Some Advice and Warnings and Things to Know.
This website is about introducing people to the benefits of having more than one operating system and to the backup and recovery advantages of multibooting with identical clones. Achieving these goals need not be difficult or require you to have extreme technical abilities, but we do implore you to take your time and understand what you are doing. Be under no illusion that modifying or creating partitions and installing other operating systems and messing with bootmanagers can be totally destructive to existing systems and data.
Recoverability from disasters.
The mathematics of chance say the unexpected and unlikely not only can happen, but will happen. It is inevitable therefore that some people's attempts at configuring their machine for dual or multiboot is going to result in an un-bootable system that they can't recover........don't let that be you. If you are thinking of messing with a machine that is always require to be in a working condition then you must have backup copies of both the operating system and data, as well as the knowledge and ability to restore them. Under no circumstances, ever, should you attempt to reconfigure an essential machine without first possessing the bullet-proof ability to recover from a major disaster. We never do it and neither should you.
If you are impatient to try another operating system then there are some safer and quicker options that don't require partitioning hard drives and configuring boot-managers. One of the easiest is having an operating system on a CD/DVD or USB/SD flash device that you can boot and run entirely independently from a machine's existing hard drive. When on a flash device some of these can even retain settings and programs and still be used on other PCs. See our Getting Started page for options and links that could have you up and running in less than an hour.
Be wary of walk-through guides and auto-configurers.
Many step-by-step guides you will find on the net are just too general to apply to everybody's circumstances and most are certainly not aimed at systems that still have their store-bought configuration of recovery, utility or media partitions. There has in recent years been some standardization and simplification of factory recovery systems which has made some walk-through guides less hazardous, but there has also been an increase in complexity in other areas which many step-by-step guides may overlook. Likewise many well established apps and installers that can auto-configure and create partitions for you have struggled to keep up with all the latest innovations and so may not get settings correct for optimal performance. See the Various Variables section below for all the things you need to look out for.
Practice on a test machine.
If possible you should start out by experimenting on an old or redundant computer. If you don’t already possess such a thing then perhaps you could scrounge or buy something really cheap. Almost anything from the last ten years would do for learning the basics of creating partitions, installing and cloning operating systems and configuring bootmanagers.
Temporarily replace your hard drive.
If you do not have an old computer to mess with you could change the hard drive in your machine to one that you can safely practice on. Once finished with your experiments you would refit the original drive to be back to normal. Be sure to check you can actually change the hard drive on your machine before trying to go ahead with this. Some new Ultrabooks have SSD drives that are soldered or integrated onto the motherboard. Corporate notebooks in particular may have encryption or other BIOS functions linked to the factory drive, and Win-8 machines may have secure-boot enabled which will tie it to a particular Windows install.
Being in possession of a second hard drive for back-up of both your operating system and data is something we highly recommend, indeed we consider it a pre-requisite of any backup regime, so if you don't already possess a second drive either inside your machine or one that you can connect externally, then you should seriously consider making the investment. (For a 2.5" drive and a USB connection a cheap external case can suffice).
Understand the boot process.
Many boot problems can be fixed by simple things such as setting a partition active or just unhiding it. If you know and understand what these things are and how they should be set then you can turn a major boot failure into a minor problem that can be fixed in seconds. See our guides to the boot process.
Acquire and learn to use the essential tools.
There are only a few main tools we think you really need to do all of your partitioning, cloning and much of your backup, as well as giving you access to a broken system to fix minor boot problems. One of our must-have tools is the Gparted partitioning utility and we recommend you get it via the PartedMagic or SystemRescueCD boot disks. These are complete mini operating systems that have various other tools and even browsers so you can get online. Our other recommendation is Partition Wizard, which is a Windows app that can also do most of what we need and crucially also has a boot CD/USB version, (free for personal use).
Know how to backup and restore an OS and hard drive.
The greatest advantage of multibooting is the ability it gives you to recover from major disasters. It would be ironic indeed to start your adventure into multibooting with a disaster that you can’t recover from, so we highly recommend that the first task on your journey is to master the process of backing up and restoring your operating system. Many of the skills and tools you will learn to use will be same ones you will need on the next leg of your multibooting journey, so you should in no way think of this as a side exercise. How to Backup and Restore.
Partitioning Best Practices.
Try to maintain a lean operating system.
The larger the amount of space used in your operating system’s partition the more time it will take to clone or image that partition and the larger the storage media you will need to hold a backup. Just 50 gigs worth of operating system and data could take several DVDs to backup, which lets face it you are not going to do very often. Of course an external or second hard drive is a better option but an over large OS will take a lot more time to copy and will also limit the amount of backups or clones you can keep.
Keeping Windows Lean and Streamlined.
For many people it will be personal data that will take up most space in the operating system's partition, so you should configure your machine with a separate data partition. This will have the added advantages of making data backups easier, plus give you better data security because it will no longer be tied-in with the health of the operating system or its partition. The other essential advantage is that when you boot into another OS or clone you will have no problems finding and accessing all of your up-to-the-minute stuff.
Creating and Configuring a Data Partition.
Start with a clean slate.
Ideally you should begin with a clean hard drive so that there are no restrictions or surprises from manufacturers' recovery or hidden partitions or custom MBRs, overlays, encryption or other drive utilities. If you want to retain a pre-installed operating system from a drive then you should clone or image just that partition elsewhere and then copy it back to the desired position on the cleaned and newly repartitioned drive. A fresh new install of Windows is also the ideal but on some laptops in particular this may not be a straight forward thing to do because some essential drivers may be difficult to find and install. The alternative to doing a clean install of Windows is to restore the machine to factory condition with its own built-in recovery system and then uninstall the dross and trim and tweak Windows as best you can. Do any updates and install your essential apps and configure what you can, then save a copy as your master install before it is ever used in anger.
And it is about to get worse because the new UEFI firmware and GUID partitions are literally going to make most current third-party bootmanagers, partitioners and cloning tools completely obsolete. Throw in Secure and Restricted Boot, Fast Boot, Intel Rapid Start and maybe TPM Trusted Boot from 2015 and we may have a challenge on our hands. Listed below are many of the things you currently need to be aware of if you want to safely and fully explore the world of multibooting.