Unix & Linux Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for users of Linux, FreeBSD and other Un*x-like operating systems. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I want to put my old laptop to use and install several of the most popular Linux distros on it. I currently have Windows 7 on it.

My question is: How do I create a set up such that when I start the laptop a list of all the different distros appear as options?

share|improve this question

If the question were asked 10 years ago, I would say the only way for this is to enter into play with disk partitioning and boot loaders. For that case, count how many distros would you install on the laptop, which size is needed for each of them, repartition the disk and install each of them into separate partition. Ask the first installed one to put its loader into MBR and manually add records for all others into list of the loader of the first distro, and you would get boot-time manual selection.

But if your laptop is newer than ~3 years ago (sorry, but you didn't describe what the word "old" means for you) and enough powerful, it's easier to start with virtualization of all needed distros in some virtualization software (for Windows 7 there are Hyper-V, VMWare, possibly others). Unless you need to play with direct hardware features (as video adapter output) this is preferrable to perform initial acquaintance.

share|improve this answer
+1 for recommending using VM software instead of messing with your hard disk. It will be much more convenient, faster, and less disastrous. In case of disaster you can just purge the virtual disk and reinstall the distro, so zero damage to your real disk. – ierax Jul 14 '12 at 16:41
I've used virtualbox for years, one of my favorite VM solutions: virtualbox.org – CenterOrbit Jul 16 '12 at 22:05

A few things:

  1. First back up all your data on an external storage device.
  2. Partition your hard drive with gparted or some other tools.

    a) You need at least one partition for each different distro.
    b) I would recommend having a addition partition for your documents and for a swap.
    c) Make sure those last two are usable by each distro.

  3. Edit your grub files:

    a) If you have the last distro you install set the MBR.
    b) Then you should be able change the Grub config file at /etc/default/grub and then run update-grub.
    c) You should be able to run "less /boot/grub/grub.cfg" to see what each of your distros grub menus looks like in those distros.
    d) You should be able to add any menu entries that aren't in the grub controlling distro's grub.cfg file from the grub.cfg of your other distros into the main etc/default/grub and run update-grub.

The menu entries will look something like this.

 menuentry "Memory test (memtest86+)" {
    insmod ext2
    set root='(hd0,6)'
    search --no-floppy --fs-uuid --set 7c83a11e-2597-4161-bbd4-107b4930a669
    linux16        /boot/memtest86+.bin

*This assume's GRUB is your bootloader, which I believe is fairly constant in Unix systems.

The benefit to doing this approach as opposed to a VM approach is that it each distro should run faster once this is set-up then they would on a virtual machine running on top of Windows. Also, if some thing goes wrong with any of your distros, all you other distros will still be bootable unless grub is some how messed up. With the VM method if Windows becomes unbootable, all your VMs will be unbootable. Any individual distro can be easily re-installed or replaced. You will also no that if something goes wrong it is a Linux/Hardware issue and not a VM issue.

The benefits I can see from the VM side of things is that switching between distros would be quicker, and I also assume that installing might also be quicker, but I don't believe this is worth Windows slowing down your Linux. I assume since this is an old laptop, you have a newer Window's machine.

I hope my comments are helpful.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.