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Install Triple-Boot of Windows Vista + XP + MS-DOS 7.10 on Windows Vista computer (Vista installed first)

Last reviewed: June 2013


October 2013: This is the new location for this page on this site. Please update your link or bookmark.


This guide shows how to correctly and safely create a natural triple-boot of Windows Vista, Windows XP and MS-DOS 7.10 on a computer with Windows Vista already installed. You can then run any of those three operating systems by selecting one from a Windows Vista menu during bootup. No data loss will occur and no third-party boot utility will be used.

You need to shrink the Windows drive to make room for MS-DOS and XP neither of which can be on the Windows Vista drive. Windows XP can be a Logical or Primary drive anywhere on the first or other hard disk. While DOS 6.22 needs to be on the first physical partition of the first disk, DOS 7.10 can be on the first FAT32 Primary partition which can be located anywhere on the first disk; non-FAT/32 partitions are ignored by DOS 7.10. Using a second disk for MS-DOS is not an option.

32 and 64-bit versions of Windows Vista were used in testing Windows XP Pro SP2 & SP3 and MS-DOS 7.10 were added. The computers used were:
(1) 64-bit Dell Studio XPS 8100 (2.93 GHz), Core i7, 8 GB RAM DDR3, 2x1 TB SATA hard disks in RAID 0 as 1.6 TB & 60 GB
(2) 64-bit AMD Athlon (2.4GHz), 2.0 GB RAM, 1 TB SATA hard disk.
(3) 32-bit Dell Optiplex with Pentium 4 (2.26GHz), 2.0 GB RAM, 160 GB ATA hard disk

Following these instructions correctly should always succeed. However, any change to your computer should not even be considered unless you have a rescue plan. This guide also contains that rescue plan - just in case!

This procedure is suitable for experienced computer users.

Important Installation Notes

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

ATA Mode. Many users will have a SATA hard disk and that's not a problem in itself. However these users may need to set the BIOS to ATA mode (vs AHCI) for MS-DOS usage. This possible problem was not encountered during tests with SATA.

Hidden Active Partition. Many Windows Vista users will have a small Primary disk partition(s) that's marked active and is hidden (but is visible under Disk Management in Windows Vista). This must be counted if you want to create a new Primary. Any partition not marked as Primary or Logical can be ignored.

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 8. 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.

Formatting. It's best practice to install another operating system on an unformatted (preferably Unallocated) area of the hard disk. All partitions should be Formatted when installing that OS to ensure compatible file system versions. Avoid formatting Windows partitions with GParted or any other third-party partitioning utility.

EasyBCD. The highly-acclaimed EasyBCD is a free editing utility that allows any user to easily edit the Windows 8, 7 or Vista boot menu (the BCD or Boot Configuration Data). EasyBCD runs in Windows 8, 7 and Vista, but also in Windows XP if you first install Microsoft's free .NET 2.0 Framework.

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Prepare to Install Windows XP & MS-DOS 7.10 on Windows Vista computer

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

Make your preparations

  1. 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)
  2. Plan your new partitions carefully before you install.
  3. Download Neosmart's EasyBCD (free - simplifies editing the Win8/7/Vista boot loader).
    Optional: Download NeoSmart's free Windows Vista System Recovery Disk if your Vista DVD is missing!
  4. Download any essential device drivers for your older Windows.
  5. Disconnect all unnecessary external devices before you start.

Make free space and create new partitions

Always note the size of each partition and also label each (this guide uses vsta, doos and w_XP).

MS-DOS 7.10 must be installed on a Primary drive on the first hard disk. XP can be on a Logical drive.
The 127 GB partition limitation that afflicts Win98/Me/2K is not a problem with MS-DOS 7.10. Also, the Active marker is unaffected by installing MS-DOS 7.10 or XP - all three OSs will boot from the currently Active drive.

A 1 TB disk's partitions could be like this with the DOS created FIRST and Formatted to ensure it's a Primary:
Hidden & Active (100MB, Primary), Vista (800GB, NTFS, Primary), DOS (20 GB, FAT32, Primary), XP (130GB, Unallocated, Logical).

  1. Restart computer correctly (close all programs before you Restart computer).
  2. Open Disk Management in Windows Vista (right-click Computer, select Manage, click Disk Management).
    • 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 Vista Volume (probably C:), and select Properties.
      In the General tab, enter vsta as the label for the Windows Vista volume, and click Apply.
  3. In Disk Management in Windows Vista
    • Right-click the vsta volume, and click Shrink Volume.
      • In Enter the amount of space to shrink in MB: enter enough for MS-DOS and XP.
      • Click the Shrink button (it may take some time!).
      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.
    • If you need a fourth Primary partition, read Create a Fourth Primary partition
      - but remember, four Primaries mean you cannot have any other partitions on that hard disk!
    • Right-click the Unallocated space and select New Simple Volume.... Click Next.
      • In Simple volume size in MB:, select enough for MS-DOS. Click Next.
      • In File system, select FAT32 in the drop-down.
      • In Volume label, enter doos.
      • Tick to enable the Perform a quick format check box, and click Next.
      • Click Finish button.
    • The remaining Unallocated will be for the Windows XP drive (and perhaps a shared data drive).
  4. Restart to Windows Vista.
    • Open Disk Management and check that the change made is correct.

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Installing the Operating Systems in this Windows Vista Multi-Boot

These pages show how to install each operating system in this multi-boot and how to use EasyBCD.

You can install the OSs in any order you wish but you should have already prepared as described above. Installing an older OS first is suggested as this facilitates its easier removal if you decide not to continue with it.

The Windows Vista boot menu will then boot Windows Vista,Windows XP or MS-DOS when selected.

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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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