I got myself an Alienware 13 laptop after years of building desktop PCs, and I have to say i’m impressed with it so far. I intend to use it for both Android and Windows development, and I prefer to develop Android on Linux, so I needed to set up dual-boot. The linux distro I use is Zorin OS, which is by far the best desktop linux distro I have used yet. However, with this new UEFI bios that all computers come with these days, dual-booting linux and Windows 8+ is not as straightforward as in the past days of regular old BIOS. Here’s how I got it to work, based on Nehal Wani’s excellent YouTube video (but without the need to use a Ubuntu live disk):
- Laptop came with Windows 8.1 OEM pre-installed on a 256Gb HDD, so if you haven’t installed Windows already, do that first.
- You MUST shrink your OS partition down to make room for linux, which is easy to do using the built-in disk management utility in Windows (diskmgmt.msc). Just right-click you OS partition and choose ‘Shrink’, then enter the amount of space you want to reserve for linux, I chose 60Gb.
- Disable ‘Fast Startup’ in windows 8 (via Power Options -> choose what the power button does).
- Go into your UEFI setup (I had to press F2 at boot time, but you may need to use Shift+restart to access it via Windows 8 logon screen).
- Disable ‘secure boot’, but you can leave everything else related to booting alone (i.e. you don’t need to enable ‘legacy boot’).
- Create a UEFI-enabled bootable USB key from the Zorin OS 9 ISO file using Rufus, making sure to select ‘GPT partition scheme for UEFI’.
- Make sure you are connected to the internet with a wired ethernet cable at this point, or the zorin installation can fail due to needing to download updated packages relating to UEFI-enabled grub bootloader.
- Plug in the USB key and when booting, press F10 or whatever you need to access boot options. It should give you the option to boot from the UEFI-enabled USB key at this point, select that.
- Zorin OS 9 menu should appear, select to install or boot to live and then install, it makes no difference.
- When the installer gives you the option to download updates during installation, make sure you tick that checkbox.
- When the installer asks you where to install, it will NOT detect Windows 8 and therefore will NOT give you an option to install ‘alongside’. That’s fine, we will still achieve this regardless. Choose ‘Something else’ to specify partitioning manually.
- Now you have to select the free space you reserved for linux from step 2 and create a the following 3 partitions (using the plus button – credit to Nehal Wani for screenshots from his YouTube video):
- First create a 5Mb primary partition located at the end of this space for use as ‘Reserved BIOS boot area’:
- Next create a 2043Mb primary partition located at the end of this space for use as ‘swap area’:
- Finally create a primary partition located at the beginning of this space for use as ‘Ext4 journaling file system’ and mount point ‘/’:
- Proceed with the rest of the install as normal, and when you are done and you restart you should hit the zorin grub-based bootloader, which should give you the option to enter Zorin (as the first preference) and also the option to enter Windows Bootloader which will enter your existing install of Windows 8.1.
Note that this laptop comes with WIFI hardware that is currently only supported in the very latest builds of linux, and is not supported by Zorin OS 9, which is based on Ubuntu 14.x. It may work with Zorin OS 10, which is based on Ubuntu 15.x, but I haven’t tested it and i’m not interested in an OS where the security updates last only a few months. The bug for this is here. I guess that’s still life when using linux on new hardware.