Running XP and Vista on the same machine

For many people, Vista offers everything for their computing needs. Windows Vista And it’s likely that Microsoft will eventually get Vista polished up to the point where no one will miss XP. But that time is not yet here for many. XP has been around for a long time, longer in fact than any other Microsoft operating system has gone between release and replacement. This means quite simply that a lot of software has been written with XP in mind. Vista offers emulation and compatibility settings that are supposed to make XP programs work, but some just refuse to cooperate with Vista’s good intentions. Also, given that Vista is several times larger than XP, gaming and high–need applications like Video Editing suffer.

Three options presented in the Vista to XP upgrade article were reformatting and installing XP, running XP in a virtual machine, and Dual Booting Vista and XP. (See the related TechnologyTips Article Upgrade from Vista to XP?)

We’ll focus on the dual boot solution here. Ironically, many users did exactly the same thing back in 2002, dual–booting between XP and 98, and for the exact same reasons, too. Programs didn’t work, and XP used too many resources for fast gaming.

For those not familiar with the concept, dual booting is the setting up of two different operating systems (OSs) on a single computer. When the computer boots up, the user is given the choice of two or more OSs. The user selects the one they want and it will boot up, oblivious to the other OSs. To switch to another OS, reboot the computer and select it. It sounds easy, and it actually isn’t too bad to set up. All you need it some free time and copies of the OSs you want to install.

Our goal here is simple. Install XP on a blank part of your hard drive, and tell the computer to offer a choice. It sounds easy, but there’s a bit more to it. Let’s show you how.

  • To get started, we’re going to assume that Vista is already installed and running. The first thing we want to do is set up a partition for XP to run on. If you’re not sure what this is, or how to set one up, now would be a good time to get a computer–savvy friend to help. Another option is to install another hard drive into your tower for XP. If you cannot go this route, you can use the Computer Management tool that’s in the Control Panel of Vista. You’ll need a pretty big hard drive to do this, as both OSs need lots of room each.
  • Click on the Start Menu button on the lower left of the Vista desktop. In the Vista search box (just above the Start Menu button), just type in ‘Computer Management’ and click on the correct result (it should show you a link to Computer Management in the search results). Again, don’t try this if you are not sure what you are doing, you can very easily wipe out your hard drive’s contents with the wrong changes.
  • In the Computer Management window, select Disk Manager on the left. Here you’ll see your hard drives on the right.
  • Right–click on the drive and select ‘Shrink Volume’. If you are going to use a lot of installed programs on the XP partition, make the drive at least 20 GB. And don’t forget to also leave enough room on the Vista partition. The more room each of them have, the better.
  • Once the main partition has been shrunk, create a new partition in the empty space that’s been opened up.
  • From here you’re ready to boot from the XP disk. But there is one thing to bear in mind before you get too far. XP doesn’t support AHCI mode that some motherboards use for newer SATA hard drives. Turning this off will make your hard drives look like the older ATA drives to the Windows XP installer. This is an advanced feature in your computers BIOS. Most computers require you to press a key such as F2, or Delete as the computer first boots to get into the BIOS. Again I’d suggest that if you are not comfortable with these settings, have a knowledgeable friend help you. Just look in the BIOS menus for a setting that mentions AHCI, and if you can, disable it. If you happen to have AHCI drivers for XP on a floppy disk, then you can just leave AHCI on. Just press F6 as XP prompts you during the early part of the installation to Press F6 to load other drivers.
  • Now comes the easy part. When the XP installer asks you where to install, point it to the newly minted partition. It’ll be listed as ‘Unpartitioned Space’. DO NOT touch the other partition, that’s where Vista lives and it’ll render all of your data gone if you format it. Go ahead and select the ‘Unpartitioned Space’ and format it using NTFS on the next screen. The rest of the installation is standard, just follow the prompts.
  • Once XP is installed, it’ll create a Master Boot Record that won’t see Vista. Use this chance to make sure that XP sees all of your hardware. Update drivers as needed, but don’t worry about any updates yet. To get back into Vista, you’ll have to insert the Vista DVD and boot from it. Select ‘Repair your Computer’ on the ‘Install Now’ screen, and then select ‘Startup Repair’. What’s happened here is now XP is installed, Vista is now set to boot, but we need to set things up so that Vista and XP give you the choice.
  • If you installed Vista after you had XP, Vista would have set up its own boot selector. But since we are adding XP after Vista was installed, you’ll need to use a boot manager program to create a boot screen. EasyBCD, is a full–featured program available at a great price (FREE!). Download and run the program.
  • From here you can simply select the ‘Add/Remove Entries’ button on the left, and pick the drive XP is on. Change the type to ‘Windows NT/2k/XP/2k3’. Click on “Add entry” on the lower right, and then save on the upper right.

Once you’ve rebooted, you should get the option to boot to either XP or Vista. Now you’ll be able to have the best of both worlds. Well at least until the next version of Windows comes out!