Dual Boot Windows 7 and Ubuntu 11.04 Natty Narwhal

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This is an installation guide for Ubuntu 11.04 Natty Narwhal targeted at people who want to dual boot with Windows 7 (would work for any version of Windows) and Ubuntu. I have chosen the most basic setup with Windows 7 already installed and occupying the entire hard drive. An alternate setup could be, that you have a second hard drive which you want to install Ubuntu on. If you already have Ubuntu installed and want to install Windows, read this post (although it is for Ubuntu Lucid, the concept should be identical). People who don’t want to partition their hard drives can use Ubuntu 11.04 by virtualizing them from inside Windows by either using Virtual Box or VMware Player (both free softwares). This approach, described here for Ubuntu 9.10 (its identical for 11.04) works very well if you are not planning on using Ubuntu extensively and also if you have a multi-core CPU (dual, quad etc) which supports virtualization, because then, you won’t feel any lag or delay while running two operating systems simultaneously, I would put a writeup for latest Ubuntu soon. I would recommend VirtualBox over VMware Player because of the host of extra features that it offers, and IMHO it is far superior a software than VMware Player.

If you are going to install Ubuntu on a second hard drive you can skip Step 0, and go directly to Ubuntu installation process. You would not need to resize your Windows partition either. But, you must install the Grub on second hard drive! More on this later in the post.

Pre-installation:

Since we are going to resize the partition on your windows disk, it is strongly recommended that you backup all your data on windows machine, while chances of any problems arising are minimal, it is better to be safe than sorry. After backing up all data, run disk cleanup and disk defragmentation (for older Windows) from the Accessories > System Tools Menu. This is strongly recommended if you have an old Windows installation, as this facilitates smooth and fast partitioning.

You can resize your existing Windows partition using two approaches, either using Windows partition manager or by using the Gparted software on Ubuntu Live CD. It is probably safer to use the first approach as you are using native Windows tools, while dealing with NTFS file system. The procedure to resize the partition is described here. If you prefer approach 2, you can go ahead with it, I have been using Gparted for last 4-5 years without ever having any problems. I’ll discuss it in a moment.

Put the Ubuntu Lucid Lynx installation disk, iso for which can be download from www.ubuntu.com, in your CD/DVD drive and reboot (make sure your DVD/CD Drive is the first boot device or at least ahead of your hard drive in boot order). Alternatively you can use your USB drive to transfer the Iso image and make it bootable by using Unetbootin as described here. Ubuntu should start to boot from CD.

On the boot screen select the Try Ubuntu option, (if you have already created space for the Ubuntu install on your hard drive, skip to next step).

Once the Live CD has booted, launch Gparted

You would see something like this

Right click and choose to Resize/Move the partition. Now grad the slider to the desired partition size, you should keep at least 10 GB space for Ubuntu to function properly, (if you are low on space then go for 8 GB, anything lower and you might run into disk space issues in your Ubuntu install).

Click on Resize/Move button to return to main window. Now apply the changes to resize or shrink Windows partition.

Click Apply to accept the changes, I am assuming that you have backed up all your data beforehand. As partition editing can get complicated, so always back up your data.

Wait till the resize operation gets over.

Now exit Gparted and restart your computer.

Installation:

Once again, on reboot, your computer should start to boot using Ubuntu Live CD or USB drive. This time choose the Install Ubuntu option. You would see something like this

You can configure wireless internet to allow for updates to install at this window, I’ll install updates later. Tick the Install this third-party software box and hit forward

On the next screen, choose Something else option.

If you are about to install Ubuntu on a second physical drive, the instructions for the next step are slightly different and have been indicated in bold green font later! Continue with instructions if you are dealing with single drive system.

For standard single drive installation we would create two partitions for Ubuntu installation: (1) “/” or root partition, where all files would be store (it is like your C:/ drive on windows) (2) SWAP partition, which is used when your RAM gets full, make sure that you make SWAP size greater than your physical RAM size, this machine has 2 GB RAM so I would create a 3 GB SWAP partition.

To create partitions, select free space and then hit the Add button. First create the root “/” partition, using settings similar to the one shown below (keep disk space greater than your RAM size free for SWAP creation in next step, e.g. if you have 4 GB RAM, leave at least 4 GB for SWAP), and I am using all remaining free space for my Ubuntu installation. Choose Ext4 journaling file system and choose mount point as “/”. For partition type choose “Logical” if you already have 3 primary patitions (Windows 7 installation with 100 MB System Partition makes 2 primary partition, also if you have another Recovery partition from you Laptop / Desktop vendor, then you have to go with Logical partition option).

Hit OK, and then again choose the free space remaining to add another partition, this time SWAP area. This time partition type has to be Logical.

Hit OK to return to main window, which should resemble something like this

To install Ubuntu on a second physical  hard drive you have to create partitions on the second drive. The second drive would usually be called sda or sdb by Ubuntu, depending on the way it has been connected inside your system.

The partitions map is going to look like this

Once you have identified the drive name (sda in the example above) for your empty drive, start by selecting it and clicking on New Partition Table. Hit continue

Now we would create two partitions (look at screenshots shown below, carefully, if you are not sure how to create partitions, read the discussion above).

Now you should see something like this, you can see now the new partitions we created (marked in blue). Before you hit the Install Now button you must select the location where the boot loader would be installed (marked by red arrow below). We don’t want the original Windows boot loader to be replace by Grub, so we would select the new drive (sda in this case) for the boot loader location. Make sure you choose the drive on which you have created partitions! If on reboot you don’t see Ubuntu Grub screen and instead Windows boots directly, then you need to change you Hard Drive boot order in your Bios settings.

This point onwards installation instructions are identical.

Now you can “Hit” Install Now button to move to next screen, partition changes would be applied. When the installation process starts, choose your time zone and hit Forward

choose keyboard layout

Now enter the user details for the user and click Forward.

Wait for the installer to do its job, it would take longer than a moment if you chose to install the updates as well, if you didn’t choose to install updates it should be done in 20 or so minutes depending on you drive and machine capability.

Wait till you see this, hit the Restart button and take the CD / USB drive out and press enter.

After the reboot you have Ubuntu 10.10 Maverick Meerkat dual booting in harmony with Windows 7.

For multi hard drive setup Grub screen looks like this:

Choosing the Windows 7 option would take you to Windows boot screen.

Post Installation

For perfect desktop post install guide, see this.

To change default boot order and to make Windows as auto boot choice, see this.

To make your Grub screen look colorful, check this out.

If you found this useful, please consider leaving a comment or liking us on Facebook or subscribing to the RSS feed to have future articles delivered to your feed reader.

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About the Author

has written 1285 posts on this blog.

Meditating towards his "nerdvana", lifehacker is a teacher by the day and a nerdy blogger by the night. He lives to learn and yearns to learn living.

18 Comments on “Dual Boot Windows 7 and Ubuntu 11.04 Natty Narwhal”

  • terry elliott wrote on 22 June, 2011, 18:33

    No dice.  Your directions were clear but when I get to the end and reboot I still get the windows screen and now dual boot screen.  No grub screen at end.

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  • lifehacker wrote on 23 June, 2011, 0:15

    Before I can help you out with your issue, can you tell me more about your hardware configuration, e.g. how many physical hard drives do you have and are you installing Ubuntu on the same drive as Windows 7? If they are on same physical drive, you may have the issue of too many primary partitions. I would be able to tell anything for sure only when I know the details of your hardware.

    I think some users encountered this issue with other Ubuntu as well. I think the issue is with the copying of the boot loader.

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  • deborah wrote on 26 June, 2011, 14:17

    TNX a lot for ur article… i made yesterday successful dual boot following ur article, after so many attempts and ‘giving up’ situations… would luv to read ur post on how to make a dual boot on pc with with 2 hard disks… cuz that’s something i’m not able to do without overwriting boot file for windows… keep up the good work, d.

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    lifehacker Reply:

    @deborah, You are most welcome. It is not too hard to do what you want to. During the installation you just have to ensure that you choose the other drive (which doesn’t have windows) for writing out the boot loader (this option is hidden somewhere in the installation step, probably on the step where you choose user name). After installation you can go to your desktop bios and select the other hard drive (on which you installed the boot loader) as first boot drive. This way the boot loader on your windows drive won’t get affected. If the grub does not detect the windows partition on first boot, then you can boot in Ubuntu and run this command

    sudo update grub

    and this should detect and include your windows boot loader as well. Anyway if you don’t feel comfortable doing this then wait for another guide which should be up in couple of weeks.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

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    deborah Reply:

    @lifehacker tnx! …but i think i’m gonna wait for that promised guide ti be published in few weeks. ;) stay cool…

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    lifehacker Reply:

    @deborah, I have updated the post with instructions for Dual booting with two drives (look for the Green bold font in the writeup), the boot loader location choice is changed at the screen where you create partitions (this has been changed from previous Ubuntu version).

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    deborah Reply:

    @lifehacker, Thank u, will definitelly try out to make dual boot on my laptop with 2 HDs. best!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  • Yash Pal wrote on 27 August, 2011, 11:45

    Based on the post, I proceeded to install Ubuntu 11.04 alongside existing Windows7 on the same hard disc which has 2 partitions of 300 GB each, with no ‘system reserve’ partition ahead of Windows partition.

    When further partitioning the partition for Ubuntu, of the 4 options ‘ADD’ ‘CHANGE’ ‘ DELETE’ and ‘REVERT’ (capital letters deliberate) the option ‘ADD’ is dimmed (not active) and I cannot proceed.

    Can you help me make it active please?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

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    lifehacker Reply:

    @Yash Pal, If you already have two partitions and no empty or free space remaining, then you cannot add another partition. I believe you would have to delete or shrink one partition first to have free space available for creation of new partition. Let me know if that is the case?

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  • Yash Pal wrote on 27 August, 2011, 22:52

    Perhaps I could not make myself clear. The whole of the hard disc was loaded with Windows. I accidently meddled with the beginning where there was one 100Mb and one 2Gb partition. After that, the partition actually holding Windows and installed programmes and files started (about 30 Gb).
    After this ‘meddling’ , Windows won’t start. So I refomatted the disc, merged all the partitions I had also made and after making only 2 partitions, reinstalled Windows on the 1st partition of about 300 Gb. (I cannot afford to reinstall/get reactivated Windows again)

    The 2nd partition is blank ie without anything written to it and for Ubuntu. If I have to make 3-4 partitions before loading Ubuntu for installation, I will have to do it within the 2nd partition.

    Do you think that I have to re partition the partition meant for installing Ubuntu. If so, how many partitions.

    By the way, is it that I have to make the 2nd partition ‘active’ before loading Ubuntu (to be able to boot). If so, how do I make it active. I have GParted live

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

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    lifehacker Reply:

    @Yash Pal, Actually when you “meddled” initially you deleted the system reserved partition, but there is a way of making Windows boot even without it, but now that you have reformated your drive lets talk about it.

    Out of 2 partitions that you have now, I believe first partition would be NTFS for windows, second partition would be either NTFS or just empty space? If the second partition is also NTFS then you would have to erase it. But since you are calling it blank I reckon it is empty space without any partition (if you boot in Windows and you see only 1 drive letter then that is the case).

    Whatever be the situation, boot with Ubuntu live CD and start the installation as given in this tutorial. You don’t need to use Gparted Live CD, Gparted is already there inside the Ubuntu Live disk. When you reach the stage where you have to “Allocate Drive Space”, choose the manual option. Once you see your entire partition map, leave the Windows partition intact and delete your second partition (if there is one, this would create empty space which you can use to add partitions). Now you would have to create two partitions (one for mounting “/” which would be your main drive where your OS would be copied) and a second for SWAP, more advanced users also have a third partition for /home, but if you are not sure about things, you can continue with simple two partition option. Steps for both these options have been included in this tutorial. You don’t have to make partition active and all, everything will be taken care off by the Ubuntu installer. Just follow the instructions in this tutorial. By default Ubuntu would detect Windows loader and would copy the Grub boot loader in the MBR of your hard drive allowing you to dual boot.

    Let me know if there are any more doubts.

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  • Yash Pal wrote on 29 August, 2011, 0:31

    First of all, I thank you for the lucid explanation. I will try to delete the 2nd partition as advised and install Ubuntu after making 2 partitions.

    Whatever the result, I will comeback (ie not keep quiet if successful)

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    lifehacker Reply:

    @Yash Pal, Most welcome, I hope it works for you. If you found our site useful, consider liking our Facebook page.

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  • Yash Pal wrote on 30 August, 2011, 9:46

    Thanks. Ubuntu installed and working.

    The mistake I made was not to delete the partition in which Ubuntu was to be installed. After I deleted the partition (as advised by you), it was ‘unallocated’ and the ‘add’ button was functional. Everything proceeded smoothly after that.

    Many thanks for the guidance; otherwise I was in a blind alley.

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    lifehacker Reply:

    @Yash Pal, Glad to be of any use.

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  • hana.mieya wrote on 24 September, 2011, 3:22

    When i try to create partitions, there is no ‘free space’ in the device.. some1, help??

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

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    lifehacker Reply:

    @hana.mieya, You might need to delete or resize your existing partitions to create “free” space. Read the discussion in the comments above, it might be of some help. If you are still not sure, tell me your current partition layout, i.e. how many drives you have, how many partitions and of what type, etc..

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