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Are you interested in Windows 8, but don’t want to abandon Windows 7 just yet? Well, why not dual-boot Windows 8 and Windows 7, selecting the operating system you want to use each time you turn on your computer? This allows you to test Windows 8 while keeping Windows 7 around as an escape hatch if you want out. If you do test Windows 8, make sure to check out our Windows 8 guide first.
This process will install Windows 8 on its own separate partition, leaving your Windows 7 system intact. All you’ll lose is a bit of space from your Windows 7 partition – just enough to make room for Windows 8. Each Windows installation will have its own programs and settings, although you can access each operating system’s files from the other version of Windows.
A Note About Windows Licensing
If you have an Upgrade edition of Windows 8, installing the upgrade edition in a dual-boot configuration is technically against the license agreement. Microsoft’s Windows 8 Upgrade license agreement states that:
The software covered by this agreement is an upgrade to your existing operating system software, so the upgrade replaces the original software that you are upgrading. You do not retain any rights to the original software after you have upgraded and you may not continue to use it or transfer it in any way.
If you have a non-upgrade edition of Windows 8, Microsoft’s Windows license agreement allows you to have both installed side-by-side.
Prepare Windows 7
Before you continue, you should ensure you have all your important data backed up. While this process shouldn’t erase any of your data, it’s always possible for something to go wrong when resizing partitions and installing operating systems – better safe than sorry! Download our free guide to backing up and restoring your PC for more information.
You’ll need to create a new partition for Windows 8. You can do this by resizing your existing Windows 7 partition to make room. (Alternately, if you have a second hard drive in your computer, you can install Windows 8 on that hard drive without shrinking your existing partition.)
To make room for Windows 8, press the Windows key, type Disk management, and press Enter. Right-click your Windows 7 C: partition in the Disk Management window and select Shrink Volume.
Windows 8 will need a partition of at least 20 GB in size, and more is better. Shrink the Windows 7 partition to make room for the new Windows 8 partition – for example, if you want about 30 GB of space for your Windows 8 partition, you’d shrink the Windows 7 partition by about 30000 MB.
You’ll see an amount of Unallocated Space when you’re done. This is the space where Windows 8 will be installed – leave it be for now.
Start Windows 8’s Installer
Next, insert the Windows 8 installation disc into your computer’s disc drive and restart your computer to start the installation process. If you don’t have a disc drive in your computer, you can put Windows 8’s installer on a USB stick and boot from that.
Note that you must boot your computer from the installation media to install Windows 8 in a dual-boot configuration – you can’t start installing it from within Windows 7.
Your computer should automatically boot from the Windows 8 installation media when you restart it. If it doesn’t, press the appropriate key to access your computer’s boot menu and select the installation media or enter the computer’s BIOS (often by pressing Delete or F2 during the boot-up process) and change its boot order. (The required keys are often displayed on-screen during boot. If you don’t see them, consult your computer’s manual.)
Install Windows 8
When the Windows 8 installer screen appears after restarting your computer, go through the installation process as normal. When you see the “Which type of installation do you want?” screen, select Custom – do not select Upgrade or Windows 8 will replace Windows 7 on your system.
On the next screen, select the Unallocated Space we created earlier and click Next.
Windows 8 will now install normally. You can step away from your computer while this process completes.
Once Windows 8 is installed, you’ll see the Choose an operating system screen at boot. Every time you boot your computer, you can choose to use Windows 8 or Windows 7. To switch from one Windows installation to another, simply reboot your computer and select the other version of Windows.
By default, Windows 8 will boot automatically after a few seconds. If you want to change the default operating system or configure the timer, click the Change defaults or choose other options option at the bottom of this screen.
You’re now able to try out Windows 8 without giving up Windows 7. For more information about Windows 8, download our free guide to getting started with Windows 8. You may also want to print out our cheat sheets to Windows 8’s mouse gestures and keyboard shortcuts, which you’ll need to get around Windows 8.
Have you installed Windows 8 in a dual-boot configuration to try it out, or did you go all-in and replaced Windows 7 with it? If so, what do you think? Do you prefer Windows 8, or do you find yourself using Windows 7 more often?