Home > Understanding the Operating System and File System > Multi-booting on a Single Disk Drive

Multi-Booting on Single Disk Drive

Multi-booting on a single computer disk is the process of installing more than one operating system into your computer. After which, you will be greeted with a menu that allows you to select the operating system to boot from when you power up your computer. Multi-booting provides flexibility to users who need to operate various platforms on a single machine.

The Benefits And Tradeoffs

Understand the benefits and tradeoffs before implementing multi-booting. Installing multiple operating systems in your computer allows you to run older software that are not supported by modern operating systems. Programs developed during the Windows 98 era may not run under the Windows 2000 environment. Thus having a secondary Windows 98 installation may resolve this problem. Disk space and file system compatibility, can however be an issue as the drive has to be divided into segments to contain each operating system. This might posed further complications to users whom are new to computers.

Taking Into Account

There are some factors to consider before diving into a dual installation. It is important to understand the capability of the various operating systems and also evaluate your objective before you start. Here are some pointers to get you started: Different Operating System

Some popular operating systems used in a multi-boot installation:

  • Redhat Linux
  • Unix
  • OS/2
  • Microsoft DOS
  • Microsoft Windows 98
  • Microsoft Windows 2000
  • Microsoft Windows XP
  • Microsoft Windows Vista

Each Runs On Separate File Systems

Linux Ext
Unix PDP-7
Microsoft DOS FAT
Microsoft Windows 98 FAT32
Microsoft Windows 2000 FAT32 / NTFS
Microsoft Windows XP FAT32 / NTFS

You could look at the differences between FAT and NTFS file system to understand more.

Logical Factors

Each operating system must be installed into a separate drive or partition (such as drive C & D). You can divide your disk into multiple partitions to create separate logical drives. This helps to prevent clutter and ensure that critical files are not overwritten by the other OS. A disk can contain up to 4 primary partitions and each can be formatted for use by a file system. Take note also that OS installations can only reside in the primary partitions of a disk. You may need to reformat and repartition your hard disk to do this.

Installations Arrangements

You need to install the earlier version OS first before the latest version. For example, if you are intending to setup a Windows 98 - Windows XP configuration, you will have to install Windows 98 followed by Windows XP. It is generally not advisable to also install on a drive compressed by the NTFS compression utility.

Supported Combination

You computer can be configured to support the various OS except for the combination of Windows 95, Windows 98 and Windows ME. This is because these OS use the same Boot.INI file and are thus not supported. Only Windows NT, Windows 2000 and Windows XP can be combined with those mentioned previously and other OS.

Different Names

You need to assign different computer names for the various operating systems if it resides on a Windows 2000 or Windows XP secure domain. Each computer name must be unique as the system assigns a different security identifier (SID) for each installation.

Software Installations

To run programs across the various operating systems, you have to install them separately when you boot into each individual OS. Say, to operate on Microsoft Word on both Windows 98 and Windows 2000 installations, you need to install the software twice. This includes device drivers, software patches etc. Though this can be seen as a short-coming, it can actually help to provide some level of flexibility when different OS cater to various application of use.

Case Scenario: Windows 98/XP Multi-boot

Assuming we are to install Windows 98 and Windows XP into a new hard disk. Firstly, the hard disk must be divided into as least 2 primary partitions. The 3rd partition(optional) can be made into an extended partition, further sub-divided into logical partitions to contain miscellaneous data. The first partition will be formatted into a FAT32 volume which Windows 98 will be installed first. After that, Windows XP can be installed into the 2nd partition which is formatted into a NTFS volume. After all installations, the system will display a menu to allow you to select the operation system to boot into when you restart your computer.


Information on the OS and file system knowledge
Do-it-yourself troubleshooting tips and knowledge on storage media types.
ADRC provides data recovery services for a wide range of storage media.