Now more than ever the choice of a “Clean”/Custom install versus an “Upgrade” from Windows 7 to Windows 8.1 makes a “Dual Boot” setup a far better choice.
To quote Microsoft: 1) “One shift to note in Windows 8.1 is that we will be offering “full version software” at retail and online for download that does not require a previous version of Windows in order to be installed.”
2) “Windows 7: Consumers can upgrade a Windows 7 PC which will bring along all their files, but will require them to reinstall desktop apps including Microsoft Office.”
1) In short you no longer need a prior version of Windows as both versions of Windows (8.1 and 8.1 Pro) are the “Full” product only, “upgrade” versions are no longer available. Therefor installing Windows 8.1 on a second drive or another partition on your existing hard or SSD drive can be legally accomplished without the need for an earlier and activated version of Windows to upgrade from.
2) To make an even stronger case for a dual boot arrangement is the fact that if you were to choose the upgrade option when installing Windows 8.1 all you would keep are your data files, your applications would need to be re-installed and there is a good chance that some of your applications that run fine in Windows 7 are not even Windows 8.1 compatible. You would then be in the position of forking out more money just to purchase a Windows 8.1 compatible version of software you already own, paid for and works just fine in Windows 7.
How to protect your existing installation of Windows 7 and evaluate Windows 8.1 over the coming months:
Image Backup, the key to preserving your investment in Windows 7: Dual booting with an image and data backup strategy for Windows 7 will provide a layer of protection. The object is not to lose your Windows 7 operating system, applications and data files. To quickly recover should the installation of Windows 8.1 fail and to be able to easily remove Windows 8.1 if and when you so choose to do so.
I’ll show you what you need to know in order to survive any catastrophes that may occur by providing a detailed look at backup strategies, recovery procedures and how to install Windows 8.1 alongside Windows 7 to create a dual boot computer.
Understanding Disk Drive Partitions and what needs to be backed up:
There are a significant number of partition arrangements, each computer manufacture may have their own partition schemes with preinstalled versions of Windows 7. Systems upgraded from Vista or XP have yet another partition layout and finally to home built systems and the user’s own choice of partitions.
For this article I will be covering a couple of common BIOS / Master Boot Record based drive partition arrangements with respect to creating an Image Backup strategy and implementing it.Image Backup concepts: All backups will be made from the Windows 7 environment and backup restoration / drive recovery will be made from a bootable recovery disk.
One such backup would be an image of the entire hard drive. Note that a number of computers with Windows 7 preinstalled include a recovery partition (which may or may not have a drive letter assigned) and may also have a Utility partition (not shown in the example below) and a 100MB System Partition located at the very front/beginning of the drive. The recovery/utility partitions can vary in size from one manufacture to another, as small as 10GB or as large as 50GB.
Another type of backup would be just the System and Windows 7 partition, usually called a “system backup” as it only includes the System and Windows 7 partition.
Yet another backup would only include the Windows 7 partition, more typically performed prior to when you install or remove software when in the Windows 7.
These 3 types of backups will allow you to revert to your pre Windows 8.1 drive configuration (single boot / Windows 7 only) should you choose to do so.
The choice of which backup software is yours (Windows 7 Backup and Restore is not recommended) however I suggest one of the following two products.
1. Acronis True Image 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014 (2014 supports Windows 7, 8 and 8.1)
2. EaseUS Todo Backup version 4.0, 4.x, 5.x and 6.x (6.x supports Windows 7, 8 and 8.1)
Note: Norton Ghost 15 (supports Windows 7 but not 8/8.1). Ghost has been discontinued with no new version is sight, but if you are already using it on your Windows 7 PC the concept is the same.
For the upcoming installation of Windows 8.1 I will be using EaseUS Todo Backup (free version) installed in Windows 7, for those of you using other backup software the backup software should be installed in and the "Drive Image" created from the Windows 7 environment before you make any partition changes and or install Windows 8.1. Each of the Image Backup software applications mentioned will backup and restore (restore when using their “Recovery DVD”) both your Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 partitions.
Image Backup strategy:
1) First a baseline image backup of the entire drive will be created. 2) A second pre-Windows 8.1 baseline image backup of the entire drive will be created after you have shrunk the Windows 7 partition is to create space for use when installing Windows 8.1, this second baseline will be used as a starting point prior to installing Windows 8.1. 3) Finally a backup of your dual boot PC will be created. You should consider creating separate image backups of just the Windows 7 partition when and if additional applications are installed within Windows 7.
Obviously you will continue to use Windows 7 while evaluating Windows 8. This means you will day by day continuously add more data files (Documents, Photos, Music, Etc) when using Windows 7. It’s not practical to create a new image backup each day, but there is a convenient utility named SyncToy which can make quick work of backing up your data files to an external USB drive, or you can use the ‘Data Backup’ (File backup) option available if your Image Backup software supports it.