Multi-Boot Windows versions Easy method

jimbo45

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Hi folks

I downloaded Trial W2K22 Server from Ms (180 days Free) -- installed with no problem -- installed nothing else on it so server boots lightning fast
Now I have 3 or 4 different Windows versions on "Virtual Hard Disks" (VHDX) -- no need for HYPER-V or VM.

Now boot the server and at the boot option choose your VHDX -- works brilliantly and is totally "Physical" OS. The W2K22 server only needs minimal disk space -- really just using it to get the boot menu !!!!

I don't have any problems with a re-install of the server 180 days hence -- 7 mins complete install time from ISO-- the VHDX files are fine for W10 / W11 installations and can even run "Virtual machines" on those too.

Probably a misuse of the server !! but it's far faster than standard W10 / W11 install and boot

Cheers
jimbo
 

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pparks1

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I'm pretty sure that you can rearm the 180 day trial 5 times....so you can actually get 2.5 years out of a single trial install if you like.

Just run this: slmgr -rearm
 

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jimbo45

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I'm pretty sure that you can rearm the 180 day trial 5 times....so you can actually get 2.5 years out of a single trial install if you like.

Just run this: slmgr -rearm
Thanks !!!

I never thought of that one - although that certainly works on W2K19 server.-- will try that -- however a 7 min install isn't that hard either !!!!! Keep the iso though because it may well disappear from Ms site or they might get more fussy on who trials it !!!!. W2K22 server seems to have sorted out most of the initial rubbish as well since its initial release. For W11 I just use the UUPDUMP Iso's and install to a VHDX virtual hard disk.

So far the CPU limitation doesn't seem to have stopped updates or "Nag warnings" although I'm not sure if a VHDX can upgrade to a new version -- something to try out for the next release but minor updates seem to be working OK.

I'm sure an expensive W2K22 Server wasn't intended as a "Super Boot Manager" - but does very well at that job !!! - especially as its a free unhobbled trial version with no user requirements as to eligibility for download. No Activation keys required either.

Cheers
jimbo
 

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NavyLCDR

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Why not just use a standard EFI System Partition and add boot menu entries with the bcdboot command?
 

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jimbo45

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Why not just use a standard EFI System Partition and add boot menu entries with the bcdboot command?
The point is that you need an initial Windows system -- you can install a W2K22 server in a tiny partition -- a minimal W10 install needs a whole slew more and is a lot slower in even presenting the boot menu at start up !!

Cheers
jimbo
 

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NavyLCDR

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The point is that you need an initial Windows system -- you can install a W2K22 server in a tiny partition -- a minimal W10 install needs a whole slew more and is a lot slower in even presenting the boot menu at start up !!

Cheers
jimbo
I am really confused. By your method, if I understand it correctly, the computer still boots from an EFI System partition. It then loads W2K22 server. Or maybe the W2K22 server resides in its own EFI System Partition, I don't know. Then after W2K22 server loads, you get a menu asking you which Windows 10 or 11 you want to boot into? So now on your system you have W2K22 server and you have multiple Windows 10 or Windows 11 installations, and the only purpose of the W2K22 server is to pick which Windows 10 or 11 to load?

So, why not just have the normal EFI System Partition - 100MB in size. The UEFI firmware loads bootmgr which presents a boot menu from the BCD. You pick the Windows 10 or 11 installation you want to load and that's it. There is no intermittent OS loading, even the tiny W2K22. Why load a server OS that is only going to do essentially the same thing that normally happens when you boot from a Windows EFI System Partition?
 

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jimbo45

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I am really confused. By your method, if I understand it correctly, the computer still boots from an EFI System partition. It then loads W2K22 server. Or maybe the W2K22 server resides in its own EFI System Partition, I don't know. Then after W2K22 server loads, you get a menu asking you which Windows 10 or 11 you want to boot into? So now on your system you have W2K22 server and you have multiple Windows 10 or Windows 11 installations, and the only purpose of the W2K22 server is to pick which Windows 10 or 11 to load?

So, why not just have the normal EFI System Partition - 100MB in size. The UEFI firmware loads bootmgr which presents a boot menu from the BCD. You pick the Windows 10 or 11 installation you want to load and that's it. There is no intermittent OS loading, even the tiny W2K22. Why load a server OS that is only going to do essentially the same thing that normally happens when you boot from a Windows EFI System Partition?
Hi there
the problem is that you need to install some Windows system to install the boot mgr -- if one could just install bootmgr without an underlying Windows OS I'd agree 100% with you.

So AFAIK to get the boot mgr to choose whether to install the basic OS or a "VHDX" file there needs to be some sort of "residual OS" to load something from the EFI file, add the VDHX driver and present the menu.

Installing a Windows 10 / 11 OS for this uses a lot more HDD space and takes longer to get to the boot menu than using the server.

If I could find a way of loading a VHDX file without needing the initial underlying OS to initiate the boot -- would be great.

I;ve also looked at trying from GRUB but got nowhere with that so far.

Of all the methods I've tried so far using a basic W2K22 Server to present the boot menu is by far the quickest and doesn't need anything extra to install and is already activated. I used Macrium Free to "Clone" a running W11 system to the VHDX drive which then booted up perfectly - and properly activated.

Cheers
jimbo
 

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NavyLCDR

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This is how I thought it worked, but I don't have time to try it right now:

1. Boot from Windows 10 installation USB, enter into command prompt with Shift + F10.
2. Create an EFI system partition on your physical disk, followed by an ntfs partition to hold the VHDX file.
3. Create the VHDX file and attach it as a drive letter using diskpart commands.
4. I would apply a Windows image to the VHDX file, but I think you can also just do a regular Windows setup to it.
5. Use the bcdboot command to add the Windows installation in the VHDX file to the BCD.

Reboot your computer from the EFI system partition on the physical disk.
 

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jimbo45

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This is how I thought it worked, but I don't have time to try it right now:

1. Boot from Windows 10 installation USB, enter into command prompt with Shift + F10.
2. Create an EFI system partition on your physical disk, followed by an ntfs partition to hold the VHDX file.
3. Create the VHDX file and attach it as a drive letter using diskpart commands.
4. I would apply a Windows image to the VHDX file, but I think you can also just do a regular Windows setup to it.
5. Use the bcdboot command to add the Windows installation in the VHDX file to the BCD.

Reboot your computer from the EFI system partition on the physical disk.
Hi there
I'll have a go with that tomorrow -- thanks for the suggestion -- if it can work like that --great.

Cheers
jimbo
 

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NavyLCDR

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So, I just tried it. I had a Windows 11 installation USB flash drive created with MCT attached to my computer as well as an SSD attached via USB. I booted into the Windows 11 flash drive. Used diskpart to clean the USB connected SSD, converted to GPT. Created a 100 mb EFI system partition, formatted FAT 32 assigned drive letter S:. Then I created a 16mb MSR partition. Then a pri partition with no size so it filled the rest of the SSD. Formatted the pri partition ntfs, assigned drive letter T:. Then I created a vhdx file on T: drive. Attached it. Created a pri partition on it, formatted as ntfs, assigned drive letter U. Then I used DISM to apply a Windows 11 Pro image from install.esd to U: drive. Then ran bcdboot U:\Windows /s S: /f UEFI.

Then I rebooted the computer and selected the USB connected SSD to boot from and it booted right into the Windows image located on the vhdx drive on the SSD. No need for any additional programs. All of the steps above were done with diskpart from the command prompt opened with shift+F10 from the Windows 11 installation USB flash drive (bcdboot command was ran after exiting diskpart, of course).
 

My Computers

System One System Two

  • Operating System
    Windows 11
    Computer type
    PC/Desktop
    Manufacturer/Model
    Homebuilt
    CPU
    AMD Ryzen 7 3800XT
    Motherboard
    ASUS ROG Crosshair VII Hero (WiFi)
    Memory
    32GB
    Graphics Card(s)
    EVGA GeForce GTX 1080 Ti
  • Operating System
    Windows 11 Education
    Computer type
    Laptop
    Manufacturer/Model
    Dell Inspiron 7773
    CPU
    Intel i7-8550U
    Memory
    32GB
    Graphics card(s)
    Nvidia Geforce MX150
    Sound Card
    Realtek
    Monitor(s) Displays
    17"
    Screen Resolution
    1920 x 1080
    Hard Drives
    Toshiba 512GB NVMe SSD
    SK Hynix 512GB SATA SSD
    Internet Speed
    Fast!
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