How to Dual Boot Windows 7

Dual Booting Windows 7 provides many different benefits, as well as a few drawbacks. Basically, dual booting allows you to have two concurrent operating systems on one machine.

Once you setup dual booting you will be given the option to choose which operating system you would like to start into, during the machine’s startup.

Today I’ll go over the pluses and minuses of dual booting, as well as how to actually install Windows 7 as a secondary operating system.

Dual booting allows you to select between two operating systems at boot time. Why would you want this? There are many reasons. The most obvious would be during the transition period between using Windows XP or Windows Vista, moving to Windows 7.

Perhaps you want to allow users to pilot Windows 7, while still being able to quickly revert to Windows XP should something go wrong, or if some applications don’t work properly. Once the use of Windows 7 has been standardized, all the application bugs have been taken care of, and everyone is comfortable with the new operating system, the old operating system can be safely removed, completing the transition.

Another possibility would be if a certain application vital to company productivity only works in another operating system. For example, a company specific application that only works in Windows XP where XP Mode doesn’t quite do the job, or perhaps even a Linux application that will only work on a specific build of Linux. You could install the needed operating system, with use limited to that specific application, and then install Windows 7 for the general use operating system.

A dual booting operating system can cause quite a bit of confusion for users that may not be as technically inclined as others. A big issue I hear often would be something similar to, “I saved a file to my desktop yesterday, but now it’s not here!” The cases vary, but commonly, it’s just that the user saved the file to one operating system, and booted into another the next day.

This brings me to my first major drawback. File sharing can be complicated, if not impossible, through dual boot setups. If both operating systems are Windows based, then some creative reworking can be done to help file-sharing issues. However, if you are booting between Linux and Windows 7, based on the file system used, you can definitely run into some complications.

If you are using a partition versus a secondary hard drive, you should also keep in mind that the space requirements for each operating system may differ. Once a partition is created, it’s fairly complicated to increase the size of one partition if needed. You are essentially cutting the hard drive space in half. Because of this, it’s recommended to install a secondary hard drive (or a very large hard drive) so that space is less of an issue.

Windows 7 as a Secondary Operating System

There are two setups for installing Windows 7 as a secondary operating system. You can have a second internal hard drive for Windows 7 to use, or you can create a partition. Remember, creating a partition can be extremely dangerous and can cause you to lose information. Always use caution when creating a partition on an existing (in-use) hard drive.

I always recommend using a secondary hard drive when installing a secondary operating system. While I am guilty of having a few single-drive dual boot setups myself, I am also guilty of having lost information and have come across hours of frustrating troubleshooting. If you do decide to use a partitioned drive, use an open source tool such as (GParted) or a paid tool from a reputable company.

Once you have chosen which method to use and have either installed a secondary hard drive or partitioned your current drive, you can safely insert the Windows 7 install CD and restart your machine. Follow through the process as you normally would, choosing a “Custom (advanced)” installation when prompted.

You should see 2-4 install locations. One for your first hard drive, one for a small amount of unallocated space (Disk 0,) and one for your second hard drive (Disk 1.) Choose your second drive and create a new primary partition out of that space. From there, continue with the installation on your newly created partition as you would any other installation.

When you restart the machine from then on, you will be shown a “Windows Boot Manager” screen with two options, “Earlier Version of Windows,” and “Windows 7.” From here you can choose your operating system, or press F8 for additional options such as System Repair and Safe Mode.

Setting the Default Operating System

When using the default settings when dual booting, the default operating system will automatically boot after 30 seconds. The easiest way to change the default operating system is using the GUI (Graphical User Interface) built into Windows 7, rather than using the command line tool. Simply right click on your “Computer” icon, and click “Properties.” On the properties page, click on “Advanced System Settings” and in the Advanced tab, you’ll find Startup and Recovery settings.

Here, you can not only choose which operating system you want to be the default, but you can also change the time to show the list of operating systems before automatically booting. You can, for example, choose to automatically load Windows 7 if no choice is made within 10 seconds.

You can also disable the “time to display list of operating systems” all together. Doing so would make your machine boot into your default operating system, without giving the end user a choice during boot. This isn’t normally used, as in order to boot into a different operating system, you would have to change the setting back in your control panel.


Dual booting has many benefits and drawbacks, if you plan to dual boot a machine, be sure you plan ahead when it comes to space requirements and user interaction. Be sure to educate the end user on exactly how their system is set up. Multiple operating systems on one machine can be very complicated to get used to, but with the right training, it doesn’t have to be.


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