Cannot boot into Windows XP after installing Linux

Q Before I start, my system specs are: a Shuttle XPC, Athlon 2400XP, 1024MB of RAM, DVD/CD-RW, a 120GB hard drive and a Leadtek 6600GT graphics card with a 19-inch Sony monitor. Oh, and a BT Voyager 105 USB ADSL modem. I recently ran Simply MEPIS Live Distro on CD, being forced to install MEPIS on to the same hard disk as Windows XP following the instructions given using QParted. I split it into 105GB for XP, 14GB for MEPIS, 1GB for swap, and 4GB-ish for home. Yes, I know there are risks, but to be honest it all seemed to go quite well... However, instead of offering me the dual boot option that it should have, my PC was automatically booting into MEPIS with a 2.6 and 2.4 option. This in itself isn't such a big deal, and I could still access all the document and graphic files on the Windows partition. But when I tried to change the Active partition using QParted in Linux and boot with XP, I received an 'NTLOADER' or 'NTFSLDR' (or something similar) error, and a message asking me to press a key to reboot -- this effectively put the machine into a perpetual loop.

Suffice to say that I can no longer boot into my XP OS using this hard disk. Even trying to reinstall Windows proved fruitless because it kept wanting to reformat the drive. Luckily I have a slightly older XP installation on another hard disk(30GB), and swapping the drives has allowed me to get internet access to find help. Using Norton SystemWorks and XP's own CHKDSK facility I've at least managed to get the original 120GB drive recognised as an E: drive now, and I do have full access to it. My problem now, however, is that I have my E: drive hooked up as a slave to my DVD/CD-RW, and my C: drive is acting as my main drive. My E: drive has just about everything I now need, while the C: drive is relatively old and out of date, so how do I swap them back again? I have tried to swap the two hard disks, but E: is no longer recognised as a System/Boot drive and thus XP goes through to the Windows XP logo and just hangs or restarts over and over. Ideally, I would like to have a dual boot OS option so I can learn and 'play' with Linux without losing my XP partition.

A Wow, what a journey: I commend your persistence! You should be able to select the operating system you want to boot, Linux 2.4, 2.6 or Windows XP, from a boot loader such as Grub or LILO. These boot Windows filesystems in completely different ways, so once you have figured out which loader you are using, you may want to review the dual-boot documentation at www.tldp.org. Booting a Windows XP install from Grub can be done with a simple

rootnoverify(hd0,0)
chainloader+1
boot

at the command line. You may also be able to boot into your Windows installation using a Windows boot disk and run fdisk /mbr to reinstall the Windows boot loader on to the disk. I would always advocate making sure you have good backups of data prior to installing Linux or repartitioning your drives. It's rare for things to go wrong, but you can be sure that when they do, they really go wrong. As you've got access to the disk and the NTFS filesystem is intact, you should be able to recover the system using Windows tools and rebuild the Linux boot loader configuration to dual boot the pair. Once you have the boot loader working happily, you can physically swap the disks so that the drive currently E: under Windows becomes C:.

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