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Preparing Partitions for Linux

This post covers prepping your non-linux box for a linux install.
I know some people disdain having more than one OS on their machine, but a “dual-boot” box has several advantages over a single-OS comp. I’m currently running a triple-boot Vista, Ubuntu, Open SUSE setup on my laptop. Vista for games, Ubuntu for school work (programming), and SUSE as my “experiment” OS (where I can mess with compiling new kernels, running different window managers, etc. without worrying about ruining my great setup that I’ve got in Ubuntu).

I’m going to assume you’re running Windows right now. I don’t use Apple for religious reasons, so I won’t ever cover how to mod their products other than to say they make great “lan-killer” testbeds. XP

First off, if you’ve decided that you’re going for a “clean” install of Linux – meaning no dual-booting – then you can skip this article altogether, and just run your distro’s live CD installer.

The purpose of this tutorial is to enable someone to dual-boot into Linux or Windows.

You will need Vista or 7, not XP or a 9x Win.

In windows, go to Accessories->System Tools->Computer Management.

If you don’t find Computer Management there, do a google search to find it’s location on your system.
In Comp. Manager, hit Disk Tools (or Manager, or something to that effect). It will show you your current Windows-compatible partitions.

If you’ve got a standard Vista setup, then you’ve probably got a 9 or so Gb partition which is your backup partition.
Click on it, and choose to remove it. If you backup your system, you should be doing it on an external drive anyways. Once it is gone, you’ll be left with “free space”. This will be utilized by gparted, or whichever partition utility your linux distro uses to create its partitions.

Next, click on your main Windows partition. Now, even if you have tons of free space on your partition, this doesn’t mean it is safe to shrink it from outside of Windows. There will be data written at the ends of the partition, which will be lost if you shrink it. From where you are now, however, you can “shrink” the volume. If you choose to do so, Windows will tell you by how much you can shrink the partition. It will not give you an accurate reading about how much space you can recover, which would require an extremely good de-fragmentation utility, available free online, which moves data away from the ends of a partition, making it possible to maximize available space.

If, however, you can free about 30 Gb with the included “shrink” method, just do this. You can access your Windows partitions from within Linux, so you can store all of you videos and music here, and make use of it in both OSes without needing two copies.

If this works, then you can move on to installing Linux, simply specifying during the installation to use the free space on the drive. If your distro doesn’t have this option, however, you may have to prep the partitions manually. This is very easily done, and without any danger (assuming you don’t delete anything).

This next section details how to setup your partitions from within your linux distro’s partition preparation program, which you will encounter after beginning installation of Linux.

You will need a minimum of two partitions; a “/” (or “root”) partition, and a “swap” partition. We’ll start by making the swap partition. In the disk partitioner, choose whichever option says “create new partition”, or something to that effect. You will want to make the type “swap”, and the size however large your physical RAM is. If you don’t know, than give yourself 1024 Mb.

There has been a lot of debate as to how large the swap partitions should be, ranging from suggestions for twice the size of your RAM, to not needing it at all if you’re running a machine with more than 2 Gb of RAM, as you’ll likely never use that much memory anyway. Giving yourself 1 Gb is a nice compromise, and a nice buffer zone.

Next, make the remaining free space into a new partition, of type Ext3. You can use Ext4 if you know your distro is okay with it, but do not use Ext2. Ext3 id the most common filesystem type used in Linux.

Once you’ve gotten here, you’re ready to let the installer do its magic, and once Grub has been installed and updated/run, you’ll have yourself a dual-boot system!

Have fun with Linux, and remember that if you’re not a system admin, you can ignore all the shouts about fearing su and sudo’s power. There is very little you can do to destroy a linux install, short of “sudo rmdir /boot”… which you shouldn’t do.

Next up is WINE, and making your Linux OS run Win games better than Windows.

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