Is VHD Boot better than Multi-Boot? Maybe not.

Create VHD from disk managerOne of the much-touted new features in Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 is VHD Boot, which lets you start the OS from a Virtual Hard Disk (VHD). Microsoft recommends it as a more flexible alternative to a traditional multi-boot configuration, because you can avoid the static partitioning of your hard disk.

Another advertised advantage of the new feature is ease of portability between physical and virtual, theoretically, you should be able to run the contents of a Virtual Machine on bare metal. But don't expect, it's going to be easy. Chances are that your computer will hang when starting from a VHD, you created using Virtual PC or Hyper-V. That's because the virtual hardware may differ from the physical one. Additionally, paravirtualized drivers used to accelerate Windows in a VM pose a problem when booting an existing VHD physically. In many cases you will end up sysprep-ing your VHD before porting it over to the physical /virtual world.

But back to VHD Boot as a more flexible way to install multiple OS on a PC. If you need a test or demo environment, how does VHD Boot stack up against alternatives most people use in this case? Since the advent of Desktop Virtualization, partitioning a hard disk and using a boot manager to switch between operating systems may not be your favorite choice. But, in many cases, it is still superior to VHD Boot.  The implementation of the new feature can't live up to the high expectations. The following feature comparison shows that you are probably better off using a solution like VMware Workstation, Virtual Box or Virtual PC instead of VHD Boot.

German readers might want to read the original posting on

VHD BootMulti-BootDesktop Virtualization
Supported Operating SystemsWindows 7 Ultimate/Enterprise,
Windows Server 2008 R2
All (as long as they are compatible with the boot manager)All popular OS
Can use the OS without limitations?No. No Hibernate, no encrypted or compressed volumes, no Bitlocker.YesSome restrictions possible, e.g. resource conflicts between host and guest system
Integration of
operating systems
At file system level. VHDs can be mounted from Windows 7At file system level, granted that the active OS can read the file systems in other partitions.If the virtualization layer offers integration components for the guest OS, integration at file system level and copy & paste between host and guest.
Flexible usage of disk spaceIn theory, yes (when booting from a dynamic VHD). Microsoft recommends fixed VHDs for VHD Boot.No, rigid partitioning necessary.Yes, dynamically growing virtual disks are default
PortabilityLimited (also between virtual und physical).None.Limited, depending on hypervisor and hardware
RollbackLimited. Creating a differen­cing VHD with diskpart only, manual reset of changes.No.Depending on the hypervisor, you can undo changes step by step or create snapshots.
InstallationSetup form Windows installation medium not possible. Instead deployment with WAIK Tools (ImageX), wim2vhd or Disk2VHDWindows Setup, Boot Manager may cause difficultiesWindows Setup (if VM can boot from DVD)
Patches and
Update to newer version of Windows not possible. Patches can be applied offline using the Offline Virtual Machine Servicing Tool. It requires System Center Virtual Machine Manager (SCVVM).Windows Update possible. After a longer period of inactivity, an installation may become a security risk due to missing patches.Upgrade of Windows possible. Same patch problem as Multi-Boot configuration.
PerformanceNearly identical with native installationNo limitationsSome performance penalty due to virtualization overhead
Tools support, usabilityInconsistent and awkward.Depending on Boot Manager and installed operating systems.Mature tools in most cases, depending on the hypervisor
Suitable for production environments?Yes, but critical data should be stored outside the VHD.Primarily for test environments.Yes. Without Med-V or Unity-Mode (VMware) no seemless integration of guest apps => not appropriate for office users.

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  1. Jeff Guillet 11 years ago

    It's really very easy to create a boot VHD. Follow my step-by-step guide.


  2. Helder 11 years ago

    Hey there, Wolfgang 🙂

    I'm a long time follower of the site, and first of all, congratulations! 🙂

    Regarding the "boot from vhd" thing, there is one scenario were it can be really usefull: when you want to test something against the hardware, withouth having to "reformat". I know that on an enterprise enviroment, you can easily install a identical machine and there you go, but for example, I've used a vhd to "test" if my computer would behave ok in 64 bits.

    Since all the hardware is "real" (there is no virtual hardware, except, I think, for the harddisk), I had to install all the 64bits drivers for my components. I wouldn't be able to check this on a VM, for example, as all the hardware is virtualized.

    Maybe I'm just part of a small minority here, and I also believe that VMs are much better than vhd booting for an enterprise enviroment, but it still can be really usefull.


  3. Kent 11 years ago

    @Helder, the VHD boot doesn't seem to support 64-bit windows, so your scenario may not be applicable in this case.

    However, I do believe native boot VHD is a nice and very useful feature in may cases, especially a better solution for desktop virtualization. It does need to sysprep when moving a VHD from one computer to the other but that shouldn't require a lot of work.

    Also, just like the chart says, the critical data should be saving outside the VHD to avoid the data lose when the VHD is corrupted.

    Cheers, Kent


  4. _netspring 8 years ago

    Your table is wrong. You can install Windows on a VHD disk from an installation medium : boot on the DVD, use diskpart to create the VHD, mount it, format then you can use it as a volume for the installation.

    Also, it works with 64 bits Windows running on 64 bits hardware.


  5. Ken 8 years ago

    Portability of partitions in a multi-boot environment is achievable with utilities. For example, Paragon Software has several with capabilities ranging from moving a partition to creating and restoring partition images over a network.

    This has the advantage of not requiring a host file system and compatibility with most operating systems.

    The off-side compared to VHD, is that VHD on a host filesystem can be moved via the host OS where partition portability requires hand on bare metal.


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