Help me understand Boot Camp and its limitations, please!
June 13, 2008 6:09 PM   Subscribe

I'm purchasing an iMac sometime this weekend (yay!) and I'm trying to figure out how I want to partition the drive for Boot Camp...

So I'm getting a new iMac, and as a computer engineering student I can definitely see where I'll want to test hardware or software on multiple platforms--Windows XP is a necessity, and I'd love to have Vista and Linux if possible.

So, first off, is this possible? I've seen some stuff recently about Linux being difficult to install on a Mac with Boot Camp, is that true? And also, can I have both a XP and Vista installation on my computer, on separate partitions? I have OEM versions of both OS's.

If this is possible, what's the best way for me to partition the drive, space-wise? Out of the 3 I'd like to install (XP, Vista, and Linux) I know for a fact I'll be using XP the most, mainly for gaming but also for Office and a few other Windows-only apps. So I was thinking about 60GB for XP, and the bare minimum for Ubuntu. So assuming I can install all those OS's, how much space should I save for each one? I'd rather partition it all at once rather than go back and do it later.

My final question is a bit more simple. Would I be able to create a separate partition on the drive to store my music? Rather than create a new copy of the music on each partition, I'd rather have a separate "Music" drive. I can't use an external because the only one I have is going to be used for Time Machine.

To recap:

- Can I install Windows XP, Vista, and Ubuntu on my iMac along with Leopard?

- What's the minimum space I'd need for Vista and Ubuntu? Drive is a 500GB; I'd like to leave, at bare minimum, 300GB free on the Leopard partition.

- Can I easily create a separate partition for music? About 20 GB would be all I'd need.

Thanks for all the help! I'm new to Apple computers, so this should be interesting.
posted by DMan to Technology (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Use parallels. Have two "OS" drives (vista/xp) and a "data" drive. Share the "data" drive under Vista and XP (to save space). No partitioning needed.

Don't partition for music.
posted by SirStan at 6:56 PM on June 13, 2008

What's the minimum space I'd need for Vista and Ubuntu?

posted by SirStan at 6:57 PM on June 13, 2008

Best answer: Have you considered VMware Fusion? Sounds like the perfect thing for you. Lets you run lots of OSes side by side, no need to partition. Can handle XP, Vista, and many Linux distros.

I wouldn't create a partition for your music. I'd buy a USB2 drive for it. I have mine on a nice LaCie 250GB drive. That one is dedicated to iTunes and my photo library. They're pretty cheap these days.
posted by wheat at 7:25 PM on June 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

FYI, Boot Camp Assistant only lets you partition your drive into 2 partitions. I don't know if you do it, then do it again, if it'll let you effectively make 3, but keep that in mind.

Personally, I'd go with Parallels or VMWare. Both have small downloadable images of several variations of Linux, and you can install as many OS's as you want, no partitioning needed. Interfaces for things like USB and networking are pretty transparent, so you shouldn't be too concerned about hardware.
posted by mkultra at 8:26 PM on June 13, 2008

Best answer: I use VMware Fusion running an XP bootcamp partition of 10 GB on a Macbook. VMware supposedly runs faster if it boots off a partition rather than the virtual drive, I don't have a real-life comparison for you. I only use XP for a few scientific software things, and the files get saved to my Leopard partition for permanent backups. Since you are gaming, I would just take into consideration how much memory each program takes and partition accordingly.

Do be sure to partition your drive before you install anything -- I had to reinstall Leopard and partition the fresh install because the bootcamp assistant wouldn't partition after I upgraded to Leopard. I also have a 500 GB external HD for photo backups (the majority of my storage) and that is partitioned half for permanent photo storage/other backups and half for Time Machine.
posted by sararah at 8:31 PM on June 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

Oh and I never boot into XP natively, I always run VMware which boots off the XP bootcamp partition.
posted by sararah at 8:32 PM on June 13, 2008

Response by poster: Okay, so partition for music = bad idea. I'll buy another external drive soon.

VMware: I like the idea, but I was pretty sure I'd get diminished graphics support and wouldn't be able to play games like I would under an XP install done with Boot Camp. Is this true?

It seems like maybe I should put XP on its own partition with Boot Camp since I plan to play games with it, and then use VMware to run Vista, Linux, or anything else I need.
posted by DMan at 8:34 PM on June 13, 2008

Don't forget if you want to drag and drop between your Windows and Mac partitions, you have to format as FAT32 but then you are limited to a 32 GB partition. If you don't need this functionality, you can use NTFS which is supposedly more secure, and can handle as large of a partition as you'd like. I do use drag and drop a lot since I export files from my scientific software to process in Leopard, but you could always email them to yourself or use a flash drive, especially if you think you won't use VMware but will boot into Windows natively and/or only use it for gaming.

ok I'll shut up now.
posted by sararah at 8:36 PM on June 13, 2008

Ok, so I lied.

I agree that installing the OS's as individual partitions will offer you the most flexibility for either booting natively or running in virtualization. You can always delete the partition later if you find yourself not using it, although I'm not sure how big of a pain that would be.

I would look into VMware product literature, I am sure they have some benchmarks running different games, etc in virualization with a separate partition versus just the virtual partition. If you are a student you can get VMware mega cheap, ~$35 (usually $80). Parallels is not as good of a student discount, and the regular price for both is pretty comparable.
posted by sararah at 8:43 PM on June 13, 2008

Best answer:
- Can I install Windows XP, Vista, and Ubuntu on my iMac along with Leopard?

Yes. XP on bootcamp, Vista and Ubuntu using parallels/vmware. Or vista on bootcamp, and xp and ubuntu on via software path. Or none on bootcamp, and all on virtiulisation software. Or, if bootcamp assistant is to be believed Xp and Vista on bootcamp and ubuntu via the virtual software.

- What's the minimum space I'd need for Vista and Ubuntu? Drive is a 500GB; I'd like to leave, at bare minimum, 300GB free on the Leopard partition.

If you bootcamp you can't resize (easily) the partition (it's not recommend), so say 20-30GB to give yourself plenty of wiggle room, especially so if you decided to use the vista/xp bootcamp for playing games and the like (something bootcamp really excels over the parallels/vmware path.) If using parallels/vmware then I think it's no problem to resize the partitions (or to at least select the option where you specific a maximum size, and it expands as you fill the virtual drive image until it reaches that maximum level.) You could very easily and comfortably get by with the two or three operating systems for under 100GB, and more likely under 50-70GB.

- Can I easily create a separate partition for music? About 20 GB would be all I'd need.

There's no real advantage to doing this; you're only going to make things more complicated from a file management point of view. If you want the real advantages of keeping your music on a separate disk (which is why you raised the issue, and is a valid practical concern in case your main disk aslplodes) then do what others have mentioned and buy an external drive, as big as you can get. That way you can also run time machine, which is a pretty fun backup software. For my money I strongly recommend western digital, I've had friends with bad experince with lacie, however with the six of so friends of mine with WD externals we've never had a problem.

One more point; if you do decide to use bootcamp, make sure to run the assistant and create the partition as soon as possible. If you do what I've did and waited till after I'd used the computer for a while the bootcamp set up assistant was actually unable to make a new partition as the drive was too fragmented (there wasn't an uninterrupted 17GB space on my harddrive apparently). I had to defrag it overnight, and it was all very annoying.
posted by oxford blue at 8:48 PM on June 13, 2008

Response by poster: then do what others have mentioned and buy an external drive, as big as you can get. That way you can also run time machine, which is a pretty fun backup software.

Yeah, I definitely wanted to run Time Machine, I like the idea of an easy backup system. My external drive now is a 320GB; I suppose I can partition that into a 20 GB and 300 GB partition and use the small one for music and the big one for TM, at least until I can buy another drive.
posted by DMan at 9:00 PM on June 13, 2008

Yeah, that's easy enough to do via leopard's 'disk utility'.

One hint when using disk utility, make sure you select the actual drive (i.e. not the indented drive icon, but the one on the 'main' level which is usually the model name of the hard drive, in my case it's "931.5 GB WD", as opposed to indented icon, "comical drive name here".) and not the sublevel drive icon. If you don't select the drive itself, you won't see the partition option which frustrated me for far too long! See here.)
posted by oxford blue at 9:12 PM on June 13, 2008

Ideally, you'd want your time machine external disk to be bigger than your main hard drive (minus any separate partition/images for other operating systems.) Otherwise you'd have to exclude a fair amount of data so timemachine will play nicely with the smaller external drive.
posted by oxford blue at 9:13 PM on June 13, 2008

Response by poster: oxford, does that hold true even if I have nowhere near that amount of data? For example, if my Leopard partition is 400GB but I only have 50GB used, will Time Machine still get mad at me if I try to make it use a 300GB drive?
posted by DMan at 9:23 PM on June 13, 2008

Keep this in mind:
  • OS X can read and write to Windows and Linux partitions if you install macfuse + ntfs-3g and ext2fsx
  • Linux can read and write to OS X and Windows partitions if you install ntfs-3g and hfsplus
  • Windows XP and Vista can read and write to Linux partitions if you install Ext2 IFS

posted by PueExMachina at 9:55 PM on June 13, 2008

It should work, especially if your actual data is less than the total drive size. It probably doesn't matter what the actual partition size is, but rather how much data is on that position. Remember you're 320GB external drive is only going to be 298GB of actual space, minus 20GB for the music partition. So if the actual amount of data on the leopard partition is under 278GB you should be fine, however owing to the limited space Time Machine won't be able to keep many 'sets' of copies, you may be limited to the most recent plus 1.
posted by oxford blue at 10:06 PM on June 13, 2008

MacDrive ($50, more info) lets you read/write HFS+ partitions under XP and Vista. nLite is also recommended for slimming down installations of XP and Vista, whichever route you decide to go.

I'd recommend formatting your external music drive FAT32 so it's readable between all three OS's (unless you have some huge .wav files that are >4GB), but perhaps that was already obvious.

Also, re: the Time Machine/disk shrinking question: no, Time Machine wouldn't care.
posted by indiewizard at 12:44 PM on June 14, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for all the help guys, I just ordered it so I'll be able to mess with it in a week or so!

It looks like what I'm going to do is partition about 50 gigs for XP, and the rest for Leopard. I'm going to have a 20GB partition on my external drive for music, and the rest will be Time Machine. I'm not getting VMware right now, but when I do get it in a month or two I'll use it to virtualize Vista and Ubuntu.

I've marked a few good answers but they all really helped, thanks AskMe!
posted by DMan at 3:10 PM on June 14, 2008

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