the most part are that they do not take advantage of your physical hardware the same way as an actual XP install via a dual boot would.  Because a virtual PC is well virtual, there is an added software layer. For general apps this is not an issue, but for games and other hardware hungry apps a virtual operating system isn’t optimal and in that case a dual boot setup is preferred.

As you see, dual booting say Windows 7 and XP by installing each operating system on a separate partition or hard disk is pretty nifty. It works pretty well too and choosing an OS is as simple as booting your computer and selecting which version of Windows to launch via a boot selection menu. If multi-booting is for you, read ahead for we answer some common questions about multibooting and later on we walk you through the process of setting up a dual boot Win7 configuration.

Dual Boot Win7 FAQ

Why would I want to dual boot and use another operating system along side Win7?

You may want to create a multiboot configuration if you have programs or devices that only work with older versions of Windows.  Plus if you want to run those programs at full speed, a multiboot configuration is needed opposed to running the additional operating system in a virtual environment. With a dual boot setup you can restart your computer and then choose the operating system that you want to use whenever you decide you need to use one of those programs or devices.  Dual booting can also be very handy for testing an operating system, program, hardware, etc.

What is the difference between an upgrade installation and a dual boot Win7 installation?

Performing an operating system upgrade replaces your old Windows operating system (“e.g.” Windows XP) with a new one such as Windows 7 or Windows Vista. In comparison setting up a dual boot configuration installs another operating system alongside your existing Windows 7 operating system allowing you to use either operating system when needed.

Are there any drawbacks to running a dual boot Win7 configuration?

A dual boot setup requires separate partitions or hard drives on your computer for each operating system so in order to run another operating system you have to restart your computer to change to the other OS.  In order to use the other operating system you will have to restart your computer each time. This can be cumbersome if for example you need to run an older Windows XP program that isn’t compatible with Windows 7.

With a dual boot configuration you also normally need to install the oldest operating system first. This is really only a drawback if you already have Windows 7 installed and decide you want to dual boot it with XP or Vista. It can be done the other way around but it requires more technical steps and it can be pretty tricky so it is not something you will want to perform if you consider yourself a basic computing user. 

How to Setup a Dual Boot Win7 Installation Step by Step

NOTE: This guide assumes you have an older operating such as Windows XP or Vista already installed, prior to installing Windows 7.

Dual Boot Win7 Pre Installation Notes:

Before you install Windows 7 be sure to back up your files to an external hard disk, network drive, or other backup medium just in case something goes wrong.  It is also best to prepare for the installation by disabling your antivirus software. If you are new to installing Win7 see our Windows 7 Installation Guide for more details.

Step 1:

Go ahead and turn on your computer and boot into your current/old version of Windows.

Step 2: 

Insert your Windows 7 installation disc into your computers CD/DVD drive. Once inserted the Windows 7 setup should start automatically, if it doesn’t and you are running Vista go ahead and click the Start button, click Computer, double-click the drive containing the Windows 7 installation disk, and finally double-click setup.exe. For Windows XP browse through My Computer, select the drive containing the Win7 DVD, and double-click setup.exe.

If you downloaded Windows 7 onto a USB memory stick or external hard drive, insert the drive into your computer and if setup doesn’t start automatically click the Start button, click Computer, double-click the drive, and then double-click setup.exe.

Step 3:

On the “Install Windows” menu go ahead and choose “Install now”.

Step 4:

When asked if you want to get important updates for your installation choose either yes or no.  If you don’t have an active internet connection you may not be prompted for this during setup but if you do get prompted we typically recommend that you say yes and install the latest Microsoft Windows 7 updates.

Step 5: 

Go ahead and accept the license agreement.

Step 6: 

When asked where do you want to install Windows, go ahead and choose the partition or disk that you want Windows 7 to be installed on, but make sure you select the partition that doesn’t contain your old operating system. 

Step 7: 

Finally click next to kick off the Win7 installation. 

Dual Boot Win7 Post Installation Notes:

We hope you found our brief tutorial on how to setup a multiboot/dual boot Win7 configuration helpful. If you ever decide that you want to remove Windows 7 from a dual boot configuration make sure you check out our How to Uninstall Windows 7 Guide.   It is possible to uninstall Windows 7 but you will want to make sure you do so correctly, and our guide walks you through the process step by step.

If you have questions please don’t hesitate to ask the computer tech

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