How to dual boot Windows XP and Linux


Windows XP is dying. If you are using Windows XP your number has been called and your time is up. It is time to move on to something else.

You are now so far outside Microsoft’s thoughts that to them you barely exist. 

The truth is that your computer works well with Windows XP but it might not be capable of running Windows 7.

By moving onto Linux you will be able to use an operating system where you will always be a first class citizen and you will always be supported.
This article shows you how to install PCLinuxOS alongside Windows XP so that you can try it out and see for yourself that it isn’t a daunting experience at all.

Click here to find out how to dual boot Windows Vista and Linux.

About this guide

This guide has been created over a number of different articles which have been released in the last month.
This is the final part whereby all the steps are pulled together to enable you to install Linux alongside Windows XP.

Step 1 – Create a Live Linux DVD or USB drive

You will hear the term “Live DVD” or “Live USB” a lot when you read up about the Linux world. 
A live DVD basically means that you can install Linux to the DVD and boot from that DVD into a fully working Linux system without having to install anything.
A live USB drive therefore is the same except instead of being a DVD it is a USB drive.
Your decision for creating a DVD or USB drive when installing on a machine currently running Windows XP is purely determined on whether your computer has a DVD drive or not. (and whether your DVD drive is a DVD writer or you have access to a DVD writer).
If you have the ability to create DVDs then I would recommend creating a bootable Linux DVD.
If you don’t have the ability to create DVDs or the target computer doesn’t have a DVD player then create a bootable Linux USB drive.

Step 2 – Backing up your current system

Whether you are installing Linux or not it is good to have a backup routine that makes sure all your valuable data is safe.
Backing up data and creating a system image using Windows XP shows you ways of backing up your files such as music, videos, photos and documents.
I always recommend following this step. If something goes wrong during the setup of Linux then you will feel better knowing that there is a way back to your current setup.

Step 3 – Preparing your disks for installing Linux

When you installed Windows XP (or if it came pre-installed) it will have taken over the whole hard drive. In order to install Linux you will need to make space for it.

This guide shows how to clean up files on your disk to make space, how to defragment your hard drive and how to shrink the disk to leave room for Linux.

Step 4 – Installing PCLinuxOS

Insert the DVD or USB drive and reboot your computer.

Your computer should boot into a live version of PCLinuxOS. Within the live version you can try out various features of PCLinuxOS before installing it onto your computer. 
The first thing you will be asked to do is choose your keyboard layout. Simply scroll down the list until you find the keyboard layout that matches.
To begin the installation click “Install PCLinuxOS”. Note that you only have to single click on an icon as opposed to Windows where you double click.
The installation is actually quite straight forward. The first screen just lets you know the process has started. Click “Next” to continue.

The next screen asks you how you want to install PCLinuxOS on the disk. 
The first thing you will need to do is select the disk to install to. If you only have one drive then that will already be selected.
There are three main options available:
  • Use free space
  • Use the free space on a Microsoft Windows Partition
  • Erase and use the entire disk
Assuming that you have followed this entire tutorial then you will have created free space in section 3. Therefore you should choose the option “Use free space”.
A big warning message will now appear. There will actually be no data wiped however because the installation is going to take place within the unallocated space.
Click “Next” to continue.
The installation will now start and the files will be copied to your hard drive.
The next step asks where you want to install the bootloader. The bootloader basically provides a menu when you boot up that lets you choose between Windows and PCLinuxOS (and any other operating system you may have installed).
I recommend leaving this screen alone and simply clicking “Next”. 
Out of interest though, the bootloader to use option lets you choose between a graphical menu and a text menu. The boot device lets you choose the partition where the bootloader should be installed. The default option is just fine.
The “Delay before booting default image” sets the number of seconds the menu will appear before one of the system boots into the default operating system.
The following screen shows you the items that will appear on the boot menu. You can leave the default settings and click “Next”.
That is it. PCLinuxOS is installed. You can now click “Finish” to end the installation. Then reboot your computer.
You will now get a menu every time you boot up with a choice to boot into Windows or PCLinuxOS. 
Choose Windows first to make sure it works and then reboot into PCLinuxOS to make sure that works.
The first time you boot into the installed version of PCLinuxOS you will be asked to select your timezone. This is simply a case of choosing the country in which you are located.
You will now be asked to choose between local time settings or UTC time. Don’t worry if you get it wrong because it can be changed later.
If you want your time to always be correct click on the “Automatic time synchronisation” box and choose your country.
Click “Next” to continue.
Most of the time when running programs in Linux you will run as a standard user but sometimes you will want elevated permissions, such as when you are installing applications.
Set the “Administrator” password by entering the same password in both password boxes.
Click “Next” to continue.
Now you will be asked to create a user. Simply enter your name and a login name and choose a password for your user. It is a good idea to choose a different password than the one you chose for the administrator.
Click “Next” to continue.
To login either enter your username and password or click on the username and password.


That is it. Your computer is now able to boot between Windows XP and PCLinuxOS. 
In future articles I will show you how to set up PCLinuxOS to connect to the internet and I will introduce you to some of the applications.
I hope you found this guide useful.


  1. Hi Gary, yesterday I have successfully installed the PCLinuxOS on my computer with your step-by-step guidance. I just wanted to say thank you to you for providing such a thorough and clear guidelines for a layman like me, otherwise I would have no single clue how to do it by myself. There are actually tons of good websites showing how to do the same thing, but most of them were probably written for people with at least some computer knowledge. Detailed explanation with all those screen images, nothing can go wrong. I look forward to your upcoming articles and best wishes for the continued success to your website.

  2. Hi Gary, great article. Old machine I have (Dimension 2400) has a CD reader, not DVD. So, I created what I thought was a Live CD. The iso file fits on the CD ok, but during boot sequence it says it fails. In the BIOS it only offers boot sequence CD drive then C: drive. No offering of USB (says "not installed"). A bit stuck I think! Any suggestions? Baz

  3. I have recently installed linux mint on an old xp machine but do not have the dual boot option ?
    how can I find out if I still have xp and old files ?

  4. I've installed linux mint but can't access the internet, tho still can on windows xp (running them together). Message says firefox is already running and should be shut down first? What does this mean? I'm with a vodafone mobile connection.

    • There is a network icon in the system tray next to the clock. If you click that a list of wireless networks should appear. Select the wireless network and enter the security key. Then open Firefox (the web browser) and you should be good to go.

  5. hi, could you just say why you favour a bootable DVD over a bootable USB? Aren't some USB drives pretty fast – I mean USB 3.0… for which you'd obviously need 3.0 slots on your machine, which is unlikely on an old machine. But how do USB 2.0 and DVDs compare? Or maybe it's about something other than speed… be nice to know why you make a particular recommendation.

    • It is a good question and not performance related at all but based on the ease of getting started. Most older laptops and computers (especially those running Windows XP) are set to boot from CD/DVD first, then hard drive and then other drives. By creating a DVD you don't have to fiddle with boot orders and once the DVD is created you can boot into it and you are on your way. With a USB you have to create the USB drive, fiddle with the BIOS and then hope the boot works. (which it usually does).

  6. Thank you so much for your understandable article!! I've been going crazy since restoring my computer to factory settings on xp. Absolute nightmare.
    Question, I run all my files off an external hard drive. If I switch to linux, will it corrupt my external hard drive/not recognise it/do anything else awful and detrimental to my beloved files?
    And will it run programs such as itunes, bsplayer, winamp, finale notepad (music writing program) etc?
    Also, if I have 1.5 gigs of ram and 27 free gigs on my comp, is that enough to run xp and linus simultaneously? (winxp is on my hard drive with no cd)
    Thank you!

    • You might have problems with a Linux system recognizing your external hard drive, I have this problem with Linux Mint. Load the "Live CD/DVD" and then connect your external drive and test it first. But, it is possible to get access to your Windows files via the Linux OS, think of it as a doorway from Linux to Windows.

  7. i have followed all the instructions, including partitioning my hard drive in to two partitions. but when i reboot, linux doesn't load, not even when i change the order of the bios and tell it to run from the dvd.. any ideas? also, my computer wont recognise the second partition…could this have something to do with it?

  8. Yes at step 4. When I reboot it loads into windows every time and wont run from the dvd. I don't see PCLinuxOS boot. This is just at the trying to test run linux stage. I also tried Linux mint on a usb using another tutorial and it wont run from the usb either :S I'm totally stuck.. Thanks so so much for your help!

    • Can you confirm that your computer has Windows XP on it? Can you also tell me what method you used for creating the DVD? (IE did you use the tutorial that I wrote)

      Sorry for all the questions. Just need to get an idea of why it might not be working.

    • Of course thats fine. I have Windows XP service pack 2. I followed your tutorial to write the dvd, using the program that came with my Toshiba (sonic record now). I downloaded the file from the same page you linked and burned the iso image directly to the dvd. For the usb I followed your tutorial from another post. I'm not that tech savvy so I may have done something silly, but to the best of my knowledge I followed the instructions correctly.
      Just a thought, my computer has been having trouble booting up at the start of the day (keeps turning off until btwn 4-15 goes – always works once I get to the winxp screen) and I've tried everything to fix it to no avail. which means it could be the hard drive…would that have anything to do with it?

    • Shall we continue this discussion via email?

      When you boot up the computer a message should flick up very quickly right at the start telling you which key to press to enter setup (BIOS). It will be F2, F8, F12 or Escape. Try rebooting and pressing the key it suggests. If the message flashes up and away too quickly try each of the function keys I have suggested. Simply hold down the key at boot.

      When in the BIOS (you will know it when you see it because is looks very technical) use your arrow keys to scroll until you see a boot order. It will show something like DVD, Hard Drive, USB etc etc. What I want to do is make sure that DVD is set to boot first.

      You can also test whether the DVD has been created properly by inserting it into another computer (if you have one).

  9. Did you burn the ISO file as an "image/ data image" file? Don't copy it just like you would if you were copying a regular music/document file because it won't work, it has to be burnt as an "image". I've used "Free ISO Burner" with great success. (

  10. Hi,
    I'm running dual boot systems on a Toshiba laptop – windows xp professional + xp home.
    I'm also running Mint from a USB stick and I like it very much.
    Can I install Mint on one of the partitions along side one of the widows os??

  11. Author is very biased on the fact that XP is outdated… actually it is not if you know how to use it correctly. It also has the widest driver support to this day. Updates aren't the whole picture either. It's the sh- you download and holes in your network & ports.

  12. I followed the instructions to the best of my ability and everything seemed to go well. Linux works well and I really like it. However, when I try to select XP from the boot selector, the screen goes black with a blinking cursor and stays that way for as long as I have been able to stand waiting (15min or more). Everything from the old XP installation seems to still be on the partition but XP won't boot. Advice would be greatly appreciated.

    • Hi William,

      It seems that something went wrong somewhere during the installation.

      Have you got a Windows XP recovery disk?

      If so you can use that to try and repair Windows. I would consider trying to fix the master boot record (

      Failing that did you follow the steps for creating a backup using Macrium Reflect? If you did you could recover Windows XP using the Macrium Reflect tool and then try the dual boot installation process again.

      My guess would be something went wrong whilst installing the bootloader. Maybe it was installed to /dev/sda1 instead of /dev/sda.

      Feel free to email me direct and I will try and help you troubleshoot. There is an email icon in the top right corner.

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