Before you can install Linux, you'll need to be sure your machine is
Linux-capable, and choose a Linux to install. The Linux Pre-installation
checklist may help you organize configuration data before you
What kind of system is needed to run Linux? This is a good question;
the actual hardware requirements for the system change periodically. The
Linux Hardware-HOWTO, gives
a (more or less) complete listing of hardware supported by Linux. The
Linux INFO-SHEET, provides
For the Intel versions, a hardware configuration that looks like the
following is required:
Pentium or Pentium
II processor will do.
Non-Intel clones of the 80386 and up will generally work. You do not need a
math coprocessor, although it is nice to have one.
EISA, VESA Local
PCI bus architectures are
supported. The MCA bus
architecture (found on IBM PS/2 machines) has been minimally supported
since the 2.1.x kernels, but may not be ready for prime time yet.
You need at least 4 megabytes of memory in your machine. Technically,
Linux will run with only 2 megs, but most installations and software
require 4. The more memory you have, the happier you'll be. I suggest an
absolute minimum of 16 megabytes if you're planning to use X-Windows; 64 is
Of course, you'll need a hard drive and an AT-standard drive
controller. All MFM,
IDE drives and controllers
should work. Many SCSI drives and adaptors are supported as well; the
Linux SCSI-HOWTO contains more information on SCSI. If you are assembling
a system from scratch to run Linux, the small additional cost of SCSI is
well worth it for the extra performance and reliability it brings.
You'll want a CD-ROM
drive; effectively all Linux distributions are now CD-ROM based. If your
machine was built in 1998 or later, you should be able to actually boot
your Linux's installer right off the CD-ROM without using a boot
If your CD-ROM is ATAPI,
SCSI, or true
IDE you should have no problem
making it work (but watch for cheap drives advertising "IDE" interfaces
that aren't true IDE). If your CD-ROM uses a proprietary interface card,
it's possible the installation kernel you're going to boot from floppy
won't be able to see it -- and an inaccessible CD-ROM is a installation
show-stopper. Also, CD-ROMs that attach to your parallel port won't work
at all. If you're in doubt, consult the Linux CD-ROM HOWTO for a list and
details of supported hardware.
If your CD-ROM isn't in your machine's boot sequence, you will need a
3.5" floppy drive. While 5.25" floppies are supported under
Linux, they are little-enough used that you should not count on disk images
necessarily fitting on them. (A stripped-down Linux can actually run on a
single floppy, but that's only useful for installation and certain
You also need an MDA,
VGA, or Super
VGA video card and
monitor. In general, if your video card and monitor work under MS-DOS or
Windows then they should work under Linux. However, if you wish to run the
X window system, there are other restrictions on the supported video
hardware. The Linux
XFree86-HOWTO, contains more information about running X and its
If you're running on a box that uses one of the Motorola 68K
processors (including Amiga,
VMEbus machines), see the
for information on minimum requirements and the state of the port. The FAQ
now says m68k Linux is as stable and usable as the Intel versions.
You'll need free space for Linux on your hard drive. The amount of
space needed depends on how much software you plan to install. Today most
installations require somewhere in the ballpark of a gigabyte of space.
This includes space for the software, swap space (used as virtual
RAM on your machine), and free space for users, and so on.
It's conceivable that you could run a minimal Linux system in 80 megs
or less (this used to be common when Linux distributions were smaller), and
it's conceivable that you could use two gigabytes or more for all of your
Linux software. The amount varies greatly depending on the amount of
software you install and how much space you require. More about this
Linux will co-exist with other operating systems, such as MS-DOS,
Microsoft Windows, or OS/2, on your hard drive. (In fact you can even
access MS-DOS files and run some MS-DOS programs from Linux.) In other
words, when partitioning your drive for Linux, MS-DOS or OS/2 live on their
own partitions, and Linux exists on its own. We'll go into more detail
about such ``dual-boot''
You do not need to be running MS-DOS, OS/2, or
any other operating system to use Linux. Linux is a completely
stand-alone operating system and does not rely on other OSs for
installation and use.
In all, the minimal setup for Linux is not much more than is
required for most MS-DOS or Windows 3.1 systems sold today (and
it's a good deal less than the minimum for Windows 95!). If you
have a 386 or 486 with at least 4 megs of RAM, then you'll be happy
running Linux. Linux does not require huge amounts of disk space,
memory, or processor speed. Matt Welsh, the originator of this
HOWTO, used to run Linux on a 386/16 MHz (the slowest machine you
can get) with 4 megs of RAM, and was quite happy. The more you want
to do, the more memory (and faster processor) you'll need. In our
experience a 486 with 16 megabytes of RAM running Linux outdoes
several models of expensive workstations.
Start to finish, a modern Linux installation from CD-ROM can be expected
to take from ninety minutes to three hours.
Before you can install Linux, you need to decide on one of the
``distributions'' of Linux which are available. There is no single,
standard release of the Linux software---there are many such
releases. Each release has its own documentation and installation
instructions. All distributions pretty much share the same underlying
Linux distributions are available both via anonymous FTP and via mail
order on diskette, tape, and CD-ROM. There are many checklists and
reviews of Linux distributions out there. The Linux Weekly News site, in addition to
being an excellent general source of news and information, carries a
weekly report on distributions with pointers to many of them.
In the dim and ancient past when this HOWTO was first written
(1992-93), most people got Linux by tortuous means involving long
downloads off the Internet or a BBS onto their DOS machines,
followed by an elaborate procedure which transferred the downloads
onto multiple floppy disks. One of these disks would then be
booted and used to install the other dozen. With luck (and no
media failures) you'd finish your installation many hours later
with a working Linux. Or maybe not.
While this path is still possible (and you can download any one of
several distributions from Metalab),
there are now much less strenuous ways. The easiest is to buy one of the
high-quality commercial Linux distributions distributed on CD-ROM, such as
Red Hat, Debian, Linux Pro, or WGS. These are typically available for less
than $50 at your local bookstore or computer shop, and will save you
many hours of aggravation.
You can also buy anthology CD-ROMs such as the InfoMagic Linux
Developer's Resource set. These typically include several Linux
distributions and a recent dump of major Linux archive sites, such
as metalab or tsx-11.
In the remainder of this HOWTO we will focus on the steps needed to
install from an anthology CD-ROM, or one of the lower-end
commercial Linuxes that doesn't include a printed installation
manual. If your Linux includes a paper manual some of this HOWTO may
provide useful background, but you should consult the manual for
detailed installation instructions.