reinstalling Ubuntu on a partition in existing dual-boot system?
February 11, 2015 11:59 PM   Subscribe

I would like to know how (if?) I can re-install ubuntu (from a flash drive) onto a partition of my dual boot hard drive without destoying the other partitions (a winxp OS and a large partition with data on it, respectively.)

So, long story, but I'm having computer trouble and need to do some maneuvering that's slightly beyond my expertise.
Basically, I have (or could get):
-Thinkpad T420 with an unreliable cd drive
-the hard drive from my old Thinkpad R61i, which has 3 partitions: ubuntu (very out of date), windows xp, and a big one with data on it. (The old computer would give me a choice of OSes upon booting, via grub. I installed and configured this but it was a long time ago and I'm rusty.)
-a usb flash drive with ubuntu on it (I would need to have a friend download/make this for me)
-for purposes of this question, let's say the old R61i thinkpad is unusable. (It basically is.)

And I want to:
-re-install a current version of Ubuntu onto the Ubuntu partition of the hard drive without damaging anything else or disturbing the other partitions. My goal is to be able to be able to use the Thinkpad T420, running Ubuntu.

Currently if I just throw the drive into the new Thinkpad (T420), I can boot into Ubuntu but can't use the wired or wireless network adapter (so no internet).(I can't boot into WinXP at all but don't want to destroy it for Reasons.) this was not an issue when the drive was in the old thinkpad (R61i) or when the T420 had windows on it (different hard drive, no longer usable) so I imagine it's a driver issue that would be resolved by a new installation of a current version of Ubuntu. (The version on the drive now is from 2010.)

Hope me, Metafilter!

I realize this might be better asked on an Ubuntu forum but I'm navigating all this on a smartphone and Metafilter is more familiar/easier to navigate (and I trust you guys.)
posted by needs more cowbell to Computers & Internet (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Also, stupid side question: would it matter at all if the person who makes the usb drive with ubuntu on it for me has a mac rather than pc? I'm thinking not but haven't really done much cross-platform file sharing so...
posted by needs more cowbell at 12:06 AM on February 12, 2015

Easy Peasy. boot up like you normally would from the flash drive, go about your installation, and when it gets to the partition screen go to manually edit partitions. Select the currently installed linux partition (will be formatted as EXT3 or EXT4) and check it for formatting. leave the swap alone. Set the mountpoint of the new formatted partition as / and leave the partitioner. It will install there, update the bootloader and leave the windows untouched.
posted by tahu363 at 12:14 AM on February 12, 2015

The most recent Ubuntu installers will detect that you've already got an Ubuntu installation and (if memory serves) ask if you want to overwrite it, so you might have you're life made even easier (assuming you're installing 14.04 or later here).
posted by gmb at 1:04 AM on February 12, 2015

would it matter at all if the person who makes the usb drive with ubuntu on it for me has a mac rather than pc?

doesn't matter at all. the install drive is made by writing an image of the installation media to a partition on the usb drive, so it's totally independent of what computer/os you are writing from (in almost all circumstances). however, the standard procedure for making the usb install media on os x appears to be a little involved
posted by at 4:51 AM on February 12, 2015

Out of curiosity, does it matter to the Ubuntu install which computer it was originally installed in? like, if the Ubuntu partition had been totally up to date (but had originally been installed when the drive was in the old thinkpad R61), would it have been able to access the internet on the t420? or does ubuntu customize things to the computer during the installation process? I know with windows I wouldn't expect to be able to do that but linux seems more sturdy, in a way.

Thanks everyone!
posted by needs more cowbell at 6:35 AM on February 12, 2015

Install a clean Ubuntu 14.10 on the T420 from USB stick or w.h.y.; that will get the drivers working with the new hardware. Partition the new hardware however you like. Not all ThinkPads come with Linux-friendly hardware, though. Put the old drive either in a cheap enclosure, or use a USB-SATA adapter. The partitions should automount. Copy them across as required.

Blowing away 5+ year old installs rather than fiddling with incremental updates is much quicker (you're well outside any LTS support with a 2010 distro). Also, you'll avoid accidentally running very old insecure things (2010 is pre-Heartbleed) that I wouldn't have on any computer by choice.
posted by scruss at 7:22 AM on February 12, 2015

There is no new hardware (hard drive, I assume you mean) to partition. For the moment I need to use the drive mentioned in my question, without repartitioning, hence this question!
posted by needs more cowbell at 7:29 AM on February 12, 2015

So, it turns out that if Ubuntu detects an old installation, it asks if you want to keep that and install a new version of Ubuntu alongside that or just replace the old installation. And if you say yes, it does NOT maintain your old partitions, it wipes the whole drive. Gah.
posted by needs more cowbell at 9:21 AM on February 21, 2015

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