Windows

SolutionBase: Expanding your Windows XP test lab with Norton PartitionMagic 8

When working with Windows XP in a testing environment, it can be handy to have different configurations running on one machine. One way to do this without investing in virtual machines is by partitioning a hard drive. Here's how PartitionMagic 8 can help.

If your IT department is like most, then you probably have a small test bed of computers running Windows XP on which you can experiment with new software, patches, or operating system updates, such as SP2, before you roll out anything to the real production network. However, chances are good that you've occasionally wished that your test bed was a bit bigger. If only you had a couple more Windows XP systems, you could simultaneously test various configurations much faster and easier.

I recently found myself in a similar position and decided to investigate the possibility of using Norton PartitionMagic 8 and its companion BootMagic to configure a single computer to boot multiple copies of Windows XP, thus simulating a larger test environment without adding physical computers. I'd used PartitionMagic 5 and 6 in the past and easily created multi-boot computers with different operating systems--Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows ME, and Windows 2000. However, I hadn't used the more recent versions of PartitionMagic that were compatible with Windows XP and was curious to see what Symantec had done to the utility since they acquired PowerQuest in December of 2003 and placed PartitionMagic in with the Norton stable of products.

While I was happy to find that the program itself was as stable as ever and the new Windows XP-style interface made it extremely easy to use, I found the documentation to be as full of holes as I remembered it from the past. For instance, I encountered situations that weren't described in the documentation as well as discovered steps that were simply missing from a description of a crucial procedure.

As you can imagine, this was extremely frustrating and ended up being a very time consuming, trial and error undertaking. However, since I felt that the documentation and not the program was at fault, combined with my tenacious attitude when it comes to solving tricky computer problems, I kept at it until I was able to fill in all the gaps and eventually create a test system that can boot any one of three copies of Windows XP.

In this article, I'll show you the steps that I discovered to configure single computer to run multiple copies of Windows XP using PartitionMagic and BootMagic. Along the way, I'll provide you with some tips and tricks that I discovered while researching the best way to create such a configuration using these products.

The overview

Let's begin with an overview of the system, the goals, and process that I'll use as an example in this article. My example computer has an Athlon XP 2200+ processor, 512MB RAM, and a 40GB Seagate Barracuda 7200 RPM hard disk which is currently running Windows XP SP2 on a single NTFS partition. My goal is to add two more Windows XP installations to the system such that I'll have a single test computer that can simulate three different Windows XP configurations for testing purposes.

Of course, it would be nice to have more than three copies of Windows XP on the test computer, but I'm limited by several factors. First, there's the fact that any hard disk, regardless of its size, can only have four primary partitions and in order to be bootable, Windows-based operating systems really must be installed on primary partitions. Second, BootMagic, which is designed to provide a menuing system that allows you to choose your operating system at boot time, must be installed on a primary partition formatted with the FAT file system--it can't be installed on an NTFS formatted partition. Since I want to have my Windows XP installed on NTFS partitions, I have to sacrifice one of my primary partitions for BootMagic.

With this in mind, the plan of action for setting up this test system will be as follows:

  1. Install PartitionMagic
  2. Create a small primary partition formatted as FAT
  3. Install BootMagic
  4. Create an additional primary partition formatted as NTFS
  5. Configure BootMagic
  6. Repeat steps 4 and 5
  7. Install Windows XP on each partition

Hard disk preparation

Since PartitionMagic will be manipulating your hard disk, I recommend that you ensure that the hard disk on your test system is in good working order. As such, you should run Check Disk and Defragmenter.

Installing PartitionMagic

Installing PartitionMagic is a snap. However, before you do so, make sure that you have two formatted floppy disks on hand. You'll use these floppy disk to create a set of PartitionMagic Rescue disks. It is extremely important that you create these rescue disks as they can help you boot your system and fix partition problems. In addition to the rescue disks, keep in mind that the PartitionMagic installation CD is bootable as well and will allow you to perform similar rescue operations.

Creating your FAT partition

Once you've installed the PartitionMagic, you're ready to create a FAT partition on which to install BootMagic. When you launch PartitionMagic, you'll see the main screen, which contains a map of your hard drive at the top of the screen, disk statistics in the middle and a Task Pane on the left, as shown in Figure A.

Figure A

PartitionMagic 8's task-based interface makes it very easy to use this program to manipulate partitions on your hard disk.

Now, the primary partition for BootMagic must be at least 32MB in size, however; Symantec recommends that you use 50MB to allow room BootMagic to create any files that it may need. To begin, select the partition and click the Resize/Move Partition command in the Partition Operations section of the Task Pane. When you see the Resize/Move Partition dialog box, type 50 in the Free Space Before text box, as shown in Figure B, and click OK.

Figure B

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You create the 50MB FAT partition at the front of the disk before the existing partition.

When you do, you'll see the new space, marked as unallocated, appear on the disk map. Keep in mind that PartitionMagic will actually change the size to a value that more closely corresponds to the actual disk layout. In the case of my 40GB hard disk, PartitionMagic changed the size of my new partition to 47 MB.

To continue, select the unallocated space and then click the Create Partition command in the Partition Operations section of the Task Pane. When you see the Create Partition dialog box, select Primary Partition from the Create As dropdown list, select FAT from the Partition Type dropdown list, and type BootMagic in the Label text box. Leave all the other settings as they are, as shown in Figure C, and click OK.

Figure C

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You'll configure the new partition as a primary FAT partition and label it BootMagic.

As you can see, PartitionMagic automatically assigns the new partition to the next available drive letter. In the case of my test system, the new partition is assigned to drive F since drive D is the DVD drive and drive E is a Zip drive.

To continue, check the Status column in the disk statistics area and make sure that the new BootMagic partition's status is set to None. If the status is inadvertently set to Hidden, right click the partition and select Advanced | Unhide Partition from the context menu.

At this point you'll see an Operations Pending section appear in the Task Pane and that there are 2 operations pending. To complete this part of the operation, click the Apply button. When prompted to confirm, click Yes. When you do, PartitionMagic alerts you to the fact that this operation requires a reboot and prompts you to click OK to confirm the reboot operation.

As soon as the system reboots, PartitionMagic will take over and perform the steps needed to create the new FAT primary partition. When this operation is complete, the system will reboot again, Windows XP will load normally, and you'll be able to see the new partition/drive in My Computer.

Installing BootMagic

Now that you've created primary FAT partition on your hard disk, you can install BootMagic. Before you get started, make sure that you have one formatted floppy disk on hand in order to create BootMagic Rescue disk. It is extremely important that you create this rescue disk as it can help you fix your boot menu should anything corrupt it. However, keep in mind that the PartitionMagic installation CD is bootable as well and will allow you to perform similar BootMagic rescue operations.

As we get started, let me point out that it is extremely important that you follow these next steps exactly. If you don't, you will end up with inaccessible FAT partition and be unable to access BootMagic. With this in mind, let's begin.

When you launch the BootMagic installation procedure from the CD, the Setup wizard will immediately recognize the FAT primary partition as the destination and will prompt you to install BootMagic on that drive. Keep in mind that even though BootMagic will be installed on the FAT drive you'll be able to access and configure BootMagic from within your original Windows XP installation.

Towards the end of the installation procedure, you'll see the BootMagic Configuration dialog box, as shown in Figure D, and will need to make a few very important setting changes in order to keep your FAT partition accessible when your main partition is NTFS. To begin, pull down the Options menu and select the Advanced Partition Hiding setting to enable it.

Figure D

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You'll need to configure a couple of very important settings in order to keep your FAT partition accessible.

To continue, select your existing Windows XP installation, which at this point is listed in the Menu Name list as WinNT/2000/XP and click the Properties button. When you see the resulting dialog box, select the Visible Partitions tab. Next, select both the Override Default Selections check box and the FAT partition check boxes, as shown in Figure E.

Figure E

You must configure BootMagic to override the default selections in order to keep the FAT partition accessible from the NTFS partition.

To complete the configuration, click OK to close the BootMagic Menu Item Properties dialog box. When you return to the main BootMagic configuration dialog box, click Save/Exit, remove the PartitionMagic CD from the drive, and then reboot the system. When your system restarts, you should see the BootMagic menu, from which you can select your Windows XP installation.

Creating your NTFS partitions

Once Windows XP starts up, you're ready to create two additional NTFS partitions on which you'll eventually install your second and third copies of Windows XP. In order to ensure that your NTFS partitions are correctly set up and configured, I recommend that you create them one at a time.

To do so, launch PartitionMagic and select the Install Another Operating System command from the Pick a Task section of the Task Pane. When you see the opening screen of the wizard, you'll be prompted to click the View Instructions button to get more information on installing another operating system. While I recommend that you do indeed take a look at these instructions, keep in mind that they are a bit confusing and are essentially supplanted by steps presented in this article.

When you click Next, you'll see a list of operating systems and will select the Windows XP radio button. Then, click Next.

When you see the Where to Create page, you'll want to create the additional partition after the existing one. In the case of my example system, I selected After C:WINXP1 from the location list, as shown in Figure F.

Figure F

You'll create your new NTFS partition after the existing one

When you click Next, you'll see the Take Space From Which Partitions page and will want to choose to take space away from the existing partition. As such, you'll clear the check box adjacent to the FAT partition, as shown in Figure G and then click Next.

Figure G

The wizard will borrow space from the existing partition in order to create the new partition.

On the Partition Properties page, I'll set the size of the new partition to 10,000 MB (10GB), label it WINXP2, set it as a primary partition, and configure it with NTFS, as shown in Figure H.

Figure H

On the Partition Properties page, you'll configure the size, label and type settings for the new partition.

When you see the Set Partition Active page, the default selection will be Immediately. However, you'll want to select the Later radio button, as shown in Figure I. While this does indeed adding some extra steps to the operation, it will allow you to avoid some of the pitfalls that I encountered during my experimentation.

Figure I

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Even though the default setting is to install the new operating system immediately, I recommend that you wait and do it later.

To continue, click Next. PartitionMagic will then display the Confirm Choices page, as shown in Figure J. As you can see, the drive maps display nice before and after images.

Figure J

The Confirm Choices page displays nice before and after images.

To complete the operation, click the Finish button. Then, click the Apply button in the Operations Pending section of the Task Pane. When prompted to confirm, click Yes. PartitionMagic alerts you to the fact that this operation requires a reboot and prompts you to click OK to confirm.

After the system restarts, you'll see the BootMagic menu, and will select your existing operating system. When you do, Windows XP will begin loading and then PartitionMagic will immediately take over and begin creating the partition.

When PartitionMagic completes this part of the operation, the system will reboot. You'll again select your existing operating system from the BootMagic menu.

After Windows XP starts up, launch the BootMagic Configuration utility and click the Add button to display the BootMagic Add OS dialog box. Now, select the new NTFS partition, as shown in Figure K, and click OK.

Figure K

You add the new NTFS partition to the BootMagic menu.

When you do, you'll see the Item Properties dialog box and can rename the menu item to something more intuitive, like Windows XP 2. When you click OK and return to the BootMagic Configuration utility you can rename the original operating system item to something like Windows XP 1 and then click the Set As Default button to make it the selected item on the BootMagic menu. Then click the Save/Exit button.

At this point, you'll repeat these steps to create a third NTFS primary partition and add it to the BootMagic menu. Be sure that you place the third NTFS partition after the second.

Installing the additional copies of Windows XP

Once you've created your NTFS primary partitions, you're ready to install the additional copies of Windows XP. You can install Windows XP on the second and third NTFS partitions back to back. To get started, insert your Windows XP installation CD into the drive and hold down the [Shift] key to prevent the AutoStart sequence from initiating.

Installing to the second partition

To prepare for installing Windows XP on the second partition, launch PartitionMagic and select the second NTFS partition, as shown in Figure L. Then, pull down the Partition menu and select the Advanced | Set Active command. When you do, PartitionMagic will prompt you to confirm the operation.

Figure L

In order to install Windows XP on the second NTFS partition, you'll first need to set it as the Active partition.

After you click OK, click Apply in the Operations Pending section of the task pane, and click Yes in the confirmation dialog box. Then, click OK to allow the system to reboot.

As the system reboots, allow it to boot from the Windows XP installation CD. You can then install the operating system on the second NTFS partition as you normally would. Once the installation is complete and you're satisfied with the configuration, you can install Windows XP on the third partition.

Installing to the third partition

To prepare for installing Windows XP on the third partition, insert the PartitionMagic rescue disk, and restart your system. When prompted, insert the second disk. In a moment, you'll see the DOS-based PartitionMagic screen, as shown in Figure M.

Figure M

You'll use the DOS-based PartitionMagic screen to set the third NTFS partition as the active one.

At this point, select the third NTFS partition, pull down the Operations menu, and select the Advanced | Set Active command. To continue, click OK. To complete the operation, click the Apply button, click Yes in the confirmation dialog box, remove the floppy disk, and click OK to reboot the system.

As the system reboots, allow it to boot from the Windows XP installation CD and install the operating system on the third NTFS partition as you normally would. Once the installation is complete and you're satisfied with the results, you'll need to change a few settings in order to re-enable the multi-boot configuration.

Resetting the multi-boot configuration

At this point, the third NTFS partition is set to Active, the BootMagic partition is Hidden, and BootMagic itself is disabled. All of these configuration changes are necessary for you to successfully install the additional copies of Windows XP. However, in order to multi-boot, you have reconfigure each one of these settings.

To do so, insert the PartitionMagic rescue disk, restart your system, and insert the second disk when prompted. When you see the DOS-based PartitionMagic screen, select the original Windows XP partition, pull down the Operations menu, select the Advanced | Set Active command, and then click OK.

Next, select the BootMagic FAT partition, pull down the Operations menu, select the Advanced | Unhide Partition, and then click OK and Yes in the following confirmation dialog boxes.

Finally, click the Apply button and click Yes in the second confirmation dialog box. Then, remove the floppy disk and click OK to reboot the system.

When the system reboots and your original version of Windows XP starts up, launch the BootMagic Configuration utility. When you see the BootMagic Configuration dialog box, select the BootMagic Enabled check box, and click Save/Exit.

Operation complete

At this point, your test machine is complete and will now allow you to boot to any one of the three versions of Windows XP quickly. You can now easily experiment with various applications, utilities, and configuration settings on one computer.

Getting Norton PartitionMagic 8

Norton PartitionMagic 8 carries a suggested retail price of $69.95 and is available from Symantec's Store. You can also find it at many discount software stores online.

About

Greg Shultz is a freelance Technical Writer. Previously, he has worked as Documentation Specialist in the software industry, a Technical Support Specialist in educational industry, and a Technical Journalist in the computer publishing industry.

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