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Dual Booting With Two Hard Disk Drives

Dual-boot set-up tutorials usually assume that you're installing the two operating systems into separate partitions on the same hard disk drive (HDD). But what if you want to use two hard drives - one for each OS - and keep both bootloaders intact?

By Greg Swain

Despite using Windows in the work environment, I have also been a long-time user of Linux (Ubuntu) at home. Ubuntu is an easy-to-use, stable operating system with a host of applications and is great for browsing the net (using Firefox) and for email and instant messaging.

A big advantage of Linux is that it’s a very secure operating system. Certainly, you don’t have the worries about viruses and other internet nasties that you do with Windows.

However, reality dictates that most people use Windows to run critical applications. This means that if you want to experiment with Ubuntu, a dual-boot system is the way to go.

Taking it easy

Click for larger image
Fig.1: the hard disk boot priority (ie, if your PC has two or more hard disk drives) is set up in the system BIOS. The system will boot from the first drive in the list, provided it has a valid operating system.

The most common path to a dual-boot Windows/Linux system is to install Windows first and then install Linux onto a second partition on the same hard drive. If you do that, the Linux installer automatically recognise the presence of the Windows installation and includes it in the Linux bootloader (or at least, that’s what should happen).

After that, you simply press the Esc key when prompted as the system starts up to bring up the boot menu. This allows you to select which operating system to boot. If you don’t do anything, the system automatically boots the default OS after a preset time.

Similarly, if you install Windows on one hard drive and then subsequently install Linux on a second hard drive, Linux should again detect the Windows installation and automatically set up with a dual-boot system. The only proviso here is that the Windows disk must remain as the primary drive (or have boot priority in the BIOS).

Note that, in each case, the Windows bootloader is overwritten in the master boot record (MBR) by the Linux bootloader (known as "GRUB") when you install Linux. This means that if you later reformat the Linux partition (or remove the Linux drive), then you will no longer be able to boot Windows unless you reinstate the Windows bootloader.

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