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Old 04-22-2006, 06:46 PM   #1
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Questions about dual booting, dual hard drives, and partitioning

(I wasn't sure whether to put this here, in the hardware forum, or the general forum, so sorry in advance if it's misplaced.)

I've been running Linux on an old computer of mine for a while now (it's an old Compaq -- 400MHz, 128MB RAM -- first SuSE and now Mandriva, though that may change a third time). It's an interesting experience, but it seems a bit too slow to really have fun with. (Even Firefox is a bit sluggish.) My WinXP install on my main machine is giving me trouble, so since I'm going to reformat anyway I figure that I might as well take another step and dual-boot Linux on it. I was originally just going to dual boot with the same hard drive (160GB), but my dad suggested having one for each, so I'm planning to get a new hard drive (probably 300GB), and keep one OS on each. So, a few questions I've been wondering about this whole process:

I'll be reinstalling Windows on the larger drive (since I'll be able to get to those files from Linux anyway). I seem to remember hearing a while ago that writing to NTFS was an issue. If I install a recent Linux distribution (I already burned a network install CD of the latest stable Debian), will I be able to safely write to the drive if it's formatted NTFS? (Should I instead just have a small NTFS partition for the XP install and one or two large FAT32 "data" partitions on that drive?)

If I'll be the only user of the computer (and any servers, etc. set up are just for me to play around with), how important will it be to split my Linux drive into more partitions than the main and the swap file?

Also, what file system should I format Linux under? How much does that matter (if at all)?

When it comes time to do this, which OS should I install first? (I'm guessing Windows, but I'm just checking, especially with two hard drives.)

I'll probably add more questions as I think of them.
Old 04-22-2006, 07:04 PM   #2
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Installing Windows first is usually the easiest way to get a dual boot working.

As far as file systems in linux, journaled systems are very nice. It doesn't matter much whether you use reisers of ext3 for most purposes. I use ext3, since I've had better luck with it, but that's probably only because I haven't bothered to learn much about reisersfs. Give it a shot if you like, it will probably work just fine.

If you're the only user on the computer then you can set up the partitions any way you like. I like having a third partition to mount at /home just to make things easier in case I need to do some data recovery.

Writing to NTFS is indeed an issue from linux, so the fat data partition is a very good idea if you need to do that. In fact, unless you need things like drive encryption and compression you could just install XP on a fat partition. Then you can access absolutely all your windows files from linux

Hope that helps.
Old 04-22-2006, 07:11 PM   #3
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To date, Linux can't write to an NTFS partition; Linux can write to FAT32. So, create two partitions: one NTFS and one FAT32 to be shared by xp and Linux.

There is a utility called Captive which claims to allow writing to NTFS partitions from Linux. I've not tried it, so I can't verify it. There are also commercial apps which make the same claim.

If you intend to have xp on one disk, and Linux on another, the Linux distro you choose to install should offer you the choice of which disk to install on. Choose the disk without xp, partition and format as you will, then install Linux.

Having several partitions plus swap has advantages. Example: suppose you have four partitions (/ (root of the filesystem), /boot, /usr, and /home. You can backup your home (with all of your personal config files, data, etc, without having to backup the entire system. Also, as I've experienced, if I've done something to cripple boot into GUI, I can usually boot into command-line mode to make repairs, because my /boot in on a seperate partition. I can also usually manually boot the rest of the partitions.
So, do some research on the pros and cons, then choose. Just remember, with only one monolithic partition, if you corrupt something, you may not have options for accessing the system to make repairs.

Linux offers native ext2, ext3 (journaled - makes recovery from hard shutdown much easier), reseirFS (journaled), JFS, XFS, also journaled. More research to do, then make a choice.

Make life easy for yourself. Install xp first, because windows insists on writing to the MBR. If you want to use a Linux bootloader such as lilo or grub, you should intall such a bootloader after windows. Most distros these days will detect the xp and write a config file to show you xp as a boot option.
Old 04-22-2006, 07:27 PM   #4
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I'd strongly suggest that you at least dual partition your Windows drive to have the basics such as Windows. programs and user directories in their own partition and keep your data in the other. The data partition could be NTFS or FAT32. My "main" windows partition is 25G and that seems like pleny, with about 5G spare on a fully loaded system.

This way, if you screw something up in Windows, you won't lose your data, as you can simply reformat the "main" partition and reinstall.

I had quite a few issues installing FC5 on a second disk, because for some reason, the Grub installation didn't do what I'd expected.

What I ended up doing was installing Grub on the second drive and modifying grub.conf so that I now actually boot from the second HDD, which means I minimise potential problems in modifying the MBR on the Windows drive (which believe me causes more issues than I needed).

Good luck
Old 04-22-2006, 09:19 PM   #5
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I already burned a network install CD of the latest stable Debian...
I'd recommend getting the testing (Etch) installer instead if you have an x86 machine. (Not for a 64 bit right now since there are temporary complications there.) You'll lose very little in stability, and gain much in hardware recognition, etc.

The installer will give you an option to divide the disk into separate partitions for /, /tmp, /var, and /usr. I'd take that. You don't need it but that's the professional way, and you'll learn some things along the way about the uses of those partitions.

You are talking BIG drives here. Unless you really believe you can use it all for data, I'd leave a bunch of it as 'free space right now. You can always format it in whatever way makes sense down the road. My own system is 2 80 gig drives. I gave Windows 15 gigs ntfs for OS and programs and set up 2 30 gig FAT32 partitions on its drive. Very handy to be able to move all my mp3's, videos, and other data over to the Windows drive sometimes if I need to do some serious messing around. Also acts as a nice way to keep current back-ups of data from both systems.


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