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Some Advice and Warnings and Things to Know.

Before you dive in and start clicking buttons and blindly following walk-through guides, please take a breath and consider the advice we offer on this page.

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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.

Can't wait?
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.

Manufacturers' Recovery Systems.
Virtually all top brand store-bought machines will come with an in-built recovery system that can in most circumstances restore the computer to a factory state. Many now include the option to create and restore an up-to-date user made image from removable media, so it may be worth checking out all the options of your recovery system. If you are able to completely restore your hard drive from DVD or USB then you may already have the means to recover from a major disaster.
image of various PCs


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. info iconHow to Backup and Restore.

Keep Partitioning Simple.
partitioning iconMany popular tools for partitioning will provide you with options to shuffle and move partitions any which way and auto-magically redistribute free space around a hard drive. The reality is that the success rate for over complex partition juggling is not much better than 50/50 and will invariably be very time consuming, perhaps a dozen hours or more on a well used large drive. From many years of experience the only modifications to an existing partition we sanction is enlarging or reducing it from its ending point on a drive. Any operation that moves the starting point of a partition means a highly complex, risky and often time consuming process that we would always advise against.
blue info iconPartitioning 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.
brown info iconKeeping 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.
blue info iconCreating 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.

Various Variables you Need to Determine.

In the last few years the mechanics of multibooting have become somewhat more complicated. The introduction of Advanced Format hard drives and 4k partitions, along with the Windows new bootmanager and the rise of RAID and encryption and volume management, means there are various ways to get it all wrong.

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.

AF logo
Advanced Format Drives and Partitions.
Since Windows Vista all Microsoft operating systems will by default create partitions to a different plan to what went before. The Advanced Format standard is not entirely compatible with the previous way of doing things and so mixing both types of partitions is not recommended. In addition to that most hard drives now shipping are to the Advanced Format standard and work best with the new format partitions. info iconAn Introduction to Advanced Format.

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BIOS Firmware or UEFI?
The new UEFI firmware in motherboards is the replacement to the classic BIOS (basic input output system) and it is the first main piece of software that will be run when a computer is turned on. The UEFI (Unified Extensible Firmware Interface) is designed to operate with hard drives that have been configured differently from those in BIOS machines and so if you have relatively new hardware you should establish which camp your machine belongs to before you proceed with anything else. info iconHow to determine if a machine is UEFI or BIOS

drive style graphic
MBR or GPT Styled Hard Drive?
There are now two different ways that a hard drive can be configured and partitioned. The new GPT (GUID Partition Table) is unrecognized by BIOS based machines and all but the newest operating systems and third-party utilities that read and manipulate partitions. It is however possible to have a mixture of different drives in both BIOS machines and the new UEFI machines, so you need to be able to recognize the style of a drive and know how to work with it.info iconEstablishing the Style of a hard drive.

Windows logos
New generation Windows has changed a few rules.
There are some changes and quirks and even a few bugs in the way that New-Gen Windows will configure and live with a dual or multi-boot setup. If you are only familiar with how the previous generation of Windows would install and behave alongside other operating systems then you should familiarize yourself with the new rules of engagement so that you don’t get unexpectedly caught out.info iconNew rules and quirks of the latest generation of Windows.

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Factory Recovery Systems.
You may not realize it but your store-bought computer is probably already at least a dual-boot machine. The on-board recovery system will work by booting into what is essentially a small and dedicated operating system that is most likely on its own partition. If you also have an option where you can turn the machine on quickly for media playback or quick web access then you may have another dedicated partition and a triple-boot machine. You need to recognize and understand what you have and if it is going to be possible or desirable to work around or with the current setup.
info iconManufacturers' recovery and restore systems.

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Raid and Multibooting.
It is our belief that RAID should remain the preserve of hard working servers and IT-pros, or the computer enthusiast who just likes playing with what is possible. It may be an option for machines with simple and unchanging partition layouts, but with multiple partitions and multibooting it becomes a serious hazard. If it is data security you are after then for PCs we would recommend scheduled back-ups and cloning and multibooting over RAID any day.
info icon Why a "Risky Array" can be bad for your PC. (outside link)

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Dynamic or Basic?
Dynamic disks are just normal hard drives that have been configured by Windows to use a type of partition management that can provide among other things software raid or the live merging of partitions or drives to appear as a single volume. Useful in the IT world for machines that can't be shutdown, but for the average PC and multibooting it can be a major hazard and is best avoided. The Linux equivalent is LVM (logical volume management) and it is also more trouble than it is worth for PC's and multiboot systems. info iconDon't be Dynamic

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Reported hard drive order may not match physical order.
If you have more than one hard drive inside or connected to a machine then you need to be doubly sure you are targeting the correct drive before you carry out any drive changing operations. The hardware channel a drive is connected to does not always translate correctly to how a disk management or partitioning utility may list or number that drive, which has the potential to cause you some serious grief if you were to make a major change to the wrong hard drive. The listed order of drives can even change with successive reboots, so you must confirm a drive each time by other means, such as size and make.info iconWrong Drive Order

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Does a machine support the OS you want to install?
Hardware evolves and operating systems age and at some point the two will no longer be compatible. Also of course some operating systems were never designed or deliberately un-designed to not run on certain hardware. Before getting set on the idea of including an OS on your multiboot machine it may be worth trying a test install on a separate hard drive to see if any difficulties lie ahead. For example:- you may have trouble finding drivers for certain hardware; - Installing XP to machines from 2007 onwards may involve AHCI problems; - A Linux distro may not support your graphics, sound or wireless hardware. info iconWindows XP and AHCI.

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Encryption, TPM chips and Windows Bitlocker.
Corporate notebooks in particular may have inbuilt security chips and volume encryption which can make multibooting Windows a challenge for anything other than Microsoft’s own bootmanager. Even then you don’t want to be playing around with such a system unless you really know what you are doing. If you break the trusted boot sequence or damage the ability to read the encryption key then you may have to say goodbye to both your OS and data. This is not for your average user but If you are intent on having more than one OS on a Bitlocker enabled machine then do your research and keep it simple. info iconHow to Determine if BitLocker is Enabled  info iconDualboot Vista and Win7  info iconDualboot WIndows and Linux   info iconA short introduction to TPMs (outside links)

secure boot icon
Secure Boot.
Store-bought Windows 8 PCs may come with the new Secure Boot feature turned on in the motherboard's firmware. This is designed to restrict anyone or anything from tampering with the main boot programs, thereby making it harder for machines to be infected with boot time malware. The programs in the boot process are tagged with an encrypted key that is checked with the one held in the firmware, so any replacement bootmanager we wish to install will be blocked from running when it cannot present the correct digital key. A simple solution at the moment is to turn off Secure Boot, which all Microsoft certified PCs will have an option for in the motherboard's UEFI firmware. info iconUEFI Secure Boot

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Fast Boot.
In order to speed up boot times there are changes taking place in both the hardware and software side of the boot process. The keyboard, mouse and USB support may not be initialized by the motherboard firmware and so won't become available until the operating system has booted. Windows has adapted to both this and touch screen devices by not offering a boot menu or access to recovery options until the point in the boot process where all require hardware has been turned on. If we want to use a boot manager that requires early keyboard support we would have to turn off hardware fast-boot. When using the Windows bootmanager we would have to turn off at least part of the Windows fast-boot system if we want to see a boot menu before the default operating system has almost fully loaded.
info iconDesigning for PCs that boot faster than ever before.  info iconIntel® Desktop Boards featuring Intel Fast Boot Technology
play icon www.youtube.com/watch - intel Fast- Boot.   play icon www.youtube.com/watch - Windows Fast-Boot

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spacermultibooters.com: June 2012 - - Last reviewed or updated: Dec 2013

Google's New Desktop Strategy: Build it straight into Windows by way of Chrome itself. www.infoworld.com

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