Windows 7 has a new feature to create and boot virtual hard drives from them. In other words, there is no need to manage multi-boot and physical partitions. You will be able to install different operating systems in a virtual way with ease and security. A very trendy technology that predicts the next few years in technology.
N.B. : this tutorial only works under Windows 7 Professional, Enterprise and Integral editions. Similarly, some BIOS do not support virtual disk support.
Creating a virtual disk
Start by opening the Control Panel then click on the module Administration tools. Then double-click on the module Computer management then, in the left side column, click on Disk management.
In the menu Actions, choose Create a virtual hard drive.
Let’s now set the disk settings. Specify the location where your virtual disk will be saved by clicking on the button Browse... then do Save. In the end, you will get a VHD file, a format introduced with Microsoft Virtual PC. You will therefore have the option to boot from it but also to launch it via a virtual machine on Windows. Magic, isn't it?
Then enter a disk size depending on the final operating system. For Windows 7, allow a minimum of 20 GB. Leave the parameter on Fixed size to get started.
When the parameters are correct, do OK then wait a few minutes. A tooltip will warn you of the successful installation.
In the end, you will get the same result as a physical partition but in a virtual way.
Once the virtual partition is created, right click Disk 1 and then click on Initialise Disc.
Check that the box Main start-up sector is well checked and click on OK. In this way, we can use this disk to install an operating system from which we can start the PC.
Creating a virtual partition
The installation procedure is not complicated because it is similar to classical partitioning. So right click and then New simple volume.
An assistant then starts. On the first screen, click on Next. Then specify the size of the virtual disk that we will use for the system. In our case, the whole will be dedicated to it — which is the default setting. Depending on your needs, click on Next.
Now choose how we will access this virtual partition. The most common is to specify a mounting letter in the same way as for a physical partition or removable device. Once again, click on Next to keep going.
All we have to do is format the partition with the default settings, i.e.:
- File system: NTFS;
- Size of allocation unit: By default;
- Volume name: “7 PRO” for example;
- Perform fast formatting: Yes;
- Enable compression of files and folders: No;
Make Next to validate everything then on Finish. Wait for a few moments, the time to format the virtual partition.
Installation of an operating system
Since you have a virtual hard drive, we will be able to install an operating system on it. To do this, insert the installation DVD of Windows or other and then choose the virtual partition when choosing the location of the future system.
If you are considering installing Windows XP, know that there is a mode specially designed to run on Windows 7 via Virtual PC. However, you will not be able to start the PC from it. To learn more, I invite you to read the article Use XP virtualisation mode on Windows 7.
As stated in the nota bene, it is likely that your BIOS will not support the installation of virtual systems — especially for the start-up phase. So everything stops there for you if you get a warning. For others, do the classic installation.
In the end, you will have a standard multi-boot with the difference that one will be physical and the other virtual.
Using virtual hard drive is a great way to safely manage multiple operating systems without risking to destroy the boot sector. Another advantage is the ability to run the system via a virtual machine with Virtual PC, allowing you to run two systems simultaneously. Virtualisation is undoubtedly the future of computing!