Dual-Boot Windows 8 or Else You could be Sorry!

I like Windows 7 very much, as well as my Terabytes of data, so I was very careful about installing the Windows 8 Consumer Preview earlier this year (and just as careful to delete every trace of it once I’d satisfied my curiosity). When the recent Windows 8 Release Preview came along, I wasn’t convinced that I needed to revisit Metroland, but I kept hearing reports that the Release Preview fixed many issues and added some compelling new features. And anyway, I said to myself, “I can just get rid of it like I did before.”

Long story short, the install process is slightly different than it was before, or maybe I was just slightly less careful. Whatever the case, I ended up having to do a full reinstall of Windows 7 over Windows 8, and go to considerable trouble to salvage what I could of my data — a process that I would not wish on my worst enemy. So the following steps are dedicated to helping others avoid this same kind of heartache.

  1. Backup your data. I’m not kidding. Do everything that you can do; full backup, Restore Points, mirror drives, etc. Trust me, all of these things are far easier and quicker to accomplish than trying to rebuild your previous OS, registry settings, software, and documents with nothing but a stubborn, incoherent, and mostly irrelevant Windows.old file. Microsoft will not help you, because this Preview is simply a beta version, and you install it at your own risk. Third-party nerds won’t help much, either; the two most helpful things that you can expect to hear are “you should have backed everything up,” and “why wouldn’t you want to keep Windows 8?”
  2. Download the Windows 8 ISO image, [http://windows.microsoft.com/en-US/windows-8/iso] and don’t forget to write down the product key. Choose either the 32-bit or 64-bit version, depending on your system. Do not use the Windows 8 “Setup” installer; this was my first mistake. I watched the installation program continue for several minutes without getting the “Custom Install” dual-boot option, and finally cancelled out thinking that I’d rather be safe than sorry (I was still sorry, but I might have been sorrier more quickly).
  3. Do not mount the ISO image to a virtual drive. This was my second (and possibly crucial) mistake. It simply will not install the same way. You’re going to be putting the data on a disc or USB drive, so make sure you have the hardware, software, and the capacity to do so. The 32-bit ISO takes up about 2.4GB, and the 64-bit version about 3.3GB.
  4. Write the image to your install medium. Don’t just copy the file, write or ‘burn’ the image to the disc or USB; you want to end up with something ‘bootable.’ My disc tool of choice is ImgBurn, [http://www.imgburn.com/] but Microsoft has a perfectly good solution with their Windows Disc Image Burner [http://windows.microsoft.com/en-US/windows7/Burn-a-CD-or-DVD-from-an-ISO-file] .
  5. Create a dedicated partition on your OS drive (usually your C: drive). If this thought scares you, think hard about whether you want to mess around with a “use at your own risk” beta operating system in the first place. But it’s actually pretty easy; just make sure that you have at least 20GB free before you begin, and it wouldn’t be a bad idea to defragment the drive if you haven’t done so lately. Last time around, I put the partition on one of my secondary drives; this time, I wanted to see what a 6Gb/s SATA SSD could do.
  6. To get to where you can create the partition, go to the Start menu or Windows Explorer and right-click on Computer. You’ll see the Manage option; click to bring up the Computer Management dialog box and select Disk Management from the left-hand menu. You’ll see a nice graphical list of your drives and all of their partitions.
  7. Chances are, your OS drive will be “Disk 0” and already be divided up into two partitions: System Reserved and (C:) Right-clicking on the (C:) partition will give you the option to Shrink Volume. Selecting this makes your PC take some time to figure out how much space it can give you, measured in megabytes. If it’s less than 20,000, free up some extra space and try again. If you know that you have much more free space than Shrink is showing, there may be unmovable system files blocking the operation. There are low-level defrag and partition managers that can fix this, but that’s a particularly tricky operation beyond the scope of this article.
  8. When you choose your shrink size, I’d aim for 25,000 (25GB) because I like wiggle room. Disks, memory, operating systems will all run better when they have a little more space to breathe. Note: unlike many picky byte-specific PC settings, you don’t have to worry about only using multiples of 8. Just type in 25,000, or as much above 20,000 as you can manage, and hit “Shrink.”
  9. Once Shrink is complete, format the partition. Using the New Simple Volume option, choose NTFS as the format and assign a drive letter (the default is usually OK; I already had two disk drives and a DVD burner in the system, so mine ended up being (G:). You can also rename it; just to keep track, I called mine Windows 8. Not that it mattered.
  10. Shut down your PC and boot from media. If your BIOS or UEFI is normally set to boot from media first, you can simply restart. But chances are, your primary hard drive boots first and you’ll need to juggle the boot order. On many PCs, this is accomplished by pressing the Del key after the PC is powered up (or while it’s going through its preliminary tests). Your BIOS may be one of the less common ones that use Esc, F1, F2, or some other key instead. Either way, tab over to the Boot Options/Boot Priority section of your BIOS and get your DVD or USB drive listed first. Save and Exit (usually F10). From now on (or until you change it back), you’ll always see a message such as “press any key to boot from disc” whenever you power on or restart your PC.
  11. Begin the install of Windows 8. Choose the option for a Custom Install, and specify the partition that you want Windows 8 to be installed on (the drive letter that you created in Step 8). Enter your product key, and you’re on your way — installation takes far less time that you might expect, as does boot times afterward (especially if you install on a solid-state drive).

If you’re at all into tech, Windows 8 is like a summer blockbuster film. A lot of time and money went into it, everybody else is going to be talking about it, and it’s being hyped as “redefining the paradigm” or some such marketing nonsense. Nevertheless, like a summer blockbuster, you can’t help secretly suspecting that it’s going to end up being nothing more than a colorful disappointment. Installing the Release Preview was far more of a “John Carter” for me than it was “The Avengers”… but with a few precautions, you can at least avoid it becoming a “Phantom Menace.”

Greg Buckskin is a technical guru and writer for CableTV.com.