For most people, running one operating system on their PC or laptop is enough, but in some cases it can be helpful to have two separate versions on the PC. This could be because specific software only works with an older version of Windows, or maybe you want to compare the differences between Windows 7 and Windows 10 before going into transition mode. Thankfully, Windows is designed with dual-booting in mind.
You can create a dual-boot system from pretty much any version of Windows, but here we’ll add Windows 10 to a Windows 7 PC.
(Note that Windows 7 is now at the end of its life, so we recommend that you stop running it.)
What do I need to dual boot Windows?
Obviously you’ll need a copy of Windows to install, and this needs to be burned to a CD or burned onto a USB stick. Microsoft offers a downloadable version of Windows 10 on its website, although you’ll still need a product key for activation if you intend to use the operating system long-term.
Luckily, the days of dealing with ‘ISO’ files are over: when you download Windows 10 using Microsoft’s Media Creation Tool, the process happens automatically. That means you’ll end up with a USB stick your computer can boot from.
As always, before using Windows, you should back up your data, as there is no guarantee that nothing will go wrong and you won’t want to lose your precious files.
Here are the basic steps before we get into the details:
- Install a new hard drive or create a new partition on an existing hard drive using Windows Disk Management Utility
- Insert the USB stick containing the new version of Windows, then restart the PC.
- Install Windows 10, make sure to select the Customize option.
- Select the newly created partition or other hard disk as the destination for Windows 10. Then click Next to install the operating system.
How to install a second copy of Windows?
If you purchased a second hard drive or are using a backup drive, you can install a second copy of Windows to this drive. If you don’t have one or you can’t install a second drive because you’re on a laptop, you’ll need to use your existing hard drive and partition it.
Create a new partition
If you need to install a second version of Windows on the same hard drive as the first version, enough free space is required. This can be tricky if you’re running low on memory, as Windows 10 ideally requires around 20-25GB (and we recommend at least 50-100GB).
Here’s how to find and delete large files that take up space. Once you’ve backed up any important files, you’ll need to go to Windows’ Disk Management utility. To do so, hold down the Windows key and press R. This will open a box where you type diskmgmt.msc and press enter.
You should now see a list of partitions on your hard drive. Select the primary partition, commonly called (C:), then right-click and select Shrink Volume.
Now you will see another window showing the size of the partition and asking you to Enter the space to shrink in MB. To create a 25GB partition, you need to enter 25000 and then click Shrink. This will modify the partition, allowing you to have enough space to install Windows 10.
How to install Windows 10?
Put the previously created Windows 10 version CD or USB in your PC and reboot it. You’ll be taken straight to the installation, but if your machine reverts to the original version of Windows right away, you’ll need to adjust the boot sequence in your BIOS. Check out our guide on How to Enter the BIOS to help you achieve this: you’re looking for an option to change the boot order so that removable drives are checked before the main hard drive.
When the installation sequence begins, select the Custom option.
This will open a table asking you Where do you want to install Windows? From the options presented, select the one that has permissions Unallocated space, should be 25GB. Click Apply and once Windows has created the partition, click Next. (If you’re using a separate hard drive, choose that one instead.)
Now the installation will continue and finish. The next time you power on or reboot your machine, you’ll have the option to choose between the two operating systems. The bonus is that since different versions of Windows still use the same file system, you should be able to access your files from either operating system.
For more details, see How to install Windows 10.
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