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Why Booting from a Virtual Hard Disk in Windows 7 is a worthy consideration

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Derek Schauland (Microsoft MVP)
I am a consultant, technical writer, and documentation aficionado with a strong focus in Microsoft technologies.
I previously published an article on Experts-Exchange about creating VHDs from existing media, which can be found here – http://w.e-e.com/8eP3ca.  This time around, I thought I would look at reasons that you might want to boot from a VHD rather than running your Windows installation on bare metal.

Ease of use
First and foremost, computers occasionally need some cleanup and maintenance, in other circles this might work like TLC.  Moving important documents to storage and completely wiping your PC to reinstall the operating system is a good thing to do every so often, just to keep the machine in the best shape possible.  Sure it takes a bit of time and work, but in the long run, it may save some money for you and cut down the number of PC purchases.

Creating a VHD boot environment does require that Windows 7 (or Windows 2008 R2) is the operating system running on the physical hardware, so there does need to be an OS installed, but if the only thing running on the hardware is Windows, an image can be created along with recovery media to allow the physical system to be in a brand new state almost all the time.  This is where the ease of use idea comes from, the physical machine then becomes just the host for your environment, but the environment does not depend solely on the computer.

Decoupling your working environment from the hardware

Once you have created a VHD and got it booted, you treat it just like it is running on the physical machine.  Installing programs and updates and using it every day.  However this environment lives in a file which can be backed up to external storage all as one collection.  This is similar to conventional backup in that your information is moved elsewhere, but it is all done at once.

Suppose the VHD running Windows 7 and all of your applications are running well and things are working great.  Backing up the environment has become routine and works without fail.  Then one day your laptop's motherboard takes a hit and stops working.  There is always the hope that the warranty will be the saving grace, but in the event that there is no warranty left and the cost of parts is almost as costly as a new PC, the ideal choice is a new laptop.

Normally this would take a bit of research to find the right laptop and then a pile of time to get all the software and data into the new machine.  With a bootable VHD, the research, restoration of the file, and boot configuration is all that is required.  

Where I stand
Having just been through a format and start over within the last week, I have been thinking about boot to VHD a lot, but have not gone down that path this time.  Next time I need to clean house though this is definitely the way I plan to proceed because the long term benefit of not having to worry about the specific machine I use goes away.  All of my information and working environment being in a VHD file would even allow me to use a loaner machine because the hardware is independent of my environment as long as it is running Windows 7 and I can live with whatever hardware is in the box.

I encourage you to give this concept a bit of thought and create a VHD environment, it might be a great time saver in the future.
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