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Starting From Scratch

In this section we will cover the process of taking a computer with a completely blank hard drive, installing the operating systems of your choice, and creating a multi-boot menu with System Commander 2000. This process should only be used when you want to set up a brand-new computer or if you want to erase your current hard drive (because it is beyond salvation) for the purpose of setting up a multi-boot environment. If you already have the basic setup (System Commander and several operating systems installed) and just need to reinstall an operating system or create/restore a drive image, skip to the appropriate chapter later in this guide.

What Is The State Of Affairs On Your Hard Drive?

Before you even think about installing anything, you need to figure out the current state of affairs on your hard drive, and come up with a partitioning scheme. Getting organized, thinking it out and planning the installation before starting out will save you a lot of potential problems in the future.

  1. Insert either the MS-DOS 6.22 Boot Disk or the Windows 98 Boot Disk into the floppy drive.

    It doesn't really matter which disk you choose, both will get you to a DOS prompt. Booting with the Windows 98 Boot Disk will take a little longer, though, so if you're the impatient type and want to shave valuable seconds off of this procedure, I suggest using the MS-DOS 6.22 Boot Disk.

  2. Start the machine and let it boot.

    If you boot with the Windows 98 disk, you'll be prompted to start with or without CD-ROM support. Choose Without, you don't need it at this point. If you boot with the MS-DOS disk, you'll be prompted to enter the date and time. Just press Enter twice. Either way, you'll end up at a DOS prompt.

  3. When you're at the A:\> prompt, remove the boot disk and insert the Partition Magic 5.01 (PM5) floppy disk.

  4. Type pqmagic and press Enter.

    Since you're running the program from the floppy disk, it will take about a minute or two to load, that's normal. This would be a great opportunity to go get some coffee. When the main screen appears, you'll see a graphical view of your hard drive as well as a more detailed table. If you're setting up your computer for the first time, the drive should be empty with no partitions available. The graphic should show a long gray bar with the description Unallocated in the table below it.

  5. If the drive has been used before and contains partitions, simply right-click on each displayed partition and select Delete. To confirm this step, you first need to type the letters OK, and then click the OK button.

    Please make sure that you are working with the right computer and hard drive because this operation will wipe out any information on the partitions you delete.

Make A Battle Plan

After removing all existing partitions and applying the changes, think about how you're going to lay out the drive. Ask these questions:

  • How many operating systems do I want to be able to boot?
  • How big is the drive?
  • What file system do I want to use for each operating system?

The following table shows the partitions layout scheme that we will use.

Table 1: Partitions Layout Scheme

  Partition 1 Partition 2 Partition 3 Partition 4
Operating System MS-DOS 6.22 Windows NT 4 Windows 98 Windows 2000
File System FAT NTFS4 FAT32 NTFS5
Partition Type Primary Primary Primary Primary
Partition Size/MB 1,950 2,500 1,500 3,000

Order of Installation

The order of installation is important. The first partition must be a primary FAT partition under 2 GigaBytes (GB). On this partition you will install MS-DOS 6.22, install System Commander (the software that makes this multi-boot environment possible), store any drive images of each operating system (OS) you'll create later, and install additional tools such as Drive Image and Partition Magic. That way everything is organized in one spot at the beginning of the drive. The reason for the odd size of 1,950 MegaBytes (MB) for the first partition, is that the second partition contains Windows NT 4, which needs to be installed in a partition that starts within the first 2 GB of the physical hard drive. If you installed NT 4 on a partition that starts after the first 2 GB of the physical drive, you could not boot into NT 4. Windows 98 (Win 98) and Windows 2000 (Win 2K) do not have this limitation and therefore can be installed pretty much anywhere on the drive.

Choosing a File System

Choosing a file system for each OS is as important as the order of installation because not every OS supports each file system. The following table explains what OS supports what file system.

Table 2: File Systems

Operating System Supported File Systems
Windows 3.1 FAT
Windows 95 and 95A FAT
Windows 95B and 95C FAT, FAT32
Windows 98 and 98 Second Edition FAT, FAT32
Windows NT 4 FAT, NTFS4, NTFS5 (SP4 or higher only!)
Windows 2000 FAT, FAT32, NTFS4, NTFS5

Table 3: Recommended File Systems

Partition File System Choice(s)
Windows NT 4 NTFS
Windows 98 FAT32
Windows 2000 NTFS

Table 3 shows our recommended file systems for each OS, but if you require a particular file system other than recommended, select as needed from the file systems available in Table 3. Our recommendation for MS-DOS partitions is FAT, which is the only choice you have. For your NT 4 partition, you want to choose NTFS because it is superior to FAT in many ways. For your Windows 98 partition, you want to choose FAT32 because it is more efficient than FAT. For your Windows 2000 partition, you want to choose NTFS because it is superior to FAT in many ways. If you're interested in more detail about the different Windows file systems and their pros and cons, go to:

Partition Type

There are three different types of partitions: primary, extended, and logical. All Microsoft operating systems need to be installed into a primary partition because they require being in a bootable/active partition, and primary partitions are the only type of partition that can be set active and made bootable. Due to an old legacy limitation of the Master Boot Record (MBR), any physical hard drive can contain up to 4 primary partitions only, which limits the number of operating systems in Table 1's Partition Layout scheme to 4. Setting up partitions this way is essential to how System Commander, the software you'll use later to choose which OS to boot, makes multi-booting possible. Let's look at how the boot process normally works with only one operating system.

Note: There are actually ways to boot Microsoft operating systems from a logical partition. The process is a little bit more involved though, and only recommended for the more advanced user. Since this article is geared towards users that are relatively new to multi-booting, we won't go into detail about this topic here. But you can read more about it here:

When you turn on the PC, the BIOS runs its checks and then reads the first sector of the first hard drive, which contains the MBR. The MBR contains a table of the partitions of the drive and the initial boot program. This program knows on what partition to find the OS and how to boot it. (If you want to know all the details about this process, check this out:

System Commander replaces the initial boot program by installing its own boot program. System Commander's boot program can then load the actual System Commander program and present you with a menu. System Commander's menu allows you to select from the installed OSs.

When you select your OS to boot, System Commander sets active the primary partition on which the OS of choice is installed. Since only primary partitions can be set active and made bootable, any partition you might want to boot from needs to be a primary one.

Another detail to remember is that Partition Magic, the tool we use to create all the primary partitions, hides all inactive (non-bootable) primary partitions. When those other partitions are hidden, they automatically become invisible to the OS you're booting. If you look at the available drives after booting your OS, you'll notice that only the partition you selected (plus any floppy and/or CD-ROM drives) show up but none of the other partitions with the other OSs on them.

Our third partition type, extended partitions, is a container for logical partitions. If you want to create more than 4 partitions on your drive, one of the first four partitions you create must be an extended partition. Inside this extended partition you can then create up to 24 logical partitions. The limitation of 24 partitions comes from the fact that hard drive letters begin with C: and the alphabet contains 26 letters.

Partition Size

The first partition needs to be smaller than 2 GB (for the reasons explained earlier in "Order of Installation," that's why the 1,950 MB size was chosen).

If you plan to install Windows NT 4, it needs to go into the second partition. To successfully install NT 4, you need to know about another limitation. The maximum size of a bootable partition to install NT 4 on is 7.8 GB again due to some legacy BIOS limitations of addressing hard drives by Cylinder/Head/Sector. Therefore be sure to keep the size of your NT 4 partition under 7.8 GB. If you want to get geeky, you can read the technical explanation of this limitation here:

Another limitation you should be aware of just in case you are thinking about using the FAT file system is that FAT (also known as FAT16) can only handle partitions up to 2 GB in size. If you're interested in the technical explanation of this limitation, check out this article:

The size of the Windows 98 and Windows 2000 partition is pretty much up to you as both file systems, FAT32 and NTFS5, support disk sizes of tons o' Gigs. The Table 1: Partition Layout Scheme example is for a 9 GB drive. If your drive is bigger or smaller, you probably want to adjust the partition sizes accordingly, as long as you keep the limitations explained earlier in mind.

When you choose the size of your partition keep in mind that a Windows installation can take roughly between 100 and 700 MB, depending on the version and what options you choose. You also want to leave some room for the swap file and any applications you want to install, therefore you should make your partitions at least 1 GB/1,000MB or bigger.

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