Before Dual Booting: What you Need to Know

Melanie Gross
Jan 6, 2012
Updated • Dec 2, 2012

The topic of dual booting operating systems has been covered in a few ways on this site, but here is a primer to provide you with some important information before attempting any dual boot. More users today are becoming aware of how useful and practical the Linux operating system is, in all its shapes and sizes. If there is any dual-boot that you want to have, it would definitely be along the lines of Windows 7, 8, or Vista with Ubuntu, Fedora, or Debian Linux operating systems. Ubuntu seems to be the most popular and it is an excellent operating system, in this user’s opinion. All this being stated, before you dual boot any operating system, you absolutely must prepare yourself! This is not a how-to on dual booting Ubuntu and Windows; it is a warning that you should carefully study all of the ins and outs about the process before proceeding.

For example, when you are dual booting any Linux operating system such as Ubuntu, the very first thing that you need to be aware of is that the Linux Grub will overwrite your Master Boot Record (MBR). This will mean that you will be able to boot your new Linux operating system in a hard drive partition, but you will probably not be able to boot back into Windows thereafter.

Rather than spend a day pulling your hair out trying to look for a solution, find a good guide on dual booting Ubuntu with Windows before you get started. This is an Ubuntu guide on the topic that happens to be immensely helpful and there are plenty of other links on the site to assist, should you run into any problems.

To get to the point, the very first thing you must do before dual booting Linux alongside Windows is backup your operating system. Don’t just backup the files and folders; backup the entire system on an external hard drive. If you put it on a partition and you are unable to access the partition after the dual boot, you are out of luck. It seems obvious, but always backup your system to removable devices or an FTP server. The advantage of having the external hard drive is that you have something tangible in your hands that you can restore your system with.

Secondly, create a system repair disk or buy one. If you have your Windows installation disk, that would be best, but the repair disk will be sufficient to get you into the recovery environment so that you can have a DOS prompt to work from in order to restore your MBR. As long as you have the full system backup and the repair disk, you have a parachute if you mess up the operation. Understand that Linux has a completely different language than DOS and the GNU Grub is not something to be messing with unless you know exactly what you are doing.

Make sure that you partition your hard drive properly before dual booting. DO NOT boot Linux onto the same partition on which you have installed Windows. That just about covers it.

Once you have an effective dual boot of Windows and Linux, you will be rather pleased with yourself and you get to enjoy the benefits of both operating systems. Also, a dual boot is much faster and more efficient than a virtual machine. Enjoy a safe dual boot.


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  1. Marc said on November 4, 2018 at 11:59 pm

    You could unplug windows (and all other disks you are not installing to) boot and then install Linux on the remaining connected disk. After that poweroff, connect all drives, boot and Windows will start. If you wanna run Linux (re)start hit that F11/F12 and choose the Linux drive.

    No issues.

  2. ben said on November 15, 2015 at 11:51 pm

    Any recommended procedure to install Linux Ubuntu (Wubi?), Android-x86, and Windows (XP)?

    The guides I’ve seen don’t use an install.. they either boot/run form a usb (easy2boot), or they always boot into windows and then run a virtual machine app (consoleos). Other guides, are a bit out-dated and don’t mention how to install Android.

    I’d like to wipe a very old laptop, and do a fresh install of all 3 os’es, but I understand the order of install is important as is the partitioning, otherwise the (grub) boot menu will not list all the os’es.

    Where can I revisit this topic for the latest recommended method?

  3. punk bass said on February 14, 2012 at 9:41 pm

    Hahaha, fun article, installing linux is described like the end of the world. Beware! You forgot to mention that when installing grub not only your windows won’t boot ever again, but you will also raise the global temperatures by 10 % and you will cause a mass extinction and there is a slight chance that we will get invaded by alien species. Whatever you do – Do NOT install linux – your hard drive will melt.Damn those microsoft marketing strategies, gotta love’em

  4. Cloggyjohn said on January 12, 2012 at 4:56 pm

    To wilwon3,

    If you haven’t solved the problem yet try the following:

    re-create the MBR in Vista using either the method described by Toni above or Easy BCD. If necessary boot Vista and in disk management delete the Ubuntu partitions. Boot from the Linux Mint 12 CD/DVD and choose to install alongside Vista. When you restart the PC you will now be presented with the GRUB2 boot menu and can choose whether to boot into Vista or Mint.

    I’ve used this method to re-/uninstall various flavours of Linux and have never encountered problems.

    Success, John

  5. zykoda said on January 9, 2012 at 10:47 am

    Never had a problem with multibooting with either GRUB Legacy or GRUB 2 whatever Operating Systems were installed! MS systems will of course blindly ignore any such niceties and overwrite the MBR if installed afterwards. Recovery is usually possible without re-installation so long as there are no wiped partitions.

  6. Mike said on January 7, 2012 at 6:00 pm

    If, on the other hand, you restore the MBR and now can’t get back into linux, there’s fixes for that as well.

    Certainly, inform yourself about the risks.

    Don’t be a slave to them.

  7. Mike said on January 7, 2012 at 5:45 pm

    “This will mean that you will be able to boot your new Linux operating system in a hard drive partition, but you will probably not be able to boot back into Windows thereafter.”

    is just inaccurate.

    For one, even if MBR is overwritten by GRUB, it’s a DUAL boot system. The article itself is “Dual” booting what you need to know”.

    If “you will probably not be able to boot back into Windows thereafter.”

    It’s NOT a DUAL boot system is it?

    If you’re booting into linux and would like to boot into Windows first, preferably, boot into linux and install a program like

    Grub Customizer



    and change the boot setup (Grub Customizer) / boot order (Startup-Manager).

    Just because you’re booting into linux, by definition “Dual Boot” doesn’t mean you’ve lost access to Windows.

    Besides, if by some chance WIndows isn’t showing up there are linux utilities, such as

    Rescatux and Super Grub

    to help resolve the problem(s).

    A tool like VirtualBox (not a beginner’s tool, but, not overly difficult to configure) allows one to boot ISO images without having to install them OR burn them to CD first. Then, from the safety of a virtual environment one can pick apart a new distribution before deciding whether or not to install it.

    There are hazards and there can be problems. This article is at least right on one account, Dual booting isn’t necessarily just a matter of installing Linux alongside Windows (especially with the upcoming WIndows 8 – until issues around UEFI are resolved) and all is well, but, the issues are often either non-existent or surmountable.

    Forewarned is useful. Sounding an unnecessary alarm is not.

  8. Niels Jensen said on January 7, 2012 at 11:08 am

    This article should not have been on ghacks! Most modern linux distribution allows you to choose were grub is located. If you don’t want to, then you don’t have to overwrite the master boot record.

    The only dual booting issue I have come across is dual booting OS/2 or eComStation with Windows and Linux. This will give problems particularly if you have used a linux installer to partition your harddisk. The eComStation people recommend DFSee for all such work.

  9. Brett said on January 7, 2012 at 8:11 am

    Hmm, it’s so cute when a likely Microsoft employee writes an article about linux spreading fud in the process. Author should get a job at Fox news as the article is woefully inaccurate.

  10. Dan said on January 7, 2012 at 1:08 am

    I really hate dual-booting, it’s so messy. Now I just use LiveUSBs when I need my Linux fix.

  11. Reader said on January 6, 2012 at 8:21 pm

    Never had any issues with ubuntu.

    Installing them in separate partition, always kept my windows partition untouched and the grub menu included both OSes…

  12. wilwon3 said on January 6, 2012 at 5:15 pm

    I recently installed Ubuntu 11.10 on 20 GB of free space created by shrinking the c; drive on which Win Vista is installed; the installation went smoothly with no problems. I would like to change the linux os installation to Linux Mint 12, but don’t seem to be able to do that with the ISO disk which I created.
    I have thought about the possibilities of deleting the two linux partitions, then attempting to perform the installation using the Linux Mint 12 ISO disk, however, haven’t tried to do so. Would like some suggestions.

  13. SubgeniusD said on January 6, 2012 at 3:44 pm

    Single hard drive dual boots are relatively simple.

    Installing OSes on separate HDDs adds another level of complexity and difficulty for a variety of reasons. I’ve had situations where the MBR could not be rebuilt; the Win 7 Master File Table got scrambled (by Sabayon in this case) and Windows had to be reinstalled.

    I’ve had some success with EasyBCD in the past.

  14. Paul(us) said on January 6, 2012 at 2:42 pm

    Maybe you could help me with a problem I have since the latest upgrade from Ubuntu on main system. I have main Windows Xp o.s.installed on one part (portioned disk) an Ubuntu o.s.on the outer portion part. Since the latest update I cant go in the start up menu to main Windows xp o.s.?
    So I think main MDR is damaged. What to do?

  15. Toni said on January 6, 2012 at 1:39 pm

    If the partition with Ubuntu is erased, Windows will not boot. But try this:
    1. Boot from Windows CD.
    2. Choose Repair.
    3. Enter in Command Promt.
    4.Type : bootrec/bootmgr and enter.
    5.Type :bootrec/bootfix and enter.

  16. vasa1 said on January 6, 2012 at 1:07 pm

    Sorry, this article is far from adequate.

    1. blue_bullet said on January 6, 2012 at 7:15 pm

      States that author has been in this business for 15 years. Empty article with links to out of date information. Far from adequate.

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