Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Installing The Windows 8 Consumer Preview

Earlier today Microsoft released their Windows 8 Consumer Preview, showcasing many of the changes of the company's new operating system. If like me you are chomping at the bit to take it for a test drive but aren't sure what the best way of installing it will be I'll give you a few options and suggestions below.

No matter which option you choose you'll need to enter this product key: NF32V-Q9P3W-7DR7Y-JGWRW-JFCK8. So write it down and keep it handy!

Windows 8 Consumer Preview Fresh Install

Doing a fresh install is typically the best, easiest and most effective way of testing out new software. You won't have access to all your old files and folders but at the same time you won't have to worry too much about any incompatible products, software ect. The downside is in order to do a stand alone fresh install you'll need a secondary drive or to completely erase your current drive. There is the option of dual-booting, however that too has its downsides.

Doing a fresh install of the Windows 8 Consumer Preview is fairly easy. To begin with as mentioned you'll either need to completely format your old drive or use a secondary hard drive. From there you'll need to grab the install media. Microsoft has given you two great options.

Option 1 - Download and install the Windows 8 Consumer Preview Setup. This will take a few minutes to scan your current system and install and make sure everything is compatible with the new OS. After the scan is complete you'll see a list of items that may or may not work. This will include software and hardware. Since you are doing a fresh install you'll need to re-install all your software so that isn't a big deal. However, if there are hardware issues you'll need to decide if its nothing too important. If not you can continue on. The scanner will prompt you to download the installer files it think s are best for your setup.

Note: It took several attempts for me to get through the setup process. First it didn't want to complete the task of getting the install key. Then it didn't want to download the installer. I suspect this is due to high demand and user traffic.

Option 2 - Directly download the ISO files. With these all you'll need to do is burn the images onto installation media, such as a DVD or USB bootable flash drive. The easiest way to convert an ISO file to a DVD in Windows 7 is to use Windows Disc Image Burner, you can use whatever DVD software you want its really up to you. On a PC running Windows XP or Windows Vista a third-party program is required to convert an ISO file into installable media—and DVD burning software often includes this capability.

Another option is the USB/DVD download tool provided by the Microsoft Store. This will allow you to create a bootable USB drive.

With either option installation is a snap. You'll need to be able to boot from the disk, or USB drive. So you'll need to restart your computer, enter the bios and change the boot order to DVD, or USB. These options will vary depending on your computer so check the manual before beginning. If you have a fresh drive you can proceed with the install as normal. Windows has simplified installation over the years so we won't go into that. If not and and you need to format the drive you can do that direct from the setup. Just make sure you don't choose the option of an upgrade. You'll need to select custom or advance installation.

You can then choose to format and partition your drive as you see fit. Just note if you have several partition and are using one or two for backup you don't want to format those. Just the one you want the operating system on.

Windows 8 Consumer Preview Via Virtual Machine

Due to screen resolution restriction of the new user interface and many of the features available in the preview Microsoft is suggesting that you do not run the preview in a virtual machine. That doesn't mean it won't run, just that some of the features might not work as well as expected. We tested the install on two VM's and had mixed results.

With VirtualBox, not matter what settings we used, we could not get the operating system up and running. This really wasn't a surprise as I saw several people mention issues with the developer preview. I got an endless boot cycle over and over again and could never get past it. This could be a hardware issue with out test setup or it could be the software. Either way we couldn't get it running We'll try some test at a later date and post back the results.

For now VMWare Player gets the nod. We had some issues at first but we got things worked out and here's what you'll need to know.
  1. Go here and download the ISO version of the Windows 8 Consumer Preview you want to run. I suggest using the 32bit version at it was easier to get up and running
  2. Then follow this link and download the latest version of VMWare Player
  3. Once installed launch the software and check for any possible updates. I just downloaded everything, but you likely don't need to.
  4. Click create new virtual machine - here you will have the option to use an install disk or use the ISO file you just downloaded. Select installer disk file and navigate to the folder the ISO file is located in.
  5. Once you have the right file click next. Here you'll see the option to select the guest operating system, you want to select other and then select other from the drop down menu. DO NOT select Windows. You will not see Windows 8 listed there and using any of the other options didn't work!
  6. Click next and name your VM, any name works
  7. The next screen brings you to disk capacity, select at least 20 Gbs and I prefer using a single file
  8. On the next screen click the "customize hardware" button. Here you need to make a few changes. Select memory and increase the total to at least 2 Gbs. You may also need to change your network adapter settings. More on that later.
Now you should be all set. Click finish and let VmWare Player launch and do its thing. If all goes well you'll see a standard looking Windows Setup and instal page. You'll need to enter this product key: NF32V-Q9P3W-7DR7Y-JGWRW-JFCK8. Everything from there should be self explanatory.

Dual-Booting Windows 8 Consumer Preview and Windows 7

Note: You may run into a few issues related to doing a dual boot setup. If you do please refer to the bottom of the page and the steps we took to get things up and running

When setting up a dual-boot effectively you are setting up two operating systems side by side on either the same drive, with separate partitions or an active secondary drive. This is great because you can keep your existing version of Windows all while having the option to checkout the new Consumer Preview. During start-up a dual-boot setup will give you the option of selecting either the older install, in this case Windows 7, or the newer install of Windows 8.

The two operating systems do not run simultaneously, nor do you share applications. However you can still access files on one or the other. The down side is that if there is the need to remove Windows 8 for some reason you'll then need to make some changes to the boot records which can lead to some headaches.

To setup a dual-boot with Windows 8 Consumer Preview and Windows 7 or Vista you'll need the following steps:

  1. Download the Windows 8 ISO files (linked above), you'll then want to create a stand alone install DVD
  2. Make sure you have a partition with at least 20 Gb on your Windows 7 drive. If you don't have one but you have enough space you can use a tool like GParted to create a second partition. A second option would be a secondary drive.
  3. Once those steps are complete you'll need to restart your PC and change the boot order so that you can boot from your new DVD rather than your hard drive.
  4. Booting from your Windows 8 install DVD you'll want to go through the initial Windows setup just as you were doing a fresh install
  5. When asked if you want to update or do a custom/advanced install make sure you click advanced install. This will give you the option of doing a clean install on either a second partition or hard drive.
  6. Be very careful here! Make sure you are selecting an empty drive or partition and not the one with your current install. If you make that mistake you'll overwrite all the information and you most likely won't get it back!
From here the installation process should be fairly self automated. Setup will proceed to install all the Windows 8 files just like any other normal Windows install. Upon competition of the installation your computer should reboot and will boot directly into the new Windows 8 setup screen.

Now this is where we ran into some issues!

We found out that Windows 8 totally overwrites the boot records and does not include the option to boot to Windows 7. This had us a bit stumped at first but we found a work around that worked. Unlike our Windows 7 disk the Windows 8 disk did not have the start-up repair option. At least we didn't see it. So I grabbed my Windows 7 install DVD, booted it up and ran the startup repair. This located both the Windows 7 boot records and Windows 8 boot records and did an automatic repair for me.

When you reboot it will boot to Windows 8 and you'll see a screen that says attempting recovery. Once its done you'll reboot again and again you'll see a Windows 8 startup screen but you should then see a prompt for either operating system.

A second work around my be running the Windows Bootrec.exe tool. We didn't try that, but it should work none the same.


  1. Anonymous4:29 AM

    Thank you very much, this worked for me!

  2. Anonymous12:19 PM

    I had the same problem with dual boot. Lost the option to boot into Win7. This fixed it for me as well. Thanks for putting this out there.

  3. Anonymous10:29 AM

    Thanks alot, you save my marriage, thought i had lost the Windows 7 boot drive, you fixed worked to recovered my Windows7 OS

    1. This is one of the reasons I really don't suggest users test beta software on their primary machine or at the very least if they are going to that they back-up all their data. You just never know what might go wrong and how hard it will be to fix.

      On a side note, now that you have it all installed and working when you have to remove the Windows 8 install you'll need to make sure you have your Windows 7 information backed up. Because it will remove all of your boot files and it will be a nightmare to get everything restored.

  4. Anonymous5:49 AM

    Now, can you do something on how to start Windows 7 when it can't after installing Windows 8?

    1. At the very bottom of the post I give a suggestion on what to do. Use your Windows 7 install media run the start-up repair or use the Windows Bootrec tool.


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