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I am a Linux newbie, and I am trying to dual boot Linux Mint with Windows 7. Right now, Windows 7 boots from a small SSD, which has little extra room on it. Is there a way to set up a dual boot where I can put my Linux files on my larger HDD, without completely redoing my drives? For example, could I put the bootloader on the SSD and have it load an OS on the HDD? How would I do this?

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How do you feel about external drives? If you have a spare USB thumb drive, you can install GRUB to that: to boot Windows remove the thumb drive or select the hard drive in your BIOS; to boot Linux insert the thumb drive and change your boot order in your BIOS. Once you've booted you can (umount and then) remove the thumb drive (just remember to re-mount it for GRUB or kernel updates). This is a not-uncommon technique when using full-disk encryption. –  drewbenn Mar 16 '13 at 0:00
@drewbenn he could even configure GRUB on the USB drive to load Windows on the hard drive. In fact, it gets done automatically, if you have os-prober. –  strugee Jul 28 '13 at 10:17
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2 Answers

Yes (although I haven't used Mint - this answer is based on Fedora and Ubuntu, both of which I've done it with).

During the install you are asked which partitions to install the OS onto, these can be specified on any suitable and connected drive.

As another part of the install (usually after the partitioning choices) you are asked where to install the bootloader.

If you choose to install this on the boot sector of the primary drive (the SSD in your case). Hopefully (and I'm saying hopefully because I don't know how Mint works precisely) your existing Windows OS will be detected and provided as an option in the bootloader along with the Linux install on your second drive.

Word of caution - once you have everything setup on two drives removing or changing either of them will break booting because:

  1. The actual boot config (assuming you're using GRUB x) is stored within the Linux filesystem (in the /boot folder or partition), not on the boot sector itself.

  2. The chose of operating systems in the boot loader (and the config for booting Windows) relies on the correctly numbered drives/partitions.

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Another caution: installing GRUB onto the boot sector (MBR) of the SSD containing Windows will make Windows unbootable if something goes wrong with the Linux install. Another option is to install Linux Mint only onto the HDD and configure it to be able to boot Windows as well, then switch that drive to the drive to boot from in the BIOS/UEFI. I'm afraid I'm not familiar with Linux Mint either though, so don't know the details of how to do this. –  depquid Mar 15 '13 at 22:46
I think that would be ideal. However I've had problems before where I've changed the boot drive and Windows then doesn't boot: my belief was that this was caused as Windows was now seeing the drives in a different order so looking for itself on hd(0,0) [or whatever the crazy Windows drive/partition numbering is] and not finding itself. However if you believe this will work ok using a pre-existing secondary drive and just changing the boot order then I'll edit my answer accordingly. –  Dave C Mar 16 '13 at 0:32
Good point about drive ordering. IIRC, newer bioses tend to allow a boot order to be chosen separately from drive order, but of course that's manufacturer and version dependent. But at least if it doesn't work, the setting can easily be undone much more easily than repairing the MBR on the SSD. My "official opinion" is that this question needs more details about the OP's system and an answer from someone more familiar with Linux Mint specifically. –  depquid Mar 16 '13 at 15:24
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Check what method is used for booting - if the system is able to use UEFI and Windows is set up to use it, you can add Linux as another option rather easily, because the disk already carries a special EFI partition used for booting. See e.g. tutorials on Linux mint sites: e.g. How to install Linux on UEFI systems where GRUB fail to install? or UEFI Install dual-boot.

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