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Install Linux-controlled Dual-Boot of Ubuntu 11.04 (Natty Narwhal) on Windows 7 computer and put GRUB2 on the Ubuntu partition (Win7 installed first and Linux's GRUB2 on Linux partition controlling startup)

Last reviewed: June 2011

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October 2013: This is the new location for this page on this site. Please update your link or bookmark.


This guide shows how to correctly and safely create a natural dual-boot of Windows 7 and Linux Ubuntu 11.04 on a computer with Windows 7 already installed. The Linux GRUB2 boot loader will be installed on the Linux partition and put in control of startup (not Windows' BCD). You can then select either OS from Linux's GRUB2 menu during bootup. No data loss will occur and a third-party boot utility is not used.

In this situation you need to create a Primary partition for Linux Ubuntu because that partition must be marked as Active. If you already have three Primaries (including a System Reserved) and no Logicals, you can create a 4th Primary with Windows 7's in-built command line utility Diskpart. You can install Ubuntu on a second hard disk if you are prepared to make a change to the disk boot priority in the BIOS.

If you prefer to overwrite the Windows-created MBR, you should go to this page
However, if you decide to let Windows (BCD) continue controlling the startup then go to this page
If you just want a simple method to try Ubuntu for a period, you should go here

32 and 64-bit versions of Windows 7 Home Basic, Enterprise and Ultimate were used in testing so this will also work with Windows 7 Premium and Professional. The computers used were (1) a 32-bit Dell Optiplex with Pentium 4 (2.26GHz), 1.5 GB RAM, 160 GB ATA hard disk, and (2) AMD Athlon 64-bit (2.4GHz), 2.0 GB RAM, 1 TB SATA hard disk.

Following these instructions correctly should always succeed. However, any change to your computer should not even be considered unless your have a rescue plan. This guide also contains that rescue plan - just in case!

The procedure used is suitable for moderately experienced computer users.

Important Installation Notes

Installing Ubuntu 11.04 on a Second Hard Disk
You can use a second hard disk for the Ubuntu installation. However you must enter the BIOS and change the BIOS disk boot order so the second is first (move it up so it's the first accessed on bootup). The BIOS change can be left like this unless you wish to return to a Windows-only system.

Shrinking a Windows 8, 7 or Vista drive. You should use Shrink in Windows' Disk Management to resize the Windows partition. You can read Shrink the Windows 8. 7 or Vista Partition for instructions on completing this task successfully. Use the free GParted Live CD to gain disk space only if you must - read the page Use GParted to Resize the Windows 8, 7 or Vista Partition to learn how.

SUMMARY of Procedure (Advanced Users)

  1. Backup.
  2. Create sufficient Unallocated space for Ubuntu 11.04 at end of Windows disk (use Shrink in Disk Management).
  3. Bootup from the Ubuntu 11.04 live CD/DVD, select Try Ubuntu, and click Install Ubuntu on the desktop.
    • Create Ubuntu (Primary) partition (use / for Mount Point) - leave enough space for the Swap,
    • Create the Swap (Logical) partition in the rest of Free Space - use Swap Area for Mount Point.
    • In "Device for boot loader installation", select the Ubuntu EXT4 partition, like /dev/sda3 or /dev/sdb1.
    • If Ubuntu was installed on the 1st disk, click Continue Testing when installation is completed and use Gnome Partition Editor to mark the Ubuntu Primary EXT4 partition Active.
  4. Restart computer.
  5. If Ubuntu was installed on a 2nd disk, boot into the BIOS and make that disk first in the disk boot priority.

That's it! Linux's GRUB2 boot loader menu will boot either Ubuntu 11.04 or Windows 7 and the original MBR is unchanged. If you ever want to return to a Windows-controlled startup, just use Disk Management in Windows 7 to mark the originally active partition Active again or just redo the BIOS boot priority if you changed it. Then, if you wish, you can use the free EasyBCD utility to add Linux Ubuntu 11.04 to the Windows Boot Loader menu.

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STEP-BY-STEP: Install Linux Ubuntu 11.04 - Windows 7 installed first

Installing other operating systems on your Windows 7 computer may invalidate your warrantee.

It's important to follow the instructions exactly as stated and you should have a properly working Windows.


  • Installation CD/DVD for Linux.
  • 1 download.
  • A first hard disk that uses only NTFS and contains a properly working Windows 7.

A. Make your preparations

  1. Backup important data before making any changes to a partition. You can burn files to a CD, clone an image of your hard disk, copy files to a USB flash/pen/thumb drive, or use an USB external drive (a good choice)
  2. Download the 700 MB Ubuntu 11.04, standard or 64-bit version from (or request the totally free CD). You can use the free and excellent GetRight download manager to help with the large download. Create the Ubuntu Live CD from the downloaded .ISO file.
  3. Disconnect all external devices before you start.

B. Make disk space available for Linux Ubuntu

The single 160 GB disk usually used in testing initially had: System Reserved (100 MB, Primary, Hidden, NTFS), Windows 7 (150 GB, Primary, NTFS). The Windows 7 drive was shrunk leaving about 20 GB Unallocated space at the end of the disk (to the right). After repartitioning it had: System Reserved (100 MB, Primary, Hidden, NTFS), Windows 7 (130 GB, Primary, NTFS), Unallocated (20 GB).

If installing Ubuntu 11.04 on a 2nd or 3rd hard disk:

  • You should have no trouble using Win7's Shrink in Disk Management to create Unallocated space for Ubuntu.
  • Restart to Windows when finished.
  • Then skip from here to C. Install Ubuntu 11.04

If installing Ubuntu 11.04 on the first hard disk:

  1. Restart computer correctly (close all programs before you Restart computer).
  2. Open Disk Management in Windows 7 (right-click Computer, select Manage, click Disk Management).
    • Right-click the Windows 7 volume, and click Shrink Volume.
      • In Enter the amount of space to shrink in MB: enter enough for Ubuntu and its Swap file.
      • Click the Shrink button (it may take some time!).
      If Shrink does not give you sufficient Unallocated space, read how to Shrink the Windows 8, 7 or Windows Vista Partition for instructions or use the free GParted Live CD. Then return here.
  3. Restart to Windows 7.
    • Open Disk Management and check that the change made is correct.

C. Install Linux Ubuntu 11.04

Raid/LVM was not an issue when testing and partitions were created manually during installation. Ubuntu was installed on previously created Unallocated space with its boot loader installed to the Linux EXT4 partition. Then the EXT4 partition was marked as Active, or the BIOS' disk boot order was altered, thereby creating the GRUB2-controlled dual-boot.

  1. Select Try Ubuntu when you bootup from the Linux Ubuntu 11.04 live CD
    Select Install Ubuntu when its desktop appears.
  2. In the Welcome window, select the correct language
    Read the Preparing to install Ubuntu window and click Forward when ready.

  3. In Allocate drive space, select Something else (that's IMPORTANT), and click Forward.

  4. In the new Allocate drive space, do not click 'Install Now' until instructed.
    This section has been designed by the Ubuntu team with dual-booters in mind. Thanks team!

    Highlight the free space you created earlier
    and click the Add button. Note: the vertical scroll bar appears only when you mouse-over it.
    • The Create partition window will open.
      • In Type for the ..., select Primary (it must NOT be Logical in this situation)
      • In New partition size ..., enter all available minus about 2000 MB for the Swap.
      • In Location for the ..., select Beginning.
      • In Use as:, select Ext4 journaling system (the default) in the drop-down.
      • In Mount point:, select / (a forward slash) in the drop-down.
      • Click OK.
    Back in Allocate drive space, highlight the now smaller free space (scroll down if necessary)
    and again click Add.
    • The Create partition window will open again.
      • In Type for the ..., select Logical.
      • In New partition size ..., use all available space (unless creating a data partition).
      • In Location for the ..., select Beginning.
      • In Use as:, select swap area in the drop-down.
      • In Mount point:, no change is allowed.
      • Click OK.

    If you left space for a Linux data partition, now use remaining free space to create, exactly as above, another EXT4 partition for your own data but select /home for Mount Point.
    The next part is VITAL for the correct location for Ubuntu's boot loader (GRUB2).
    You are still in Allocate drive space.
    Look under Device for boot loader installation:
    The default is for /dev/sda and you must not accept it.
    • Note of the Device name allocated to the Ubuntu EXT4 partition, like /dev/sda3 or /dev/sdb1.
    • In the drop-down under Device for boot loader installation:,
      select the /dev/sd** name allocated to the Ubuntu EXT4 partition.

    Make sure you are happy with what's displayed on-screen.
    When you are ready click 'Install Now', or click Quit.

    Linux Ubuntu 11.04 will now install itself on the new Ubuntu EXT4 partition and will place Ubuntu's boot loader (GRUB2) at the start of that partition. The Windows-created boot loader will not be altered.
    During the installation, you can attend to location, keyboard, password, imports, etc.
    (Log in automatically, under Password, is useful for many home users).
  5. If Ubuntu was installed on the 1st disk, mark the EXT4 partition as Active this way:
    • Click Continue Testing when installation is completed .
    • Click System > Administration > Gnome Partition Editor.
    • Right-click the EXT4 partition, select Manage Flags, and tick (to enable) the Boot check-box.
    • Exit Gnome Partition Editor.

  6. Restart computer, remove the DVD when requested and press the Enter key.
  7. If Ubuntu was installed on a 2nd disk, boot into the BIOS and make that disk first in the disk boot priority.
    • How to do this varies in the many different types of BIOS.
      - early on bootup, press Del or F1 or F2 or other (look on screen for the prompt).
      - enter the Advanced BIOS section (usually), and look for something like Hard Disk Boot Priority.
      - the screen will tell you how to alter the disk boot priority (usually Page Up/Down or arrow keys).
Restart computer. You will be presented with a Linux Boot Loader menu containing both operating systems.

Congratulations! You have created a natural dual-boot of Windows 7 and Linux Ubuntu 11.04 when Windows 7 was installed first, the Linux GRUB2 Boot Loader is now in control, and the original MBR and Windows boot loader remain intact.

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Older Computers with low maximum Screen Resolution

Ubuntu 11.04 itself runs fine at 1024x768 screen resolution. However GRUB2 may require a higher resolution (1280 x 1024) and users with old systems may be presented with a blank screen instead of the expected boot loader menu.

The boot menu is actually there but it's not visible! To run Ubuntu when the blank screen appears, just press Enter. To run Windows, press the down arrow key 4 times and press Enter. And then be patient for a few moments. THPC did not investigate this any further. Feedback appreciated.

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Remove/Uninstall Linux and reclaim space

Linux Ubuntu is wonderful, regularly updated, and it's free! Nevertheless you may wish to remove it at some stage. Removing Ubuntu and regaining its disk space is quick and painless.

  1. Boot to Windows 7
    and open Disk Management (right-click Computer, select Manage, click Disk Management).
  2. To change the location of the Active flag marker.
    • Right-click the partition that was originally marked Active
      • If you have a System Reserved partition then that's it.
      • Otherwise it's probably the partition containing the C:\Windows folders & files.
    • Click Mark Partition as Active and click Yes to the caution.
  3. If Ubuntu was installed on a 2nd disk, boot into BIOS and undo your change to the disk boot priority.
  4. Now reclaim hard disk space.
    • Right-click the Swap partition, select Delete Volume..., click Yes.
    • Right-click the Linux partition, select Delete Volume..., click Yes.
    • Right-click the Swap partition, select Delete Partition, click Yes - required for Logical partitions only.
    • Right-click the Linux partition, select Delete Partition, click Yes - required for Logical partitions only.
    • Right-click the partition to the left of Unallocated, select Extend Volume...,
      and click Next to use the maximum space for Windows, and then Finish.
      Alternatively, create a new partition in the Unallocated space and Format it.

In another a few seconds you will have all the Linux space back in Windows 7.

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Repair Windows 7 Startup

You will not have any problem if you follow the instructions as stated above. However you might encounter some freak occurrence like a power failure during an installation. Windows 7 will boot again if you execute the following procedure.

  1. Bootup any Windows 7/Vista installation DVD or even from NeoSmart's free Windows 7 System Recovery Disk.
    It must be a 64-bit version if a 64-bit Windows is installed.
    • Press a key when you see Press any key to boot from a CD or DVD.
    • Select your Language and then Time....
    • Select Repair your computer (bottom left of the Install now screen).
      An automatic check of your system will run.
    • Click Repair and restart
      Windows 7 should boot normally (very likely). If not, continue here.
  2. Bootup from the Windows 7 installation DVD again
    • Select Repair your computer again.
    • In System Recovery Options, highlight Windows 7, and click Next.
    • Click Startup Repair.
    • Click Finish when it's complete, and then Restart.
    • You must let CheckDisk run if requested.
      Windows 7 should boot normally.

If still stuck for a solution, boot again from the installation DVD, select Repair your computer, highlight Windows 7, get to a Command Prompt, use DIR command (DIR C: or DIR D: etc.) to identify drive letter allocations (sizes and Labels will help), and type in:
bootrec /FixMbr
bootrec /FixBoot
bootrec /RebuildBcd
X:\boot\bootsect.exe /nt60 C:
  (where X: is your DVD drive letter, and C: is the installation drive for Windows 7).
EXIT, and click Restart. Remove the DVD.

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Related Reading

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Please remember that you alone are responsible for the consequences of any changes you make to your computer hardware or software.

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