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BryanC (RIP)

Installing Windows 8.1 Preview - 1: Setting Things Up

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Introductory Note: For those wondering why I would bother creating detailed instructions for the installation of Windows 8.1 Preview, especially in a blog on a model railroading site, let me say this.

First, the blogs are specifically meant for non-model railroading topics thereby providing an outlet for members who wish to share other information or discuss other topics.

Second, I have made a number of posts in the past about PCs and/or Windows. These have received enough views to lead me to believe there is an interest in these topics.

Thirdly, I also believe that many people might like to give Windows 8.1 a try but are baffled by the number of web site posts and discussions that range from entries by Microsoft haters to Microsoft lovers and everything in between! Trying to find simple and clear instructions can be difficult, especially when some sites omit a critical piece of information here and there, such as the Product ID for the disk image version!

If we have any members who are anxious to give Windows 8.1 a try, I hope you will find these four entries of some use. Please let me know of any errors or issues you may encounter along the way.

As I indicated in an earlier blog entry, I have recently installed Windows 8.1 Preview in a separate partition on my primary disk drive. The computer is now a dual-boot machine! Each Time I turn it on or do a Restart I have the opportunity of choosing Windows 8 or Windows 8.1 Preview.

Please note, these comments and suggestion are based on your having Windows 8 Pro already installed! If you have any other OS you may find you need a different approach to handling some of these suggestions. Additionally, you will need to be logged in with an Administrator account; this is a must!

Besides using a separate disk partition approach you also have the option of downloading the update from the Windows 8 Store and installing it over the current version of Windows. This is the easier method and should you choose it I feel bound to repeat a couple of warnings I have read multiple times! While Win 8.1 has proven to be very stable (I have yet to encounter any issue), it is still a beta test release and as such is subject to bugs and other problems. Additionally, installing the 8.1 Preview is a one-way street! When the final release of 8.1 is made later in year you will not be able to simply upgrade your Preview version. Instead you will need to re-install your original Windows 8 and upgrade from there. This will, of course, mean re-installing all of your apps!

As an aside, the 8.1 code will be finalized in August and shipped to the various manufacturers, so if you really want to use the Store version, I suggest you wait till the end of August!

Creating Repair and System Image Disks

Regardless of which method you opt for, the first step is the same. Make sure you have backup of all your data files! You should also have a repair disk and a disk from which you can re-install your original OS, should it come to that.

The creation of these bootable disks is easy! The following instructions are for Windows 8 but I suspect that Windows 7 is very much the same. Just make sure you have a couple of writeable CDs or DVDs available.

Go to the Control Panel (Win+X and select Control Panel)
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Select Windows 7 File Recovery (yes, it is still labeled as Windows 7).
From the very left column select Create a System Repair Disk.
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Follow the instructions.

You can also create a system image disk here. Just select the option above Create a System Repair Disk.

Creating a Separate Disk Partition for your 8.1 Preview Installation

The following notes apply to Windows 8 but it is also possible to use this approach with other versions of Windows. The method should be very similar. To install the 8.1 Preview in a new partition you will need at least 20 GB of free space on your primary disk drive. This is for the OS; ideally, you will also have additional space for your data files. But remember, you will still be able to access the original partition and the files it contains via File Explorer.

To check out how things are on your disk drive and to set up a new partition, do the following:

Go to Disk Management (Win+X, select Disk Management).
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Wait for the display to appear; sometimes it will take a while.
Find your system hard drive in the bottom pane.
Locate the Free Space area of your system drive and see how much space you have available,
If it is 20GB plus you can skip the next step.
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If it is less, try shrinking the volume. Right click on the system drive and select Shrink Volume. Hopefully, you will end up with at least 20GB of free space. Repeating this step may also help.
Right click the Free/Unallocated space area and select New Simple Volume.
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This will start a Wizard which will guide you through the process including the selection of a drive letter and the volume label. Make sure you pick a label you will recognize such as Windows 8.1 Preview.

At this point you should have a new partition ready and available for your 8.1 Preview! If you are unable to find the 20GB plus there is not a lot you can do except wait for the final update (later in the year) or use the Windows Store version and overwrite your current Windows 8.

Next we will discuss the necessary downloads and the actual installation of Windows 8.1 Preview.

Disclaimer: All of the above is based on my experiences, what I have read and my personal opinions. As is always the case, YMMV. Further I can accept no responsibility for any malfunction of the links and methods I have provided. While they should work just fine, use them at your own risk.
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