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Old 08-12-2007, 10:53 AM   #1
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What's a good way to set up partitions for multiple Linux distros?

hello again! i'm new to Linux, and to be honest to partitions as well, since i've sort of let Win2k and WinXP do their own thing during setup. but since there's so many Linux distros around, i'd like to try a few of them out, which means i should probably have a separate partition for each OS, right?

i've looked at a bunch of distributions, and i think i'll install a few on the laptop - Ubuntu, Mandriva, Gentoo, and maybe Slackware - and keep them "bone stock" until i get a handle on things. i'm also fed up enough with WinXP on the desktop box that once the laptop is set up and running smoothly with Linux, i'll put a few distros on there as well (same as laptop, plus Fedora and FreeBSD). ok, a lot of OSes, i admit, and i might not install all of them at once, but i'd like to at least prepare the hard drives ahead of time so that i can install the others in the coming weeks / months.

to that end - i have no idea how to best set up the partitions. on the laptop, i only have one drive, so OSes and data are all going to be on the same physical drive, which raises a bunch of questions:

1 - is there a limit to the number of partitions and MBR entries that a hard drive will take? i'm only running Linux, and no more MSWindows of any kind (if that makes a difference).

2 - how many partitions would i need to set up for each OS, and how big should they be? are there any partitions that can safely be shared by the multiple OSes, like the swap space? i assume that my data partition (drive in the case of the desktop PC), full of documents and tunes and whatnot, is shared and recognized by whichever OS is running at the time.

3 - if i want to make OS upgrades easy in the future so that i minimize the amount of other stuff i need to backup, are there special partitioning tricks that i should do up front?

4 - the laptop has a built-in card reader, and my desktop has a 1.44M floppy drive (!!!) - and of course both have USB ports. is there any way of leveraging those to make booting or picking an OS during boot easier? if they'll cause more trouble than it's worth, that's cool, but they're available if it helps.

i'm mostly a newbie on these things, but that's cuz i never bothered to do any of that in the MSWin realm. i should be able to get myself up to speed soon enough, though!
Old 08-12-2007, 11:34 AM   #2
Registered: Aug 2005
Location: Oregon
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We do a similar installation for testing distributions. What we do, is create a master boot installation on a 5g partition, then the swap partition, followed by the /home partition. Then, each distro gets ~10g extended partition to install on. Each distro uses grub for the boot loader, with grub installed on that distro's partition. Then the distro is added to the grub menu on the master boot partition as a chainloader image. Windows can also be added to the master partition boot loader, but you'll need a live cd to repair the master boot record of the drive (Windows doesn't play well with others).
Old 08-12-2007, 11:44 AM   #3
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It would be better for you if you downloaded a few liveCD or liveDVD distros to try. Burn them to cd/dvd, then reboot with one in the drive. You get to try it out without installing anything.

Since you have a diskette drive, you can set up your preferences for any of the liveCD/DVD and save the settings to diskette. You would either have to take the diskette out of the boot order (BIOS) or wait until the cd starts to boot before putting the diskette in the drive.

That way you have all the time in the world to learn about the distros you have on CD/DVD.

In answer to your questions:
1) 4 partitions max on a disk. There is a workaround that allows more partitions (I don't remember the limit but it's more that most folks need). Create 1 primary partition large enough for a distro, with 1 swap partition (which all distros can use). The remainder of the disk: create an extended partition. You can then create logical partitions inside the extended partition.

2) Each distro needs a minimun of two partitions: root partition and swap. But, one swap can serve all distros since you boot only one at a time. If you intend to have a data partition to hold personal files, you need a partiiton large enough to hold the distro you install, plus a gig or two to grow as you install software to try out. For the data partition to work for all OSs, you would probably have to make it fat32 so that windows and Linux can use it. Otherwise, make a data partition for windows, and a seperate one for Linux.

3) Keeping you data files seperate from the OS partition probably takes care of that.

4) You would have to do some research via People have varying success with the card reader thing (probably related to the skill level of the user, but possibly hardware related as well). You can put the bootloader on diskette or cd, but I personally don't see how that's an advantage except to have a backup way to boot in the event something breaks.

Those are my opions. Other, more knowledgeable folk will probably offer better advice.


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