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How to Set Your Mac to Multi-boot

written by: Chris Neal•edited by: Michael Dougherty•updated: 5/18/2011

This short how-to guide will tell you how to set up Apple's Boot Camp system on your Mac, so that you can have a multi-boot system with both Mac OS X and Windows.

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    Introduction

    Since Apple switched to using Intel processors it has been possible to run other Intel-compatible operating systems on a Mac, and with Apple's Boot Camp software you can have both Mac OS X and Windows installed on your Mac at the same time, and switch between them easily. This simple guide to multi-booting Macs will give you an overview of the Boot Camp setup process and tell you what to look out for.

    Before we begin let's talk about why you may want to do this, what the benefits are, and what operating systems are supported. Mac OS X should be just fine for all your needs, and most of the time it is, but sometimes you may need to run Windows. For example, there may be a web application you want to use that requires Internet Explorer, or your favourite game may not be available for Mac OS X. Having both Mac OS X and Windows available on your Mac gives you greater flexibility to run what you want, when you want it. You could even install Linux on your Mac but that is outside the scope of this guide.

    Boot Camp supports Windows XP (Service Pack 2), Windows Vista (all editions), and Windows 7. From now on I'm just going to refer to the new OS as "Windows", since the installation steps are pretty much the same whichever version you choose.

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    Pre-flight Checks

    Before you install Boot Camp and Windows there are a few important steps to take care of.

    1. First -- and most important -- backup your data! We are about to make low-level changes to your Mac's hard disk and as always with operations like this there is a small risk of losing the disk's current contents. Always backup and make sure you are able to restore from that backup.
    2. Next, check your available disk space. According to Apple you can install Boot Camp with as little at 10Gb of available space, but practically you'll need more than that. How much more will depend on what you want to use Windows for, but a good default to consider is to allocate 32Gb to Windows. This would give you enough space for any version of Windows plus a few applications and games, while leaving the bulk of your disk for Mac OS X. Now is a good time to do a little housekeeping by deleting any unwanted files and applications to free up additional space, because however much space you allocate to Boot Camp you will in effect "lose" that space when running Mac OS X.
    3. Next, make sure you're running the latest version of Mac OS software by running Software Update (click the Apple menu, then "Software Update"), then installing any available updates.
    4. The final piece of prep is to locate the Mac OS installation disc that came with your computer and your Windows installation disc (you need to provide this yourself; it's not included as part of Boot Camp).

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      Install Boot Camp and Windows

      Boot Camp Assistant OK, now we're ready to start.

      1. Run the Boot Camp Assistant, which you will find in Applications > Utilities. Once the wizard loads the first thing you are prompted to do is to print the Boot Camp Installation & Setup Guide, which goes into much more detail than this guide so it would be sensible to print it.
      2. Click Continue and you'll be presented with the Boot Camp partition selection screen. This shows your Mac's internal hard disk represented as a rectangle, with a sliding partition line. To the left of the line is the Mac OS side of the disk, and to the right is the space that you want to allocate to Boot Camp and Windows. Drag the line to left and right and you will see the relative space allocations change. Set the line where you want, either by dragging it or by selecting one of the buttons "Divide Equally" or "Use 32 GB", then click Partition.
      3. Once the Boot Camp Assistant has finished creating the partition it will prompt you to insert your Windows disc and restart the computer to begin installing Windows.
      4. Install Windows in the usual way according to Microsoft's instructions.

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      Boot Camp Drivers

      By the time the Windows installation completes you should be running Windows on your Mac! You're not quite done yet though. In order to get your system optimised you'll need to install some drivers from Apple. Insert your Mac OS X installation disc, and if the installation doesn't start automatically browse for the file SETUP.EXE in the Boot Camp folder and run it..

      bootcamp control panel 

      The installer includes drivers to make Apple peripherals work under Windows, such as your Airport wireless adapter and the iSight webcam. It will also install a Boot Camp control panel applet and put a Boot Camp icon in the Windows System Tray.

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      Switching Between Operating Systems

      Once the Boot Camp Drivers are installed your new Windows installation will be ready to use. Now let's look at how you switch between running Windows and Mac OS X. There are a couple of ways to do this. To set your default operating system you use either the Startup Disk pane in System Preferences (Mac), or the Boot Camp Control Panel (Windows). bootcamp cp2 bootcamp menu In either one select the disk or operating system you want to boot by default. In Windows you can also click the Boot Camp icon in the System Tray and choose "Restart in Mac OS X". This will do what it says and will also set Mac OS X to be the new default.

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      You can also do a one-off switch when the computer starts up. To do this, hold down the Option key (the one in between Ctrl and Cmd) as you switch your Mac on and keep it held down until you see a Startup Disk Selector like this, with icons for each bootable operating system on your computer. Just click the one you want to boot and then click the arrow beneath it, and your chosen system will boot, without changing the default. So, say for example you have Mac OS X set as your default but you just want to run Windows for an hour or so... If you reboot and follow these instructions you can select Windows to boot, and when you're finished with it just restart and your Mac will automatically boot back into Mac OS X.Bootup Screen 

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      Other Goodies

      There are a couple of other neat things you can do once you have Boot Camp and Windows set up on your Mac:Windows drive C in Finder 

      Just go to Finder and you'll see your Windows disk listed in the sidepane below your Macintosh HD. Click on it and you can browse through the files on your Windows file system.Access the Windows "C drive" from Mac OS X

      If you have VMware Fusion you can boot your Boot Camp Windows instance from there, and have Mac OS X and Windows running at the same time (assuming you have sufficient RAM, that is).

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      Removing Boot Camp

      If you ever want to remove Boot Camp and Windows it's simple. Just run Disk Utility under Mac OS X and delete the Boot Camp partition to reclaim the disk space. Be warned though that this will completely wipe out Windows and any data files that you may have created.

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      Being able to run Windows as well as Mac OS X makes your Mac even more useful. Following these steps (and not forgetting to print off Apple's own setup guide!) should make setting up multi-boot on your Mac plain sailing.

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