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Dual-boot Windows 7 on a Windows XP computer
(Windows XP installed first)

Last reviewed: March 2013

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Introduction

This guide shows how to create a native (natural) dual-boot of Windows XP and Windows 7 on a computer with Windows XP already installed on it. You can then run either of those two Windows by selecting one from a menu during boot up. No data loss will occur and a third-party boot utility will not be used.

The installation of Windows 7 on the Windows XP computer will automatically create the dual-boot for you. The partition boot sector that currently controls the boot up will continue to do so but will be changed to the Windows 7 variety. Basically you will have a Windows 7 computer that also allows booting to Windows XP (that can be changed back to XP's type if you ever wish to remove Windows 7).

You need to determine if your computer has the minimum system requirements to run Windows 7. Also, a 64-bit Windows 7 cannot be installed on a 32-bit computer.

In this procedure you need to shrink the Windows XP drive to make room for Windows 7 unless you install Windows 7 on a second hard disk. Using a second disk simplifies the procedure but that's not a requirement. The example shown here uses a single hard disk.

The hidden 'System Reserved' primary partition normally created by a Windows 7 installation is not created in this situation and is not required. The installation of Windows 7 will automatically add Windows XP ("Earlier version of Windows") to a boot menu that then appears on boot up. However it may be necessary to use Disk management in Windows 7 to add a drive letter to the Windows XP partition immediately after installing Windows 7.

A previously installed Windows XP Home/Pro with SP2 was used in testing. The computers used were:
(1) 64-bit Studio XPS 8100 (2.93 GHz), Core i7, 8 GB RAM DDR3, NVidia GeForce GTX 460, 2x1 TB SATA hard disks.
(2) 64-bit AMD Athlon (2.4GHz), 2.0 GB RAM, 128 MB Radeon XPress, 1 TB SATA hard disk.
(3) 32-bit Dell Optiplex with Pentium 4 (2.26GHz), 2.0 GB RAM, Radeon 7500, 160 GB ATA hard disk

The basic procedure is relatively easy and is suitable for most computer users. However, the Windows XP fix required to deal with the Restore Pounts problem with Windows XP is more difficult to apply.

How to Create a Dual-Boot of Win7 & WinXP - WinXP installed first

  1. Check at Microsoft's Windows 7 Compatibility Center
  2. Backup important data.
  3. Create sufficient Unallocated/Free space for Win7 at end of WinXP disk or on second disk
    (you may need a partitioning utility to resize the WinXP partition - the free GParted Live CD works fine).
    Restart to Windows XP twice after resizing the XP partition.
  4. Bootup from Win7 installation DVD and select Install Now.
    • Select Custom Install. Select the Unallocated space for Win7.
    • Select Advanced, and then Format (if WinXP uses NTFS, you must use NTFS for Win7).
      Let the installation finish including the reboots.
    • In Win7, open Disk Management (right-click Computer, select Manage, select Disk Mamagement)
      - right-click any hard disk partition without a drive letter, select Change drive letters and paths..., and select Add
        add any drive letter you prefer (the default is usually fine).
  5. Reboot. The dual-boot has been created automatically by Windows 7.
  6. Restart computer to Windows XP.
    If you use them, correct the Restore Points problem that occurs with Windows XP (read below)

That's it! The Windows 7 boot loader menu will boot Windows XP and Windows 7.

Use the free EasyBCD utility under Win7 to rename the boot menu item, "Earlier Version of Windows", to "Windows XP".

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Fix Restore Points Problem in XP

Windows XP does not understand some of the disk management techniques used by Windows 7 and Vista. Every time XP is booted, it destroys Win7's and Vista's Restore Points and all except the most recent backup files from Complete PC Backup - read Microsoft's Knowledge Base article 926185. The problem does not affect Windows 2000.

A small addition to XP's registry avoids this problem by making the Windows 7/Vista partition inaccessible when, and only when, XP is running. You must, however, use extreme care to ensure you enter the correct drive letter in the following corrective procedure. You must never enter the drive letter used by XP - that would prevent XP from starting! This fix is applied when XP is booted and not from any other Windows.

  1. Download this tiny xp_rstr_fix.reg file, xp_rstr_fix.zip, and unzip it to XP's Desktop.
  2. Startup to Windows XP. It must be XP and not any other version of Windows.
  3. Note the drive letter allocated to the Win7 partition in Windows Explorer.
  4. Right-click xp_rstr_fix.reg on the Desktop and select Edit. Look at this line in xp_rstr_fix:
    "\\DosDevices\\Z:"=dword:00000001
    • Carefully change that Z to the drive letter allocated to the Win7 partition
      (make sure you do not remove the \\ before the letter or the : after the letter).
    • Save the file back to the Desktop as xp_rstr_fix2.reg
    • Right-click xp_rstr_fix2.reg on the Desktop, click Merge, and click OK.
  5. Reboot to Win7, and create a new Restore Point (right-click Computer > Properties > System Protection).
  6. Delete the two .reg files on XP's Desktop when you're finished.

When XP is booted, you will be denied access to the Win7 partition and the partition will appear to be unformatted (RAW) even though the contents have not been changed. It will still be allocated a drive letter in XP. When you boot to Win7 you will have access to all your drives, including the Windows XP partition.

This is the full xp_rstr_fix.reg file: (the blank line is required)

Windows Registry Editor Version 5.00

[HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\MountedDevices\Offline]
"\\DosDevices\\Z:"=dword:00000001

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Help! Remove Win 7 and Repair Win XP Startup

If you wish to remove Win7 and return to a Windows XP controlled startup then follow these instructions.

  1. Boot up from your XP installation CD.
  2. Press R to enter the Recovery Console.
    Enter the number that represents XP (probably 1 for C:\Windows).
    Press Enter key for Administrator password (or type your password and then press Enter).
    • Type in and then press Enter after each line
      FIXMBR
      FIXBOOT
      EXIT
  3. Remove the CD.

Your computer will automatically boot to Windows XP (without any boot menu if none existed previously).

You can now use your partitioning utility to delete the Win7 partition and then resize the XP partition to incorporate the free space left after deleting Win7, or you can simply Format the Win7 partition. However you must not do this if, for some strange reason, your Win7 partition comes before the XP partition.

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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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