Manage your drive letters in a dual-boot configuration

As many other people, I installed Windows Vista on my system but I decided to keep Windows XP for gaming and other tasks which, at least for now, work better on XP. When you have multiple partitions and hard disks, one of the challenges of having a dual boot system is keeping the same drive letters in both operating systems.

When I installed Windows Vista for the first time I did not pay attention to this detail and had them assigned in a confusing way. In Windows XP, the “cinema” partition had the letter G: and in Windows Vista “H:”, while the “lavoro” (work) partition had the letter “D:” in Windows XP and “E:” in Windows Vista.

That confused not only myself but also the other users that worked on the same computer. So… what can you do to avoid such a scenario?

Learn how to assign your drive letters in a dual-boot configuration

When you decide to have a dual-boot configuration you should reserve two partitions (and two drive letters) for the operating systems. Windows XP will be placed on the drive with the letter “C:”. When you install Windows Vista and log in, it will see itself as being installed on “C:” and Windows XP on another partition. The “problem” is that, while you can change the drive letter for the Windows Vista partition when you are in Windows XP, when you are in Windows Vista you cannot change the drive letter assigned for the XP partition.

It will always give you an error message saying: “Windows cannot modify the drive letter of your volume. This may happen if your volume is a system or boot volume, or has page files”.

Disk Management

In this case you should write down the drive letter for the XP partition that was assigned in Windows Vista. Then you should boot back to Windows XP and change the drive letter for the Windows Vista partition to the same letter.

For example, if in Windows Vista, the XP partition has the letter “D:”, then you should boot in Windows XP and assign the letter “D:” to the Windows Vista partition. Now, depending on the operating system you boot in, the letters “C:” and “D:” will represent the operating systems.

For the rest of your partitions you can change the drive letters and assign them in the same way for both operating systems. This way you will always know where your work, music or games are stored and you won’t get confused every time you boot to a different Windows operating system.

How to change a drive letter in Windows Vista

Close all running applications, go to Control Panel and then to System and Maintenance. Now click on Administrative Tools.

Administrative Tools

From the list of available tools, double-click on Computer Management.

Administrative Tools

If you are using the Classic View for the Control Panel, just go directly to Administrative Tools and there you will find Computer Management.

Administrative Tools

Computer Management has several sections. Go to Storage and click on Disk Management.

Disk Management

You will see a list with all the hard disk drives and all the partitions. Right-click on the partition you want to change and select Change Drive Letter and Paths.

Disk Management

In the Change Drive Letter of Path window select the new drive letter that you want to assign and click on OK.

Disk Management

Now you will receive a warning like the one below. Click on Yes and the drive letter will be changed.

Disk Management

How to change a drive letter in Windows XP

The procedure is identical to the one for Windows Vista. Just go to Control Panel – Administrative Tools – Computer Management. From there you follow the same procedure and you are done.

Final Comments

If you follow this procedure, you should have the same drive letters for all your partitions except the ones where the operating systems are installed. For example, in Windows XP, you will see XP on drive “C:” and Windows Vista on drive “D:” and in Windows Vista you will see XP on drive “D:” and Windows Vista on drive “C:”.

Drive Letters in Windows XP
Drive Letters in Windows Vista

Related articles:
How to manage your disks using only Windows Vista’s Disk Management tool
How To Uninstall Windows Vista Using EasyBCD

27 thoughts on “Manage your drive letters in a dual-boot configuration”

  1. faster and easier way
    To get to Disk Management, simply right click Computer, then choose “Management”, and finally choose “Disk Management” – short and easy, and best of all, for an olde farte like me, easy to remember. Then reletter drives at will.

  2. The interesting thing is how to get vista always on E:
    In your final comment:
    “… except the ones where the operating systems are installed. ”

    is my problem.

    I want to have the following drive letters:
    C: XP
    D: my data partition
    E: Vista

    and it should remain the same if I boot Vista or XP.

    The question is: how to prevent vista to say it’s installed on C:
    (= renaiming its drive E: to C: and shift my xp -> D: and my D: to E: )
    (with win2k,winXp dual boot it worked)

    • Not…
      Like I mentioned in this article, you cannot have that. Or I least I did not manage to find a solution…

      What I think you should do is… change the drive letter of your data partition to E: in both Windows Vista and Windows XP.

      In Vista you will have:
      C: Vista
      D: XP
      E: your data partition

      In XP you will have:
      C: XP
      D: Vista
      E: your data partition.

    • You can keep vista on any drive you want.
      I had the same problem but I fixed it.
      You should install vista from windows xp and select new installation and install it on (for example) on drive E.
      I have the same drive letters on both system xp and vista.
      You should not install vista from boot cd or dvd.
      If you do that you should format that vista drive and reinstall windows xp and then install vista form xp. Enjoy. bye.

  3. It doesn’t seem to work in
    It doesn’t seem to work in my case
    On my primary parirtion I have Vista (so the first OS installed on my PC). It put itself on ‘c:’.
    I have now installed Xp on a second partition. In XP, my VISTA paritiion is on c: and my XP is on D.
    However, in XP I cannot change my c or d drive (‘cannot modify ‘system’ or ‘boot’ pariation, system begin the C-drive with vista, and boot being the D-drive with XP).

    Any solutions?

      • 🙂
        I would like that c: is

        I would like that c: is always the drive I boot from. Some programs always install somewhere on the c-drive. So when I am in XP (d:), it will start putting stuff on my vista-drive (c:).

        So I want:
        When I am in XP:
        c: XP drive
        d: my data
        z: VISTA drive

        When I am in VISTA:
        c: Vista-drive
        d: my date
        z: XP-drive

        Is this possible?

  4. I have been playing with
    I have been playing with this some latley and found an interesting item.

    If you install XP first and then instal Vista as the secondary OS (this is the easiest way):
    1.) vista will set up the dual boot screen for you and it should work
    2.) Between opperating systems the drives will change letters, so make sure you are careful to only have the 2 drives so you can make sure they are C&D or close to that. IE: in Vista, drive C will contain Vista & D XP, in XP drive C will contain XP and D Vista
    3.) Vista sees those XP boot and windows system files and WILL NOT LET YOU change the drive letter of the XP drive. Sorry.

    If you install Vista First, and XP second:
    1.) The drives set themselves up so they are static. IE: in Vista, drive C will contain Vista and D XP. In XP drive D will contain XP and C vista, still.
    2.) You have to use the Vista install disk to repair the vista install after the XP install breaks the vista boot info.
    3.) You have to use a boot manager app such as EasyBCD to edit the boot files to provide the option to boot into either OS.
    4.) You can install Vista, change the drive letter you want to put XP on, then install XP on it and the drive will be the one you want in Vista. (problem here is that usually this causes the XP and Vista drives in XP to not allow you to change either of their letters after XP is installed)

    Why do I know all this? Because I tried to install the system so C: was always the OS I was in, and make my other windows drive something down the line like W: and put my other hard drives up next to the main OS one. Alas, I was defeated by the Windows is smarter than you mentality. I surrender. Hope this helps someone out there.

  5. This does not work!
    My set up has 3 disks,
    1st one primary, is XP and this was first installed
    2nd one is onthe secondary channel and has vista
    3rd disk is the data disk that I always want to be E !!!

    I want: when Im on XP, xp to be C, vista to be any letter- I dont care, and data disk to be E
    When I am on Vista I want vista to be C, xp to be anyt letter- I dont care, and data disk to be E.

    Vista wants XP disk to be E and I cannot change that letter to something else do I can assign E to my data disk!

    I tried your replace method but no go… I booted into XP and gave the letter E to vista, booted to vista, and tried to assign some other letter to the XP partition.. but no go.. same window saying you cannot do that.

    • Change the drive letter of your data partition
      Then make your data partition “F:” or something else that works from both operating systems. It takes less time to do it, right?

  6. If this is just to know
    If this is just to know which partition has which content, I simply give the different partitions names (i.e., Pictures) and not worry about the drive letter. I’m using Vista, though, so I’m not sure if partitions can be named in XP in the same way.

  7. Overcoming Windows Choice of Drive-Letters in Multi-Boot System
    My computer has several SCSI Hard Disk Drives installed. Whenever I decide to install a new Windows operating system, I restart the computer and use CTRL+A to access the SCSI controller SCSISelect BIOS. Here I can modify the booting order among the various Hard Disks, and I choose the SCSI ID of the intended Hard Disk to become the first boot device.
    Next, I restart and install the new Windows O/S onto the newly chosen Hard Disk, and this automatically causes C: to be assigned to the new Windows O/S. Note that just before installing Windows I use the Recovery Console MAP ARC command to verify the correct numbering for all drives as referred to in the boot.ini file, to ensure correct multibooting to all previously installed Windows O/S’s in the new boot order.
    Thus, every Windows O/S “thinks” it is installed on C:/ when it is operating, and I can assign drive letters at will to all data Hard Disks.
    What I do easily with SCSI can probably be done with more difficulty with IDE or SATA by accessing the main BIOS of the computer and modifying booting order among Hard Disks. This will require care and much thought before trying, since tampering with Master and Slave in IDE is not as simple as changing boot order in SCSI.

  8. Vista then XP
    I have just purchased a computer that has Vista installed on it. I tried to install Quick Book, but Vista is not compatible with it. So I tried to install XP but since Vista is on it already, it won’t let be to install XP. Any help is appreciated in advance.


    • search
      Search “install Vista” on our site and you will find an article with references to many guides, including one that shows you how to install Windows XP on top of Windows Vista.

  9. soloution found
    if you want your drive letters under vista other than the system drive and the other operating systems system drive to match what you had under XP before you can do the following.

    I will assume that you are in the situation where vista sees itself as C and the XP partition and everything between the XP and vista partitions slid one lettter.

    shut down vista and boot off the gparted livecd
    right click the windows XP partition and select manage flags. select the hidden flag.
    close gparted and shut down the livecd, boot back into vista
    move other drives arround to match what you have under XP (the XP system drive will have no drive letter associated at this point, don’t let that concern you)
    shut down vista and back to the gparted livecd
    right click the windows XP partition and select manage flags. deselect the hidden flag.
    close gparted and shut down the livecd, boot back into vista
    you should find the windows XP partition has slotted neatly into the gap

  10. Why do we still put up with arcane drive letters?
    For the love of all things holy, it’s embarrassing that an “advanced” operating system like Windows gets hung up because we’re forced into using obsolete things like drive letters. We should be allowed to name a drive, and that’s it.

    XP Drive.

    Vista Drive.

    Data Drive.

    There you go, no silly drive letters, and you’re free to call the drive whatever you wish. Other OS’s do it very easily, why doesn’t Windows?

  11. Is there away to set it up
    Is there away to set it up setup the hard drive so its like:


    I need this because i have files that are already set to look into drive D. (I actually have 2 vista installs, i just used xp to clear confusion, if this makes a difference)

  12. Solution to change the system drive letter
    Very simple solution for this setup:
    In XP:
    C = XP
    D = Data
    E = Vista

    In Vista:
    C = Vista
    D = Data
    E = XP

    Windows XP will let you change the drive letetr, if not, follow the same process.
    First of all, Backup your registry in Vista.

    Open the registry in Vista


    Rename the needed device to desired drive letter like:

    DosDevicesD: -> DosDevicesE:
    DosDevicesE: -> DosDevicesD:

    I just created a new data drive and there was no data in there yet. If you have data, take precautions.

    There is one more entry in the registry that you should change:


    Change the drive letter to the new drive, “E:” in this case
    Restart OS


  13. Vista sees itself on D: – not C:
    I’m not sure what happened on my install, but Vista sees itself on D: rather than C:.

    I’m set for Dual boot – I had XP installed first, and while booted into XP I put my Vista install disc in and had it install in another partition on the same physical disk drive.

    Regardless of which OS I boot into – XP or Vista – the drive letters are always the same. C: is XP and D: is Vista.

    I’m planning on eventually moving 100% to Vista, so I’d rather have it the way you describe it *should* be – that the OS I’m booted into is always C: – that way when I’m done w/ XP (eventually), I’d be able to just format the XP partition and resize the Vista one to take the space.

    However, because my Vista OS drive always sees itself as D:, that will be annoying down the road. Any idea what I did wrong so that my Vista sees itself as D: and not C:?? Any idea how to fix it?


  14. Why keeping data on the same drive letter is needed
    I see several comments from people wanting to keep their data on the same driver letter for Vista and XP. This is critical if you are using old software, especially per 2007 versions of MS Office.

    I used MS Office XPs save my settings wizard to keep all my tweaks, add-ins, and email .pst file links when switching to a Vista machine from XP.

    Guess what happened? I was smart enough to keep all my settings, add-ins and .pst file on a partitioned data drive letter with E:. But the new Vista machine was using the E: drive for a card reader device. My new data drive on the Vista Machine was G:.

    So, what did MS Vista do when I tried launching Outlook, Excel, etc? The programs didn’t work. The programs couldn’t find data because they were looking for it on drive E:. When the launched there was no way to change the location of the .pst file, or the add-ins. MS completely locks you out of editing them when an error occurs. The programs start, but with Excel when trying to open the Tools > Options settings it opened but everything was locked down, none of the tabs on the settings worked, or opened except the default tab which couldn’t be edited.

    Outlook launches is a very strange way. The only thing you see in an explorer view. There is no way to load up an existing .pst file. There is not way to set up email. Geez!

    The solution would up being to set the data drive to E: in Vista, by changing the drive letters of the card reader devices to release E:. These device letters can be changed if you change them from the lower graphic part of Disk Management screen. For example, right click on the drive Icon for “CD-ROM O DVD (I:)” and the change drive letter option is available there.

    Hopefully, this will help out someone who gets trapped by the inability of MS OS and Office software from working correctly when transferring over to a new machine. I have a dual Vista / XP boot and am still struggling to get devices to work. No Ethernet on the XP machine working yet. Wish me luck.

  15. vista changed letters
    I have a system where Vista was C and the recovery partition was D. I resized and repartitioned to make a new partition ahead of vista for Win2k because it didn’t like being in the recovery partition. When I got vista to reboot after running the repair off the boot CD, the drive letter became G. I deleted both other partitions and it still is letter G. Many of my apps, even windows programs like the disk manager do not work. The profile failed to load and I had to manually run explorer just to get a desktop. How does the letter get assigned during boot and is there a way to change it prior to boot?

  16. Removing A Partition?
    I have a few questions I hope someone can help with.
    I am going to install windows xp next to a pre-existing windows vista ONLY for the purpose of removing windows vista completely.

    After installing windows xp on the new partition I will have lost the ability to boot into windows vista. At this point do I NEED to restore a dual boot to both windows vista and xp and change my drive lables? OR, can I now simply boot from xp, run vistabootpro and perform the other steps neccessary to delete vista?

    Also, is it possible to:

    1.) Remove the partition after deleting vista and restore the drive to its original size with xp as the only OS?

    2.) Will I have to change the drive letters in order to have one drive, labled c: as my final result?

    I bought this computer about 6 months ago and it came with Vista, which sadly, just isn’t ready for gaming yet.

  17. xp and vista both as C: when you boot either
    If you install xp in the system on one hard drive, then disconnect it.
    then install vista on a different hard drive, you should be able to reconnect your hard drive with xp on it and depending on which drive you choose to boot from it will remain c:…

    any questions feel free to post them at [email protected]

  18. I have Vista on a new HDD, dual boot. Drives messed up
    Hello, in a search I came across this page. Today I installed a NEW HDD for my Vista install. I wanted to run a dual boot. Before this I had two HDD for XP Pro. One was for XP (C:) and the other was storage (E:). Well when Vista boots up it boots up as C: and my E: drive is correct and I have no issues. However when I boot up XP my E: drive is now labeled F: and my VISTA HDD is now labeled E:

    Please help!!!

  19. I’ve managed to change XP drive letter

    I also had problems with partition letters.
    I had one disk with XP:
    c: – system (XP)
    d: – work
    e: – storage
    Than I added another disk for Vista, also created three partitions and installed Vista with boot DVD.
    I wanted to preserve same letter structure, but after I logged into Vista I got this:
    c: – system (Vista)
    d: – system (XP)
    e: – work (XP)
    f: – storage (XP)
    g: – storage (Vista)
    h: – work (Vista)
    )And I couldn’t change d: letter due to known limitation.
    (I also tried Gparted live CD but couldn’t boot into it)
    I needed to have same d: letter on both ‘work’ partitions because I have installed web server there with a lot of websites I made, which needed to have exact path due to backuping possibilities.
    I have same partition structure on my laptop.

    So I searched and searched, than installed Acronis Disc Director (10) on Vista, started it, went into manual mode and changed d: – system (XP) into z: – system (XP) and changed h: – work (Vista) into d: – work (Vista)
    After pressing apply, Acronis rebooted system, and before Vista fully loaded it changed system (XP) drive letter to desired one.
    After that I changed all other partition letters into desired order

    Hope that helps,

  20. The Drive Letter Fix
    To straigthen out the drive letters in vista. I used Paragon Partition proffesional 9. Using disk management, windows would not let me do that.
    In paragon it does
    Open Paragon partition manager and goto the option on the bottom right and click on it

    1. Right click on the D: drive in paragon, and right click on it and delete drive letter.

    Click the green check at the top of screen.

    2. Right click on the windows XP Partition and delete drive letter.

    Click the green check at the top of screen.

    3. Right click on the windows XP Partition and assign drive letter. Set it as C:

    Click the green check at the top of screen.

    4. Right click on the Partition with no drive and assign a drive letter to it. Set it to any letter that is not in use.

    Click the green check at the top of screen.

    And you are finished!!! 🙂

    In XP it should be okay to use disk management.

  21. I worked mine a little
    I worked mine a little differently. What I did was open the “start” button, click on “computer”. After the page opens, right click on the drive that you are in (usually C drive) and rename it to the operating system that you are in, or whatever you want to name it. Keep doing that in each operating system that you open. All of them will see each other by the name that you have given them. Oh yeah, the drive letters will change, but the names won’t.

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