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How to make XP / Vista dual-boot Independently


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Many questions regarding making XP and Vista boot independently of each other arise because users face problems when one partition becomes corrupt or they format their active partition, not knowing they will lose the ability to boot their OS. Having independent boot would avoid this scenario.

The reason they are dependent is because the boot files for both are stored on ONE and the SAME partition, which is your ACTIVE partition. Vista setup determines to put the boot files on the active partition, which is usually the XP partition since it's active at the time of install.

I have come up with a way to boot the two independently with the use of a third "recovery partition." This recovery partition can be multi-purpose if you use BartPE. You can use it to boot XP and Vista, replace system files with patched ones, use disk management services to repartition, etc. (You can also use Windows PE or VistaPE as your recovery partition. You will have to add them to your BCD with bcdedit using the link in the last post about adding WinPE to HDD.)

The benefit of this setup is if you hose your third partition, you can boot XP or Vista by making your XP partition active again with a BartPE CD.


  • Three partitions. I recommend 600 - 700 MB for your third partition, in case you add other plugins/programs.
  • Grub4Dos file called grldr.
  • PE builder for making BartPE.

System Setup

There's no recommended system setup, but to give you an idea, here's my system setup. My XP partition on C:\ is the active partition, containing the boot files for Vista (C:\BOOT folder and C:\bootmgr). Vista is on D:\ and was installed from within XP. BartPE on E:\ is my recovery partition. If you haven't installed anything yet, then you may consider this setup.


  1. First, install XP to C:, Vista to D:, then BartPE to E:. Instructions for installing BartPE to a HDD partition can be found here: How to Install BartPE to Another Partition.
    • The order in which you install doesn't matter for now. However, it is recommended to install XP first, then Vista, so you won't have to repair boot.
    • If you are already dual-booting XP and Vista, then just install BartPE and continue.
    • Make note which is your active partition if your setup is different. Check disk management. Remember, I'm assuming C:\ is active.

[*]Boot to your recovery partition.

[*]Copy Vista boot files from active partition to E:\ - Copy C:\BOOT folder to E:\ and C:\bootmgr to E:\.

[*]Rename E:\bootmgr to E:\bootmgrv. (You don't have to do this if you are using BartPE, but doing this allows you to keep this one and C:\bootmgr straight; so when you create your menu.lst you know exactly which one is being used to boot Vista.)

[*]Rename E:\ntldr to E:\bartpe. Note that this ntldr file should already be there and is not the same as the XP's ntldr.

[*]Copy XP boot files to E:\ - Copy C:\boot.ini and C:\ntldr to E:\.

[*]Rename E:\ntldr (the XP one) to E:\ntldrxp.

[*]Create your menu.lst entries. See below for example.

[*]Make E:\ partition the active partition.

Sample menu.lst entries

#Boot Vista using E:\bootmgrv
title Windows Vista (bootmgrv)
find --set-root /bootmgrv
chainloader /bootmgrv

#Boot Vista using C:\bootmgr
title Windows Vista (bootmgr)
find --set-root /bootmgr
chainloader /bootmgr

#Boot XP using E:\ntldrxp
title Windows XP (ntldrxp)
find --set-root /ntldrxp
chainloader /ntldrxp

#Boot XP using C:\ntldr
title Windows XP (ntldr)
find --set-root /ntldr
chainloader /ntldr

#Boot BartPE using E:\bartpe
title BartPE (ntldr)
find --set-root /bartpe
chainloader /bartpe

(NOTE: this is not a complete menu.lst; just the entries for items.)

Reboot and grldr should load with your menu.

The great thing is you can load XP/Vista with the boot files that you copied to E:\ or the ones on C:\. You can have double entries in menu.lst and both will work. If your XP partition becomes corrupt, then you can use boot files on E:\ to load Vista. You probably won't be able to load XP since its corrupt, right?? Haha.

If Vista becomes corrupt, you can still load XP. If your recovery partition (BartPE) becomes corrupt, then you can load BartPE from CD, make C:\ your active and can load XP or Vista. Or you can fix your recovery partition the way it was. There are many possibilities with this. Good luck.

Edited by spacesurfer
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Nice info thx allot have just done it on my back op pc :) but is it possible to do i with Vista installed as the first OS ? without uninstalling my current vista?

Yes. As a matter of fact, you can do it with any system configuration type. You just need to know where your Vista/XP boot files are. Your boot files will be on your active partition. Just go to your active partition and copy the boot files mentioned to your recovery partition.

For those who know what we're talking about, there is no need to modify BCD. As a matter of fact, you should NOT modify BCD with bcdedit. Reason is, it doesn't matter where you put BCD, it will know where your Vista is installed. Thus, copying it from active partition to recovery partition won't make a difference to the way BCD finds your Vista partition, since it relies on GUID.

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If you want to use Windows PE 2.0 instead of BartPE as your recovery partition, then see link here for some great scripts for installing it to HDD (without a RAM disk). Windows PE from HDD without RAM Disk

(This guide points out an error in the MS guide.)

If you want to boot WinPE from HDD with a RAM disk, then all you need to do is copy the files in the ISO to your recovery partition, without using ImageX to apply. The advantage is less HDD space needed if using RAM disk.

Since Vista and WinPE both use bootmgr to boot, you'll have to rename Vista's bootmgr to bootmgrv and call bootmgrv from menu.lst.

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  • 1 month later...

Hrmm, not sure if this is applicable here, but...

I'd of thought the easiest way would be using 2 harddrives, most bios's have an F11 or F12 key boot menu, don't waste any hd space with a dedicated partition to boot the os's.

simply set the boot device as the harddrive you want to install windows too

If you have one harddrive, to me the easiest solution would be to create a 8mb partition, set that partition as active, then create the other partitions around this one, install xp, then vista, boot loader would be installed to the small 8mb partition if anything happens to either of the 2 partitions the boot loader stays intact...

using third party software you can hide partitions, i'm not sure if you could hide the active partition and still allow it to be booted from, so you wouldn't see it in windows, could always even have partition magic or some other software on this little partition and use the bootloader from that software, would also be able to do all your disk partitioning and what not from here then

Sorry if this isn't the right idea, but I may of been confused when I read the original post! :unsure:

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You just basically restated what I was explaining in the original post. You recommend an 8 MB "boot" partition whereas I recommended a full-fledged BartPE partition. The concept is the same, which is using a third partition idea to boot XP and Vista.

With BartPE, however, you can do more when you boot to it. And the space requirement can be minimized by minimizing plugins. The only reason I recommended BartPE is because it can give you access to your NTFS files on XP and Vista. Moreover, you can use Grub4Dos (FREE) to boot more than just XP/Vista, namely, devices such as floppy, CD, floppy disk image, hard disk image.

Here's an example of booting Acronis Disk Director using a HDD image (actually a flash disk image): Boot Acronis Disk Director HDD Image.

So, it's easier to create an 8 MB partition whereas creating a partition for BartPE might take up more space but the advantage is versatility. But the basic concept you suggested is the same as mine.

Edited by spacesurfer
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Ah, sorry, Yes i was a bit confused myself :unsure:

I do see the point of using the BartPE, I was just trying to say you can just use windows if you want to, as at first I was a bit confused the way I read your original post!

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  • 2 months later...

Please help,

I just read the post by spacesurfer from March 31 regarding dual booting Vista and other operating systems using Grub4Dos and was very impressed with how clearly it was written.

I'm a complete novice (no formal training) and pretty well understood what was said. I just purchased a HP laptop with Vista home premium preinstalled. At this point I have never even turned it on and would like to ask for guidance in setting it up to multi-boot Win98SE, WinXP, and Vista.

I'm afraid that if I try it myself without some kind of knowledgable resource to ask questions of, I will be stymied by some "simple" thing and screw it all up. For example in the post there was a reference to using a floppy to boot from. My new machine doesn't have a floppy drive...only CD. Is that a show stopper? menu.lst. was referred to. Where do I find it? Please don't tell me to READ... I catch on fast but, as I said, I have no formal training and what is intuitive to you all leaves me banging my head against a wall.

I have this great new machine with two 120GB hard drives and nothing except the preloaded stuff on it and this seems like a good opportunity to learn and also have some fun. I have some old games that only work on Win98 and it sounds like I will mostly be using WinXP for everyday stuff (roxio, etc) but I'm also intrigued by the potential of Vista.

Would anyone be willing to help me stay out of trouble with some step-by-step guidance and act as a resource to get over the bumps in this endeavor?

P.S. I hope this was the right place to post this request.

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1. I would say no floppy - don't try unless you know how to boot XP/Vista using some other means. Basically, you need some other way to start XP/Vista if something wrong happens. Until you find an alternative way to boot XP/Vista (e.g. CD-R, USB flash drive), then do not try this. Remember Murphy's law. It's happened to me while I was testing and it will happen to you. I was prepared since I have a floppy drive.

2. Menu.lst is a simple text file (txt) renamed as an .lst file in simple terms. You can download a sample menu.lst from the grub4dos link (see my signature for link to multibooting). Once you download the sample, you can make changes to menu.lst using Notepad.

3. Intrigued by Vista's capabilities??!! I haven't used Vista in MONTHS! I hate to even see it now that I've been playing around with it. XP has a much cleaner, leaner interface than Vista. In retrospect, I wasted my time. The only thing good that came out of Vista was it's installation process (much better), it's update methods, and ImageX. ImageX rocks.

Here is my suggestion:

a. I'd say since you are a novice, you need to maKe a BartPE CD first and get to learn how to use it, know it, familiarize yourself with it.

b. Then learn how to make this BartPE CD multiboot, meaning, you can give it a grub4dos menu that can boot to BartPE from that CD or boot XP/vista from your HDD. This offers you the alternative to your floppy. Head over to www.911cd.com/forums. I have a post there how to do that.

c. Then, once you find that your CD works, put BartPE on a partition of your HDD following the link provided in first post. Once that is working, then follow the directions in the first post to make your XP/Vista boot independently.

Edited by spacesurfer
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  • 1 month later...
Nice info thx allot have just done it on my back op pc :) but is it possible to do i with Vista installed as the first OS ? without uninstalling my current vista?

Ya It's fine but in case when i don't have any Bart PE then.

viz. I've installed bothe n working well but as I installed Xp ( by fromating C:\ , vista in D: ) Now I only get Xp as default boot n no OS Choice menu where I can get Vista for booting Suggest some remedy in this case also.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I do it on another way.

I have 3 harddisks here and 2 of them are in my system. On the third harddisk there's a fully working Vista version present. I only need to plug this disk in and set another bootpriority in my BIOS and it works. With this version I can do recovery of the affacted OS, but Windows Vista does an excellent job bij his in-place upgrade so you don't have primairely do that huge job.

My custom data is on the another drive in my system which is also the pagedrive of Vista. Also I keep a back-up of all data on an extern medium should it be needed in what kind of case it matters. I never lose some data.

PS: In most modern BIOSses you can choose the primair harddisk so you don't have to use a shared bootloader.

Edited by Extravert
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  • 1 month later...


Thank you for your tutorial.

What I understand: XP (hd0,0), Vista is (hd0,1) and BartPE is (hd0,2).

I have a question :

Since E: is active, when booted with grub4dos in the menu.lst I did not see the makeactive directive

for (hd0,0) partition. So when booting Vista (hd0,0), C: will not be assigned to (hd0,0) but to (hd0,2).

Is is correct? And then it would cause problem to Vista. Maybe same problem when booting from XP (hd0,1).

Am I missing something?

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