Convert XP into a Windows 7 Virtual Machine with Disk2vhd

Security Warning

Would you like to be able to still run Microsoft Windows XP while you get familiar with Windows 7? Well, moving your existing Windows XP system to a virtual machine that you can run in Windows 7 is a relatively easy procedure with the Disk2vhd tool from Microsoft's Windows Sysinternals team: Mark Russinovich and Bryce Cogswell.

In this edition of the Windows Desktop Report, I'll show you how to use Disk2vhd, which is a free tool, to move your Windows XP installation into Windows 7 and then run it with Windows Virtual PC.

What is Disk2vhd?
As its name implies, Disk2vhd is designed to create VHD versions of physical disks. This tool can be used to convert systems running Windows XP SP2 and up as well as Windows Server 2003 and up. To perform this task, the Disk2vhd utility makes use of the Windows Volume Snapshot feature built into the operating system. When you run Disk2vhd, it first creates a volume snapshot image of the hard disk. It then exports that image into a VHD that you can then add to Windows Virtual PC as well as to Hyper-V Manager. If you'll be using Windows Virtual PC, keep in mind that it supports a maximum virtual disk size of 127GB. If you create a VHD from a larger disk it will not be accessible from a Windows Virtual PC virtual machine. Another thing to keep in mind is that Windows Virtual PC doesn't support the Multiprocessor Specification and it will not be able to boot VHD's captured from multiprocessor systems.

In order to ensure a successful virtual machine transition, there are several tasks that you'll want to perform on your Windows XP system in preparation for the operation. Let's take a closer look.
Backup: You'll want to back up your system using Windows XP's Backup Utility or a third-party disk imaging tool, such as EASEUS Todo Backup, which is a free package that I used for my test configuration. That way if anything goes awry, you can restore your Windows XP system and get right back to work. Just to be on the safe side, you may also want to back up all your data on CD/DVD or on an external hard disk. While it may sound like overkill, having an extra backup of your data will give you peace of mind.
Optimization: You'll want to make sure that your Windows XP system and hard disk is in tip-top shape by running Disk Cleanup and Disk Defragmenter. Doing so will help make the operation run quickly and smoothly. By running Disk Cleanup, all unnecessary files will be removed, such as trash in the Recycle Bin and Temporary Internet Files. By running Disk Defragmenter, your hard disk will be ready for optimal performance.
Windows Update: You'll want to run Windows Update on your Windows XP system and make absolutely sure that all current updates are downloaded and installed.

My example configuration
In my example, I'll be using two different computers: one computer running Windows XP SP3 and one computer running Windows 7. I'll run Disk2vhd on the XP system and create the VHD on and external hard disk. The drive on this XP system is using about 40GB on an 80GB hard disk. I'll then move the virtual machine over to Windows 7 and run it there using Windows Virtual PC.

Getting Disk2vhd
You can get and use Disk2vhd in one of two ways. You can download Disk2vhd from the Windows Sysinternals page on the Microsoft TechNet site. Or you can run immediately Disk2vhd from the site. Either way, the utility does not require installation, which means that using it is as easy as launching the executable.

Converting the system
I decided to run Disk2vhd from the site for this article. Once I clicked on the link, I immediately saw the Internet Explorer File Download – Security Warning dialog box.

This gallery is also available as a TechRepublic blog post and download. Image created by Greg Shultz for TechRepublic.

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.