Fedora/Windows 10 dual-boot on Dell Inspiron

I recently acquired a Dell Inspiron 15 7000 2-in-1 Black Edition (model number I7586-7205BLK-PUS), which came with Windows 10 preloaded. I wanted to keep a Windows partition active so I can run Ableton Live, but I wanted to use Fedora Linux as my daily driver.

I ran into a lot of difficulty with the installation. In particular, when I got to the partitioning step of the installer, there were no disks listed under “Local Standard Disks”. So here’s what I did.

Solutions online suggested a couple of things:

  • I didn’t have free space on the disk
  • I wasn’t using the right kind of installer (UEFI/GPT vs BIOS/MBR or UEFI/MBR)

First I started working on freeing up some space on the disk. I resized the Windows partition from within Windows itself, using the Disk Management tool (aka the “Create and format hard disk partitions” Control Panel). This article is the best I could find on the technique. I shrunk my 477 GB Windows partition to 377, leaving 100GB for my linux partition. I need a lot of space on the Windows side for Ableton and all the audio files it requires. I also figure I can use my Windows home directory to store files for my Linux apps if I need to.

Still no luck though, in the Fedora installer. No local standard disks showing up. And in retrospect, I don’t think that this was ever the problem. If everything else had been working, the Fedora installer would have let me resize the partition. But it’s not a terrible idea to do it from inside of Windows anyway — why rely on reverse-engineered NTFS code if you can use the code straight from the source?

So I started playing around with the install media. I was worried that maybe I wasn’t using an installer that was compatible with the partitioning of the drive (GPT vs MBR). Using this technique, I was able to confirm that the Inspiron’s pre-installed Windows used GPT.

Initially, I burned the Fedora Live ISO onto a USB stick with Etcher on a Mac. I then tried rebuilding the USB stick with Rufus (using Windows on the Inspiron). Still no luck. I then tried the Fedora Media Writer to rebuild the USB stick. Even that didn’t work.

I was about to pull my hair out when I stumbled across this article. The key point in the article is that the author’s Dell XPS shipped with its hard drive in RAID mode, rather than AHCI mode. I’m not sure what “RAID mode” means when you only have a single NVMe hard drive in the laptop, but somehow, this was making the drive invisible to the Fedora installer.

But changing to AHCI would mess up the Windows partition, unless I took certain steps, which I found in this article. To summarize:

  • Click the Start Button and type cmd;right-click the result and select Run as administrator
  • Type this command and press ENTER: bcdedit /set {current} safeboot minimal
  • Restart the computer and enter BIOS Setup (the key to press varies between systems, but F2 on the Inspiron — you may need to hit it repeatedly when you reboot, since the reboot is pretty fast).
  • Change the SATA Operation mode from RAID to AHCI
  • Save changes and exit; Windows will automatically boot to Safe Mode.
  • Click the Start Button and type cmd;right-click the result and select Run as administrator
  • Type this command and press ENTER: bcdedit /deletevalue {current} safeboot
  • Reboot once more and Windows will automatically start with AHCI drivers enabled.

Reboot one more time and use the Fedora installer (F12to get the boot menu to allow you to boot from your USB stick) to install to the available space you just created.

You may find posts online that talk about having to perform manual partitioning and specifically mounting the existing EFI partition on /boot/efi; I did not find that to be the case with my installation. I did a fully automatic partitioning, and everything worked great. The only thing I don’t love is that because I have 16GB of RAM, the automatic partitioning took 32GB of disk space for swap. I may go back and reinstall to change that.

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