Quite right, Husse--Windows (2000 Pro anyway--not sure about XP) does indeed insist on overwriting the MBR, and I was working on that assumption each time. Intalled it every time in the first partition too...and I installed it first, before attempting to follow up with Mint.
The W2KP installer can only handle the existence of 4 partitions maximum, and it cannot install itself even to the root partition if there are more than 4 on the disk (even if it considers some of them corrupted)--the rest must first be deleted.
Therein lies one of the catch22's: The new disc I have is considerably larger (320GB) than was the old one Windows used to live on (120GB), so I was attempting to use the first two partions (sized to about 130GB each) for Windows, with Mint following that.
Mint wants 3 partitions of it's own though which makes five...so Windows immediately becomes unbootable even if it HAS already been installed successfully before trying to add Mint.
And then you get to start all over again....
Took me a while to figure that out--it was a long, frustrating weekend.
One logical suggestion to cure this might be to install Windows to a bigger directory in the first place...but W2KP SP3 (my install disk) will allow for a maximum partition size of only 137G (this was later cured with SP4, but you must first have SP3 successfully installed to run the SP4 patch). So you cannot install Windows and then Mint unless Windows is allowed only one partion--wastes a lot of the drivespace unless you are willing to devote most of it to Linux.
Moreover, if you later FORGET you had bumped up against this limitation and inadvertantly try installing a second Linux distro (using two or three more partitions)...you will immediately bring the whole Windows house of cards crashing down around you.
Blah, blah, blah, yadda, yadda, yadda I could bore you with more of this, but I won't.
Suffice it to say I could not find any combination which would safely let me first install Windows and then Bea or Bianca, so I'll try the two-disk method instead (once I buy another new disk).
And if THAT doesn't work, I'll simply hardwire in a toggle switch to the drive-ground lines and power up only one drive or the other at a time as needed. Might make it impossible to download and transfer gaming files and updates over to Windows via a Linux browser, but it will certainly still work. I'll just lose the functionality and usefullness of NTFS-3g (which is reading and copying files from my original WIndows disk just fine, btw...).