Ubuntu and Windows boot managers

Ubuntu 15.10 is the latest edition of Ubuntu, the popular Linux distribution sponsored by Canonical.

This tutorial shows how to dual-boot the desktop edition of Ubuntu 15.10 and Windows 10 on two hard drives. To complete this successfully, you, of course, need to have a computer with two internal hard drives, with Windows 10 installed on the first hard drive. Ubuntu 15.10 will be installed on the second hard drive.

Using two hard drives to set up a dual-boot system between Windows 10 and Ubuntu 15.10 ensures that both systems are completely isolated. GRUB, the Ubuntu 15.10 boot loader, will be installed in the EFI Boot Partition of the hard drive it’s installed on, not that of the Windows 10 hard drive.

On the computer used for this tutorial, Windows 10 is installed on a 500 GB Western Digital hard drive. The second hard drive is an old 200 GB Maxtor unit. That’s the one that I installed Ubuntu 15.10 on. Note that one or both hard drives can be solid state drives (SSDs), not just standard hard drives.

To ensure that GRUB is not installed on the EFI Boot Partition of the Windows 10 hard drive, you’ll have to disconnect the Windows 10 hard drive from the system. That means disconnecting the power and SATA cables from the hard drive.

And if you have not already done so, download an installation image of Ubuntu 15.10 from here. After downloading it, burn it to a blank DVD or transfer it to a suitably-sized USB stick. After that’s completed, boot the computer with the installation media that you just created in place.

To ensure that the computer boots into the UEFI version of the Ubuntu 15.10 installer, access the computer’s boot menu by pressing the F11 or F12 key before the boot process completes. Shown in Figure 1 is the boot menu of the test computer. This image was taken before the Windows 10 hard drive was disconnected.

Ubuntu 15.10 computer boot menu
Figure 1: Computer boot menu showing two hard drives

This shows the same computer boot menu without the Windows 10 hard drive. Selecting the UEFI: SanDisk Cruzer Glide 1.26 entry and pressing the ENTER key will cause the computer to boot into the UEFI-aware version of the installer.

Ubuntu 15.10 computer boot menu
Figure 2: Computer boot menu showing one hard drives

You’ll be given the option of booting into a Live desktop or straight to the installer. Either way, after the installer starts, navigate to the step shown in Figure 3. This shows the installer’s partition methods. You may opt to accept any of the automated partitioning methods, or opt to create the partitions manually.

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With an automated partitioning method, the installer will not create a separate partition that will be mounted at /home, where your home folder will be located. So if you need to have your home folder on a separate partition, the manual approach is your only option. In that case, see the Creating GPT Partitions section of GPT and MBR manual disk partitioning guide for Ubuntu 15.10 for guidance on how to create partitions manually for Ubuntu 15.10.

For this tutorial, I chose an automated partitioning option. Note that the target disk I used for this had an existing installation of Ubuntu 15.10, so I had to reinstall it. Whatever option you choose here, click the Install Now button afterwards.

Ubuntu 15.10 partition methods
Figure 3: Ubuntu 15.10 partition methods

This is just the installer showing you the partitions it has created and will format. Click OK.

formatting Ubuntu 15.10 partitions
Figure 4: Partitions to be formatted on Ubuntu 15.10

The installation should take about ten minutes. When it’s completed, reboot into the new system. If the system works as expected, shutdown the computer and reconnect the other hard drive, that is, the Windows 10 hard drive. Then reboot into Ubuntu 15.10 again. After logging in, open a shell terminal and type the following command: sudo update-grub.

That will regenerate the GRUB configuration file, scanning the system for other operating systems as it does so. The command’s output from my test system is shown below. Make sure that there’s a line in the output that indicates that it detected the Windows Boot Manager on the other drive.

Generating grub configuration file ...
Warning: Setting GRUB_TIMEOUT to a non-zero value when GRUB_HIDDEN_TIMEOUT is set is no longer supported.
Found linux image: /boot/vmlinuz-4.2.0-16-generic
Found initrd image: /boot/initrd.img-4.2.0-16-generic
Found Windows Boot Manager on /dev/sda2@/efi/Microsoft/Boot/bootmgfw.efi

An entry for all detected operating systems will be added to the GRUB menu. In this case, it should correctly detect the Windows 10 on the other hard drive and add an entry for it in the Ubuntu 15.10 GRUB menu, which should appear just like the one shown in Figure 5. You may now reboot into Windows 10 to make sure that it still boots correctly.

Ubuntu 15.10 GRUB menu
Figure 5: GRUB menu of Ubuntu 15.10

The next time you access the computer’s boot menu, you should see entries for both boot managers – ubuntu and Windows Boot Manager, besides entries for the two hard drives. Note that on UEFI systems, at least on mine, the default operating system is the last oen the computer booted into, regardless of the boot setting in the BIOS/UEFI utility.

Ubuntu and Windows boot managers
Figure 6: Computer boot menu showing Ubuntu and Windows boot managers


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19 Responses

  1. I am using windows 8 OS and i also installed Ubuntu 12.10 in other drive, but at booting process only windows 8 are shown. How i boot Ubuntu.

  2. Hi, I put my 2nd hard drive on my laptop where CD Reader was located before, and I dont think it is possible to boot the second drive first. any ideas?

  3. An extremely well written and illustrated guide to dual booting. The linked articles regarding partitioning and dual booting advice were good too (but the swap partition advice link was dead).

    I’d stick with the EasyBCD step as it’s beginner and Windows friendly. The aptly named grub is ugly and not easy to tinker with or repair.

    Thanks for your help.

  4. I have just installed Ubuntu 11.10 in the 2nd HDD (first has Win 7)
    according to your instructions and everything worked fine, thank you for the excellent article

  5. Hello,
    I did all the steps but after booting into Ubuntu i get a screen with ubuntu wallpaper in it and it is totally blank and there is nothing .Finally i have to shut down the computer from the cpu button.

    1. Also i can login using my password..but after login i get this blank screen with nothing on it but the default ubuntu wallpaper

  6. hi,

    i followed all your steps, and everything went well.

    but when i get the options screen on whether to load windows 7 or ubuntu 11.10 and when i select ubuntu 11.10, nothing happens but just a blank screen with some GRUB syntax appears, thats it!!!

    please help me out on this issue

    1. This tutorial will soon be modified to show that the EasyBCD step is not required. Here’s what you could do.

      After installing Ubuntu, reboot the PC, get into the BIOS and make the second drive the default boot disk. so, when you reboot, you will see GRUB’s menu, with an entry for Windows and Ubuntu. That should be all you need. Ignore the EasyBCD part. It just adds an unnecessary complexity to the process.

  7. There is a better way for even Triple Boot possible with Win XP, Win7 and Ubuntu 11.10 on the same hard disk. It is as simple as follows.

    First install WinXP on one primary partition.

    Second install Win7 on another primamry partition.

    Now we have WinXP and Win7 dual boot on same hard disk on two separate partitions.

    Running on WinXP, download and run “wubi.exe” to install Ubuntu 11.10 as a “big” file on hard disk. The file may locate on any Windows partition.

    Reboot computer you will see Ubuntu as one of the boot options. To start it correctly, choose “Previous System” first, then choose Ubuntu.

    Now we have Triple Boot WinXP/Win7/Ubuntu ; )

    Try yourselves and have fun !

  8. I have 2 internal 1TB hard drives, and I dual-boot Windows 7 (strictly for games) and a Ubuntu spinoff. My second drive is mounted as /home whenever I make a new installation, and my boot drive has a 650GB Windows partition (for lots of games) and the rest for the Linux system drive, which is an embarrassingly large amount for Linux with 5 GUIs installed.

    That’s what *I* do…

  9. The easybcd step is completely useless, it is not needed to change your win hd at all. grub2 is all you need and you have it already. Just set 2nd hd as default in your bios. If you are slow you can set the grub timeout in /etc/default/grub and in the case you want win first you rename /etc/grub.d/30_os-prober to /etc/grub.d/09_os-prober. after that change run update-grub (also needed for timeout changes).

    In the case that your linux and win install is using efi bootloader (which you do not describe, but it is also possible) you can add a boot entry for win to boot from another hd (basically another efi boot setting not hd) by default. To do so create a new /boot/grub/custom.cfg – the file is sourced on boot, no need for update-grub. Btw. it does not matter which distro you install, it just needs a recent grub2 bootloader. maybe os-prober/grub2 will find those files automatically at one point so that this step is not needed anymore.

    if search -nf /EFI/Microsoft/Boot/BOOTMGR.EFI ; then
    menuentry ‘Microsoft Bootmgr’ {
    search -sf /EFI/Microsoft/Boot/BOOTMGR.EFI
    chainloader /EFI/Boot/BOOTX64.EFI

    1. The method you described is one method. The EasyBCD step is another. Choices. Use the one that you feel most comfy with.

      And a new user will feel a lot more comfy using the method from this article than messing with GRUB files.

      1. They are already correct if you don’t use efi. os-prober finds other os incl. windows systems and those are automatically added to the grub menu. Just W7/8 in efi mode is not automatically found, but those installs are rare. It even finds recovery win partitions which you might not like to have in your menu, then you would need to hack it a little bit. By default the bios changes the bootflag to the recovery when you press a special function key at boot, otherwise it is hidden, but os-prober lists em for direct boot too. What you should not forget, if you only want to boot Linux from time to time you could use als quick boot selection and select the other hd, otherwise Linux would be completely hidden.

    2. I think a possible advantage to have Windows manage the booting is that if you remove the second disk, Windows can/will still boot.

      If you boot to disk 2, and later want/need to remove it, then you can tell bios to boot from disk 1. But if you are booting from disk 2 then you can NOT just remove disk 1 and keep going as with only a single disk in the system it will become disk1 and GRUB may get “confused”.

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