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Is there a way to install Windows 7 on a second HDD (SATA for that matter) and have it not modify the MBR?

The disk can be later placed in a similar H/W configuration or booted using the BIOS boot menu.

Also, is there a way to install Windows on a second partition without having it modify the MBR?

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up vote 2 down vote accepted

Let me know if I'm wrong but here is how I understand your question:

When you install Windows 7 on a second HDD it is modifying the MBR on your primary HDD to reflect the new Windows installation. (or at least it is modifying boot.ini)

To prevent this, just disable the primary HDD in BIOS before installation. Then the installer will create a new MBR on the second HDD instead of modifying the primary one. Enable the primary HDD again and then use BIOS options to choose which disk to boot.

Similarly, if you can find a way to hide the first partition while installing to the second partition the installer should behave in the same way as with two disks.

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I say this with only one install of Windows 7 under my belt, but I would think disabiling the first HDD, doing the install, then re-enabling it would give you a bootable system, but when Windows 7 tries to reboot it might have some issue because it thinks that the files are on hd1 instead of hd2. But it is worth a shot - if anyone was successful with this method, let us know! – Dave Drager Jun 18 '09 at 12:55
Yes, you would have to manually select which HDD to boot from either in the BIOS or, if you have it, a boot menu. For example, if you press Esc at startup on Dells you get to choose the boot device manually. – Daniel Lucas Jun 18 '09 at 13:40
So the boot menu option it is. – Moshe Jun 21 '09 at 10:57

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