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Triple Boot MacBook Pro

Print | posted on Monday, May 05, 2008 3:47 AM

Running Mac OS X, Windows Vista x64 and Windows Server 2008 x64 on a MacBook Pro.

This article series details a process for installing Mac OS X, Windows Vista x64 and Windows Server 2008 x64 on a MacBook Pro with complete driver support. While it is not the only way to setup such a system, this approach minimises the configuration necessary and avoids shell commands, and the need for third party boot loader utilities.

UPDATE: This article details the remaining tweaks necessary to run the Vista partition under VMWare Fusion for a triple boot system.

By utilising the excellent Boot Camp feature of Mac OS X Leopard, Mac owners can configure their machines to dual boot with a version of Windows XP or Vista. However Boot Camp is limited to two partitions and two Operating Systems. There are a number of approaches detailed on the web for configuring a triple boot which focus on running Mac OS X, Windows and Linux. Such approaches, whilst not complex, involve manual configuration and the use of third party boot loader utilities. For running more than one version of Windows such tools are not neccessary.

The scenario this approach is intended to address is as follows:

    • Primary OS for day to day use – Windows Vista Ultimate x64 Service Pack 1
    • Secondary OS for “experimentation” (and a possible future “switch” :) ) – Mac OS X Leopard 10.5.2
    • Third OS for presentation or demo use – Windows Server 2008 x64

The key idea here is to have a small (minimal) but fully operational Windows Server 2008 partition for the purposes of presentation and/or demos which run at full speed (as opposed to within a VM). Such a capability, without having to carry another machine about is extremely valuable for a SharePoint trainer or consultant, who at present cannot run SharePoint on their client OS or needs to demonstrate server functionality (e.g. Kerberos or Incoming Email). This partition is not intended for day to day development use. This partition is intended to be frequently re-imaged to a base installation.

The approach detailed could also be used on any Intel based Macintosh and of course you are able to modify the partition sizes and so forth to meet your particular scenarios.

This article assumes you have the 200Gb, 7,200rpm hard disk, which has approximately 186Gb useable space, and the partitions used in this article are:


Operating System Label Size Initial Format Final Format
Mac OS X Leopard 10.5.2 Macintosh HD 59.00GB Mac OS Extended (Journaled)
Windows Vista x64 SP1 Windows Vista 100.00Gb MS-DOS FAT NTFS
Windows Server 2008 x64 Windows 2008 26.99GB MS-DOS FAT NTFS

A note on 64 bit Boot Camp Drivers

64 bit Boot Camp and 64 bit drivers were sneaked out initially on the Mac Pro installation disks, however these did not include a few important pieces (Video, Network) for MacBook Pros. Whilst these could be found on the Web, such an installation is far from ideal. With the Penryn based MacBook Pros (the ones with Multi-touch) Apple included full x64 bit support on their installation disks. These drivers can be used for both Vista and Server 2008 with no issues. Some of these drivers are also included in the Boot Camp 2.1 release for Vista x64 available through Apple Software Update or the Apple web site.

Boot Camp Assistant on Mac OS

Whilst we use the Boot Camp drivers, and install the Boot Camp Control Panel on both Windows Partitions, we do not use Boot Camp Assistant from Mac OS in this approach. There is little downside to this, as Boot Camp Assistant is really only responsible for creating/resizing partitions and kicking off an installer.

VMWare Fusion

VMWare Fusion will recognise our third (last) partition as a Boot Camp partition, prepare it and start it. However it can only deal with one partition (the last one) so in our case this will only allow the 2k8 partition to be used. Of course this is somewhat moot because as of writing, VMWare Fusion doesn’t support 64 bit Boot Camp partitions. Whilst we can modify the VMX file to configure the VM as 64 bit and install the 64 bit VMWare Tools. The Boot Camp detection and VMWare Tools cannot deal with Windows and Office activation correctly. At present there is no word from VMWare as to when/if 64 bit Boot Camp support will be available. If it does become available it might be more appropriate to change the order of the partitioning so that the Vista partition can be used in this manner.

Blatting your disk

This approach blatts, or wipes, your entire hard drive. There are alternatives using diskutil resizePartition which can avoid this, but this approach is cleaner and simpler for those not familiar or comfortable with UNIX. Besides, you back up right? :)

Factory installed evaluations

Apple pre-installs evaluation applications such as Office (2004!) and iWork. These are not included on the install disks so these will be lost. You can of course download these (well iWork anyway) from the Apple web site if you wish.

Diskutil resizePartition

If you really don’t want to re-install Mac OS you can use the diskutil –resizePartition command from the Mac OS Terminal shell. See the OnMac.net wiki for more information.

What you will need

    • An Intel based Macintosh – preferably a MacBook Pro with 2.6 GHz CPU and 7200 rpm hard disk – aka the best Windows laptop on the planet.
    • The two Mac OS install disks that ship with the Penryn based MacBook Pros (or the equivalent for your hardware). Note that MacBook Pro disks prior to the Penryn based models do not include x64 drivers – although some of these can be extracted and burnt to a CD from the most recent release of Boot Camp (2.1) available on the Apple Web Site.
    • A kosher DVD of Windows Vista Ultimate x64 – preferably one with SP1 slipstreamed into it.
    • A kosher DVD of Windows 2008 x64 – we use the Enterprise edition in this article series.

Before we get started – ensure you have a backup of any data and/or applications on your Mac. Do it now, before it’s too late! You have been warned!

Following the process detailed takes approximately five hours, with plenty of slack for brewing coffee etc. So enough waffle already, let's get started...

Step One: Configuring Your Disk

Step Two: Installing Mac OS X

Step Three: Installing Windows Server 2008 and Drivers

Step Four: Installing Windows Vista and Drivers

Additional Tips & Tricks

Hopefully you will find this article series useful, if you have comments and/or find mistakes please leave feedback below. Have fun with your triple-boot MacBook Pro!