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How to dual boot operating systems

While most PCs have a single operating system (OS) built-in, it's also possible to run two operating systems on one computer at the same time. The process is known as dual-booting, and it allows users to switch between operating systems depending on the tasks and programs they're working with.

Performing a dual boot is relatively simple and can be done across Windows, Mac and Linux operating systems. Read on to discover how to dual boot your machine in a few simple steps.

What is dual booting?

A dual boot is when you run two operating systems on one computer at the same time. This can be any combination of operating systems, for example, Windows and Mac, Windows and Linux or Windows 7 and Windows 10.

What does dual boot mean?

‘Booting’ is normally used interchangeably with ‘starting’ or ‘powering on’ when referring to computers. But in regard to dual-booting, the term specifically refers to something called the ‘boot manager’, a tiny program managed by the motherboard.

When you turn on a PC, the power supply unit (PSU) initially powers up the motherboard, which manages and holds together all your other computer components. If you’ve ever seen a black screen with text and possibly logos on it after you’ve started your PC, but before it gets to the Windows login screen, this is the motherboard letting you know it is on.

The motherboard scans all the different components that are connected to it, such as graphics cards, optical drives (CD or DVD) and disk drives. Once the motherboard has established the state of your hardware, it knows that you will most likely want to boot into an operating system. To do this, the motherboard passes over the drive information to the boot manager.

Boot managers are software that can run on your computer before an operating system is loaded. Their task is to locate operating systems on your drives and start-up whichever you would like to use. Most people with a Windows PC or Mac may never have seen the boot manager on their computer - it simply assumes that since it can only find one operating system, this is the one you want to use.

Apple’s Boot Camp software, used for dual-booting Windows and Mac, has its own boot menu for switching between the two operating systems. Otherwise, you will need to use the boot manager to switch between the operating systems on your PC. 

When and why to perform a dual boot

The interest in dual-booting exists because there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution to operating systems. While any modern OS will cover the average person’s day-to-day computer needs, for those who need to use specialized programs or want to try more experimental operating systems without sacrificing their computer usability, dual-booting offers a flexible solution.

Windows 10 is the latest and greatest version of Windows, with great performance and a wide selection of programs and games available. However, not all older applications made the jump. Old games without continued developer support are especially likely to function poorly in Windows 10. Every time a new Windows version comes out, its graphics tools and drivers are updated. If the apps don’t get updated by their developers, they may not work.

In this case, you might want to load Windows 7 along with Windows 10 or another OS from the boot menu (more on this below). Apple’s MacOS is popular due to its great usability and features, and Linux is favored by those who want complete control over their operating system. Dual-booting allows you to switch OS on the fly and make the most out of your computer, whatever your preferences and needs may be.

Before attempting any of the instructions in this guide, it is important that you backup your files and documents. You should copy them either to an external drive that you then disconnect from your PC, or to the cloud using services such as Google Drive or Dropbox. When installing new operating systems or repartitioning disk drives (separating them into sections that can be used for different OSs) there’s always a chance that existing data will accidentally get overwritten or deleted, so it’s better not to risk it. 

Dual boot two Windows operating systems

Running Windows 7 and Windows 10 on the same computer might be helpful if you want to use older programs that you can’t get to work in Windows 10. Dual-booting using versions of Windows older than Windows 7 is also possible - the steps to install them will be almost identical - though actually finding copies of them may prove harder. 

  1. Get another copy of Windows

If you are running Windows 10 and need Windows 7, you will need to find or buy a copy of it. Microsoft doesn’t sell Windows 7 anymore, but it’s easy enough to buy a copy online on sites like eBay. If you’re running Windows 7 and need a copy of Windows 10, you can buy one directly from Microsoft’s website. 

  1. Create bootable media

If your second copy of Windows is on a DVD, you can skip this step as you will be able to use the DVD directly. Otherwise, you will need an empty DVD or USB flash drive of at least 8GB (gigabytes) to create a bootable medium - a drive or disk that contains its own operating system. 

Microsoft has tools on its website for downloading and creating bootable media for Windows 7 and Windows 10. All you need to do is enter the Windows product key, download the tools and follow the instructions on them. 

  1. Create your new Windows partition

On a desktop computer, the easiest and safest way to dual boot is to buy and install a new hard drive or solid-state drive (SSD) for the new operating system. This way your existing OS won’t lose space on its drive, and you won’t have to do any repartitioning. If you’re using a new drive, you can skip stepping four. Otherwise, you will need to make space for the new Windows installation on your existing disk drive:

  1. On Windows 10, right-click the Windows icon on your taskbar and select ‘disk management’. On previous versions of Windows, Disk Management can be located in ‘Control Panel’ > ‘Computer Tools’. 

  1. In Disk Management, find the partition that you would like to shrink to make space for the new Windows installation. If you only have one disk drive, this will most likely be Windows (C:). Right-click on the partition and select ‘Shrink Volume’.

  1. In the dialog box that opens, choose the amount you would like to shrink the partition by. You will want to have at least 128GB for your new Windows installation.

  1. Right-click the new section called Unallocated, and select ‘New simple partition’. 

  1. Follow the instruction on the tool to finish creating the new partition. 

  1. Install Windows

At this point, you’d normally have to boot your computer from the installation media you created, but Windows 7 and 10 have a handy option to perform a new Windows installation straight from File Explorer. 

  1. Make sure that your installation media (the DVD or USB flash drive) has been inserted into the computer and open File Explorer. Click ‘This PC’ on the left pane.

  1. Double click on the installation media and a Windows installation wizard will open. Click ‘Custom (advanced)’.

  1. When you’re asked where you want to install Windows, select either your separate hard drive or the partition you just created and click ‘Next’. 

  1. Follow the rest of the installation steps according to your own preferences.

  2. Use the Windows boot manager to shift between operating systems.

Your Windows dual boot is now ready to use. Whenever you start or restart your computer you will now see the boot manager, which will allow you to choose an operating system. Use the Up and Down keys on your keyboard to navigate the options, and press ‘Enter’ once you’ve selected an operating system.

Dual boot Windows and Linux

If you’d like to run Linux and Windows on the same computer, you will first have to decide which Linux distribution you want to use. The most popular ones are Ubuntu, Debian, Mint and Manjaro, but there are hundreds to choose from. All of them have their own unique features and quirks, though the popular ones are the most forgiving to new users. 

This guide will assume you are installing Linux Mint, but the steps for installing the other distributions are not dissimilar. You will just need to download the correct disk image for the distribution you would like to use, and find the distribution’s own documentation for more details on their installers. 

  1. Get a Linux disk image

You can download the Mint disk image straight from the Linux Mint website. If you’re using another distribution, find a disk image on their website. 

  1. Create bootable media

For this, you will need an empty USB flash drive (any data or files will be deleted).

The easiest way to make your USB drive into a bootable installation media is with the Universal USB Installer. You can download it and find instructions on how to use it on their official website.

  1.  Create a partition for Linux

On a desktop computer, you could simply buy and install another hard drive to use for your Linux installation. Otherwise, follow the instructions below to create a new partition. 

  1. Right-click the Windows icon on your taskbar, and select ‘Disk Management’. 

  1. In Disk Management, find the partition that you would like to shrink to make space for your Linux installation. If you only have one disk drive, this will most likely be Windows (C:). Right-click on the partition and select ‘Shrink Volume’.

  1. In the dialog box that opens, choose by how much you would like to shrink the partition. For Linux Mint, you will want at least 30GB.  

  1. You can simply leave the free space you have just created as it is. You will use the Mint installer to create a new partition (see below) and the installers of most other distributions have the same capability. Check the documentation of your distribution if you’re not certain. 

  2. Disable UEFI Secure boot

Windows 10 added a feature called Secure Boot, which is intended to stop malicious tampering of your Windows installation. However, Secure Boot may cause problems when dual-booting with Linux. Disabling it may or may not be necessary depending on your specific hardware, but to stop any problems from popping up later it’s safest to turn off the Secure Boot from the start.  

In order to turn off secure boot, you will need to access the UEFI settings. UEFI (Unified Extended Firmware Interface) is the software that runs on modern motherboards. 

  1. Open your Windows start menu, and click the ‘Settings’ icon.  

  1. In the Settings window, click ‘Update & Security’. 

  2. In the left pane, click ‘Recovery’.

  3. Under Advanced startup, click ‘Restart now’. 

  1. Your computer will restart and boot up to an options menu before loading Windows. Click ‘Troubleshoot’

  1. Click ‘Advanced options’.

  1. Click ‘UEFI Firmware Settings’. 

  1. You will now be in your motherboard’s settings menu, and how this looks will entirely depend on your motherboard manufacturer. You will need to find the Secure Boot option and disable it. If you can’t find the option, search ‘secure boot’ and the name of your motherboard’s manufacturer (which should be visible at the top of the motherboard).

  1. Press F10 on your keyboard to save changes and exit the UEFI settings.

  1. Boot from your installation media.

Make sure the USB flash drive you put the Linux installer on is plugged into your PC. 

To get to the boot manager, hold down Shift on your keyboard and restart your computer by right-clicking on your Windows icon on your taskbar and clicking ‘Shut down or sign out’ > ‘Restart’. 

After your computer has restarted you will be in the Windows boot manager. You will need to use the arrow Up and Down keys on your keyboard to navigate to the USB Linux drive. Once you have this selected, press Enter. 

  1. Create your Linux partitions

Follow the installer until you get to the installation type screen, and then select ‘Something else’. 

You might want to research Linux partitioning schemes at this point - you may find the Ubuntu wiki helpful - but essentially you will want your available drive space split into at least three partitions:

  •  / (root) - where all your system files and most programs are stored

  • /swap - what your system will use for extra memory when you run out of RAM (Random Access Memory)

  • /home - where all your other files and documents are stored

If you are installing Linux on a new hard drive, find and select it on this screen. Otherwise, find the free space that you created earlier. 

 

  1. Create your / (root) partition

Once you have selected your new drive or the free space on an existing drive, click the ‘+’ sign. This will open a ‘Create partition’ window, which will let you create your main Linux partition. You will need to assign enough space for this partition to store the operating systems and all your other programs. You will want to have at least 10GB for this, but depending on how many programs you are planning to install, you might want anything up to 50GB. The size is entered in megabytes, so remember that one gigabyte is roughly 10,000 megabytes. 

The options you need to select are:

  • Size: 10000MB (or up to 50000MB)

  • Type for the new partition: Primary

  • Location for the new partition: Beginning of this space

  • Use as: Ext4 journaling file system

  • Mount point: /

  1. Create your swap partition

Click the ‘+’ sign again. You will now need to create the partition your operating system uses as swap  - temporary memory for when your RAM is full. It’s recommended that you make this roughly the same size as your RAM. For example, if you have 6GB of RAM, assign 6GB or about 6000MB for this partition. 

The options you want for your swap partition are:

  • Size: 6000MB

  • Type for the new partition: Primary

  • Location for the new partition: Beginning of this space

  • Use as: swap area

  1. Create your home partition

Click the ‘+’ sign again. You will now need to create the home partition, which is where all your files and documents are stored. This is going to be your largest partition, and you’re free to assign all the remaining free space on your drive to this.

The options you want for your home partition are:

  • Size: 20000MB (or all the remaining free space on your drive)

  • Type for the new partition: Primary

  • Location for the new partition: Beginning of this space

  • Use as: Ext4 journaling file system

  • Mount point: home

Once you are happy with your partitions, click ‘Install’. 

  1. Install Linux

You can now complete the rest of the installer according to your own preferences. On Mint you will be asked to choose your time zone and keyboard layout, as well as creating a new username and password.

  1. Use the boot manager to switch between Windows and Linux

Once you have finished the Linux installation process, whenever you restart your computer you will boot up to the GRUB screen. GRUB (Grand Unified Bootloader) is Linux Mint’s preferred boot manager, and it allows you to choose whether you want to boot up Mint or Windows. Just use the Up and Down arrow keys to navigate and press Enter to boot into your chosen OS. Most other Linux distributions will also use GRUB. 

Can I run Windows and Mac on the same computer?

It is possible to run Windows and Mac on the same computer, although it’s a lot easier to do by installing Windows on a Mac than the other way around. 

The reason for this is that Apple recognizes there are many popular programs that don’t currently work on macOS, and so they built a tool that makes dual-booting on Mac's simple to accomplish. The tool, called Boot Camp, was created to appeal to people that were hesitant to buy a Mac in case they needed a program compatible only with other operating systems. For example, many business software and games lack support for macOS and are a popular reason for dual-booting. Some people simply prefer Apple’s polished hardware, while still wanting to use Windows. Running Windows on a Mac is relatively easy, and we will go through the steps to do exactly that in the next section. 

Installing macOS on a Windows PC is also possible, though more complicated and risky. If you prefer macOS while wanting to use your own hardware or want to develop apps for Mac without having to purchase an Apple computer, the trouble may be worth it for you. Apple doesn’t officially support or condone the installation of macOS on anything other than their own hardware, so you will have to resort to unofficial tools. We don’t cover how to do this in this guide, but there is plenty of information about it online on sites such as hackintosh.com. Do be aware that this does not work on all PC hardware setups, so do some research into the topic before attempting it. 

Dual boot Windows and Mac OS X 

Since Mac OS X 10.4 came out in 2005, Apple computers have included the Boot Camp tool which allows for easy dual-booting of Windows and macOS (the newest version of OS X) on Macs. 

However, in order to use the current version of Boot Camp, which is updated to work with Windows 10, you will first need to check that your Mac is supported on this version of the tool. Here’s a list of supported Macs:

  • MacBook Pro (2012-)

  • MacBook Air (2012-)

  • MacBook (2015-)

  • iMac Pro (2017-)

  • iMac (2012-)

  • Mac mini (2012-)

  • Mac mini Server (Late 2012-)

  • Mac Pro (Late 2013-)

If you’re unsure which Mac you have, click the Apple icon in the corner of your screen, and select About this Mac. In the window that opens, you can see details about your Mac, including the version. 

Once you’ve ensured your Mac is supported, follow these steps to dual boot Windows 10.

  1. Get a Windows disk image 

Unless you happen to have an extra copy of Windows 10 lying around, you will need to buy it. The easiest and safest way to do this is directly from Microsoft’s website. Once you have purchased Windows 10, you will get a key that will allow you to download a disk image (the contents of a Windows installation disk) directly. 

You might be able to find a cheaper copy of Windows 10 on a DVD in a local computer store or online, but you will need to extract the disk image from the DVD to use Boot Camp. The process is not too complicated, and you can find plenty of guides to help you online. 

  1. Open Boot Camp Assistant

You can find the Boot Camp Assistant in your Applications folder, which you can access by clicking the Finder icon on the Dock and then clicking ‘Applications’ on the left pane. 

  1. Create your Windows partition

Boot Camp Assistant will guide you through the disk partitioning process (assigning space on your drive for Windows) and will download the necessary hardware drivers to allows Windows to run. It will then ask you to select the disk image you downloaded or extracted from a DVD.

You might be asked to plug in an empty USB flash drive during this process, so have one ready. Remember that any data on it will be deleted, so check its contents first!

  1. Install Windows

Once the Boot Camp Assistant finishes, your computer will reboot and go straight to the Windows installer. If you’re asked where you would like to install Windows, make sure that you select the partition you created in the previous step. It will normally be called BOOTCAMP. Once you have ensured the right partition is selected, click ‘Format’. 

Follow the rest of the steps in the Windows installer to finish installing Windows 10 on your computer. 

  1. Install Windows Support Software

Once the installation process finishes, you will boot into Windows 10. A screen titled ‘Welcome to the Boot Camp installer’ should appear automatically, and will guide you through installing the Windows Support Software. This is a software package that enables features like trackpad gestures and using the function keys to change screen brightness in Windows 10. 

Sometimes the Boot Camp installer for Windows Support Software fails to start automatically, in which case you will have to find it. Your trackpad may not work properly if this happens, so you will need to connect a USB mouse. 

  1. Right-click on the Windows icon in your taskbar and select ‘File Explorer’

  2. Click ‘This PC’ on the left pane

  3. Double-click on the ‘OSXRESERVED’ partition, which is usually the D: drive

  4. Go to the ‘Boot Camp’ folder

  5. Double-click on ‘Setup’. This will start the Windows Support Software installation process

  1. Switch between Windows 10 and macOS

Whenever you start or restart your Mac from now on, it will boot up whichever operating system that you last used. To switch from Windows 10 back to macOS, use the Boot Camp system tray menu on your taskbar to select your macOS partition, and restart your computer. 

To switch from macOS to Windows 10, you will need to use the Startup Disk preferences menu. 

  1. Click the Apple icon on the corner of your screen and select ‘System Preferences’

  1. Click ‘Startup Disk’ on the System Preferences menu

  2. Click the lock sign and enter your Administrator password

  1. Select the disk called Boot Camp, and then restart your Mac

While a dual boot takes some work to get online, it’s also a great learning experience into the inner workings of your computer. Once finished, you will be able to enjoy the flexibility of two operating systems and make the most out of your PC. However, keeping your operating systems uncluttered is even more important when you have two on one PC, so you might want to use a tool like CCleaner to keep them up to shape. 

 We hope that helps! If you have any comments, please tweet us. We're @Piriform.

 

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