Dual-boot Windows 7 and Ubuntu

I finally bought a new laptop. I usually postpone these kind of things to the point that even a dinosaur would refer to me as grandfather. Now, I mostly get by with a ‘light’ system. I’m no gamer and when I’ve got a difficult calculating task I have computers enough at work that can do that very well. The reality however is that even simple programs as a web browser takes more and more memory these days (especially when you leave it open with 50 tabs for weeks like I often do). So when the university had an offer for a laptop at a reduced price I decided to finally start living in the present.

This is an overview of the system I bought:

Chassis Dell Vostro 3500
15.6″ Widescreen HD LED Anti-Glare (resoluti0n 1.366 x 768)
Processor Intel Dual Core Processor with HyperThreading (Intel Core i3-350M, 2.26 GHz)
Memory 4 GB DDR3 RAM
Hard Drive 320 GB Serial ATA (7.200 rpm) Hard Drive
Optical Drive 8x DVD+/-RW Drive with software
Graphics Nvidia Geforce 310M 512 MB
Ethernet Integrated network card
Wireless Dell wireless 1397 (802.11 b/g) Minikaart, WiFi on/off switch
Audio Integrated Stereo Speakers
Power Supply 65 Watt AC Adapter
Battery 6 cell 56 WHr Smart Li-Ion Battery
Keyboard Internal Keyboard Qwerty International
I/O Ports 1 x eSATA/USB, 3 x USB, VGA, HDMI, Microphone in, Headphone out, Network Connector
Memory Card Reader Memory Card Reader (SD/MMC/MS)
Webcam Integrated 2.0 megapixel webcam with digital microphone
Operating System Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium OEM

Ubuntu logo and Windows logoAs you can see the laptop came with Windows 7 and a whole bunch of other software, like Office 2010, pre-installed. I don’t really need this programs that often, but I do need them occasionally, so I wanted to preserve them. I do also need a Unix-like operating system. The option I had, was to install a dual-boot with Linux, in casu Ubuntu 10.4. There was only one partition and Windows was installed on it. I already started to fear for days of reinstalling everything, but on browsing around I discovered it’s possible to shrink the partition containing Windows, thus making place for a Linux partition and a shared partition. The gap between ‘possible’ and ‘actually doing it’ is sometimes great, but it turned out that in this case it is in fact indeed quite easy. There is even a very good guide in the Ubuntu documentation which explains the steps very good. So I mainly followed this guide.

I performed the disk check just to give myself the idea that I was being cautious. There was no real data on the laptop, so I proceeded without making a back-up. The worst that could happen was that I had to reinstall Windows and all the other software. Sometimes I like taking risks (but only when they are non-lethal). After the check, which took quite a long time actually, I rebooted the laptop using the Ubuntu live CD I had burnt earlier. When Ubuntu was started I opened GParted (System > Administration > GParted), selected the Windows partition and resized it from +/- 320 GB to +/- 60 GB. (I have enough disk space for now, so I decided to be generous with it.) After pressing apply GParted goes to work for some time: it took about 15 minutes on my laptop. I didn’t make any other partitions at this moment and first rebooted Windows a couple of times. The first time a check of the file system was started.

The next step was to install Ubuntu, so again I inserted the live CD and rebooted the system, this time choosing for the Install Ubuntu option. Basically just make the right choices in the wizard until you come to the “Prepare disk space” screen. I choose the “Specify partitions manually” option. First I added the partition on which Ubuntu will be installed: an ext4 partition of about 40 GB and with as mount point /, then I also added some swap space of 4 GB (i.e. the amount of RAM in the laptop) and I left the remainder just blank for now, because I was too eager to proceed. Just complete the remaining steps of the wizard and Ubuntu will start the installation.

At this point I’ve got two operating systems sitting on their own partition with enough breathing room, but I still have a whopper of unallocated disk space. The next couple of lines won’t be the most efficient way to do things, but it was the way I did it — bearing in mind that I’ve got some clue of what I’m doing but not that much. I started Ubuntu, and opened the Disk Utility application (System > Administration > Disk Utility), selected the unallocated space and created an extended partition. I, for some reason, then formatted that partition from Windows. The advantage of this separate partition is that I can address it from Windows and Ubuntu, making it easier to share files. Basically Ubuntu can also address the partition that contains Windows, but it just seemed cleaner this way. I’m also considering splitting up the partitions under that extended partition to create a partition for my home folder in Ubuntu, but for now I was happy that everything was up and running. (Except the wi-fi in Ubuntu, but that is a story for later.)

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