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How to dual-boot Ubuntu 10.10 and Windows 7

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Author’s Note: This article shows how to dual-boot the OSs, with GRUB installed in the MBR. While this method works, the recommended method is to install GRUB in the boot partition of Ubuntu, so that the Windows boot loader will be responsible for dual-booting. A step by step guide for this latter approach has now been published: Dual-booting Windows 7 and Ubuntu 10.10 (Part 2).
While I will never encourage anybody to use Windows, any version of Windows, I do accept the fact that a significant percentage of users still have to use it. I also accept the fact that some users would like to dual-boot between Linux (whatever the distribution they prefer) and Windows. Linux and BSD installation programs make dual-booting with other operating systems very easy, such that if you are satisfied with partitions created by your distribution, a tutorial like this one is not necessary. However, if you need to create a custom partitioning scheme, different from the system default, this tutorial will be useful, especially if you are new to disk partitioning in Linux.

Images used in this tutorial were obtained from installation in a virtual environment, with a disk size of 200 GB. The objective is to use about 50 GB of that for Windows 7, and the rest for Ubuntu 10.10. When setting up a dual-boot configuration between Windows and a Linux or BSD distribution, always install Windows first. Otherwise, Windows will happily wipe your hard disk clean and install itself. The first task then is to install Windows first, then Ubuntu. Note: The assumption here is that Windows 7 is being installed anew. So boot up the computer the Windows 7 installation CD.

You might also be interested in how to dual-boot Linux Mint 10 and Ubuntu 10.10 on a computer with two hard drives.

At the disk partition step of the installation process, the window similar to the one below should be on your screen. To create the Windows partition, click on New.


Windows 7 partitioner

Here the Windows 7 installer lets you specify the disk space to use. The original size of the disk in shown. All that is required is to change it to the size we want to use for Windows 7.


Whole disk size

With the required size assigned, click Apply.


Windows 7 partition size

The installer will create two primary partitions as shown. The first one (Disk 0 Partition 1: System Reserved) is for installing Windows 7 loader files and the second (Disk 0 Partition 2) is for installing Windows 7 itself. When it comes time to install Ubuntu 10.10, the Ubuntu installer will identify these two partitions as /dev/sda1 and /dev/sda2 respectively. The unallocated space is what will be used for installing Ubuntu. Click Next to continue with the installation, which should take about 20 minutes.


Install Windows to partition

With Windows 7 installed, time to install Ubuntu 10.10. Reboot the computer into the Ubuntu installation medium. When you click to install, you will click through about three steps before getting to the one shown below. There are three options. Because the goal here is to create a custom set of partitions different from the Ubuntu default, select the last option and click Forward.


Manual partition

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  1. finid says:

    Wondering whether you can dual-boot Windows 7 and Ubuntu or any other Linux distribution on an external hard drive? See this post for the answer

  2. George says:

    Symon@sid u really have to stop complaining, i got Windows XP Professional running on the version of virtualbox that supports external devices and its got iTunes installed and can sync my ipod touch with NO ISSUES. So next time, google a fix instead of complaining. ;)

  3. Can you use the same method to install ubuntu in the secondary usb external hdisk

    • finid says:

      If you are going to install Ubuntu or any other distribution on an external storage, you should not be thinking about dual-booting. That;s not what dual-booting is for. That type of installation should be stand-alone.

  4. doomgiver says:

    i think this will work with crunchbang too, because the cruchbang installer is very similar to ubuntu’s.

    any thoughts?

    • finid says:

      Yep, it should work. The key is to remember where you installed GRUB, and whether you want GRUB or the Windows boot manager to be responsible for dual-booting.

      • doomgiver says:

        i’d like GRUB to be responsible for dual boot.
        so i shall install it on the /boot partition.
        i hope it works, going to install #! right now. see ya on the other side!


        • finid says:

          If you want GRUB to be responsible for dual-booting, then install it on the MBR, not on the boot partition.

          • doomgiver says:

            yes, i did that. it works!!!
            but on booting, it didnt show the windows partition, so i ran sudo update-grub. it found the correct settings and i now have a dual booting laptop!!!

            thanks finid, i’ve referred your page to all my friends.

  5. Mark says:

    Thanks! Nice an easy.

  6. Manoj says:

    I had a windows installed. also had WUBI working. Tried installing Ubuntu newly uninstalling wubi. When i did this, I had to lose the 1TB of data because of the ubuntu which used the whole hard disk instead of using the largest partition in the 1 TB drive which was supposed to be used. I never knew that it was formatting the whole drive and installing ubuntu there until i was done with installation and tried to boot into Windows. I never was so sucked up with this ubuntu. I thought it made me love itself. But it failed now.

    • doomgiver says:

      ubuntu did not fail. your ignorance did.
      frankly, you should have at least read the install instructions.

      i researched for 2 days before installing my first distro(ubuntu). if you had done the same, you would be enjoying it too, not cursing it.

  7. simon says:

    I’ve never had a virtual windows OS operate with enough speed to do it for me. Also, the virtual OS doesnt seem to be able to access my stupid windows only (thanks, Canon!) printer.

    • finid says:

      I’m guessing this is in response to BobbyC’s comments, right?

      • simon says:

        Actually its all a bit of an embarissing mistake – sorry. Didnt realise I was set up to recieve notifications for new activity on this blog item, got an email, started reading the entries about virtual OS’s… and didnt realise that this was something that I saw last year. :)

  8. Abros says:

    Thank you for the tut. But I have a serious problem here. When I tried to create manual partition in Ubuntu 10.10 there was no option for logical and primary. Rest everything was there. Still I followed the steps ignoring the above pb. At the end when I tried to access ubuntu I got this error: No such partition
    grub rescue>
    I tried to install grub using sudo fdisk -l but the output says that the mount: /dev/sd8/ failed or not present i actually dont remember the error. But the main thing is I was not able to dual boot Windows 7 and Ubuntu even after trying 3 times.

    Please tell me y there is no option in create partition table.

    Thank you

    • finid says:

      It is not possible to create a partition without there being a Primary/Logical option. On the partition creation window, those are the first two options. Give me a little bit of info about your PC. How many hard disks? How many partitions on the Windows side? Is Windows a fresh install or an existing installation? Just something to help me give you the best response I can.

      Btw, to continue this conversation, please register and open a new thread at the forum. It’s a better place for this type of discussion than this commenting system. Thanks.

  9. PC Dave says:

    Nice article thanks. I do agree with the poster above that using ext2 on the /boot partition would be slightly “safer” as it doesn’t have journaling etc …

  10. Raj says:

    I am using Hp pavilion dv 6910tx notebook, i hv 3 drives c,d and f, windows 7 is installed in c drive and d drive is used for my personal data and i want to install ubuntu 10.10 netbook edition in f drive, my c drive is 50 gb and d drive is 120 gb and f drive is 30 gb, when i try to boot ubuntu 10.10 it ask me which partion in to install i select the partition bt it gives error that is the the root system specified file, so what should i do plz help me?

    • finid says:

      I don’t understand your phrasing of the error, but what you are trying to do is very easy. Since you are attempting to install Ubuntu on the third HDD, the installer will create the necessary partitions if you instruct it to install on that drive.

      I think the error you are trying to describe comes up if you are in manual mode and have not created a root partition. Are you trying to create partitions manually or did you choose the installer auto-partition mode?

      I think this tutorial will help. It covers dual-booting on a computer with 2 HDDs, not 3, but it should give you a very good idea how to proceed.

  11. Somanayr says:

    Hey, thanks so much for this tutorial. Just did a dual boot Windows 7 / Ubuntu 10.10.

    I am using an HP Pavilion dv7-4190us, so I had to change some stuff up. Windows 7 made a mess of itself, installing parts on both of my harddrives. I deleted the two partitions labeled “healthy.” This gave me around 250GB of free space. I set up / and /home as logical partitions, because I couldn’t continue if / was a primary partition.

    So far so good, windows 7 works, ubuntu works. Odd thing is that it was Windows Vista, as well. I’ll probably just edit it out of grub.

    Thanks so much for spending the time to make the tutorial!

  12. Andrey says:

    Microsoft had used the space GRUB considers free in the past and nothing prevents it to do so again. Please stop recommending GRUB as the way to boot Windows.

    More so, old versions of GRUB may render Windows 7 or Vista unbootable. You are creating a false believe that GRUB is always safe for Windows.

    The only correct way to double boot Windows 7 and Linux is to install GRUB in some non-Windows place, copy its boot sector to Windows, and use Windows loader to boot it.

    • finid says:

      GRUB will boot Windows 7 just fine. The problem is that Windows tends to mess with GRUB when it (Windows) is updated/upgraded.

      Why “copy its boot sector to Windows” when all you need to do is edit the Windows bootloader and add an entry for Linux.

      • Andrey says:

        “Why “copy its boot sector to Windows””:

        I copy the GRUB boot sector to a Winsows accessible file, create a new boot entry of the “/application BOOTSECTOR” type, and set “device” and “path” for it.

        If there is another application type or some way to point BOOTSECTOR to the GRUB partition directly so that no boot sector in a file is necessary, it will be very useful. Unfortunately, I do not know it.

  13. carolinason says:

    it would be better to format /boot as ext2 and not ext4.

    ext4’s functionality is journaling and this will not offer any benefit with /boot, due to the way it is mounted. ext4 would add unnecessary overhead to the /boot partition albeit just a tiny bit. you could possibly format /boot with ext4 and then disable journaling.

    gnu/linux’s big gift is not that it is free, it is that it’s open, so you can find out how and why things work.

  14. BobbyC says:

    Windows 7 installs so easily and runs so well full screen in the virtualbox that for many people who need Windows, there is no reason to install it to a Hard Drive.

  15. anonymous says:

    Just a question: why not installing Windows in Virtualbox?

    If you really need to use Windows to run a specific program it does the trick extremely well! Installed it on my netbook inside Virtualbox and when I want to switch OSs I just have to change workspaces – basically you can switch from OS to OS in 1sec.

    • simon@syd says:

      I think a virtual OS cant access any hardware that the parent OS cant access(??) Ie, for my STUPID Canon LBP3000, which cant be accessed by Ubuntu, it wouldnt be accessible via a virtual windows running inside Ubuntu either.

      • rory says:

        Actually, with the latest versions of Sun VirtualBox it is quite possible to share parent hardware with a guest OS. I do it all the time going from Windows to Linux and vice versa.

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