Hi. I need help with a dual boot problem, so I'll try to be clear:
I wanted to try out Windows 7 without overwriting my existing (heavily customized) XP Pro, so I decided to install it on a completely separate HDD. Having installed a new OS many times, I expected to be asked for drivers (for my motherboard etc), so I wanted to install Win7 in the machine where it would be used. I therefore took the HDD from my 2nd machine. It also had XP on it (but I didn't mind if anything happened to this). Still, the drive was half empty, so I partitioned it and installed Win7 on the empty partition.
Having skipped Vista, this is the first time I've dealt with the OS abandoning boot.ini (and ntldr) and using the new bootmgr instead. The install could see XP install already there, and I assumed it would deal with this. To some point it did. The install finished, and I rebooted. If the BIOS had looked at HDD 1 first (my original drive with only XP), then I would not have seen a dual boot menu and XP would have booted. So, I made sure I told the BIOS to look at HDD 2 (the partitioned drive with XP and Win7) first.
Sure enough, I got a menu asking if I wanted to use Windows 7 or the "previous version of Windows." I selected Windows 7 and played around for a while and quite enjoyed it, to the point where I decided to remove the old XP drive and stick with ONLY the partitioned drive. I planned on changing the default OS to Windows 7, safe in the knowledge that I would be given the choice of using XP if I ever needed to.
Here's where the problems began. Having removed HDD 1, I no longer get a dual boot menu. Instead, the machine boots straight into XP (on the first partition of HDD 2). I have no way of getting to Windows 7 on the second partition. I made the partition Active, but that resulted in the drive being completely unreadable (I had to use fdisk to change that back just to get back to XP).
I know Windows 7 makes changes to the boot manager (editing and renaming boot.ini for example), but it would appear that's not all it did. Some vital bit of information is not being seen now; the problem is, I don't know what it is. I've tried copying files from the old XP drive in case something was put there, but nothing helps.
From what I've read, I think there may be trouble with the MBR or some such thing, and I suspect the machine is looking in the wrong place for instructions on how to boot up. Unfortunately, I don't know enough about this to play around with it. I wish I had taken the time to check out one of the 3rd party boot managers... I read about Windows' own being badly designed, but again, I didn't know enough to get involved and I was more interested in installing the OS. That'll teach me to trust Microsoft to do the right thing! Hopefully, someone here will be able to offer some advice.
I should add that yes, I could easily reinstall Windows 7 but 1) I've already customized it to some degree and 2) I don't see why I should. I believe I should be able to remove a slave drive without it making my master drive unbootable.
Thanks to anyone who read all that; I hope it makes sense and someone can help.
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Sonja Thompson has worked for TechRepublic since October of 1999. She is currently a Senior Editor and the host of the Smartphones and Tablets blogs.