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Boot Sequence of a Mixed Windows Multi-Boot.

How the MS bootmanagers handle a mix of old and new Gen Windows.

multi windows button graphic

Because of the way the Microsoft boot-manager works in legacy Windows operating systems it won’t be automatically replaced by the new and improved bootmanager that will be added when we install something like Windows-7. It means when multi-booting a new-gen Windows with two or more legacy Windows operating systems we will be using two boot-managers and have two boot menus. When adding to or reconfiguring this hybrid system it will require following a few simple rules to keep everything working.

The guide on this page is just one in a series that begins with a primer article that introduces the individual boot programs of Windows and gives the key to the graphics shown below. You may have to start there to get the best out of the information on this page. The examples here are for the traditional hardware of MBR styled hard drives in BIOS based machines. The new GPT styled hard drives and UEFI based machines are vastly different and most of what you see here will not apply to them. info iconAn Introduction to UEFI firmware and GPT drives.


Windows triple or mulit-boot Sequence.

In this example we have used Win2k, WinXP and Windows-7 but the legacy Windows operating systems could be any of the NT family before Vista, even being just two installs of for example XP. The new generation Windows could be any Vista based OS up to Win8 and its server derivatives as of now, (March 2013). As required for the auto configuration of the Windows bootmanagers and as per Microsoft instructions the operating systems would be installed here in the order of the oldest first and newest last. The first OS in our example is Windows 2000 and it follows the standard WindowsNT boot sequence plan that began with NT3.5 and continued until Vista.

For Windows2K the boot sequence is:- BIOS - IPL - PBR - ntldr --> Windows 2000 Win2k boot sequence graphic

If you now install a second ntldr-based operating system like WinXP and you adhere to Microsoft's recommended procedures for doing so it will produce the configuration in the next graphic. The new addition to the drive won't get its own ntldr (NT loader) or boot.ini files but will simply add itself into the boot options of the already present boot.ini so that the existing ntldr can be used to start up both operating systems. With more than one choice in the boot.ini the bootmanager part of the ntldr will halt the boot process and offer up a boot menu.

For Windows XP the boot sequence is:- BIOS - IPL - PBR - ntldr --> Windows XPtriple boot sequence graphic

When you select XP from the boot menu the ntldr will go straight for the XP system files in the system32 folder, skipping the un-required boot program in the PBR of the XP partition. If you were to install another or even several more ntldr-based Windows operating systems to this drive or other hard drives in the machine they will all follow the same pattern and use the boot files in the first installed OS with none of the new installs receiving their own ntldr or boot.ini. The partition that houses the ntldr and boot.ini files is known as the System partition, the partition of the operating system that gets booted becomes the Boot partition. info iconThe Windows System and Boot Partitions

Notice also that the XP install has replaced the PBR of the Win2K partition with an XP compatible PBR. What's more the ntldr program itself will also have been replaced with a newer XP compatible version. The older ntldr of 2K predates XP and is not programmed to work with it. Likewise the XP ntldr can't boot Windows versions that came after it such as server2003, all of which explains the need to install Windows in the order of the oldest first and the newest last. Adding or even repair installing an earlier version of Windows to the version of the ntldr that is in use will replace that ntldr with an older version that can't boot the newer Windows installs.


Adding a new-generation Windows into the mix.

If you install Window-7 by Microsoft's recommended methods to an existing dual or multi-boot system that currently employs the ntldr bootmanager then you will end up with the configuration shown in the next graphic. The partition of the first installed OS will remain the System partition and Win-7 will place its bootmanager (bootmgr) alongside the existing ntldr. The PBR that had previously been replaced with an XP one will be changed again for a Windows-7 PBR, which will target bootmgr next in the boot sequence instead of ntldr. On bootup it will be bootmgr that will first halt the boot process and offer a boot menu. If you select the Win-7 option then bootmgr will jump directly to the winload.exe bootloader in the System32 folder on the Win-7 partition.

For Windows-7 the boot sequence is:- BIOS - IPL - PBR - bootmgr - winload.exe --> Windows-7triple windows boot sequence graphic

The boot menu displayed by bootmgr will give just two boot choices of Windows-7 or 'Earlier version of Windows'. When that earlier version option is selected the new bootmgr will hand over control to ntldr, which will then function as it did before and display the original dual-boot menu. The only difference to the 2K and XP boot sequences will be the insertion of bootmgr in the chain.

The XP boot sequence has become:- BIOS - IPL - PBR - bootmgr - ntldr --> WinXPTriple boot sequence graphic

All existing legacy Windows operating systems on the computer will still be booted by the ntldr and all will have acquired an extra step in their boot sequence. You won't be able to add further installs of legacy Windows or even carry out a repair install of any of the existing legacy operating systems as this will revert the PBR of the System partition to one that targets ntldr, thereby removing any still present bootmgr from the boot chain, which of course will remove the first boot menu and the means to boot those new-gen Windows.

You can continue to add installs of new Windows, which will in a similar fashion to legacy Windows not receive their own boot files but be added as a boot option in the already present BCD store (boot configuration data) and so show as an option in the boot-menu that is provided by the current bootmgr on the System partition. When just adding further installs of new-gen Windows the rule of oldest first and newest last may not apply, see...info iconNo longer last come first served.

For additional Win-7/8 the boot sequence is:- BIOS - IPL - PBR - bootmgr - winload.exe --> Windows-8multi-boot graphic

Every install of legacy or new-gen Windows will replace the System partition PBR with its own. If Windows-8 was the last OS to be install then the System partition will have a Windows-8 PBR. Remember however that while our graphics above show the PBRs of all the individual partitions matching the operating systems on those partition this may not always be the case if a partition was formatted before hand by a different operating system or tool and then not reformatted by the resident OS during its install. This is something you would have to bear in mind if you were ever to attempt to move an operating system out of a Windows bootmanager chain and get it booting from its own PBR.

You may find the new Windows-8 touch enabled graphical boot menu with its delayed appearance and then BIOS reboot wholly impractical for a multiboot setup on standard PC hardware. info iconRemoving the Win-8 Touch Screen Bootmenu



boot sequence button Knowing just the basics on the location of various boot files and the order in which they run can be invaluable in setting up and understanding your multiboot system.

xp and 7 button icon When the old and the new get together in the way that Microsoft intended it requires a somewhat convoluted and uneasy alliance of two bootmanagers to get the job done.

multi windows button
Boot Sequence of a Mixed Windows Multi-Boot. - you are on this page
As you add more Windows operating systems to create a multi-boot system there are some rules that need to be followed to avoid breaking the existing boot sequence chains.

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Under Construction

multi windows button Sorry but this page is still
Under Construction.



Coming Shortly

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The Boot Sequence of Linux and Grub2

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Dual-boot Sequence of Windows and Linux.

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Boot Sequences of Third-Party Bootmanagers

In the mean time you can find these topics party covered in this rather long and slightly dated article from our old Vista specific website. A Guide to the Multiboot Process

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spacermultibooters.com: April 2012 - - Last reviewed or updated: Mar 2013

Windows-8 Remotely: Use an iOS or Android device to access and control and even do some work on your Windows machine.
Google's New Desktop Strategy: Build it straight into Windows by way of Chrome itself. www.infoworld.com

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