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I have a laptop running Windows 7 64-bit Home Premium on an Intel Core i5 processor. The laptop has 4 GB RAM and a 640 GB hard drive. I would like to install Ubuntu in a dual-boot configuration such that there is a partition for data that is accessible regardless of whether I boot into Windows or Ubuntu. Besides the Windows, Ubuntu, and shared data partitions, any recommendations of other partitions that would optimize performance would be appreciated. I've searched the forum and cannot find any posts that have this (or somewhat similar) partition scheme. Any help would be appreciated.

Also, I know you can run Ubuntu from a DVD or a USB stick, but can you install from a USB stick rather than a DVD?

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For your second question, yes. You can install from a USB stick. It is well documented.

So, I don't have the exact solution to what you are looking for but this info may be helpful. Windows uses the NTFS filesystem which recent Ubuntu distros are able to read out of the box. If not, you can install a package to do so. Ubuntu uses the ext4(or 3 or 2 depending on how old) filesystem which is unreadable by Windows without extra software.

Ideally, you would want it to read both ways, but that is not supported natively by Windows so what you could do, is install Ubuntu on a smaller partition of your drive. You only need about 8GB for the OS so making you partition 20GB would be plenty. Once installed, you should be able to access your Windows partition like a external drive. If you really want to, you can have it mount on boot but it is easy enough to access as is.

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