FreeBSD on a PC with Windows

Jerry McAllister jerrymc at
Fri Dec 7 10:40:58 PST 2007

On Fri, Dec 07, 2007 at 11:10:28PM +1100, David Morton wrote:

> I have been out of work so long (since being diagnosed as autistic and
> scared) that even as an IT professional, I now get very anxious about
> messing with my PC.
> However, I got a magazine that included FreeBSD/i386 6.2 on the DVD and I
> have always wanted to play with BSD.  My past experience included UNIX
> System V, some Solaris 7 or 8, and other variants, so you know a bit of
> history.
> Anyway, I have a laptop preinstalled with Vista Home Premium and I would
> like to also run BSD on it.  In reading your installation documentation, I
> do not see anything that suggests I can install FreeBSD onto my PC without
> wiping Windows.

The process is fairly easy.  It it called 'dual booting' and is covered
in the FreeBSD Handbook.   I have done this on numerous machines over
the last ten years or so.  The basic steps are as follows -- but you
should study up on each yourself.

 -- Make room to install FreeBSD.   FreeBSD does not require a dedicated
    disk, but it does require at least one dedicated primary slice - which
    is called a primary partition in MS World.  Making room can consist of
    any of:  
      - Use a separate disk
      - Shrink the existing slice[s] (primary partitions) and create a
        new slice in the freed up space.
      - delete an existing slice (primary partition) and turn it in to
        a FreeBSD slice.
    Probably the middle one is what you will need to do on a laptop.
    First of all, you need to know that both MS and FreeBSD allow only
    four (4) slices - which MS calls primary partitions.  MS allows some
    various kinds of extended 'partition' and FreeBSD permits you to 
    subdivide the slice in to pieces which it calls partitions - nice

    To shrink the existing slice[s] you need some specialized piece of
    software.   Some come with FreeBSD that will do the job for older MS
    filesystem types such as FAT, but they will not shrink NTFS and most
    new systems are coming with NTFS.   So, there are some commercial
    utilities and a couple of new freeware versions that some people have
    spoken highly of.    I have sucessfully used Partition Magic 7.0 many
    times to shrink and convert primary partitions.   But it does not work
    on USB disks.   So recently I got Partition Magic 8.0 which claims to
    work on USB, but I could not get it to work.  It failed to run from
    booting from CD.    I got a rescue disk version running, but it wouldn't
    even see my new USB 2 harddisk let alone work on it.  So, I sent it
    back for a refund.  - NOTE Amazon-Nothing But Software was good about
    doing the refund promptly.   Anyway, see if you can get a 7.0 version
    of PM and use it.   Another I haven't tried is Partition Commander.  I
    have heard some people say it works well.    There are also a couple of
    fairly new freeware utilities I have heard people say good things about.
    One is called 'Gparted' and it is an ISO you download, burn on to a CD
    and boot from.  I can't remember the other one at the moment, but it 
    is supposed to look a lot like working with Partition Magic 7.0.

    Run the utility, whatever it is.   Shrink the existing slice/primary
    partition.   They will probably use MS terminology and so will probably
    call it a primary partition.  Try to free up 10 GB or more if you can.
    Have the utility create a primary partition in the newly freed up space.
    It must be a primary partition type - not an extended partition.
    Partition Magic and maybe some of the other utilities will whine and
    complain if you try to make a second primary partition and tell you it
    could make the system unbootable, but it works just fine since you 
    will shortly be turning that primary partition type in to a FreeBSD
    type slice which MS will not recognize and will ignore.   Just make it
    create a primary partition with a FAT32 type file system in the freed 
    up space.  (That will change when you do the FreeBSD install)

    Finish up the process and get out of the utility and remove the 
    utility's boot CD or floppy.
    NOTE: If you are using Partition Magic, it works much better to make
          the 'rescue floppies' and boot and run from them rather than an
          installed version of it.   In fact, you are prevented from 
          running it on the same disk that you are booted to.  So, with
          only one hard disk, you have to run from floppies.

    NOTE ALSO: If you have a spare slice available (remember, only 4 are
          allowed) and if your MS slice (Primary Partition) is an NTFS type,
          then you may want to make another small slice just below the
          FreeBSD slice of a couple GB and make it FAT32.   Then you would
          have some easy space to use to transfer files back and forth
          between MS and FreeBSD.   That is because, so far, FreeBSD does
          not write NTFS.   It can read it fine, but is not quite ready to
          write - although I heard that progress is being made.  So, then
          you might have slice 1 = Diag/recover, slice 2 = MS (Vista, XP),
          slice 3 = FAT32 transfer space, slice 4 = FreeBSD.

 -- Once you have the disk properly redivided with room to install FreeBSD
    then put in the FreeBSD install disk and start it up and do the install.
    The only significant thing to check on is to make sure you are
    installing to the right place.  Slices are numbered 1,2,3,4.  Your
    new free slice will be at least number 2 and maybe as high as number 4,
    depending on how many others are used for the MS OS.  If there is a diag
    slice and an MS OS slice, it will be 3 and if they also add an MS data
    slice, then it will be 4.    Lets say, for example that it is 3 and
    that your disk is SATA.   The disk name would be ad0 and the disk slice
    full name would be ad0s3 (If the disk is SCSI or SAS or USB, it would
    be da0 and the slice would be da0s3, but SATA is the most likely).  You
    can look through the dmesg output from the boot to find out what type
    of disk it is.   It will show up in the beginning of the lines that
    tell about the disks.   Just look for ad0 or da0 -- if there was a 
    second disk, it would be ad1 or da1 - disks are numbered starting 
    with 0.  

    In the installer it will give you a list of slices to install to.
    Just make sure you select the one that you intend to use for FreeBSD.
    Don't select the one[s] MS is on.

 -- Next, you have to decide how you want to divide the new FreeBSD slice.
    Actually, you should do this before you start the installer, after you
    know about how much space you freed up from shrinking the other stuff. 
    Let's say you freed up just a mite over 16GB (16384 MB).   
    The following might be good.

       /      192  MB
       swap   1024 MB   (eg 1 GB)
       /tmp   256  MB
       /usr   2048 MB
       /var   2048 MB
       /home  all the rest -  around 10820 MB minus some system use.

    That would give you some room to install a few things and experiment,
    but not to run any major size server type application or to build
    something as big as openoffice (install that from prebuilt packages
    anyway.   It is too big to bother building from source)

    If you are going to build and install some bigger stuff - Apache 
    and Firefox for example, you will want to make /usr much bigger
    and move /usr/ports to /home and make a link.

    Alternatively, you might want to just have / and swap so everything
    goes in to / (root).   In such a small system that is also private, that 
    can be a useful way to do it, but in larger systems, there are advantages
    of breaking things up separating things.  Handling backups and recoveries
    and walling off potential runaway processes filling disk are the biggest 
    reasons for breaking things up.    Ease of building a system is a reason
    for putting it all (except for swap) in one partition/filesystem. Swap
    should be in its own space.

 -- Then get on past the disk build and go on to installing stuff.  Decide
    what you want to install - you should also think about this before hand - 
    and choose those items and let it run.   It will ask you where to install
    from.   If you have a good internet connection, do the install from
    the net - ftp site.   If not, install from the CD/DVD.  Make sure to
    install the ports tree.   

 -- Do a system upgrade to get any security fixes and have the ports tree
    updated.    That is using csup.   You have to create a csup config file.
    The process is pretty well documented.   The update takes place over
    the net.    To do it, you will have to have included source in your

 -- You will also want to install Xorg.  Probably
    you will also want Firefox and Thunderbird, openoffice (from a prebuilt
    package) and maybe some games.   Some people think KDE and Gnome are
    essential, but I don't really like them.   For Xorg to be usable,
    you will need some XWindows manager, but a simpler one may be better.
    I happen to use AfterStep.   There are a couple of others that are
    less bloated too.   I can't think of the names at the moment.

 -- Get on the machine, log in and experiment around.   Make sure you make
    a regular account for yourself and put that in the wheel group so you
    can su to root when needed to manage the system.

 -- have fun.


> I also have restricted web access so cannot access you web site, so I would
> like to know if FreeBSD will install in a way that will not kill Windows on
> my PC?
> I have to ask this, because I once had an old PC and put Solaris on it, and
> that required a dedicated drive.  The PC is now dead, so I have to make it
> all work on one machine.
> Thanks, David
> David Morton
> E: totoaus at
> M: 0400 560 330
> H: 03 6295 0278
> 80 Rocky Bay Road
> Deep Bay, TAS 7112
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