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Linux installation guide

This Linux installation guide may seem long, but it’s not very difficult. It covers as many common cases as possible. It also aims to be informative.

This guide will be focusing on Ubuntu and its derivatives (such as Xubuntu). Some things may be a little bit different if you’re using another distribution of Linux such as Debian/Fedora/Mint etc, however, many concepts will still apply.

Step 0: Pre-installation

You should ALWAYS back up your files before installing a new operating system, as the installation CAN mess up and potantially make you lose all of your data.

Figuring out if your system supports GPT/UEFI is important in this guide, as Legacy/BIOS/MBR systems can't boot from GPT/UEFI installation media. The best way to check is on your motherboard's specifications. An alternative solution (albeit not as effective) is checking what your current partition table is, by running $env:firmware_type in powershell.

If you are installed in MBR, your motherboard may still support GPT with windows just not being installed properly. In such cases continue after reading your motherboard's specifications.

Step 1: Picking A Distro

Unlike Windows or macOS, there are many flavors/variants of Linux called “distros”.

There are many reasons you may want to pick one distro over another. For people new to Linux or people who want a system that works well out of the box with many programs, Ubuntu or one of it’s many derivatives such as Xubuntu, Lubuntu, Kubuntu, anything else ending in buntu, and Mint are great choices. Each of these has a different desktop environment, which changes the way it looks.

If you are unsure, we recommend getting Ubuntu or Linux Mint, as they are the two easiest to use for new users.

  • Ubuntu, Xubuntu, Lubuntu are all derivatives of the simple to use system Ubuntu, the difference between them being the DE (dekstop environment).
  • Mint - Mint achieves the balance between being simple to use, and its usefulness as an OS.
  • ElementaryOS - It's main defining factor is that it looks just like Mac (to download for free, set custom donation amount to 0)
  • Debian - A very stable distro that is very popular for its capabilities.
  • Arch - Should only be used if you are experienced and want to customize every single component of your system on your own. Warning: Very hard.

This guide will be focusing on Ubuntu and its derivatives. Some things may be a little bit different if you’re using another distribution, however many concepts will still apply. Additional tips:

  • Use a 64-bit version of the distro you choose whenever possible. Ubuntu no longer makes 32-bit releases, even though the flavors still do. 32-bit systems only support a maximum of just under 4 GB of RAM. No, PAE is not a magic solution to this problem. Many pieces of software, such as Google Chrome, only have a 64-bit version. 64-bit operating systems can still run 32-bit software. Most computers made in 2007 or later are 64-bit systems. If your computer is 32-bit, at this point it's getting too old to be useful, so consider recycling it.

  • Use the LTS version of your distro, if applicable. Ubuntu numbers their releases YY.MM, or the 2-digit Year and then the Month. 16.04, 16.10, 17.04, 17.10, etc. They are released every 6 months in April and October, and most are supported for 9 months. Even-numbered years with April as the month are Long-Term Support releases, such as 16.04, 18.04, 20.04, etc. These LTS versions, released every 2 years, are supported for 5 years, and are more stable.

Linux does not need to be installed on your storage drive. A “live session” can run directly off a flash drive with the installation files on it, which is good for trying it out before you decide to install it. Flash drives with Linux installed can be made persistent, so that changes can be saved.

Step 2: Creating Installation Media

After you’ve downloaded the distro of your choice, you should have an ISO file. You will need to put it on an 8+ GB flash drive. Some of these work with smaller drives.

If you are creating the installer from Windows, you’ll need to download a tool called Rufus. Alternatively, you can follow our Ventoy guide to make bootable media. If you are creating the installer from Mac or Linux, you can use the built-in dd tool.

Windows:

  1. Download and run Rufus.
  2. Select “ISO Image” and then browse for the ISO image.
  3. Select which flash drive you want to put the installer on.
  4. Select the target system type (GPT/MBR) depending on your motherboard's capabilities.
  5. Click “Start” and wait for it to finish.
  6. Eject the USB flash drive.

macOS:

  1. Open the Terminal.
  2. First, without the flash drive inserted, run diskutil list in the Terminal.
  3. Plug in the flash drive and run diskutil list again. You can do this to identify the drive number.
  4. Unmount the flash drive you have identified. diskutil unmountdisk /dev/disk[number], without the square brackets.
  5. Convert the ISO image. hdiutil convert /path/to/image.iso -format UDRW -o /path/to/ubuntu.img
  6. Write the image to the flash drive. dd if=/path/to/image.img of=/dev/rdisk[number]. Using /dev/rdisk instead of /dev/disk usually results in faster media creation.
  7. Wait until dd finishes. It will not display progress, but when it finishes, the terminal will display the next prompt.
  8. Eject the USB flash drive. diskutil eject /dev/disk[number]

Linux:

  1. First, without the flash drive inserted, run lsblk in the Terminal.
  2. Plug in the flash drive and run the command again. You can do this to identify the drive ID.
  3. Look for the /dev/sd[letter] of your device, with no numbers. For example: /dev/sda or /dev/sdb
  4. Use dd if=/path/to/image.iso of=/dev/sd[letter] to create a bootable drive from the ISO.
  5. Wait until dd finishes. dd does not display progress, but when it finishes, the terminal will display the next prompt.
  6. Eject the USB flash drive.

Step 3: The Actual Installation

Reboot the computer and select the flash drive. If you disabled Secure Boot and Fast Boot in BIOS (if applicable), this should be easy.

All the Ubuntu-based distros listed above use the Ubiquity installer, which makes things easy. However, the other installers can be a bit tricky. We’re only going to cover the Ubiquity installer in this guide.

When the image boots, select “Try”. You can proceed with the installation from “Try”, too, but the “Try” just loads up the live session all the way, which allows you to run programs other than the installer just in case we need to do other things. From the “Try” session, you should connect to WiFi if applicable, as WiFi is one of the most likely things to have problems working (it still works >95% of the time out of the box) so it’s good to check if it works from here.

If you have a single drive in your system and want the easy option, then you can select one of the easy installation options, such as “Install alongside [existing OS here]” or “Erase disk and install”.

  1. Unplug all non-system drives. Having them conencted WILL wipe them.
  2. Open the installer, select your language, and then check both of the two boxes.
  3. Click "Erase disk and install" THIS WIPES ALL DATA ON THE TARGET DRIVE.

The Rest of the Installation

The rest of the installation should be mostly self-explanatory. You have to enter the username and password that you want, choose your computer’s name, set your timezone, etc.

Once the installation has finished, it will ask you to reboot. After you restart, you will need to unplug the installation usb.

Step 4: Post-Installation Configuration

  1. Open the “Additional Drivers” menu, if it exists on your chosen distro.
    • In most cases, you’ll see your GPU and “Unknown: Unknown”.
    • Select the latest drivers for each and then click “Apply Changes”. You will have to enter your password.
    • If you do not seem to have this menu, you can type sudo apt install nvidia-384 to install the latest Nvidia graphics card drivers if you have an Nvidia card. You can use apt search nvidia-3 to get a list of available Nvidia graphics drivers.
    • If your card is very old, you may wish to get nvidia-490 or nvidia-460 instead.
  2. Perform all updates.
    • Open the “Software Updater” menu, if it exists on your chosen distro, and update your system.
    • On Debian-based distros, you can manually type sudo apt update and then sudo apt upgrade. You will have to enter your password to update the system.

Step 5: Things To Keep In Mind

On Linux, you install most software via the repositories. In most cases you will not be downloading new software from a web browser. Google Chrome, Dropbox, Discord, and TeamViewer are notable exceptions in which you do have to use a web browser to download them. When you do download software, you should look for a .deb package whenever possible.

Since the package manager manages software, you can easily keep your system updated. Regularly either use the built-in software updater tool to keep your system updated.

Use the 64-bit versions of software whenever possible. It saves you disk space due to not having to have 32-bit versions of libraries, and 64-bit packages will generally work better.

Not all software is compatible with Linux. If you need to use software that natively only runs on Windows (or any other OS in that matter), first search the repos to see if it exists there, else look online for it, and if there’s no Linux version, you’ll have to do one of 4 things:

  • Find an alternative application
  • Run a VM with the needed OS
  • Dual-boot
  • Use a compatibilty layer program such as Wine