Much better boot manager when using VHDX physical disks


jimbo45

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Hi folks
If you use virtual hard drives for "multi boot" -- not VM's but boot from physical disk then instead of the standard default boot which shows you the main OS's - you really get an infinitely better selection of boot options with a dropdown of all sorts of options e.g safe mode, safe mode without networking, don't load drivers etc etc via a simple menu.
It's basically the boot manager from Windows PE.

So easy way to do it is to create a VHDX of Windows PE so you can also have that as a boot option -- then run the bcdboot so it picks up the Windows PE boot manager menu which will show your OS's in a much better GUI format than the standard multi-boot menu.

So easy way to do it and have winpe as a bootable option.

1) download adk plus addons from the ms site

2) create winpe as per the instructions here

Download WinPE (Windows PE)

3) make bootable usb from the iso created (ignore this step if you created a bootable USB device directly)

I'm assuming that your main HDD doesn't have a native installed Windows on it -- only Windows on vhdx partitions
so you main disk should have a system EFI partition, an MSR partition and the rest a data store for your vhdx windows systems.

4) boot the usb winpe drive

Now assume system partition (EFI) is "S", data store partition is "D" usb winpe is "F" and the WinPE vhdx will be "V".

5) create a vhdx for the target winpe system :

diskpart
create vdisk file=D:\Winpe.vhdx size=4000 type=fixed
select vdisk file=D:\Winpe.vhdx
attach vdisk
list disk
select disk zzz <======== the disk nr of the vdisk attached -- should be 4GB size
create partition primary
format fs=fat32 quick label="Win PE" <===== virtual disks don't need to be made gpt - in fact better to leave as MBR
assign letter=V
exit

4) apply the Winpe image to the newly create vdisk
dism /Apply-Image /ImageFile:F:\sources\boot.wim /index:1 /ApplyDir:V:\ <<<note boot.wim not install.wim (there isn't one)

5) update the boot entry using bcdboot from the winpe disk !!!!!
cd V:
V:
cd v:windows\system32

bcdboot v:\windows /s S: /f UEFI

exit

enjoy !!!!

I find 1) boot mgr much better than the bog standard windows GUI one -- especially with the easily accessible options and 2) saves hunting around for usb stick with the winpe on it.

Cheers
jimbo
 
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pparks1

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It's funny, I've never once done this booting from vhdx file....but I see that you have been posting about this quite a bit lately. I actually played with it yesterday.

It's not really something that I see myself using a whole lot. I don't have a need for booting a bunch of different operating systems. I can see myself doing it on my windows 10 gaming machine, I may make a vhdx and boot into it for a while to just make sure that all of my hardware is going to run stable under 11 and that drivers are good.
 

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cereberus

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It's funny, I've never once done this booting from vhdx file....but I see that you have been posting about this quite a bit lately. I actually played with it yesterday.

It's not really something that I see myself using a whole lot. I don't have a need for booting a bunch of different operating systems. I can see myself doing it on my windows 10 gaming machine, I may make a vhdx and boot into it for a while to just make sure that all of my hardware is going to run stable under 11 and that drivers are good.
Where it is handy is to run Insider versions as dual boot without affecting existing partitions. It is easy to delete them - delete vhdx file, delete boot entry using MSCONFIG.

The other plus is they auto activate if same edition as host drive. We could get into the perrenial discussion of whether rhat violates EULA but Insider versions actually have a different EULA which makes such discussions rather meaningless.

The other thing that is great is you can copy vhdx files to another PC (at least with HyperV) and it always works (but may not activate of course).

Backing them up is a cinch too - copy file using explorer.
 

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jimbo45

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Hi folks

1) It's a lot easier for instance to have the same user id that can boot into the same Windows system with differentlanguage e.g both for Windows display and Office /xxx (whatever version of Office you have). Standard Windows won't allow same user name to logon in 2nd language unless you go through the whole hassle of switching languages from the primary logon --

2) if your VHDX file(s) are on an external HDD / SSD or example -- easy to boot from those so you can isolate your main HDD easily too. Also these vhdx files on external HDD are almost as good as Windows to Go machines -- OK you still need the initial C drive to boot rather than 100% from the external drive but IMO this is a lot more convenient and performance seems better.

3) OK disadvantage is VHDX OS's can't be updated to totally new builds -- clean install required - but you CAN use the VHDX files in a HYPER VM, do the update and then its all OK (as per tutorial as per @Kari ). Updates via WU work OK as do "minor release updates".

4) VM's are good for "Concurrent operations" but the VHDX method doesn't need an underlying OS on the main HDD and you use 100% of Windows hardware so anything you need testing e.g graphics, games, video editing etc can be done on various versions of the OS without having to install / re-install all the time.

5) I still like VM's as well --if I'm on Linux then running a Windows VM is a good alternative.
I'm experimenting with running those vhdx's on a VM running HYPER-V with the vhdx disks as a 2nd level VM --could be fun. !!

Cheers
jimbo
 

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pparks1

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Thanks for the feedback guys.

For my usage, I don't have dual language support to worry about. I typically use VM's and activation isn't an issue for me as when I am running VM labs, it's usually just for the short term and the 90day and 180day evaluation editions of the software work perfectly fine for me in that respect.

I haven't done much whatsoever with dual boots in the last 10 years or so. Done everything in a VM instead as I don't run things that need any true hardware to perform well. However, this method does make that very non-intrusive and won't lead to any damage to your existing system.
 

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cereberus

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Thanks for the feedback guys.

For my usage, I don't have dual language support to worry about. I typically use VM's and activation isn't an issue for me as when I am running VM labs, it's usually just for the short term and the 90day and 180day evaluation editions of the software work perfectly fine for me in that respect.

I haven't done much whatsoever with dual boots in the last 10 years or so. Done everything in a VM instead as I don't run things that need any true hardware to perform well. However, this method does make that very non-intrusive and won't lead to any damage to your existing system.
That is not strictly true as the VHD installation works at host level so has full access to all other drives. However risk is low but not as low as in a VM.

In the end, our site mantra always applies "make regular image backups".
 

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jimbo45

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That is not strictly true as the VHD installation works at host level so has full access to all other drives. However risk is low but not as low as in a VM.

In the end, our site mantra always applies "make regular image backups".
Hi there
agreed -- for example if you have main internal disk with files a.vhdx, b.vhdx,c.vhdx which are bootable OS's in the boot menu and you are using the OS on a.vhdx the main disk appears as Disk D in file explorer -- you can't delete the vhdx files normally as it says in use by the system !! Not impossible but it will avoid accidental deletes.

You IMO though can never have too much backup. !!!!!!!

An easy way to create these W11 editions (or W10) is simply to create a VM in VMWare workstation / player or (quicker if you have W10/11 pro) is to use Macrium free to create the VM - then simply use the vhdx file as a native boot updating drivers with physical drivers from a W10/W11 install -- you can mount a macrium image to get to the driver file. From VMWare it's a bit more complex --uninstall vmware tools, backup the vm and restore it to a new vhdx file, fix the boot mgr and you are in business.

Using HYPER-V and macrium method can create a new physical instance in literally minutes. Boot windows pe to add the vhdx to the boot menu and you are in business -- just update drivers from old macrium image --point to windows\system32driverstore or have that file stored somewhere - use a file from you last latest working system where all devices were working normally. W10 drivers will probably work for the next few months until native specific W11 drivers appear.

My testing now starts with a VM -- if that has problems then I don't bother with physical install until problems can be solved or are too trivial to worry about. I then replicate this to a physical machine via the physical vhdx method. Believe me once you get used to using vhdx physical systems you won't want to use "traditional" OS on internal C drive again !!!

These disks perform very fast on SSD's and excellent way of separating OS from data -- with quite a few applications e.g photoshop, Office 2021, some SAP DB front end software to access some work ERP systems, VLC, video editing and Stock exchange trading software my Windows OS is only around 40 GB -- I've allocated 65GB for the vhdx files. Keep data and OS separate -- always !!!!

Cheers
jimbo
 

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cereberus

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Hi there
agreed -- for example if you have main internal disk with files a.vhdx, b.vhdx,c.vhdx which are bootable OS's in the boot menu and you are using the OS on a.vhdx the main disk appears as Disk D in file explorer -- you can't delete the vhdx files normally as it says in use by the system !! Not impossible but it will avoid accidental deletes.

You IMO though can never have too much backup. !!!!!!!

An easy way to create these W11 editions (or W10) is simply to create a VM in VMWare workstation / player or (quicker if you have W10/11 pro) is to use Macrium free to create the VM - then simply use the vhdx file as a native boot updating drivers with physical drivers from a W10/W11 install -- you can mount a macrium image to get to the driver file. From VMWare it's a bit more complex --uninstall vmware tools, backup the vm and restore it to a new vhdx file, fix the boot mgr and you are in business.

Using HYPER-V and macrium method can create a new physical instance in literally minutes. Boot windows pe to add the vhdx to the boot menu and you are in business -- just update drivers from old macrium image --point to windows\system32driverstore or have that file stored somewhere - use a file from you last latest working system where all devices were working normally. W10 drivers will probably work for the next few months until native specific W11 drivers appear.

My testing now starts with a VM -- if that has problems then I don't bother with physical install until problems can be solved or are too trivial to worry about. I then replicate this to a physical machine via the physical vhdx method. Believe me once you get used to using vhdx physical systems you won't want to use "traditional" OS on internal C drive again !!!

These disks perform very fast on SSD's and excellent way of separating OS from data -- with quite a few applications e.g photoshop, Office 2021, some SAP DB front end software to access some work ERP systems, VLC, video editing and Stock exchange trading software my Windows OS is only around 40 GB -- I've allocated 65GB for the vhdx files. Keep data and OS separate -- always !!!!

Cheers
jimbo
Boot windows pe to add the vhdx to the boot menu

This is not necessary. Simply boot from Host OS, mount vhdx as a drive, then make a note of its windows drive letter (say E).

Then run following from admin command

Code:
bcdboot e:\windows /p /d

No need to use Winpe at all.
 

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martyfelker

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Hi there
agreed -- for example if you have main internal disk with files a.vhdx, b.vhdx,c.vhdx which are bootable OS's in the boot menu and you are using the OS on a.vhdx the main disk appears as Disk D in file explorer -- you can't delete the vhdx files normally as it says in use by the system !! Not impossible but it will avoid accidental deletes.

You IMO though can never have too much backup. !!!!!!!

An easy way to create these W11 editions (or W10) is simply to create a VM in VMWare workstation / player or (quicker if you have W10/11 pro) is to use Macrium free to create the VM - then simply use the vhdx file as a native boot updating drivers with physical drivers from a W10/W11 install -- you can mount a macrium image to get to the driver file. From VMWare it's a bit more complex --uninstall vmware tools, backup the vm and restore it to a new vhdx file, fix the boot mgr and you are in business.

Using HYPER-V and macrium method can create a new physical instance in literally minutes. Boot windows pe to add the vhdx to the boot menu and you are in business -- just update drivers from old macrium image --point to windows\system32driverstore or have that file stored somewhere - use a file from you last latest working system where all devices were working normally. W10 drivers will probably work for the next few months until native specific W11 drivers appear.

My testing now starts with a VM -- if that has problems then I don't bother with physical install until problems can be solved or are too trivial to worry about. I then replicate this to a physical machine via the physical vhdx method. Believe me once you get used to using vhdx physical systems you won't want to use "traditional" OS on internal C drive again !!!

These disks perform very fast on SSD's and excellent way of separating OS from data -- with quite a few applications e.g photoshop, Office 2021, some SAP DB front end software to access some work ERP systems, VLC, video editing and Stock exchange trading software my Windows OS is only around 40 GB -- I've allocated 65GB for the vhdx files. Keep data and OS separate -- always !!!!

Cheers
jimbo
Keeping data separate from code is the practice I always used - you may want to store data in an n-dimensional array which I wrote in COBOL. The fools were hard coding data in their programs.
 

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amitabhr

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Native boot for VHDX is really great for a lot of use cases as mentioned by you guys. Keeping backups of entire OS installs and/or diff versions is incomparable in terms of convenience. Though all those things are available in different ways, the sheer simplicity of 1 file that you move/copy/sync/rdiff is so good. And there's no doubt about whether system will restore back to a certain state or not. If you copy the entire 30-40 GB file it will always restore back.

But I use for a diff purpose too:

I actually run my office win10 install which is on a domain as a VHDX on my laptop (sometimes native boot and sometimes in HyperV) while the host system win10/11 is my personal one without any domain restrictions. You can boot the office vhd every few days for few minutes and that's usually enough to get me all network credentials/access (some apps need cntlm proxy to be run with my domain id & pass supplied there)

So whenever IT guys are looking to install their "updates" and all sort of weird software like anti virus/sap/lotus notes stuff or add some new restrictions via their domain policies I boot it in hyperv and continue working in the host OS.

Their network invariably keeps having some user introduce virus every month or so and then they will clean up the whole thing and usually install some more patches and 3rd party AVs and that used to bug me to no end. Plus installing something means filling up a form first. Their patches are like a month behind as they test it all then deploy to a few hundred thousand users.

This way everything works fine and i just waste 50GB vhdx space. Which i even move to my external disk or network at times (much slower boot but i dont need that system to be fast anyway)

They do get confused at times since they can see that OS has like only few hundred MBs of document files and uptime is like few hours a week! They probably assume i am super lazy.

In fact, at times if you forget your domain password and need to reset it (which involves some OTP on email & text etc) i just simply copy back older vhdx and it will always login to the domain (if you connect network after login) and then tell you there's a problem with credentials so please change password (and it will let you use your previous password to set up new one. I don't know if that's a bug or a feature. Probably just some misconfiguration by our office IT guys)

Similarly 90 day evaluation OS versions can be installed and copied before activation (basically before you connect to the internet). Then just copy back VHDX after 90 days.

I used to be able to boot linux as VHDs or Disk Images (raw or qcow2) but dont remember and cant find the process anywhere any longer.

I was using EASYBCD to boot linux disk images and stopped using that when i shifted to using UEFI/GPT because of Win11, and EasyBCD does not really work on UEFI. Other options for UEFI like BOOTICE etc don't have that option.
I think it was because EasyBCD had its own bootloader called neogrub which allowed it to mount the disk image before grub tried loading kernel initrd etc.

After WSL2 i really dont need a whole partition for linux since i tend to use the WSL linux (kali win-kex is good to get a full linux gui desktop in WSL2)

If you guys have any idea on linux vhd/img boot please do tell me
 

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jimbo45

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Native boot for VHDX is really great for a lot of use cases as mentioned by you guys. Keeping backups of entire OS installs and/or diff versions is incomparable in terms of convenience. Though all those things are available in different ways, the sheer simplicity of 1 file that you move/copy/sync/rdiff is so good. And there's no doubt about whether system will restore back to a certain state or not. If you copy the entire 30-40 GB file it will always restore back.

But I use for a diff purpose too:

I actually run my office win10 install which is on a domain as a VHDX on my laptop (sometimes native boot and sometimes in HyperV) while the host system win10/11 is my personal one without any domain restrictions. You can boot the office vhd every few days for few minutes and that's usually enough to get me all network credentials/access (some apps need cntlm proxy to be run with my domain id & pass supplied there)

So whenever IT guys are looking to install their "updates" and all sort of weird software like anti virus/sap/lotus notes stuff or add some new restrictions via their domain policies I boot it in hyperv and continue working in the host OS.

Their network invariably keeps having some user introduce virus every month or so and then they will clean up the whole thing and usually install some more patches and 3rd party AVs and that used to bug me to no end. Plus installing something means filling up a form first. Their patches are like a month behind as they test it all then deploy to a few hundred thousand users.

This way everything works fine and i just waste 50GB vhdx space. Which i even move to my external disk or network at times (much slower boot but i dont need that system to be fast anyway)

They do get confused at times since they can see that OS has like only few hundred MBs of document files and uptime is like few hours a week! They probably assume i am super lazy.

In fact, at times if you forget your domain password and need to reset it (which involves some OTP on email & text etc) i just simply copy back older vhdx and it will always login to the domain (if you connect network after login) and then tell you there's a problem with credentials so please change password (and it will let you use your previous password to set up new one. I don't know if that's a bug or a feature. Probably just some misconfiguration by our office IT guys)

Similarly 90 day evaluation OS versions can be installed and copied before activation (basically before you connect to the internet). Then just copy back VHDX after 90 days.

I used to be able to boot linux as VHDs or Disk Images (raw or qcow2) but dont remember and cant find the process anywhere any longer.

I was using EASYBCD to boot linux disk images and stopped using that when i shifted to using UEFI/GPT because of Win11, and EasyBCD does not really work on UEFI. Other options for UEFI like BOOTICE etc don't have that option.
I think it was because EasyBCD had its own bootloader called neogrub which allowed it to mount the disk image before grub tried loading kernel initrd etc.

After WSL2 i really dont need a whole partition for linux since i tend to use the WSL linux (kali win-kex is good to get a full linux gui desktop in WSL2)

If you guys have any idea on linux vhd/img boot please do tell me
Hi there

@amitabhr

For Linux and Grub -- it will appear in your boot menu when using the VHDX boot from Physical Virtual hard disk - simply in the Linux distro at install ensure GRUB / the boot loader is also installed to the UEFI partition

Easy to do -- on the hdd with the vhdx files simply add Linux partitions to choice and install your distro - on this laptop I'm using with a 256 GB SSD I have 2 Windows systems (both around 50 GB for each -- 1 X W10, and 1 X W11) a Linux / (root partition) a Linux /home partition and a small /swap partition.

At boot (default is W11) If I want Linux I just select it from the boot menu (you don't need to use the boot menu)

I'm logged on to Linux currently

The HDD looks like this :

Screenshot_20211207_091925.png

W10 and W11 are in /dev/sda3 (119GB) -- adjust partition sizes to suit for your own Windows versions / Linux system

You can also very easily make Windows to Go systems by doing all this in an external HDD - ensure the bcdboot is correctly written - perfect way also of testing physical Windows systems without touching internal HDD's !!! No extra software needed, your W10/W11 systems remain activated with digital license etc etc.

Here's options also when booting from external USB several Windows systems -- GRUB boot a Linux system

Screenshot_20211207_092936.png

Use the tab bar to scroll to "change defaults or choose other options"


Cheers
jimbo
 

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