Most people run Windows on their computers. It’s easy to use and has a lot of software available. Linux, however, has a number of potential advantages for some users. It’s free and open-source, meaning you can see and edit the code your computer runs if you want to, and know how to. It also tends to be more lightweight than Windows, requiring less system resources to run well, making it ideal for older computers with weaker specs.
There are a number of ways you can try out Linux, if you’re not ready to get rid of Windows completely, or need both. You could install Linux in a virtual machine. This allows you to run Linux inside of Windows as if it were any other software, but it isn’t ideal on older computers, as both Windows and Linux will need system resources like RAM, which may be in short supply. You could install Linux as a “Live USB”, however, running a Live USB is slow, as USB sticks are not as fast as hard drives. Furthermore, all changes to a Live USB are lost when the computer is turned off, meaning you can’t save any data or documents easily.
The other option is to “Dual-boot”. Dual-booting is where you install two operating systems on one computer. This works by creating a second partition on your main hard drive and installing the second operating system there. If your PC is set up to dual boot, each time you boot up your computer you can choose which operating system to boot into.
Tip: Partitioning is a way to instruct the computer to treat a single physical hard drive as if it were separated into multiple smaller hard drives. For all intents and purposes, to the user of a computer a partition is a separate hard drive – one physical hard drive shows up as two lettered drives within the computer.
Dual-booting provides you with all the benefits of both operating systems, without any data loss. You can still use both, although not at the same time. You’ll need to restart and boot into the other one to switch. Dual-booting won’t slow down your computer at all either, as no extra system resources are used by the OS you’re not actively using. The only requirement is to have enough free hard drive space to install the other system.
This guide will assume you already have Windows installed and are intending to dual boot Linux. If you’re planning to install Windows from Linux the set-up process will be similar, but the exact methods for things, such as installation wizards, will be different – they will also depend on which type of Linux OS you are running. If that’s what you want, look for a guide for your specific version of Linux instead.
You will need to partition your main hard drive to dual-boot Linux. We recommend that you create the space for the partition but leave the space “Unallocated”, as this will simplify the process later and significantly reduce the chance of accidental data loss. Read our guide on partitioning to see how to partition your hard drive in Windows 10.
To dual-boot Linux, you will need to decide what Linux distribution you want to use and burn the ISO disk image file to a USB stick.
Tip: A Linux distribution is a flavour of Linux. There are many different versions, that include different software and can look very different. If you’re new to Linux, we recommend choosing Linux Mint, specifically the 64-bit Cinnamon version. The user interface is similar in design to Windows, which should make it easier to pick up.
If you created an NTFS partition in Windows before, delete the partition from there and leave the space “Unallocated”, before starting the process. Once you’ve got your unallocated partition and have a Linux ISO on a USB stick, you need to shut down your computer. When the computer is off, plug the USB stick in, then turn the computer back on. This is important – do not simply plug the USB stick in while Windows is running – it won’t start that way.
Your computer should boot into the Linux boot loader. If it doesn’t, and Windows boots up instead, you may need to press a key during the boot sequence (the first few seconds when the computer starts). The exact key varies between manufacturers, but it is likely to be escape, delete, or one of the twelve function keys. If none of these keys work and allow you to choose which operating system or device to boot from, you may need to adjust the boot order in your BIOS, to prefer USB devices over your internal hard drive.
Again, the BIOS is likely accessed by either the escape key or one of the twelve function keys, depending on your manufacturer. Go into your BIOS and select the boot order option USB device over the internal hard drive. The exact steps to do this will depend on your hardware manufacturer. With this done, power the computer down and back up – Linux should boot.
The Linux boot loader may offer a number of options such as OEM install, integrity check and starting in compatibility mode. You want to avoid all of those options. Instead, you want to select any option that mentions a “Live USB” or just starting Linux. The exact terminology and options may vary between distributions, but will look similar to the picture above.
For Linux Mint, we want to select “Start Linux Mint”. It’s selected by default so just press the enter key or allow the “Automatic boot” countdown to complete.
You will now boot straight into Linux Mint. It’s ready to use, just beware that this is a “Live USB” and no changes will be saved, so you can’t actually save any files, etc yet.
Note: At this point, even though it runs, Linux is NOT installed on your computer!
To install Linux properly, you want to double-click on the CD icon on the desktop, labelled “Install Linux Mint”. This will start a wizard to guide you through installing Linux Mint on your computer.
The first option in the wizard is setting the language. Choose your preferred language, then click “Continue”. The next page allows you to configure your keyboard layout. Choose your preferred language and dialect from the left-hand language list, then choose the keyboard layout you want from the right-hand list.
Tip: You can check that the keyboard layout matches your physical keyboard by selecting the text box located underneath the two language boxes. Type in that text box to verify your keyboard layout is correct, and remember to check that your symbols match up too.
Once you’re sure your keyboard layout is correct, click “Continue” to move on. The third page allows you to select if you want to “install third-party software for graphics and Wi-Fi hardware, Flash, MP3 and other media”. This software is all useful, but may not appeal to open-source purists, as they include proprietary, closed source, code. For most users, especially beginners, it is recommended that you select the checkbox to install the third-party software before clicking “Continue”.
The next page will detect that you already have Windows 10 installed, and will default to installing Linux Mint alongside Windows 10 in a dual boot set up.
Do not select “Erase disk and install Linux Mint” as this will overwrite your Windows installation and all your data.
If you made space for a new partition but didn’t actually create the partition, and instead left the space “Unallocated” or “Free”, this process will be simple. Ensure that “Install Linux Mint alongside Windows 10” is selected, then click “Install Now”.
You’ll get a message that some changes are about to be written to disk. The exact numbers and labels may vary depending on your hardware. The overall message should be roughly the same for everyone, a partition is being formatted to the file system format “ext4”. By default, this will take the rest of the “Unallocated” space. Click “Continue” to apply the changes.
The next screen allows you to select your location. This is used to select your time zone to set your clocks. Select your time zone and click “Continue”.
Finally, you need to create a new account for your Linux partition. “Your name” is only used in the screensaver and login screen. “Your computer’s name” is the host-name of your computer. Enter a username and password, then ensure that “Require my password to log in” is selected. You can choose to encrypt your home folder for some added security for the data in it.
Once you’re happy with your account details, click “Continue”. Linux Mint will now install to your computer. This process may take some time. A slideshow will play demonstrating some features of Linux Mint, feel free to ignore it or watch it to learn some tips about your new operating system.
Once the installation is complete, you’ll get a message asking if you want to keep testing Linux Mint or if you want to restart. Continuing to test will leave you in the “Live USB” version where none of your changes are saved. So, click “Restart now” so you can start using your new operating system for real.
Tip: If you want to mess around for a bit and get to know the system use the Live USB mode – since nothing you do in that Linux installation is permanent, you can easily use it to test some settings. When you are done, Restart the computer and remove the USB drive.
As your computer is shutting down, it will ask you to remove the installation medium before restarting. Unplug the USB drive, then press any key to restart.
When your computer boots back up again, you’ll see a boot options screen that allows you to choose which operating system to boot into. The ten-second timer is only used to select the default option, if you use the arrow keys to select a different option the timer will abort and you will have however long you want to pick. Select “Linux Mint” to boot into Linux, or “Windows 10” to boot into Windows.
Now you can boot into Windows or Linux and enjoy the best of both worlds with one computer.