Having Linux and Windows on the same computer

If you thought having Linux and Windows OS's on the same computer meant having to do complex hard drive partitioning, think again. This boring article will show you how you can have both Windows and Linux on the same computer without any fear that you will ruin your Windows files, or crash your system.

How it works: This set up works best on computers with one CD drive, and one existing hard drive. When the switch is set to either position (Windows or Linux), and the computer turned on, the computer will boot from the drive getting power (both drives are set as masters), and installed on the primary IDE channel, using one IDE cable. The CD, and another drive are placed on the secondary IDE channel. This saves the trouble of having to splice the 40 wire ribbon cable. More about the importance of the switch later.

Here is what you will need to get started:

1. Knowledge. It is expected that you have already worked on computers, and know how to work with and handle the computer components mentioned herein properly and safely without damage or causing injury to yourself or others. No long winded lectures about static electricity. You should already know about it.

2. Tools. Wire cutters, soldering iron, drills for mounting switch, pliers for tightening nut to hold switch.

3. an additional hard drive.

4. one 4PDT switch. If you don't know what this term means, you should stop here because this project is too difficult for you. Note: you can use a key switch to control access to your files, or to keep the kids from nosing around in your 'important' files that are only for grown ups. 

5. An old junk ATX power supply with at least 2 long hard drive power connectors.

6. (optional) a strip of metal, cut and bent to fit in one of the drive bays to hold the switch. If you already have switches on your machine, simply add the switch to your existing switch panel.

The switch - Don't buy one of those spring loaded switches that provide momentary connections. The switch should stay at one side or the other, and not move unless you change it.

Get your switch ready, and plug in the soldering iron. If you don't know how to use a soldering iron, you should also give up, and stop here because you should not be doing this. Take a basket weaving class instead.

Start by cutting the hard drive power connectors from the old power supply (You can finally use the wire cutters that came in your tool kit!!). Since you were going to throw out the PS anyway, you now have a reason to cut the connectors off, and do something with them. Select the two longest sets of wire connectors. Strip the ends of the wires so they can be soldered to the terminals on the switch.

[Picture 1 ]

Next, solder each connector to one side of the switch, so power will go to only one drive or the other, and not both. keep polarity for the connectors in proper order on both sides. I used the 4PDT switch to avoid having the 6 and 12 VDC grounds (the black wires) being mixed, and possibly causing power interference, so those with more experience may have proper justification to combine the ground wires and use a 3PDT switch instead. Are you still with me? You know that basket weaving class might be more fun ...

[Picture 2]

Now, solder leads on the common connectors of the switch (The connectors in the middle of the switch), and find a place to mount the switch. Since most computer cases have removable fronts and sides, you may have to mount the switch on the back of the case, or use the metal strip and mount the switch in a vacant drive bay as shown here, of course you can also run longer wires and leave the switch laying on the floor.

[Picture 3]

Now, with the case open, pull the IDE cables off the main board, and place the two hard drives close together so the one IDE cable (Primary IDE) can connect to both drives. Set both drives to master. Install both drives in the computer securely. Verify that the CD drive is now set to master if it was set as a slave (for example),  Confirm master/slave settings on the drive combination that you will now have on the secondary IDE channel. Remove the drive and check the pins again if you are not sure. Install the Primary and secondary IDE cables back to their proper positions on the  main board, or 'mother board' if you are a computer old timer.

Connect the power leads to the power supply, and again match the polarity of the wires. Tape the connections, to avoid any short circuits or fires. Our legal department says to be very careful about preventing fires -- and if you are not qualified to be doing this, to refer such work to trained and qualified persons. Connect one power lead from the switch the each of the hard drives. 

Close up the case, and note the position of the switch. Turn the power on, and if the switch was set to the old Windows drive, label that side of the switch 'Windows' Don't forget to use a capital 'W' because it is a registered trademark. Shut the system down, flip the switch, and again turn the computer back on. When the system says insert system disk, install Linux, and label that side of the switch 'Linux', or whatever OS you plan to install. Never flip the switch while the computer is running.

One more time: Never move the switch while the computer is running. Serious and catastrophic system damage, or hard drive failure or explosion can result (if computers can blow up on TV, they can blow up in your house). Again, you should not be doing this if you don't understand why you should not flip the switch while the system is running, but if you do decide to try moving the switch while the computer is running and it blows up, don't say you were not warned.

You can always check the class schedule for the local community center and register for that basket weaving class.

- Joe Zagrodnik

Read more stories like this in the Unlocked Mind Newsletter.

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