Dual Booting Windows 7 and Linux Mint 17.3 Cinnamon

I was using a Lenovo E430 ThinkPad Edge E430 laptop, running Windows 7 x64. For reasons discussed in another post, I decided to reduce my reliance on Microsoft. In a different post, I concluded that setting up this laptop to dual-boot Linux and Windows would be a step in that direction. I had previously used Ubuntu, and I agreed with those who felt that it was designed as more of an alternative to Mac. As a Windows user, I decided to try Linux Mint Cinnamon.

The question at hand was, what did I have to do, to dual-boot Mint on this Win7 machine? The first thing was to find a place for the Mint installation. The laptop had a solid state drive (SSD) as well as a hard disk drive (HDD). The SSD, being much faster, was where I had installed Windows 7. It filled only part of the 256GB SSD, so I used a partitioning program, installed on my YUMI multiboot USB or DVD, to clear off the rest of the space for Linux. That way, both the Windows and the Linux operating systems (OSs) would have the benefit of the SSD’s speed. Of course, I had a drive image of my Windows installation as a backup, before proceeding with any of this.

Next, I downloaded the 64-bit Linux Mint 17.3 Cinnamon ISO installation file. As an optional but recommended precaution, I used File Check MD5 to calculate its MD5 value, and compared that value against the one shown on the official download page, to make sure my download hadn’t gotten corrupted anywhere along the way. As described in the other post, there were various options for how to use that ISO. Consistent with installation advice from ZDNet (Vaughan-Nichols, 2016), I chose to install the ISO on my YUMI multiboot USB drive.

After making sure the laptop was plugged in (i.e., not running on battery), I booted the laptop with the YUMI drive. I had already tried to configure the BIOS/UEFI to look first for bootable USB drives or CD/DVDs. (Those seeking instructions can add the name of their machines to that linked search. Note that some other links in this post are likewise modifiable.) Unfortunately, on this machine, the only way I could get the system to recognize the YUMI drive was to hit F12 during bootup, so as to get a choice among potentially bootable devices, and then I chose the YUMI drive from that.

As with Ubuntu, the downloaded Mint ISO functioned as a both a live CD (or, in this case, a live USB) and an installer. That is, once I chose to load it, I got a working Linux Mint Cinnamon desktop. From there, I could go straight to work — doing some writing, running a spreadsheet, and so forth. I had allowed some space for persistence when given the opportunity to do so during the YUMI setup process, so to a limited extent I could even save my system configurations to this live desktop.

But that wasn’t what I wanted to do. A live CD or USB would be relatively slow; it was not suitable as the long-term home for an operating system in daily use. Instead, I wanted to use this Mint desktop to begin installation on my SSD.

But before going any further, I decided to make sure I was installing the right version. To find out which live desktop this was, I went to what a Windows user (and I) would call the Start button, at the bottom left corner of the screen. (In this version of Linux Mint, it had the word “Menu” next to it, but I decided to call it the Start button anyway — partly because I was still thinking as a Windows user, and partly because I felt “Menu” could be ambiguous in some settings, since virtually every program has its own menu, but few have their own Start button. Note: WinKey (i.e., the Windows key) did work to bring up the Start menu in Mint.)

I chose Start > System Settings (i.e., the icon with gears in it, towards the top of the left-hand panel) > Hardware section > System Info. That confirmed: 64-bit Linux Mint Cinnamon. (I could tell I was going into System Settings, not only by the gear icon, but also by the tooltip that appeared at the bottom right corner of the menu. It said, “System Settings – Control Center.”)

Next, to begin installing, I double-clicked on the “Install Linux Mint” icon at the upper left corner of the desktop. The installer began asking me routine questions (e.g., my choice of language). When given an opportunity to connect to the Internet, I did so, knowing that there would probably be program updates at some point in the installation process. The password it sought at that point was the security key required by my wireless router. Next, I got a message:

The installer has detected that the following disks have mounted partitions:


Do you want the installer to try to unmount the partitions on these drives before continuing?

To see what partition it was talking about, I used Start > Terminal (i.e., the mostly black icon on the left panel, also available as an icon just to the right of the Start button on the taskbar). I maximized the Terminal window by clicking the plus ( + ) sign at the top right corner. Then, at the Terminal cursor, I typed “blkid.” (Note: this post uses standard English punctuation. So in that example, what I typed, there in the Terminal window, was blkid, without the quotation marks and also without the ending period.)

The blkid command gave me a Linux-style list of devices, among which I was particularly interested in knowing what /dev/sdc might be. I had named my YUMI drive to be LEXAR32GB, though I could also have kept the MULTIBOOT name that YUMI gave it. Either way, I could now see that the installer was offering to unmount the YUMI drive from which I was trying to install Linux Mint. That offer didn’t make sense. I left Terminal open (I would be needing it again), went back to the installer, and said No, don’t unmount /dev/sdc.

Trying the Easy Way

Those steps brought me to the Installation Type screen. In this case, at least for me, a couple of the options were grayed out. I had examined those options in more detail in a previous post. I had also explored the options that were not grayed out, including the “Something Else” choice. This time around, I went with the first option, “Install Linux Mint alongside Windows 7.” I had heard that Ubuntu and related Linux distributions could now be easily installed in dual boot arrangements, so I looked forward to a quick completion of the installation process.

That choice led to a screen logically titled “Install Linux Mint alongside Windows 7.” First, near the top, I had to indicate which drive I wanted to install Mint on. For me, this was the SSD. I wasn’t sure what Linux would call it, so I looked again at what I had gotten from blkid in Terminal (above). There, I was reminded that the SSD was mounted as /dev/sdb. Its first part (sdb1) was called PROGRAMS, which was the name I gave to the partition where I had installed Windows 7. Its second part was where I wanted to install Linux. I had already formatted that second part as a Linux partition, and in fact I gave it the name of “Linux” during that process, so now blkid showed that name and confirmed that it was a type ext4 partition.

But this was odd, because when I tried to tell the installer which drive I wanted to install Mint on, it gave me only one choice: the YUMI USB drive (i.e., LEXAR32GB). The installer wasn’t going to let me install on the SSD. I guessed the reason was that the YUMI drive was the only one that was actually mounted. (In Linux, unlike Windows, drives were not necessarily available as soon as they were connected; they might first have to be mounted.) (“Mount” was a potentially amusing term for the situation. It was apparently to be understood in the dictionary sense of “organize and initiate action” — like, “mount a campaign” — not like “mounting a horse” or other senses that might come to mind.)

To mount the SSD, I went to Start > Files (middle icon on the left-hand panel) > Devices section. The Devices section was located in the left-hand panel of the Files window, whose title bar at this point said Home. There, I could see “Linux” (i.e., the ext4 partition (above) that I had already created for this Mint installation on the SSD). But here was another barrier: I thought that clicking on that Linux partition would mount it, but instead I got an error message:

Unable to mount Linux
Not authorized to perform operation

So, alright, back in Terminal, I typed “sudo mount -a.” (Sudo was short for “super user do.” A super user was like an Administrator in Windows: it had permissions to do things that ordinary users couldn’t do. There were limits to the damage that I (or someone else) could do to the system, working as a normal user. Sudo would apparently require a password if one had been created. I hadn’t created a password on this system yet, so the sudo command ran immediately.)

To see if that mount command worked, I went back to the Files window and clicked again on the Linux partition. Nope; same error message. Well, OK, how about if I opened the Files window as a super user, and then clicked on the Linux partition? On second thought, how would that help? The error message shown above offered to unmount partitions before continuing. I guessed that it was being safe: no point having the Windows PROGRAMS partition mounted, for example, if doing so would introduce the possibility that the Linux installer could then accidentally screw it up.

So I tried the approach of starting the Files tool as a super user. First, I had to see which Files tool was being used by default in Cinnamon. I tried Googling that question, but the faster solution was just to go (within the already opened session of that Files tool) to Help > About. It said Nemo. So in Terminal I typed “sudo nemo.” That worked. It opened another session of Nemo. This session had a red bar bearing the words “Elevated Privileges.” But no listing of partitions! I killed that. It took Terminal a moment to collect its wits, and then we were back at square one.

Doing It the Hard Way

It appeared I was going to have to try a different approach. So in the installer window, I clicked the Back button until I got back to the Installation Type screen, and then I chose the Something Else option, at the bottom of the list. This showed me a list of available partitions, among which I saw the desired target “Linux” partition in ext4 format at /dev/sdb2. I had to select that partition and click the minus ( – ) button to delete it, creating free space in which I could click the plus button to add partitions. I decided to divide it into a large logical root partition (i.e., mounted as “/”) and a smallish (around 4GB) logical swap partition. I made the latter size small because, guided to some extent by Ubuntu advice, I decided against using hibernation; I had heard that hibernation had many problems in Mint.

There on the Installation Type screen, I was not sure what was intended by the “Device for boot loader installation” item. A search led to indications that the question here was, where did I want to put the boot loader information (not where was I getting the boot loader from). So here, again, it was confusing that the installer defaulted to the USB drive from which I was installing Mint; it seemed obvious that most users would not want to overwrite the tool they were using to install Linux.

The answer seemed to be, if you have only one drive, it will be /dev/sda, and that’s where you should install it — on the sda drive itself, not on sda1 or sda2 or some other partition within the sda drive. But I had two drives, sda and sdb, and Windows was on the second one, shown here as sdb1. So should I choose sdb? In this case, at least one of the results from the relevant search clearly indicated that, “If your Windows happens to boot from a second hard disk (very unlikely) you must change [the device for boot loader installation] to /dev/sdb.” So that’s what I did. (This laptop had space only for an M.2 type of SSD, and apparently it designated that drive to be sdb.) In other words, the rule seemed to be that, when installing Windows and Linux on the same drive, that’s the drive where the boot loader goes; when installing them on different drives, choose the drive where Windows is.

With that done, I clicked Install Now. But too soon: the installer had more questions for me, about my time zone and such. I opted not to encrypt my home folder, partly because a search led to indications that this could impair performance and cause problems, and partly because I planned to keep my data in a separate partition, as detailed in another post.

With those questions answered, the installation proceeded. Just a few minutes later, it was finished. I unplugged the YUMI USB drive and clicked Restart Now. Oops: that gave me an “Installer Crashed” error. I guess I should have waited to unplug the USB installer. I unplugged it at that point so that I wouldn’t have to unplug it during reboot, when it might be getting accessed; I didn’t want to damage it. Apparently I should have clicked Restart Now and then, at an opportune moment, should have hit the power button to shut the laptop down, so that I could safely remove the YUMI USB drive. Because now I had confused the system: it froze, and I had to use the power button anyway to shut it down.

I pressed the power button again to restart. That put me at a GNU GRUB menu with five choices. Two had to do with Memtest86+. The first two were Linux Mint Cinnamon, with or without advanced options. The last was Windows. I tried that one. It worked: Windows booted. I restarted and tried the basic Linux Mint Cinnamon option. Alright — that worked too. It put me at an odd sign-in screen: I thought it was asking for my password, but what it really wanted was my user name. I had selected ray as my user name. It was already showing that name. The situation got even more confused: somehow the onscreen keyboard inserted itself into the mix. I managed to get through that and get logged in.

I was curious as to how the partition table looked now: did I indeed have the root and swap partitions as I had requested? I assumed so, but I wanted to see. Unfortunately, GParted was not a part of the default Mint installation, so that would have to wait for a later post, focused on configuring this installation. Right now, I confirmed that I could boot into both Windows and Linux, so that took care of this task.

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