I attended a small event last week at the local Microsoft office. It was called an “installfest” and was led by IT Pro Evangelist Harold Wong (what an awesome title he has!). This was an informal event geared towards helping folks quickly get up and running with evaluation versions of Windows 8 and/or Windows Server 2012. It also helped prepare those who were attending some of the labs at the launch event being held the next day.
What made this easy is the ability for modern versions Windows to boot from VHD (virtual hard drive) files. While VHDs are really just big files with .vhd extensions, Windows can mount them alongside your “real” hard drives and, more importantly, event boot from them. That’s the magic sauce.
Today I noticed that Harold’s event invitation is still up and that invitation happens to include links to prebuilt VHDs for both Windows 8 and Server 2012. Temporary licenses, mind you but if you re-arm ‘em you can get some solid evaluation time out of each. Hopefully I’m not overstepping here…
How to set it up? Surprisingly simple. From that event invitation page scroll down a bit and grab either the prebuilt Windows 8 or Server 2012 VHD (or, if you’re like me, grab both – I’m triple booting them). (note the sneaky links in there)
Once you have it downloaded, unzip it and put it somewhere that you’ll remember – c:\boot perhaps.
Fire up the Disk Management tool and attach the VHD and give it a drive letter. Don’t overthink the drive letter – but be sure to remember what letter you gave it for one of the following steps (and no fears, this isn’t permanent. That drive will be gone after next reboot).
Not sure how to get to Disk Management? Well, there are more ways than I’ll ever discover, but here are a few options that work if running Win7:
- Hit your windows key and type “create and format” which will lead you to “Create and Format Disk Partitions.”
- Right click on Computer, go to Manage and then click Disk Management in the resulting window.
- Winkey+R (the run dialog) and type diskmgmt.msc and hit enter. Or type the same in a command prompt.
Now that you have the VHD attached and assigned a drive letter you’re ready to add it to the boot manager. Start a command prompt as administrator (right click on it in the start menu and choose “run as Administrator”).
In that command prompt type BCDBOOT x:\windows – where “X” is the drive letter currently occupied by the VHD file. Hit enter. Reboot and admire the new option at startup.
Want to undo it? Run msconfig and go to the Boot tab. Whichever entry selected here as “Default” is the one that will boot if you don’t select any options – it is also the one who’s boot manager runs. I find the Windows 7 boot manager to launch faster than the Windows 8 or 2012 so I make sure that’s my default. When done just remove the VHD boot options from that same list.
Side note: Finding Hyper-V in Windows 8 totally made my day.