Dual-Booting OS X: The Safe Way to Explore the Future

Mac users have always been adventurous, but even the most fearless may feel intimidated over the idea of migrating to Apple‘s new UNIX-based OS X operating system, with its underlying command-line interface.

And then there’s the issue of compatibility. OS X officially went on sale in early 2001, but few OS X-native applications have thus far become available. Accordingly, OS 9.x has remained a necessity for real-world work and business productivity. OS X comes with OS 9.1 Classic, which can be installed with OS X and launched within it, to let you run OS 9.x applications even you booted using OS X. But applications performance can degrade considerably under OS 9 Classic, and OS 9.x applications may not work at all. And while OS X supports USB printers and CD-R/RW media, the software drivers for other key hardware components, such as input devices (digital cameras, scanners, etc.), may not yet be compatible.

The best solution for many who want to move ahead without sacrificing productivity may be a dual-boot approach — installing OS X in a way that lets you toggle between it and your tried-and-true OS 9.x. Setting your system up for dual booting will require some planning and effort, but when you’re done you’ll have the best of the present and the future. You’ll be able to use your current operating system by day and get to know OS X each evening, perhaps with a glass of wine to take the edge off any initial awkwardness.

This approach will be old news if you recently bought a new Mac: In late May, Apple began shipping all new Macs with both OS X and OS 9.1 preinstalled in a dual-boot configuration. (The System default boot remains set for Mac OS 9.1 on new machines).

Dual-booting should work just as well on older systems, though you may need some extra hard disk space and at least 128MB of RAM (but a minimum of 256MB is advised, and 512MB to 1.5GB is preferable for production machines). These can include the PowerMac G4 and G3 desktop models (including the original beige G3), PowerBook G4s or G3s (except the original PowerBook G3s), and older iMacs and iBooks.

Officially, Apple does not support OS X on older PowerPC computers (7300/7500/7600, 8500/8600, 9500/9600) that have been upgraded with G3 or G4 processor cards from third-party vendors. However, at least such vendor — Sonnet Technologies — offers software that allows OS X to be used with its Crescendo/PCI and Encore/ZIF upgrade cards. Sonnet also offers OS X compatibility software for Newer Technology, Inc. customers using MAXpower/ZIF or MAXpower/PCI G3/G4 processor upgrade cards. (Newer Technology is now out of business). It should be pointed out that overcoming compatibility problems with older peripherals attached to these vintage computers could be challenging. For instance, OS X does not support the internal floppy drives that were standard on these machines.

Assuming you’re using a relatively recent Mac, however, transforming your trusty Mac into a dual-boot wonder should be relatively easy. Here we’ll cover the basics of configuring your system for dual-boot operation with OS X.

1. Preparation
Once you’ve selected an OS X-compatible computer, you may need to update its firmware using an application on the Mac OS X CD: To find out if your model must be upgraded, check out the file READ BEFORE YOU INSTALL.pdf on the installation CD. This must-read file also provides other OS X pre-installation instructions. For instance, OS X can be installed on SCSI or EIDE (ATA) disk drives, but not on FireWire or USB drives, although you may have to troubleshoot third-party SCSI card compatibility.

A dual-boot system may necessitate a larger hard disk drive so that space can be devoted to an extra copy of the new Mac OS and, in some cases, duplicate copies of applications. You’ll probably need to reformat and divide your drive into separate partitions that will be home to your current system software setup (OS 9.x and applications) and OS X (with OS 9.x Classic). Alternatively, you can use separate disk drives (instead of partitioning one drive) for each OS version.

One little detail to keep in mind as you decide whether to install OS X in a new partition or in a drive all its own: Repartitioning your drive will require wiping out all the data stored on your drive, so you’ll need to conduct a full backup before you go that route. Especially if you’ve been contemplating a hard disk upgrade in any case, the best solution may be to invest in your new drive and to partition it for your dual-boot installation. You might also thank yourself later if you take the opportunity to add more RAM, particularly given the current low cost of memory.

When deciding how much hard disk space to devote to OS X, remember that it and some of its applications may contain more code and require larger chunks of hard disk space than their OS 9.x counterparts. For instance, OS 9.1 consumes just 350MB of hard disk space while OS X requires 1.5GB. Given that presumably you’ll be moving to OS X, it probably makes sense to give it the lion’s share of space regardless. When recently planning my dual-boot installation, which used a 60GB hard drive, I devoted roughly 30GB to OS X and its applications, 5GB to OS 9.x, and 15GB to OS 9.x applications. (Because OS 9.x can corrupt files when it crashes, I’ve always stored applications and data on partitions that are separate from the System.) I also defined a 3GB OS 9.x VM (virtual memory) partition for use with Photoshop and a 4GB VM partition for OS X, though for OS X such a partition isn’t required.

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Posted on: September 25, 2001

3 Comments on Dual-Booting OS X: The Safe Way to Explore the Future

  1. I had OS X installed for most of the summer. I was mildly impressed with the new interface, seriously disgruntled about speed of opening apps, etc., but overall, I’d say… NO WAY!
    Here’s why. Unless Apple can get third party people in the loop PRIOR to release, they have and will continue to drop the ball with releases like OS X. Especially with graphics professionals like myself.

    But really, how many graphic designers use EPSON and WACOM products? Unfortunately for OS X boosters, a bunch.

  2. The information in this article enables the resurrection of my original blue Bondi G3 iMac. Much gratitude… long live retrocomputing!

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