How to Replace Windows XP with Linux for Free


XP user, I am talking to you. In April 2014, your favorite operating system stopped being officially supported by Microsoft. Now, there's no reason for panic, but this is a good opportunity to start considering alternatives. Without going into too many details, the free and exciting option is to try Linux.

Indeed today we will demonstrate how to dual-boot an existing Windows XP installation with the latest edition of Linux Mint, a highly popular Linux distribution, while retaining all the important user data you have. Naturally, this is somewhat of an advanced topic, so you might need to invest a little time reading, but overall, the exercise should be worth the effort. In the end, you will have a fully functional dual-boot setup for all your needs, with XP on one end and a modern, stylish Linux Mint 17 Qiana on the other. Let's rock.

Preliminary checklist

Installing a new operating system on hardware that already hosts other systems as well as your critical data is not a trivial thing, and should not be treated that way. True, you can just click around and pray for the best. But we want to do this with elegance and confidence. To wit, you should invest some time making sure you have all the tools to make the dual-boot transition painless and fool-proof.

Data backup & imaging

If your data is safe, then everything else becomes secondary. You should make sure that you have a copy of your files somewhere, preferably on a separate hard disk, or even a separate machine. Furthermore, you might want to image the Windows XP installation, so if something goes wrong, you can easily revert. I highly recommend you do not do anything unless you have a verifiable copy of your personal stuff backed up in another location.

Understanding of basic Linux concepts and tools

I am going to do a small amount of extra linking here, so I apologize in advance. But reading these articles will help you master the subject matter, and help you understand this tutorial. For starters, you might want to check my older dual-boot guides, including XP & Ubuntu tutorial, Windows 7 & Ubuntu tutorial and the latest Windows 8 & Ubuntu article. Then, to understand disk notation and partitioning, please take a look at my GParted guide. Last but not the least, the bootloader section.

Windows XP overview

Now that we know what we want and need, let's take a look at our Windows XP installation. So we have a a system with two hard disks. The C: drive is located on the 10GB first disk, and it spans the entire size of the disk, i.e. we have one partition. The E: drive contains data, and it is located on the 20GB second disk. Once again, it spans the entire disk, i.e. we also have one partition there. Our system is not really designed for any dual-booting.

Disk status


Disk management

This means we will have to adjust the layout to be able to install and use Linux Mint. Therefore, what we are going to do is the following: We will boot into the Mint live session. This can be done from the ISO image, a DVD drive or a USB drive. The exact steps will depend on your setup. Now, if you are not really sure where to obtain the Linux Mint image, how to download it or copy/burn it to external media, and how to make your system boot another operating system, then you should stop right now, go back up, do your necessary reading, and resume when you're ready and knowledgeable.

All right, but assuming that you are, then we will need to adjust the disk and partition layout. We will not mess with the C: drive. We will change the E: drive. In other words, we will shrink the one partition that corresponds to the E: drive in Windows, and in the freed space, we will create several new partitions that will be used as the target for the Linux Mint 17 Qiana installation. We will do all this from the live Mint session, using tools already available in the distribution. Now, let's boot into Linux.

Linux Mint overview

There are two sides to the Linux exploration coin. One is getting familiar with a completely new user interface, new phrases, new terminology, and a new mode of work. However, this is true for pretty much any operating system, and therefore, we won't spend too much time on this. Instead, we will focus on the more critical part of making the right disk and partition changes and installing Linux Mint. After that, the fun of discovering the beauty and flexibility of this new operating system will be your home work.

Live session


We will begin by changing the disk layout. To that end, launch the GParted partition editor. The software is available in the system menu, and you can search for it by name. Once launched, the program will display the existing layouts for all available disks. In our case, we have two disks. The first one is what we refer to as the C: drive in Windows, and it is labeled sda here. The second one corresponds to the E: drive, and it is labeled sdb. We will edit the latter.

First disk

Second disk

Resize partition

Let's begin with the resizing. Right-click on the /dev/sdb1 partition, choose Resize/Move. Then, adjust the size to a smaller value. We will go down from 20GB to just 4GB, but any size goes. Do note that Linux Mint requires at least 8GB to install successfully.


However, there are some additional consideration here. A proper Linux installation includes a minimum of three partitions. The root partition (/) contains system files. The swap partition is used for memory swapping, a-la virtual memory page file in Windows. You might want to make it the size of your physical RAM. This means something like 2-3GB for most systems running Windows XP 32-bit, because that used to be the physical limitation. But if you have more, that's fine too.

Lastly, there's the user data, known as home (/home) partition. This one does not have to exist, and you can just go with the root partition. But it is very convenient to have it, for the same reason you want those extra drives for your data in Windows. In case you need to reinstall or change things, you do not have to lose your user setup. And it's much easier to back stuff up and restore later.

Therefore, going down to 4GB sounds prudent. This means we can create a 10GB root, a 2GB swap, and the remainder will be used for the home partition. Furthermore, the NTFS partition corresponding to the E: drive will also be available in Linux Mint, since most distributions can natively mount, read and write Windows partitions. So you do not really lose anything, and there's a lot of place to grow and store data, if needed.

Change size

Finished resizing

The changes will not be committed until you hit Apply, so you need not worry if you do not like your setup. You can always start from scratch. At the moment, we have a single resize operation pending. We will now add a few more tasks to the list. We need to create additional partitions.

Create new partitions

Remember the earlier three-partition suggestion? We can do that right away. The thing is, you should consider creating an Extended partition first, so you do not hit the limit of four primary partitions for the MS-DOS type partition table. No such limit exists with GPT, but Windows XP does not support that type, and the conversion procedure is destructive.

Therefore, MS-DOS partition table is our only option, so we will create the Extended partition to span the entire free space, the new 16GB we reclaimed just above, and in that space, we will create the root, swap and home partitions.

When creating the partitions, you will need to pay attention to a few small but important details. Size, of course. Partition type - the Extended partition is in fact a primary partition of a special kind, and it can only contain logical partitions inside it, therefore our three Linux partitions will all be logical. This is not a problem because Linux distributions do not have any problem being installed or booting from either primary or logical partitions. On a side note, Windows XP must be installed to a primary partition.

The last item of importance is the filesystem type. I recommend you use a native Linux format, one of the journaling filesystems. The best choice is to use EXT4, although you can try others. The specific benefits of each one are beyond the scope of this tutorial.

Create extended partition

Create root

Create swap

Create home

Now, you will have five operations pending. Make double sure you are confident with what you want to achieve. Once you're ready, click the right-most button in the toolbar. You will be warned, and then the changes will be applied.

Ready to partition



And here's our new partition layout. Good. Now we can install.

Partition table ready

Linux Mint installation

Start the installation wizard. Now, if you've done Linux installations before, this step will be familiar and quite easy. The installation is virtually identical to Ubuntu. Nevertheless, we will walk through all the steps, to make sure nothing is missing.

Select wizard language

This is the first step. Very simple.

Begin install

Installation prerequisites

The next step is to make sure you meet the necessary prerequisites for a successful installation. Namely, it comes down to having a network connection and 8GB free space.


Installation type

This is the really interesting part. Here, you will choose the installation type. As you can read from the wizard window, Linux Mint Qiana does see that Windows XP Professional is already installed, and it even suggests replacing the old system for you. Nice, but we will do it manually. However, if you do not wish to preserve anything from the XP installation, you can choose this option. We will have a followup article that focuses on this scenario.

Prepare partitions

We will not encrypt the data or use LVM. These are advanced topics. We will go for a manual selection of the partitions, which we have created earlier. Therefore, please click on Something else, then Continue. The next window will show the list of all your disks and partitions. We are interested in sdb.

Available partitions

Please select sdb5 and then click Change. If you recall, sdb5 is the first logical partition inside the Extended partition, both of which we have created earlier with GParted. The partition is 10GB in size. Now, we will assign it a mount point and filesystem.

Mark root

Mount point is the handle by which the partition will be visible in the installed system. This will be our system partition, known as root. Therefore, please select / in the Mount point window. We do not need to make any size changes or even format the partition, because we have done that only moments ago. But you can reformat if you feel like doing it.

Root done

We will repeat the same thing with the home partition - sdb7. There is no need to handle the swap, because the system will do that automatically. Basically, the only two changes you need at this stage, provided you've done all the partitioning and formatting using GParted, is to assign the / and /home mount points to the two partitions.

Home done

This is our layout.

Partitions prepared


Below the listed partitions, there's an option to choose a target device for the bootloader. First, please make sure you understand the concepts before dabbling, so there might be some GRUB2 homework for you. Second, we have a few options here. Namely, we have two hard disks, and we could choose to place the bootloader on either one of them. If you go for sdb, the disk containing Windows XP won't be touched, and Linux Mint will not show in the boot menu unless you change the boot order of disks in the BIOS.

If you select sda as the target, then Linux Mint will overwrite the Windows bootloader in the MBR with its own, but it will also add Windows XP to the list, so you will have a single, unified menu that allows you to boot either one of the two operating systems in your dual-boot setup. This is the recommended option.


Review & install

Please review all the options. Make sure nothing is missing. Once you're ready and confident with your choices, including the bootloader, hit Install now. The installation will begin in the background and last for about 15-20 minutes. At this time, the wizard will continue, allowing you to setup your timezone, user name and password, login options, and a few more details. Lastly, you will have a slideshow that introduces Linux Mint and can help you familiarize with some of its features.

Install now

Timezone & language

So, select your timezone and your language.



User setup

Next, create your own user. This user will also be the administrator of the box. Any time you need to elevate privileges to perform an administrative task, you will be prompted for your password via the sudo mechanism. This is slightly different from the classic root user concept in Linux, but more about that later. Choose your username, your hostname, provide a password, hopefully a strong one, and decide whether you want to login automatically or be prompted for a password. You can also encrypt your home data, but this is an advanced step. You'd better leave that for another opportunity.

User setup


You'll get a handful of nice, informative slides.

Slide 1

Slide 2

Installation complete

And soon enough, the installation should complete. After you reboot, you will have an option to boot into either one of the two operating systems, verify that everything works properly and that your data is intact, and then begin the magical tour of wonder and exploration of the world of Linux.

Installation complete


If everything went well, you will see a boot menu called GRUB, featuring both Linux Mint and Windows XP, as the last entry. Select either one to boot into the desired operating system.

Bootloader menu

First boot: Linux Mint

Let's start with Linux Mint. The first time you login, Mint will present you with a welcome screen, which provides a wealth of links to useful resources. This ought to help you find your way around. But assuming you've already made your baby steps, let's open a file manager and check the disk structure.

First login

You can see the two partitions corresponding to C: and E: drives. The system files belonging to XP as well as your personal data are all there, safe and intact. Now, the E: drive has shrunk from 20GB to 4GB, but it's all there.

C: drive

E drive

Windows XP boot

If you select the Windows XP entry in the GRUB menu, then you might also see a check disk operation running. Windows XP will detect a change in the size of the partition holding the E: drive and it will run a check disk, just to make sure everything is in order. Indeed, this should only take a few seconds.


And finally, our XP in a dual-boot configuration. Notice the new partitions in the disk management utility. Windows cannot use them because it cannot read the EXT4 filesystem, but it's all there, Windows XP works as expected, and your data is safe.

Disk management after the dual-boot setup

Congratulations, you've just mastered a dual-boot procedure with XP and Mint!


Now, it's a very good time to start learning more about Linux, how it works and what it does. The fine details of this exercise go beyond the scope of this article, but we won't leave you hanging. You might want to consult the recently published Ultimate guide to Linux for Windows users, as well as an older but still very much relevant tutorial of highly useful Linux commands & configurations. These two articles should help you make your first steps.

Finally, you might also be interesting in some customization and tweaking. Now, Linux Mint is a highly robust operating system and well suited for immediate use out of the box, so you will need little else beyond the defaults. Still, you might want to check how to enhance the Ubuntu experience.


We hope you enjoyed this article. Now, there's a whole world hiding behind the few links and ideas provided here. Your laptop might be that different from all other examples, your setup will of course be unique, and you might be struggling with other flavors of Windows. No matter, invest some time reading, circle back when you encounter something you're not quite confident, and soon enough, you will realize that Linux can be enjoyed with ease and elegance.

Specifically, Linux Mint 17 Qiana is a great choice for new and intermediate users, as well as fresh converts who want to explore Linux. For Windows XP veterans, this is an excellent opportunity to step away from their beloved operating system and try a new, free and safe alternative. Linux Mint offers a wealth of programs, multimedia codecs out of the box, security, and even a familiar mode of work, so you won't feel that much out of place with this new adventure. Finally, this tutorial provides all the necessary guidance and tips required for you to create your own smart and fun dual-boot setup.



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While Linux Mint is a great distro I would think that Lubuntu or even more appropriately LXLE ( would be a better match to the hardware that is going to be running XP. In the case of lxle the user can boot up the live dvd and give the distro a spin to see if they like it and hardware is recognized. When they decide to make a permanent move they can click on the "Install to hard drive" option. I brought several old laptops back from the dead using lxle.

Great article. I did this on my old Lenovo laptop a couple months ago with Mint 16. I first burned a live version on a flash drive and ran it. Everything ran well enough and all hardware was detected etc. I had no use for Windows XP anymore, so i installed Mint over XP and havent looked back.
I gave the old laptop to my wife and the Wife Approval Factor (WAP) has been great.
She uses it mostly for browsing and email, but has also edited work documents with the included Libre Office suite. I even installed some Karaoke software and a different Media player and i use it as my backup DJ laptop when needed.
It was a pretty seamless install and i wouldnt hesitate to do it again.
If you have no real good reason to use XP, let it go, back up your important files and let er rip.
Yeah theres a learning curve but there are lots of great support forums and people willing to help out there.

Dedoimedo has done a great job.
He wrote an article with quite some screenshots.
No doubt it took some time and effort.

Then, why is all that marvelous screenshot work spoiled by this site that for some reason is unable to work with pictures of normal size on which you can see and read what is on it, instead of those tiny little pictures that no one can read the info of?
That's a question that I ask myself over and over again whenever I read another article containing screenshots.
I j.u.s.t d.o.n't g.e.t i.t why a quality site like Gizmo's Freeware takes that decision.
Please could someone explain that to me.

There's indeed the loading time to consider. This way, it's a reasonable compromise, I guess, and each screenshot is explained in detail. Cheers, Dedoimedo

I'm talking about their original size...

Ah, ok :-)

Yes I agree then, the original uploads are bit too small I think for easy reading.

We use images of a smaller size which are clickable to a large one because otherwise the page load times would be too long for many users who would just click out. MC - Site Manager.

Don't get me wrong, I don't have a problem with a small image in the article that is clickable and leads to a large one.

It's just that I don't know any other site where the large ones small. Really.
When I click a thumbnail of a screenshot, I suspect my screen to be filled for 80% with a screenshot on which I can read what's on it. I'm sorry to say, but here at Gizmo's that rarely the case and that's what I find a pity for such a great informative site.

We do appreciate your feedback. Currently the site is being prepared for an upgrade and we are looking at image size as part of this process. MC - Site Manager.

And I do appreciate all the hard work that is put into the #1 freeware site since the beginning of time.
That's why I'm happy to hear that an upgrade (maybe including bigger screenshots; and I don't see why not - apart from disk space which shouldn't be an issue) is on its way.

Great article....I have two PC's that run Windows XP. One is loaded with stuff and the other is very clean. I intend to use the clean PC for all of my current work until I learn and get comfortable with Linux. I have a laptop that I loaded Ubuntu on and I am currently feeling my way around that operating system. So far I have found some "issues" trying to use some programs I am familiar with on XP and some hardware issues like trying to use my USB headset. I think I may want to install Mint on my PC that is loaded but do a clean install rather than a dual boot. My question is what flavor of Mint 17 do you suggest? I see that there is Cinnamon, Mate, KDE and XFCE...and for those of you who have used Mint 17, do you have any hardware or software issues?

I started off with Cinnamon but then had an issue running dual monitors with the PyKaraoke software i was running. I installed Mate and now have the choice to run either one when i boot. I changed it to default to Mate and kind of like the layout of Mate better. Try both and see which one you like. Plenty of discussion out there as to which is better.
No hardware issues with the exception of the dual monitor problem on Cinnamon which was corrected by Mate.

Each individual's experience will vary but I had mixed results trying to install additional DE's alongside the default. I would always recommend installing a distro with the DE you want as default, rather than trying to add this later. Mint Mate is a solid performer but I enjoyed the experience with this one better. MC - Site Manager. Also worth a look.
Hardware issues with Linux are best described as variable depending mostly on what processor, graphics, sound and network cards you have. Having said that, the majority of incompatibilities are easily fixed if they don't agree out of the box. The best approach is to have a fixed routine when trialing a live session. First I check my DSL and mobile broadband connections are possible. Then I check sound and video with a couple of files. I then make some system changes to themes and icons and launch Firefox, use it, and add a few extensions. With that, you've covered most of the possible gripes. If something does fall over you can Google it for a fix and then decide if this is worth sorting out after you've done a full install. Mostly it will be, if you like the distro, except perhaps for the odd NVIDIA issue with legacy drivers that can sometimes be a pain to track down and rectify. MC - Site Manager.

No Hardware issues with Mint on my Toshiba.
XFCE is fastest, especially suited to older hardware.
MATE is a traditional desktop (what I use).
Cinnamon is more bleeding-edge, with quirks.Try it via DVD boot first to see if you like it.

To be extra safe, you should first boot from the Linux DVD to make sure that it runs OK and recognises all your hardware. If your pc is standard this should be a formality, but you may have installed some more unusual devices.

Thanks a lot for this terrific article. I have a question regarding the bootloader.

If you choose the recommended option to overwrite the Windows bootloader so that both boot options will be displayed, and later decide to no longer use Linux, how is the original bootloader setting restored? Is it done manually in the Bios? Thanks.

@d1hu, there're couple of ways to fix or restore your Windows XP bootloader in the Master Boot Record (MBR). These may include: 1. Run EasyBCD in Windows to install the Windows XP bootloader to the MBR with a single click. 2. Use the MbrFix tool in Windows to repair the MBR. 3. Try ms-sys in Linux, but more steps involved.

Dedo has done it again - an excellent, entertaining review. I've used Linux Mint alongside Windows for about 10 years - used it exclusively for 2 1/2 years. It's quite wonderful once you get it installed and tweaked to your liking. Lovely to run a secure operating system...

Wish i could use it full time, if I wasn't testing software and playing games :D
Indeed. It has taken a while to produce this and I'm sure all will agree Dedoimedo has done an outstanding job with it. MC - Site Manager.