Microsoft

Native VHD Boot is available in all versions of Windows 7

Update: It turns out that the ability to boot from a VHD is actually available in all versions of Windows 7.

In an article published last week titled Upgrade to Windows 7 Ultimate with Anytime Upgrade and in a previous article titled Dual-boot Windows 7 and Windows 8 using a VHD, I told you that the ability to boot from VHD, a feature called Native VHD Boot, was only available in Windows 7 Ultimate and Windows 7 Enterprise. I was mistaken and I apologize for any inconvenience caused by this error. It turns out that the ability to boot from a VHD is actually available in all versions of Windows 7 and that only Windows 7 Ultimate and Windows 7 Enterprise can boot off of a VHD.

Impressions

Ever since I began using Windows 7, I have been under the impression that the Native VHD Boot feature was only available in Windows 7 Ultimate and Windows 7 Enterprise. Everything that I have read from Microsoft seemed to back up that notion and so I have never challenged it.

For instance, if you visit the Compare Windows page on Microsoft's Windows site and scroll down to the section titled For IT Professionals, you will see that Direct Boot from VHD only shows a check mark in the Windows 7 Ultimate column. And, when you consider the fact that there are many other features that are only available in the higher end versions of Windows 7, such as Windows XP Mode or BitLocker, it seemed to make sense that the Native VHD Boot would only be available in Windows 7 Ultimate and Windows 7 Enterprise.

I was also misled by the MCTS Self-Paced Training Kit (Exam 70-680): Configuring Microsoft Windows 7. On page 93, in the section titled Booting from VHD, it specifically states that "The ability to boot from VHD (available in Windows 7 Ultimate and Windows 7 Enterprise only) is a significant new feature."

Another Microsoft book, titled Windows 7 Inside Out, Deluxe Edition, also backs up this notion. On page 1163, in the section titled Windows 7 Ultimate/Enterprise where it talks about version specific features it states that "These editions are functionally identical and include all the features listed in Windows 7 Professional as well as those listed in Table A5." The table then lists the Native VHD Boot feature as "Boot from a VHD" and described as "Configure a VHD as a boot device."

With all these professional resources guiding my interpretation of the Native VHD Boot feature, I never challenged the notion that the ability to boot from VHD was only available in Windows 7 Ultimate and Windows 7 Enterprise. However, after the Upgrade to Windows 7 Ultimate with Anytime Upgrade article was published, several TechRepublic readers challenged this assumption, saying that they were able to create and use a bootable VHD in Windows 7 Home Premium to dual boot Windows 8. Another reader mentioned that he was able to create and use a bootable VHD in Windows 7 Professional to dual boot Windows 8.

As I was composing my response, I turned to the Understanding Virtual Hard Disks with Native Boot article on the Microsoft TechNet site and began to realize that the way that it was described in the Limitations section: "Native VHD boot is supported only by Windows 7, and it is restricted to the following editions: Windows 7 Enterprise and Windows 7 Ultimate." could actually be interpreted as meaning that only Windows 7 Enterprise and Windows 7 Ultimate can boot from VHD.

Testing

So, over the weekend I did some experimentation. On a Windows 7 Home Premium system, I created VHD and then installed Windows 8 onto the VHD just like I did using Windows 7 Ultimate in my article Dual-boot Windows 7 and Windows 8 using a VHD. Upon completion I saw the dual-boot menu and can indeed boot into Windows 7 Home Premium or Windows 8 Release Preview without any problem.

I also discovered that if you install Windows 7 Ultimate onto a VHD, you can boot just fine. However, if you install Windows 7 Home Premium or Windows 7 Professional onto a VHD, the install will work fine, but when you attempt to boot either version from a VHD you will receive the error message License Error - Booting from a VHD file is not supported on this system.

So it appears that the Native VHD Boot feature is available in all versions of Windows 7, but that only Windows 7 Enterprise and Windows 7 Ultimate can boot from VHD.

I wish that Microsoft would have been clearer in their documentation of the Native VHD Boot feature and I truly wish that I had pushed the envelope and tried to create and use a bootable VHD in Windows 7 Home Premium.

And again, I apologize for any inconvenience caused by this mistake.

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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