Simple guide to test Vista SP1 RC1 on a separate partition

Windows Vista SP1A couple of people, dozen at max, have expressed interest in testing out the soon-to-be-public Windows Vista Service Pack 1 Release Candidate release. There are many ways of installing and testing operating systems and even more so service packs so it can be rather confusing and cumbersome experience for some people out there. Out of all the possibilities, I do myself and recommend everyone to always start fresh, but that doesn’t always mean from the command prompt.

Whilst release candidate will be a very good representation of the final product early next year, it still means you’ll have to forfeit this release sooner or later so it is not recommended you replace your existing Windows installation with it. Especially with all the problems people have been running into uninstalling their service pack betas which itself sounds like a really bad idea anyway, it’s ideal to set up a fresh install. And the most convenient fresh install is on a separate partition on existing disks.

Formerly the process of ‘splitting’ a partition involved third-party software which is time-consuming and sometimes unreliable, however a less-known disk management function in Windows Vista will simplify all that.

Preparing your new partitions

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Step 1. Open the Computer Management tool by clicking Start and search for “computer management”.
Alternatively for the mice enthusiasts, you can right click on your “Computer” icon and click “Manage”.

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Step 2. Select “Disk Management” from the left task pane.

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Step 3. Select the “Volume” you want to split. You can either click on the volume name in the table or select its graph below. Ideally you would want to pick a drive that’s not your primary Windows installation with adequate free space. Here, I’ve picked my media drive (D:) where I keep all my 100% legitamate media downloads.

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Step 4. Right click the volume, and click “Shrink Volume”.

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Step 5. Input how much megabytes (MB) you want to remove from this partition, thus will also be how big your new partition will be. For Vista SP1, I recommend 10GB+ to allow for installing and testing suites of third-party applications.
Click “Shrink” when you’re done.

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Step 6. Almost instantly your new partition (black) should be created.
You need to make it accessible by right clicking it, and clicking “New Simple Volume“.

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Step 7. Click “Next” in the welcome. And you would be crazy not to maximize the new volume size. “Next” again.

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Step 8. I would recommend you to assign a new drive letter to make file management easier, click “Next”.
Alternatively, you can also mount this volume to a folder path (ex. “C:\WindowsSP1\”) if you wanted to.

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Step 9. It’s useful to label your new volume to something like “Vista SP1” to make sure you don’t format the wrong drive later on. But more importantly, you want to select “Quick Format”. Even if you think you have a lot of free time, this is not time you want to waste. They didn’t invent quick format without reason. “Next” and “Next” again to confirm.

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Step 10. Almost immediately again your new volume should be created. Now it’s ready to install SP1.

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From here, you can either install directly using the slipstreamed ISO which is the most convenient as you’ll be installing a fresh version of Windows with SP1 already embedded. Alternatively you can also install Vista RTM and apply the executable patch or Windows Update download that way.

When you’re done, packing up is even easier.

Removing your new partition and restoring your volumes

Step 1. Open the “Computer Management” tool again and click to “Disk Management“.

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Step 2. Right click on your SP1 volume and click “Delete Volume“.
Click “Yes” to confirm you want to delete the volume, but confirm this is the right volume cause there’s no undo.

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Step 3. Right click the volume you want to merge with your now unallocated space, and click “Extend Volume“.

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Step 4. Click “Next” in the welcome screen, and then “Next” to confirm the default choices, then “Finish” to complete.

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Step 5. Now your volume should be restored to its former glory.

Step 6. Download, install and run VistaBootPRO – a free GUI to edit entries in your bootloader to remove the SP1 entry. Click on “Manage OS Entries” then select “Microsoft Windows Vista SP1” or find the entry with the corresponding boot drive of where you installed SP1 then click the cross in a red circle to delete it.

18 insightful thoughts

  1. If you have Vista Ultimate, you could just do a full backup to an external drive or DVD and then upgrade to SP1 and when finished, just restore it back to exactly how it was.

  2. can someone help me? I have downloaded the standalone sp1 rc blah blah, and it won’t run! it creates a temporary folder then deletes itself. that’s it. what’s the problem?

    please help me!

  3. Just noticed something, is it possible to make a separate partition exclusively for running ReadyBoost? And if so, does it give any benefit to performance?

  4. Alex, it would not. The whole idea of ReadyBoost is to not use the hard drive for lots of little files that takes a long time to get to, but to store those little files on a flash drive that can get to them very quickly. The hard drive then stores the larger files since HDs have higher sustained transfer rates. So you would not want to do ReadyBoost on your hard drive because that defeats the entire purpose.

  5. So SP1 is finally more exciting than Ultimate Extras. Btw Long, I was wondering if third party software (Acronic, Partition magic etc) allow exactly what you written above i.e. shrink and grow partitions which are in use without restarting? Or is it only possible with Logical Volume Managers?

  6. @anonymous: As far as I know, none of the third-party softwares can do what Vista can do without a restart, which is why I highly recommend this method.

  7. One thing a lot of people often overlook in testing Vista, is that you MUST let it run a few days before it starts optimizing itself based on user work patterns and applications.

    The difference between a day 1 installation and Vista performance at the end of day 7 or day 10 can be a difference of 2-10x.

    So if you intend on doing any benchmarking of a new installation or testing it for performance, be sure to be using it for several days or things like SuperFetch and other optimization tools will not be working, so you won’t see benefits in terms of performance where Vista does its best work.

    This also applies to a SP1 update, as the SP1 update specifically clears all optimizations from the RTM setup even if you have been running Vista on the machine for a year, it will need a few days to rebuild the optimizations after you install SP1 – see install notes.

    This is also true of startup speed specifically, as I have seen many reviews test startup speed on a Vista installation the first day it is installed, yet MS specifically says that Vista doesn’t even start to optimize the boot performance until after a few days (giving the user time to install other software and drivers) before Vista digs in and boosts startup times.

    For example on the system I am currently typing on, Fresh Install, SP1 Installed, Boot Time Day 1 – 90secs. Tons of applicaitons loaded and equipment hooked up – Boot Time Day 7 – 15secs.

    Quite a dramatic difference, especially considering the additional overhead of several drivers and startup programs. The same goes for launching a game I play, Day 1 Launch time 30secs, FPS 40-50. Day 7 Launch Time 10secs, FPS 60-70. (The extra FPS comes from both the data being cached optimally and a few optimizations in terms of what textures it shifts in and out of System RAM, as I run on the highest quality settings.) Next time you see a game review where Vista and XP are not running neck and neck, you can be sure the reviewer did not allow any optimization time on the Vista system.

    The day 1 Vista performance difference is also a reason you find a lot of users install Vista, then uninstall it because it seems slow or slower; however, if they ran Vista a few days it would fell significantly faster, and faster than XP.

    Just a few thoughts to keep in mind while testing.

  8. Great post as always Long. I bit the bullet and upgraded my machine to SP1 due to some long suffering issues I’ve posted previously on my blog. My initial attempt didn’t go well (windows update issues) and so I reverted to a backup of my drive tried again with success.

    System does see snappier and readyboost actually seems to do something now although not sure I need it with 3gb.

    One thing though, I never got an option to create a recovery disk and can’t find where to do this in the “maintenance” folder.

    Great blog.

  9. So, we can have Vista installed on the C drive and nothing on the new partition, and still install Vista SP1 on the new partition? Or, what do I need to do to be able to actually use the new partition [which I already created]?

  10. “can someone help me? I have downloaded the standalone sp1 rc blah blah, and it won’t run! it creates a temporary folder then deletes itself. that’s it. what’s the problem?

    please help me!”

    Please uninstall Nokia PC Suite and try the installation again. We are working on fixing this in the final release

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