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Like others who are migrating from XP to Windows 7, I have many programs that may take a while to migrate, so I need to keep the XP environment intact. I have been dual-booting, but that is becoming inconvenient. I would like to virtualize the XP partition, so it can run as a VM within Windows 7.

When using VMware Converter, does it make a copy of the partition which then becomes the virtual machine? (thus requiring additional space equal to the XP partition size) Or is there an option to "virtualize in place", using the partition that XP is currently installed into?

Is this virtualization process a one-way trip? I can see if a copy is made, then there are effectively two XP systems, which would eventually get out of "sync". If the actual partition is virtualized, then any changes made to allow it to run virtualized would probably have to be undone to allow it to boot natively.

Are there any practical methods to allow running an XP partition as a virtual machine, as well as retaining the ability to boot directly into the original XP partition if needed?

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As far as I know, VMware Converter simply converts your machine into a Virtual Machine including turning the hard drive into a Virtual Hard Drive / .VMDK File.

There are some advanced options, but I do not think that not converting the hard drive is one of them.

If you want to keep it as a separate partition, the best thing you can do is just install Windows 7 and not touch the XP partition, set up a new virtual machine and select the option to use a physical disk/partition, point it to the Windows XP partition then put in or mount the XP CD and do a repair installation.

The benefit of using VMWare Converter is that it does not require a reinstall of Windows as it it generalises / replaces all the hardware live.

As for maintaining an installation of Windows that can be used both virtually and for real, this question has come up a lot recently and I am still not sure it is possible. Technically you can use SYSPREP and remove all hardware settings each time you shut down, however this is very time consuming and not very practical.... And I do not think it works half as good on XP as it does in Windows 7.

That being said, other than 3D / Direct X / Open GL applications, or applications that are very I/O Intensive, (Then again, using a partition can get around this problem) you are unlikely to have any seed issues and it is almost as good using a virtual machine compared to native.

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I think Wil has the best answer - it is perhaps technically possible, but the changes necessary between running virtual and running physical make switching back and forth impractical. Here's an article I found on one approach to directly virtualizing a physical drive: virtualization.sysprobs.com/… –  tim11g Jan 1 '10 at 15:41

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