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Install Dual-Boot of Windows Vista and Windows 8 on a Windows 8 computer (Win8 installed first)

Last reviewed: July 2013


This guide shows how to correctly and safely create a natural dual-boot of Windows 8 and Windows Vista on a computer with Windows 8 already installed. You can then run either of those two Windows by selecting one from a menu during bootup. No data loss will occur and a third-party boot utility is not used.

In this procedure you need to resize the Windows 8 drive to make room for Windows Vista unless you happen to have free disk space or you install Windows Vista on a second hard disk. This example uses a single hard disk.

A 64-bit Windows 8.1 was used in testing and a 64-bit Windows Vista Home was added (it can be a 32-bit Windows Vista if you are have the MBR, and not GPT/UEFI, system). Read How to Check if your hard disk drive is using GPT or MBR. The computer used was a 64-bit Dell Studio XPS 8100 (2.93 GHz), Core i7, 8 GB RAM DDR3, NVidia GeForce GTX 460, 1 TB SATA hard disk (not using GPT/UEFI).

The procedure used is quite easy and suitable for most users.

Important Installation Notes

Full Installation CD/DVDs. The Windows you are adding cannot be installed from a Recovery partition or Repair CD/DVDs provided by some OEMs. You need the full installation or setup version to install a Windows.

Shrinking a Windows 8, 7 or Vista drive. You should use Shrink in Windows' Disk Management to resize the Windows partition. You can read Shrink the Windows 7 or Vista Partition for instructions on completing this task successfully. Use the free GParted Live CD to gain disk space only if you must - read the page Use GParted to Resize the Windows 8, 7 or Vista Partition to learn how.

SUMMARY of Procedure (Advanced users)

  1. Backup important data.
  2. Create Unallocated space for Windows Vista at end of Windows disk (use Shrink) or use a second hard disk.
  3. Boot from Windows Vista DVD, select Install, then Custom, and install Windows Vista on the new Unallocated space.
  4. Optional: Use bcdboot c:\windows in an elevated Command Prompt in Windows 8 to restore its GUI boot menu.

That's it! The Windows boot loader menu now allows booting to Windows 8 and Windows Vista.

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Details: Create a Dual-boot with Windows Vista when Windows 8 is already installed

Installing other operating systems on your Windows 8 computer may invalidate your warrantee.
It's important to follow the instructions exactly as stated and you should start with a properly working Windows.

Make your preparations

  1. Make sure you can boot from a bootable CD/DVD
  2. Backup important data before making any changes to a partition. You can burn files to a CD, clone an image of your hard disk, copy files to a USB flash/pen/thumb drive, or use an USB external drive (a good choice)
  3. Disconnect all unnecessary external devices before you start.

Make free space (Unallocated) for Windows Vista

The Windows 8 drive is resized using Shrink in Windows' Disk Management leaving Unallocated space at the end of the disk (to the right).

Always note the size of each partition and also label each (this guide uses wn_8 and vsta).
You can use a second hard disk for Windows 8 but it should use the new GPT Partition Table if the first disk uses GPT.

  1. Restart computer correctly (close all programs before you Restart computer).
  2. Open Disk Management in Windows 8 (press Win and X keys, click Disk Management).
    • Optional: Right-click your CD/DVD drive(s), select Change drive letter and paths..., and click Change.
      Change the drive letter to K (get it out of the way!).
    • Right-click the Windows 8 Volume (probably C:), and select Properties.
      In the General tab, enter wn_8 as the label for the Windows 8 volume, and click Apply.
  3. Still in Disk Management in Windows 8
    • Right-click the wn_8 volume, and click Shrink Volume.
      • In Enter the amount of space to shrink in MB:, enter enough Vista.
      • Click the Shrink button (it may take some time!).
        Note that we will leave the newly acquired free space as Unallocated.
      If Shrink does not give you sufficient Unallocated space, read how to Shrink the Windows 8, 7 or Windows Vista Partition for instructions or use the free GParted Live CD. Then return here.
  4. Restart to Windows 8 two times.
    • Open Disk Management and check that the change made is correct.

Now Install Windows Vista when Windows 8 was Installed first

Traditionally, installing an older Windows on a computer containing a newer version stopped that newer Windows booting. This was caused by different versions of the boot loader. The new boot loader used in Windows 8, 7 and Vista is much friendlier!

  • Bootup from the Windows Vista installation DVD.
    • Select your Language, and Time..., and click Install now.
    • In Which type of installation do you want? select Custom (Advanced).
    • In Where do you want to install Windows? select the Unallocated area prepared earlier.
  • Restart your computer when installation is complete. Select Windows Vista.
    (Windows Vista has been automatically added to the boot menu. Nice!)
    In Windows Explorer, label the Windows Vista drive to vsta (right-click the Vista drive and select Properties).

Congratulations! You have created a natural dual-boot of Windows 8 and Windows Vista when Windows 8 was installed first.

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Repair Windows 8 Boot Menu and Startup

Users will have noticed that the above creates a Vista-style boot menu. This is perfectly fine but some would prefer the Win8 graphical menu which also has additional options. This simple procedure will return that graphical boot menu:

  1. Boot to Windows 8.
  2. Hold down both the Win and X keys and then press the A key (to open an elevated Command Prompt).
  3. Run this command at the prompt:
    bcdboot c:\windows
    where C is the letter allocated to your Windows 8 (change the C if necessary).
  4. Reboot. The Windows 8 GUI boot menu is back!

Windows 8 is the default boot. You can alter this in Change defaults or change other options on the boot menu.

If you ever need to do a fuller repair of the Windows 8 startup, you should do the following:

  1. Bootup from your Windows 8 DVD to the first screen ("Windows Setup").
  2. Hold down the Shift key and tap F10 (to open a Command Prompt).
    Type in these commands and press Entry after each (note the space after each BOOTREC):
    bootrec /fixmbr    - to update the Master Boot Record - just in case!
    bootrec /fixboot    - to recreate the Win8 Boot Sector of the system partition
    bootrec /rebuildbcd    - to rebuild the BCD data & boot menu or just add a compatible Windows to the menu
  3. Exit the installation now and reboot.

Note: The Bootrec / command has not yet been tested on the newer (U)EFI / GPT systems.

If you ever want to switch back to the Windows Vista boot menu, you can do this with ease by using the free EasyBCD.

The EasyBCD utility allows users to make changes to the BCD in a simple graphical manner. Running it will automatically convert the Windows 8 startup to one for Windows Vista including its plain boot menu. You can set Windows Vista as the Default boot in the Edit Boot Menu section of EasyBCD.

At that stage you will basically have a Windows Vista computer that still allows you to boot to Windows 8 - unless you decide to remove Windows 8!

Related Reading

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Please remember that you alone are responsible for the consequences of any changes you make to your computer hardware or software.

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