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The XP/Linux/OSX Triple Boot Box
Sunday, December 07, 2008 - 11:21:43 am PDT
Posted by :: Aaron

First off, go here and donate your money.

I've got a couple of projects I've been working on lately that are semi-related. I've been trying to redesign this site a bit, to get my Twitter updates on it, since that's what I update most these days. Also, I want to build a RAID storage device so we can centrally store our photos and movies. But I've also had it in my mind to get a triple boot machine working. That being a computer that can boot into Windows XP, Linux, and Mac OSX Leopard.

The last is what is typically seen as the hardest, since Apple has purposefully created a system which makes sure only Apple hardware can be used with OSX. These efforts, it seems to me now, have been largely a waste of time, as I'll show.

There are pretty much three ways that I was thinking of doing this.
  1. Build a machine based off of the Linux boot loader.
  2. VMware the whole thing.
  3. Have separate drives for each OS and boot with the BIOS selector.
I ended up choosing the third option, partly because the motherboard makes it so easy, and partly because I really wanted true installs so I could try out the ext4 filesystem. Here's the hardware I ended up using.
  1. Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-X38-DQ6
  2. Processor: Intel Core 2 Quad
  3. RAM: 4GB DDR2
  4. Graphics: Nvidia 8800GTX 786MB
  5. XP Drive: 150GB WD Raptor 10,000rpm NTFS format
  6. Linux Drive: 150GB Seagate 7,200 rpm ext4
  7. OSX Drive: 350GB WD 7,200 rpm HFS+
  8. Storage Drive: 750GB WD 7,200 rpm NTFS
All the drives are SATA2, and are all stored in the very quiet and totally awesome Coolermaster Cosmos case.I've also got a Zalman Cooler on the processor which is basically just a massive hunk of copper, and makes processor cooling quiet and efficient.

Windows XP is highly limited in the reading and writing of other file systems. There are drivers for ext2/3 and for HFS+ but they're add-ons to the operating system, and when it comes to something as basic as a file you want to trust add on code for that? I don't. So my storage drive is NTFS. This has my movies, photos, mp3s, and any software that I download on it. It's the central repository for all my backups. Soon it will be backed up in a RAID, but for right now, because all the OS's I've chosen can read/write NTFS it means I can easily have access to all my media on any of the boots.

To be safe, I unplugged any of the other drives when installing an OS. I wanted everything contained on a single drive. Since XP is already installed, I went to Fedora next. I choose Fedora because I wanted to try ext4 (file system) on Linux. ext4 is the newest (still sort of beta) version of the standard Linux ext file system. Unless you're a geek you probably don't care, but if you're not a geek you probably haven't made it this far anyway. Anyway, the Fedora install was as easy as anything. It was definitely faster and easier than installing OSX. I did have a little trouble with the disk format/partitioning, but I sense that was because I was using ext4 which is not yet really the live choice for Fedora. I toyed around with Fedora for a bit, loading all the required stuff, and getting the browser plug-ins working. This site was immensely helpful. You can pretty much walk down that FAQ and run line after line to get yourself on track. Totally simple. I have one problem I haven't fixed yet, but it has to do with the dual monitors I have. I think I just haven't tried hard enough yet.

OS X was the most interesting. First of all, get a goddamn license. I mean if you're going to do this, support the software. Apple is a little more lenient with this action that a Microsoft would be, but don't kid yourself, technically you're breaking the license anyway. The most useful sites for this process are OSx86 and the linked install guide. The boys and girls at iDeneb have done a hell of a job here, because quite frankly I was expecting this to be a nightmare, and it turned out to be easy as cake. You have to bit torrent the install, but once you do that it's really just a matter of burning and installing it. There's one point that tripped me up, and that was the Customization. You MUST customize the install, which the linked guide talks about briefly. There are basically a bunch of hacks for non-Apple hardware that have to be run, and you need to choose the hardware and kernel packages that run them. In my case I had to select the Nvidia stuff, the correct Kernel patch for my motherboard which a quick glance at your mother board docs should reveal (chipset), and then anything else like Audio that might apply. I got to toy around with it last night a bit, and it's smooth as silk. Both it and Fedora that much better advantage of my chip and memory. The machine sings.

Now that this is done, I'm going to get my NAS up and running, do automated backups to Amazon's S3 service, and finish my Twitter daemon which is a work side project. But first I need to update this site...and write a novel...and sand down the basement door...and drink a lot.

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