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Installing SuSE 9.0 Pro on an IBM ThinkPad T41 – Dual Booting with XP.
I recently purchased an IBM ThinkPad T41 (TC13JUK) to replace my iBook. I went for a ThinkPad because of IBM's reputation for producing excellent laptops and for having a Linux friendly disposition. All of my NetWare consultants use them exclusively, so I was fortunate enough to be able to see how capable they are under XP and SuSE before I bought mine. The problem free use of SuSE’s live-eval CD was the clincher.
Before purchasing I was aware that IBM did not include restore CDs with the ThinkPads. Before I started installing two operating systems on my ThinkPad I wanted the option of being able to restore XP. I need a dual boot system because I use XP in work to control NetWare servers at work but I also want Linux as my personal OS. I had originally tried Red Hat 9.0 on work PCs, since I had experience of Yellow Dog Linux on Macs. However the purchase of SuSE by Novell changed my choice of distro and SuSE 9.0 became the prime candidate.
I therefore wanted to install SuSE (as well as XP) in order to perform desktop suitability tests for my office staff. I’m an IT Manger within a NetWare environment and am keen to replace Windows with Linux on the desktop of some of my users.
I had a new ThinkPad and I wanted it to dual boot XP and SuSE 9.0. Here's what I did, the good and the bad, to achieve it. I hope it helps someone else if they have a similar set up.
1. When you start a ThinkPad for the first time, the installation process reformats the hard drive as NTFS from the original FAT32. You get no choice in this – it just happens. My web research revealed a number of sites with warnings about this automatic reformatting. They recommend that on FIRST BOOT you enter the BIOS and change the first boot device to be CD and then boot from the SuSE CD or DVD thus retaining the FAT32 file structure.
2. The reason you want FAT32 is because the partitioning tool in the SuSE install program cannot work with NTFS partitions. The idea behind their advice is to use the SuSE install program to partition the FAT partitioned drive and allow XP to populate what is left. Obviously not everyone has the patience to leave a brand new laptop alone until they get everything ready for a dual boot – I didn’t! Many new ThinkPad users will instead probably do what I did and accept the fact that XP comes with the laptop and have a look at it, reasoning they can install Linux later.
3. Trouble is if you do let XP install and reformat, you have a drive comprised of the following partitions (my HD is 40GB) - 36GB as an NTFS partition for XP and 3.3GB set aside for the IBM pre-desktop area. This is a hidden area on the HD which contains the restore images to enable you to restore XP and all of the IBM OEM applications without CDs.
4. I won't go into the rights and wrongs of IBM's policy of not issuing restore CDs with what are expensive laptops, but if like me you want the best of both worlds, one of the first things you should do on taking delivery of your ThinkPad is to call IBM and request a set of recovery CDs. Having the CDs means you can be as bold as you like in testing any number of installs, you can always get back XP should you need it.
5. Some of the sites I visited before delivery of my ThinkPad made it clear that IBM can be awkward about handing out restore CDs. Indeed this proved to be true. I called laptop support and plainly said I was going to be installing Linux on my T41 and I would like some restore CDs - I had after all paid for an XP licence when I bought the laptop. Support refused me the CDs on the grounds that I could still access the pre-desktop area. I asked what would be the response if I rang back and said I had completely formatted my HD during a Linux install and wanted XP back? Support replied that in those situations I would be entitled to the CDs. I called back in 10 minutes and spoke to a different person. I said I had formatted my HD in a Linux install and needed to get XP back. Could I please have a set of restore CDs? "Yes" came the reply and the CDs were delivered to my work within two days.
6. My intention was to partition the drive so that XP and SuSE would had roughly the same amount of HD space. I decided to recover the 3GB of disk space used by the IBM hidden partition – I after all have the restore CDs. To do this you first have to disabled the IBM pre-desktop area in the BIOS. Press the Access IBM button then go into the security area and disable the area.
7. My HD at this stage was fully populated by the XP and the hidden IBM partitions. I had barely configured XP so I decided to see what SuSE's installer could see on the drive. I rebooted using the SuSE 9.0 DVD and ran the install program with the ACPI disabled option. This is a SuSE recommendation for the T41.
8. The SuSE install proceeded making package and partitioning suggestions. The installer recognised the NTFS partition and the newly accessible 3.3GB IBM pre-desktop area which it considered free space. I had hoped that the installer would be able to resize the NTFS2 partition but it could not. It could install into the pre-desktop area but 3GB is hardly enough space for a full SuSE installation. So I went ahead with a full SuSE install, allowing SuSE to reformat the entire drive.
9. This was really an experiment as the best solution for me is to have the dual boot. I wanted to see how the IBM restore CDs performed and of course to see SuSE on a fast modern PC – all my previous installations have been on Celerons or at best a PIII 500MHz Compaq. The answer is very nicely – after a bit of graphics card configuration. I did not spend too much time configuring SuSE at this stage because I knew I was going to zap the drive.
10. So I currently had a drive with the usual SuSE boot, swap and ext3 partitions – but no XP. Now to test the IBM restore procedure.
11. The IBM CDs come with simple instructions. You put the CD in, tell the BIOS to boot from CD and away you go. Trouble was the restore CDs could not use any of the HD space. As I had used the entire 40GB for a SuSE install none of it was partitioned as FAT32 or NTFS. The restore failed with a “No free space” message.
12. With the IBM Restore CDs unable to do anything with Ext3 space, and no other useable disk tools on the restore CDs, I turned to a Win98 bootable install CD which had fdisk on it. Going for the clean slate approach, I booted and zapped all partitions on the drive. As far as I was concerned I had a virgin disk.
13. After performing a two hour successful run through of the IBM restore CDs I rebooted to find the corrupt remnants of the GRUB boot-loader from the SuSE install still residing in the Master Boot Record. DOH! I realised I should have cleared the MBR BEFORE using the IBM restore CDs. The fdisk command “fdisk /mbr” clears the MBR.
14. Now with a completely clean drive I reran the IBM restore CDs. They take about two hours in total, with several restarts in case anyone is interested. Having gone through all that I was back in the position of having a drive partitioned with 36GB of NTFS space and 3.3GB of IBM hidden partition. (Please see note 6 below.)
16. I wanted to resize the NTFS partition but as mentioned above the SuSE installer could not handle it. Several web sites recommended using an NTFS resizer found on the Knoppix Live CD. The tool is called Qparted. This sounded perfect. One 650MB download and a CD burn later, I had a bootable Knoppix CD. I booted the ThinkPad and ran Qparted. Unfortunately the program reported that the partition was fragmented and could not be resized. I’m not sure whether this was because of the pre-desktop area or some other fault. Prior to booting Knoppix, I had defragged and cleaned the NTFS partition using the appropriate Windows tools so I'm guessing the problem was not with the drive.
17. Although I could not use a Linux program to resize the NTFS partition, I thought I would use a Windows utility. Indeed the SuSE installer gave this advice when its partitioning tool failed to resize the NTFS partition. One advantage of being an IT Manager means that I had Partition Magic 8 sitting in our server room.
18. So to cut an increasingly long story short, I booted back into XP, installed and ran PartitionMagic and resized the NTFS partition down to 20GB, leaving the remainder including the pre-desktop area free for SuSE.
19. I booted up using the SuSE DVD and installed perfectly into the free half of the drive. SuSE automatically took care of the GRUB bootloading configuration, and after an interesting week I have a T41 dual booting XP and SuSE 9.0.
Here are a few final thoughts for those researching a similar course.
1. Get your restore CDs from IBM immediately you receive your ThinkPad. If you get hassle from the sales person, persevere, You have already bought the OS, they are trying to save costs by not issuing the CDs. The “I’ve reformatted my drive” excuse worked for me.
2. XP has to be the primary partition.
3. Have available as many partition tools and disk utilities as possible.
4. The IBM restore CDs cannot do anything with a HD without a FAT or NTFS partition. I would have been stuck without my Win98 bootable CD containing fdisk.
5. There may be Linux tools available that can resize NTFS partitions. I unfortunately did not have any luck with Qparted and in the end had to rely on PartitionMagic. Although I did have fun running the Knoppix CD.
6. Some sites advise that you may be able start the laptop on FIRST BOOT from the SuSE CD and retain the FAT32 formatting for a simple SuSE install followed by XP. That may be accurate however when I ran the IBM restore CDs I could not see any point where I could prevent the automatic NTFS formatting.
I hope that helps anyone contemplating a SuSE dual boot on a ThinkPad. I’m now impatiently waiting for my SuSE 9.1 CDs to arrive.
I also posted my findings on the newly set up ThinkPads.com forum, which is a ThinkPad specific forum. A helpful member of that forum JD, let me know that the IBM Restore CDs do actually contain a version of fdisk, which means that you no longer need a separate bootable CD. To access fdisk from a recovery CD please follow these steps - courtesy of JDHurst.
There is not a menu function to run FDISK from the recovery CD's. Here is the procedure IBM gave me:
* Set the BIOS to boot from the CD.
* Start the recovery procedure.
* At the main recovery menu, press ESC, then F3 to exit.
* You should be at X:\recovery.
* Run fdisk
dkpw - your Success Story on dual booting on a Thinkpad T41 to be ideal for our LinuxAnswers section.
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SuSE 9.1 can now resize NTFS partitions during initial installation.
SuSE 9.1 is able to resize an NTFS partition during initial installation. I did it on an IBM Thinkpad T-23 containing Windows XP Professional.
If you do decide to install SuSE 9.1, I would recommend immediately performing an online update using Yast. Perform all the updates available (if a particular update doesn't apply to your configuration Yast will detect it and not install that update.) There are some bugs that need immediate patching, especially if you use a modem to dial onto the internet. One of the out-of-box bugs prevents network communication when a modem user has the firewall activated. So, if you are a modem user, you will need to either obtain the patch from a different computer or log onto the net with your firewall disabled and download it from SuSE.
I've moved to SuSE 9.1 Pro since starting this thread and used my established partitions from my initial SuSE 9.0 install.
I would recommend that before anyone does anything so potentially critical as resizing partitions they take a full back up. I'm aware that there have been reports of SuSE 9.1 and other 2.6 kernel based distros causing MBR faults which can prevent Windows partitions booting after a resizing. I believe SuSE were aware of the issue and released a patch.
Excellent point. My initial 9.1 install worked without a hitch. That may be because SuSE did a good job or because of the particular computer. I'll have to keep my eyes open for anyone who has had that type of problem with SuSE 9.1.
SuSE 9.1, keyboard not recognized on IBM Thinkpad.
There is a problem that occurs intermittently when I use SuSE 9.1 on my IBM Thinkpad T-23, and I've been told it is a problem on other Thinkpad models. Sometimes SuSE 9.1 will not recognize the keyboard. This usually happens at boot time. The fix for this problem is to press the keys "Shift-Ctrl-F2" simultaneously; you may have to do it a few times before it works. Once you do this the keyboard will become available.
I believe this is only a problem with SuSE 9.1, but am uncertain of this.