How to install Windows 7 to a virtual hard disk

You might have heard that virtualisation is quite the thing at the moment, and Windows 7 is the first operating system that really makes use of it for non-business use.

How to install Windows 7 to a virtual hard disk

Not only is there the Windows XP Mode, there are all sorts of other nods and winks to virtualisation that hint of future developments. One of those is Windows 7’s ability to mount virtual hard-disk images that behave as real, physical disks. Not only that, but if you’ve got Windows 7 and don’t want to wipe your hard disk, you have a new option: installing non-destructively to a virtual hard disk, from which you can boot natively.

This tutorial shows you how.

Windows 7

Windows 7

Insert Windows 7 DVD

Insert Windows 7 DVD
The installation routine start in the usual way – just put the Windows 7 DVD in the drive, reboot and hit a key to run setup when you’re prompted. The setup routine will spring into life after a few seconds.

Start the diskpart tool

Start the diskpart tool
Once you get to the initial welcome screen, the clever part begins. Your virtual disk needs to be created, so hit Shift+F10. This will pop up a command prompt. Type diskpart to start the diskpart tool.

Create a virtual disk

Create a virtual disk
Now to create your virtual disk. Type create vdisk file=c:win7disk.vhd type=fixed maximum=50000. A size of 50,000 equates to 50GB – you can alter it to suit but don’t make it less than around 8,000.

Attach the disk

Attach the disk
Give the disk the focus by typing sel vdisk file=c:win7disk.vhd. Now ‘attach’ it to the system with attach vdisk. Type exit twice to exit both diskpart and the command prompt.

Custom install

Custom install
Now you can proceed with the installation as normal. Select ‘Clean install’ and then select the virtual hard disk as the installation drive. As far as the system is concerned the virtual drive will behave like a fixed disk.

Installation complete

Installation complete
Once the installation is complete, you effectively have a traditional dual-boot system. But if you select Windows 7 as the boot OS, the system boots off the virtual disk image. To back up the complete system, just copy the file across!

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