Dual-booting all versions of Windows and Linux
Add a Hard Disk containing another Windows
Last reviewed: April 2005
On this page:
About adding a hard disk containing a Windows
You can create a dual-boot by taking a hard disk containing a Windows installation and adding that disk to a different PC that has another Windows already installed. In all cases described here, one of the Operating Systems (OS) must be Windows XP or 2000 (2K). No third-party boot manager is used.
Some users will want to combine OSs from two existing PCs on to a single PC. Some may have an unused hard disk that contains an installed Windows with software that they could use. Others may simply want to test a newer OS version on a specific PC. The reasons are many and varied, and are often specific to individual users.
Creating the dual-boot itself is relative easy. However, the drive letter of the added hard disk will change. If there are Logical partitions, then their drive letters are also likely to change. This can sometime be a problem. If both disks contain only one partition (originally, only a C: drive on each disk) then it's manageable. If there are many partitions (containing installed programs) then it may be manageable but there may also be some work to be done by the user and/or a utility.
Examples used here:
• Windows XP computer with one hard disk containing one partition (C: drive using FAT32)
One hard disk will be moved to the other computer and a dual-boot created.
These are the simplest examples possible. If you wish to adjust it to suit multiple partitions, you must give serious consideration to the effect of changed drive letters, how that will affect your system, and how you will cope with it. Windows 2K and XP allow you to change drive letter allocations, but NOT for the system partition or boot partition. Partition utilities, like PartitionMagic, possibly allow you to change those. A Repair of Windows 2K/XP will definitely fix that (with some cost - read below).
The latest version of Windows will be given control of the boot and Boot Menu. This means the versions of Ntdetect.com and NTLDR on the root of the Active partition (first Primary partition, first hard disk), must belong to the latest version of Windows. Any other boot files belonging to another OS must also be on that partition (provided they do not overwrite those of the latest version of Windows). Then Boot.ini is edited to reflect both OSs. The Fixboot command MUST be used if a Win9x is one of the Windows involved.
Nothing is ever guaranteed, so you should always backup important data before you start. Creating a drive image is possibly the best option but most home users will cope with a less substantial backup.
Do not use these instructions if using a third-party boot manager (like BootMagic) or hard disk management software (like OnTrack's Disk Manager or Micro House's EZDrive).
#1: Add a disk containing XP to a computer with 2K installed
Many thanks to Bob N who was first to test this method for THPC.
1. Precaution: Create this Rescue Boot Disk for 2K
8. You need to create a new Rescue Boot Disk when all is well.
If your XP installation CD is not available, you can change all of 5. above to:
#2: Add a disk containing 2K to a computer with XP installed
This procedure has not been tested by THPC but it uses the same principles as the above. If in doubt, you can make the 2K disk the Primary Master on either computer, make the XP disk the Secondary or a Slave, and then proceed as in #1: above. Otherwise continue here - it will work.
1. Precaution: Create this Rescue Boot Disk for XP
8. You need to create a new Rescue Boot Disk when all is well.
#3: Add a disk containing XP/2K to a computer with Win9x installed
This procedure has not been tested by THPC. It is very similar to THPC's installing XP/2K on a Win9x computer and it will work. But there are three main items to consider:
1. It will work ONLY IF the Win9x is installed on the first partition (Win9x's folders/files/Program Files are installed on C:)
2. In addition, if the Win9x system already has much software installed on other partitions, then this is hardly worth trying - all that Win9x software would have to be reinstalled (overlays, usually without loss) after adding a second hard disk containing a Primary partition. Best is a Win9x system with just one partition, a C: drive and no others.
3. You need to check that the Win9x system is suitable for running a Windows XP or 2K - mainly main memory and CPU speed. Check the requirements at THPC's Dual-Boot Win9x/XP/2K/NT (read first) and at Microsoft.com. Your alternative is to place the Win9x hard disk in the XP computer as the Primary Master, boot and test it, and move the XP disk to Secondary Master or a Slave.
You must have the XP or 2K installation CD (to run the Fixboot command - essential here).
8. Create a Rescue Boot Disk when all is well.
#4: Add a disk containing Win9x to a computer with XP/2K installed
The best way to accomplish this is to make the Win9x hard disk the Primary Master on the XP/2K computer and change the XP or 2K disk to the Secondary Master or a Slave. In effect, you initially make the XP/2K computer into a Win9x computer.
You can now boot the computer straight to Win9x and check that Win9x functions correctly on the different PC.
If all is well with Win9x, you then proceed as in #3 above (#3: Add a disk containing XP/2K to a Win9x system)
Managing Drive Letters
Creating these dual-boots is relatively easy. However, managing drive letters is the important factor in these procedures.
The methods described on this page are designed for users with single partitions on each hard disk. However, as many users will try with more than one partition/disk, the following may be helpful.
Win9x is rigid in its allocation of drive letters. However Win XP/2K handles this dynamically. That's why users sometimes find that XP/2K may call a drive, say, F: when they know it's the second Primary partition and would logically expect it to be D:! When a XP/2K disk is moved from first hard disk (rdisk0 in Boot.ini) to second (rdisk1), XP/2K automatically makes internal adjustments with the result that the XP/2K still boots.
That's fine for XP/2K. But what about installed XP/2K applications and software? You'll find that some/many/most will not run because the pathways are now incorrect for them. They point to the original drive letter and not the new one. You have a variety of options to correct faulty pathways. A lot depends on your partition status before you start and your best choice will depend on your own circumstances. Obviously the less partitions (with installed programs) you have then the less of a problem it is. Storage, or pure data, partitions should not present a problem.
You can download a trial version of PartitionMagic 8.0 here (22+ MB) but it's unclear how much functionality you get
Repair Installation of Windows XP or 2000
Last reviewed: January 2009
A Repair Installation of Windows 2K/XP and an "in-place upgrade" have similar results.
Re-installing Windows over an existing installation copies original system files to the hard drive but also resets certain settings to default values. It will feel like a new installation - and will appear to take longer! Also, you will receive a few prompts so it can not be left unattended. However, the end result is the correct (expected) allocation of drive letters and a fully functional Windows. Installed 2K/XP software should be fully functional; most settings, passwords, saved items, etc., should be unchanged.
A Repair does carry some small risk of failure and should only be undertaken when other methods have been tried and failed. All users should first read Repair a Dual-Boot even if not dual-booted in case your problem is with the boot sector and the boot files.
The Repair makes certain changes that may upset some users. The changes given below apply to 2K but you can expect the same from XP. Please note item 5 below in Preparing ... re Internet Explorer 7.
Items Not Changed:
Preparing for a Repair Installation:
How to Start a Repair Installation:
Enable your Firewall before establishing an internet connection.
If you find that Windows updates fail to install, use the fix here.
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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