Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.

You certainly can run two hard disks with different operating systems on one computer, but I actually recommend setting up a virtual machine instead.

Is there any way I can get two hard disk drives in my PC with different operating systems so I can choose which to boot from?

In this excerpt from Answercast #16, I look at the difficulties, not in setting up a dual-boot system, but in using it afterwards. Many users are not happy with the results.

Dual-boot hard drives

Absolutely. It's called a dual-boot system and you don't even need two hard drives; you can actually set up two partitions on a single hard drive. You then include a setup that, when you boot, asks you which you want to boot from.

Now, I have no articles on that. It's not something I cover and it's not something that I plan to cover specifically.

In my experience, dual-boot systems are more hassle than they are worth – especially with the advent of virtual machines.

The average consumer – the average user – is not going to run into a scenario where they are going to setup a dual-boot system and really be happy with it.

Virtual machines are easier

There are so many better solutions right now.

Like I said, virtual machines are wonderful for allowing a computer to run a base operating system and then have a completely different operating system – in a window – on that same machine running simultaneously (rather than having to choose one or the other when you reboot.)

So, to answer your question, since I don't want to leave you empty-handed:

  • The phrase you want to search for is "dual boot"

There will be plenty of results that will help get something like that setup.

Since it's not really something for the mainstream consumer, it's not something I spend a lot of time with. It's also not something I advise for the casual (or for the average) consumer.

Article C5324 - May 10, 2012 « »

Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

Not what you needed?

May 10, 2012 2:00 PM

I no longer use a dual boot system, but I used to have Windows/Xandros linux on my computer. Worked great. Start with Windows and then install the linux. It'll partition and set up the boot screen for you. I did set this up on an old box while cleaning up some drives to get rid of them. Still works well.

May 11, 2012 8:56 AM

One scenario that might be worth while is for gaming (I mean old games that might not run or install on my Windows 7 system). Running them virtualized just won't work because they run way too slow. Nothing is worse than seeing your enemy coming around the corner and having to sit there while your virtual machine starts lagging and you get fragged!

Gord Campbell
May 11, 2012 4:49 PM

The average consumer has no interest in playing around with different operating systems, but some of us enjoy different strokes. My machines triple-boot...

May 11, 2012 6:12 PM

Two hard disks, Yes. With or without more partitions.
I do Win and Linux multi-boot. Always Puppy Linux
with other distros like Ubuntu and Mint et al. Puppy
has Gparted for partitioning and Grub4dos to gracefully
manage the boot of all the bootable partitions. With sata more then 2 drives can be managed. Yes, some of us like to play around. BW/Ron_H IBM'57

Louis Benton
May 11, 2012 10:38 PM

There are two other approaches that would be fairly easy for anyone to use.
First, if the computer has a spare 5.25" mounting space, a mobile rack such as made by Kingwin can be installed in that space and two or more trays can be used for mounting the hard drives. The second drive tray can then be installed in the rack and the second operating system installed into that drive. Switching from one operating system to the other only requires shutting down the computer, switching trays and rebooting.
The second approach would be to use a USB drive, either hard drive or flash drive, for computers that allow booting from the USB port. Attach the USB drive, insert the installation disks in the disk drive, and install the second operating system into the USB drive. In this case, the first operating system can be installed on an internal hard drive. Since the USB drive can usually be given boot priority, booting the second operating system would just require plugging the external drive into the USB port and booting up the system. There is no need to remove or disable the first drive in any way.
I believe Microsoft prevents their operating systems from booting on a USB drive, but Linux systems like Ubuntu can be installed easily and booted from either a hard or flash drive.
I have travelled for about six years with an MS OS on my laptop hard drive, and a Linux OS on a flash drive which I use exclusively for going safely onto the Internet. The flash drive only needs to be 8GB, so it is inexpensive for me to test out a new OS distribution without risking anything on my day-to-day OS.

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