How to Set Up Multiple Copies of Windows 7 Using Virtual Hard Disks

How to Set Up Multiple Copies of Windows 7 Using Virtual Hard Disks

Guest Post By: Tibor Schiemann, President and Managing Partner, TuneUp.

Windows 7 is having an excellent feature of creating VHDs i.e. Virtual Hard Disks so that you can have multiple copies of Windows 7 for different purposes like gaming, working and watching movies. If you want to improve the performance of your PC for specific tasks then set up several copies of the operating system on one machine using the built-in Virtual Hard Disk (VHD) boot feature. Using this feature you’ll be able to to run one specific task on a dedicated, slim version of Windows 7, to optimize system performance.

Windows 7 VHD

In Windows 7 Enterprise and Ultimate, Microsoft allows you to create VHDs. These files end with the .vhd extension, and are capable of containing an entire system environment, including boot and operating system files, programs and data. The VHD format is used in virtual PCs (e.g., Windows XP Mode, Windows Virtual PC or Hyper-V), and can be applied as a physical boot media for your PC. You can save them wherever you want (e.g., on drive C: or D:) and select them from the boot menu.   Here’s how to create a VHD file, make it bootable and install Windows 7 in just seven steps:

1. Boot from your Windows 7 DVD or bootable USB drive.

2. Select your keyboard and language preferences, and go to Repair your computer instead of continuing with the Windows 7 setup. On the next screen, select your current operating system, Next and then Command prompt.

3. You need to start disk configuration and management tool diskpart. Simply type it in, and after a few seconds, it will run.  Type in “list volume” to see all of the hard drives and partitions on your system. It’s important to do this, so you know where to save your VHD; the drive letters in the pre-boot environment don’t necessarily match the ones when Windows is running.

4. To create the VHD, type in “create vdisk file=C:\MyWindows7.vhd maximum=65536 type=expandable“. For example, call it “MyWindows7” on drive C: and expand it to a maximum size of 64 GB (65.536 KB). Be sure to keep in mind how much disk space you have left, and don’t assign it more than that. Otherwise, you’ll end up with the dreaded blue screen after setup and have to start over again.

Windows 7 VHD

5. Make sure that Windows 7 sees the VHD file as a physical drive. To do that, type in “select vdisk file=C:\MyWindows7.vhd” (per the example used in the previous step) and hit Enter. Then, type in “attach vdisk“.   Here comes the important part: Do not restart your machine. Type in “Exit” to leave the “diskpart” tool, and close the command prompt window and then the “System Recovery Options” window.

6. Click on “Install now” to launch the Windows 7 setup assistant. Go through the usual steps of clicking “I accept the license terms“, “Next” and “Custom (Advanced)”. Then, go through the list of all of the hard disk partitions on your system. The new VHD should appear as “Disk 1 Unallocated Space”, if you only have one disk built into your system. If you have two physical hard drives, it should show up as “Disk 2 Unallocated Space”. In either case, it should be the exact same size you gave it in Step 4.

7. Hit “Next” and wait for Windows 7 to wrap up its installation procedure. After that, you can use the VHD as you would a normal partition. Configure Windows, install applications and copy your data, and simply repeat the steps to create several Windows installations.

After creating several VHDs, the default boot menu will show you several “Windows 7” entries, which might make it a bit difficult to know the operating system version you’re booting into. I suggest using EasyBCD to edit the boot menu entries, for example, “Windows 7 – For Gaming” or “Windows 7 – For Work“.

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