How to Install Three Operating Systems on One Laptop

January 26, 2019

This posting is part of a multi-part series on configuring a laptop with three different operating systems using systemd-boot. The series starts with How to Install Three Operating Systems on One Laptop.

For as long as I have had a personal computer I’ve always wanted to explore different operating systems and their associated ecosystems. My first Gateway 2000 computer (a 486 SX that ran at 33 MHz) came with Windows 3. I promptly formated the drive and installed IBM’s OS 2 Warp. Later that machine would have Windows 3.1 and Windows 2000 installed on it. I also toyed around with BeOS.

For the past 17 years I’ve been a staunch macOS user on my daily driver laptop. And for the past 10 years I’ve been fortunate enough to use macOS in my professional life too. Either through VirtualBox or on a spare computer (when I had one) I’ve toyed around with Linux through a number of different distros. Red Hat, Fedora, Ubuntu, Debian, and Arch. I even went so far as to install Arch Linux on a MacBook Pro. (Note: This how to is very out of date.)

About 18 months ago I bought an ASUS Q325UA 2-in-1 laptop. It has become my Linux test bed. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve formatted its SSD and installed a different OS or combination of OSes. I’m employed as a Systems Engineer supporting a mixed environment of Linux and Windows servers. Ubuntu Server is the Linux variant the vast majority of our infrastructure runs, with a handful of RedHat machines.

With that in mind I’ve decided to triple boot my Asus, installing Windows 10, Arch Linux, and Ubuntu 18.04 LTS Desktop. And, for no reason other than I haven’t used it before, I wanted to use systemd-boot in place of GRUB2 for the boot loader. The Asus supports UEFI so systemd-boot will work.

The Windows 10 partition is mostly to have a Windows install, I don’t expect to use it very much. The Asus has a 500GB SSD, and I’m going to give Windows 120GB. Both Arch and Ubuntu will have a 60GB root + home partition. The remaining 240-ish GB will be a shared ext4 file system mounted in both Linux installations. That way I can keep distribution specific settings and configurations separately from data, pictures, and documents.

On paper here’s how this breaks down:

Since Windows doesn’t play well with others it is best to install it first and then add the second (and third) operating system. By default the Windows installer creates a 100M EFI partition. This was large enough for the Arch kernals, but not for Arch and Ubuntu. My first attempt at this failed when trying to set up systemd-boot after the Ubuntu install. Had I been content to use Grub the installation of all three systems would have been done. In order to accommodate systemd-boot and two Linux distributions, I started over and increased the size of the EFI partition the Windows installer creates.

The postings linked to below detail the set up processes I followed. I don’t go into personalization or configuration beyond having a working, network attached instance of each operating system.

As always with computer how to articles found on the Internet you should take care in following along. Backup your data. Be prepared for it to not work and to have to search for answers. Be willing to start over. More than once. Have fun.

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Mark H. Nichols

I am a husband, cellist, code prole, nerd, technologist, and all around good guy living and working in fly-over country. You should follow me on Twitter.