Capture unallocated disk space from an XP to Windows 7 dual-boot migration

Greg Shultz shows you how to use Partition Wizard Home Edition to redistribute unallocated space at the beginning of the hard disk back to drive C.

In the first article in this series, "Create a Windows XP and 7 Dual-Boot System Staged for an Easy Migration," I showed you how to resize your existing Windows XP partition and then install Windows 7 in a dual-boot configuration on the same hard disk. In the second article in this series, "Migrate to Windows 7 from an XP Dual-Boot Configuration," I showed you how to safely undo the Windows XP and 7 dual-boot system, remove Windows XP, and just boot Windows 7 as your primary OS.

As you'll remember, after completing the steps in the second article, your system boots up in Windows 7, just as if it were the only partition on the hard disk; however, the partition that used to hold Windows XP is still at the beginning of the disk and marked as unallocated. While you could use Windows 7's Disk Management to configure the unallocated space as a simple volume, making it drive D, chances are that you would rather redistribute that unallocated space back to drive C. Unfortunately, since the unallocated space is at the beginning of the disk, Windows 7's Disk Management tool is unable to extend drive C into that space.

Also unfortunate is that at this point in time, EASEUS Partition Master Home Edition, the program that we used to repartition the hard disk in Windows XP, is not compatible with Windows 7 -- yet. The folks at EASEUs are working on a new version for Windows 7, but it was not complete in time for this article. As such, I had to look elsewhere.

Fortunately, I tracked down Partition Wizard Home Edition, which, in addition to supporting Windows 2000/XP/Vista, provides support for Windows 7 -- both 32 bit and 64 bit. Partition Wizard Home Edition is a free partition manager from MT Solution that is easy to use and will allow you to redistribute that unallocated space at the beginning of the hard disk back to drive C, thus making Windows 7 the first and only partition on the hard disk.

In this edition of the Windows Vista and Windows 7 Report, I'll show you how to use Partition Wizard Home Edition to safely accomplish this operation.

This blog post is also available in PDF format in a free TechRepublic download.

Creating a System Image

The first thing you'll want to do is protect all your hard work by creating a System Image from within Windows7's Backup and Restore. When you do, you'll end up with a complete image of your hard disk that includes both the unallocated and Windows 7 partitions. That way, if anything out of the ordinary were to occur as you follow the steps in this procedure, you will be able to return to your current configuration.

To create a system image, you'll need to have a CD-RW/DVD-RW drive, an external hard disk, or access to a network drive. To access Backup and Restore, click the Start button, type Backup in the Search box, and press [Enter] when Backup and Restore appears in the result pane.

Once you have Backup and Restore up, select Create a System Image, select your backup location, and then launch the operation to create an image of your hard disk.

Make a data backup

Even though the system image is a backup and Partition Wizard is designed to safely adjust partitions while keeping data intact, you'll want to back up all your data just in case. Maybe just make copies of all your data files on CD/DVD or on an external hard disk. While it may sound like overkill, having an extra backup will give you peace of mind and confidence as you proceed with this operation.

Redistributing the unallocated space

After you download and install Partition Wizard Home Edition, redistributing the unallocated space back to drive C is easy. Once you launch Partition Wizard, you'll see your partition in a nicely organized user interface, as shown in Figure A. As you can see on this example system, I have a 500GB hard disk that is configured as two 233GB partitions, and the first partition is unallocated and the second partition contains Windows 7.

Figure A

The first partition on this hard disk is marked as unallocated while the second partition contains Windows 7.
To begin, right-click on the Windows 7 partition and select the Move/Resize command, as shown in Figure B.

Figure B

Select the Move/Resize command on the Windows 7 partition.
As soon as you do, you'll see the Move/Resize Partition dialog box, shown in Figure C, where you can resize the partition either by typing the appropriate numbers in the text boxes or by simply selecting the marker at the beginning of the partition and dragging it all the way to the left.

Figure C

You can resize the partition by dragging the marker all the way to the left.
Once you drag the marker all the way to the left, you'll see that the partition now occupies the full hard disk, as shown in Figure D. To continue, click OK, and you'll return to the main Partition Wizard window.

Figure D

The partition is now staged to occupy the full hard disk.
To initiate the Move/Resize Partition, you can click the Apply button below the Operations Pending panel, as shown in Figure E.

Figure E

Click the Apply button below the Operations Pending panel to initiate the Move/Resize Partition operation.
When you do, Partition Wizard will recognize that the partition that you are resizing is the current partition and will display an error message that will also prompt you to restart the system, as shown in Figure F.

Figure F

Partition Manager will prompt you to restart the system so that it can perform the Move/Resize Partition operation.

After you click the Restart Now button, your system will restart and boot into a Partition Wizard environment, which will carry out the resizing operation. When it is finished, it will restart your system again and then Windows 7 will boot normally.

What's your take?

After following the steps in the previous two articles along with the steps in this article, you'll have completely moved your Windows XP system to Windows 7 with as little complication as possible using the dual-boot migration method. How was your experience? Did everything work smoothly? If you have any questions or comments concerning this technique, please take a moment to drop by the TechRepublic Community Forums and let us hear from you.

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By Greg Shultz

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.