Yesterday I got my new DELL XPS 15. The first thing I wanted to do was to remove the bloated OEM system and to install Fedora 17 and a fresh Windows 7 for occasional gaming.
My XPS has a 750GB HDD and a 32GB SSD which is used as a cache by default. The plan was to use the SSD as a standalone hard drive containing the system-relevant linux partitions and to put the /home partition and Windows on the HDD. I can say that I’m impressed by the speed of my Fedora system now and can recommend this configuration. However, I had to overcome some unexpected obstacles, so here are the steps which should get you a working dual-boot system without much googling and swearing
1. Create the recovery medium
You have to decide whether it is neccessary or whether it makes sense to create the recovery media using DELL’s DataSafe application. Since DELL isn’t shipping any installation discs with some of it’s notebooks anymore this might be a good idea. On the other hand you can get a new Windows installation disc from the internet.
2. Change SATA Operation Mode
By default the SSD is used as a cache for the HDD. You can change this behaviour in the BIOS of your notebook. Just start the notebook and press F2 during boot. You can set the SATA Operation Mode from Intel’s caching strategy to AHCI which will allow you to use the SSD as a ordinary hard drive.
3. Flush hard drive metadata
The hard drives are configured with some crazy kind of RAID (maybe this has to do with the caching). Unless you remove the metadata from the hard drives you won’t be able to change the partition tables properly using Gparted.
In order to remove the metadata you have to boot the Fedora 17 Live CD (or Knoppix or something else), go to the terminal and execute:
su dmraid -r -E /dev/sda dmraid -r -E /dev/sdb
4. Create a new partition for Windows
Now you can use GParted to create a new partition for Windows 7. The Live CD doesn’t include Gparted and Wifi isn’t working by default, so you have to plug in an Ethernet cable and install Gparted:
su yum install gparted
Then you can start it:
Go to “GParted > Devices > /dev/sda” (which is the HDD) and then choose “Device > Create partition table” and use the default settings. Now you can create a new partition on the HDD by clicking on “Parition > New”. Place the partition at the beginning of the harddrive, choose the desired size (I chose 200GB) and set the file system to NTFS.
Now you have prepared the notebook for the installation of Windows 7.
5. Install Windows 7
You can install Windows 7 now. You can either use a DVD if you have one or burn an image which you can get from DigitalRiver (download links). Just insert the boot media and restart the XPS. The installation steps should be self-explanatory. Choose the NTFS partition as the installation target.
6. Install Fedora 17
After you have installed Windows you can install Fedora. Therefore you have to insert the Fedora 16 Live CD (or the installation DVD) and reboot the system. During the installation you will be asked how you want the partitions to be structured. You can let Fedora try to “Use Free Space” and click “Next” to get an idea on which partition sizes Fedora decided to be appropriate. In my case the layout wasn’t ideal so I chose to create a custom layout:
7. Install bootloader
In my case GRUB hadn’t been installed properly so I had to boot the Fedora 17 DVD!, choose “Troubleshooting” and then the rescue system. From there I could chroot my Fedora system on the hard drive and reinstall GRUB to sda:
chroot /mnt/sysimage grub2-install /dev/sda
8. Update Fedora
GRUB should now be available at startup and you should be able to start Fedora. Wifi won’t work by default, but after updating the whole system over Ethernet (from kernel 3.2.* to 3.5.*) there were no problems anymore.
Now you can enjoy a lightning-SSD-fast Fedora and try to find some spare time to play some Windows games 😉