How Not to Install Linux (Fedora Core 5 Example)

Date: 8/5/06


This article will attempt to explain how to install Linux on your hard drive and dual boot with Windows XP. It will cover the basics of installing Linux on a single hard drive,  or a second hard drive on your system. Special attention will be focused on the mistakes new Linux users make when attempting to install Linux in either scenario. This article is designed to be a generalized guide, not a full proof solution. Fedora Core 5 will be used as an example of a common distro that many users seem to prefer. By no means is Fedora the only or best distro for every user, but a distro that is commonly tried by many new users, due to it's popularity.

IMPORTANT: This is a work in progress. if you have come to this page, then realize that this is the case. This message will be removed when the article is complete.

Having a Plan:

Do you really need a plan, or can you just go ahead and install Linux on your system?

Many new users think that they can just install a distro of their choice on their system, regardless of the version number. This is their first big mistake. Any new user should research what Linux distro to use, based on their computer hardware.  Most distros have excellent information on their websites outlining what the hardware requirements for their distro is. An excellent resource for such information are wiki sites, which most distros have, or someone has developed for the distribution. A good example of such a site, is the Fedora wiki site.

I can't stress enough how important it is to read the documentation for you chosen distro. It holds important considerations toward the success of you installation and can answer many questions that users often post after the installation, that could have been answered by reading the documentation.

TIP #1: If the flavor of Linux that you acquire is older than your hardware, expect some bumps in the road.
Two good examples of such potential hardware issues are video cards and sata hard drives. If you have the latest and greatest new video card, it's possible that you will need additional drivers for the card. Fortunately, most vendor sites have drivers for Linux, such as ATI and NVIDIA. This generally does not hold true for other vendors of video cards.

SATA drives are becoming more and more popular. Most newer Linus distros, like Fedora Core 5, now support sata chipsets on most motherboards. Older versions, such as RedHat , do not. This is why Linux updates are so frequent, to keep pace of the hardware technology. If you have tried to place a new sata drive in your computer to install Windows XP right off, you know what I mean.

Will Linux run on my desktop/laptop system?

It depends. Most modern Linux distro versions require minimum hardware (processor speed and memory) to run efficiently. Here are the minimum hardware requirements for Fedora Core 5;

What this means, is that Fedora Core 5 can't be expected to run on a system with less than a Pentium II class processor (or AMD processor) less than a speed of 400 MHz. You should have a least 256 MiB of ram. Anything less and you run in text mode. You don't want that. Why the recommended amount of ram and processor? Well, laptops often use resources (RAM and processor power) directly, effectively reducing the amount of ram and processor speed available to run Linux, or any other OS.

TIP #2: Laptops can have a variety of legacy hardware, many times specific to pre-installed version of Windows on the system, as well as hardware specifically designed for use in a windows environment. If you want to install Linux on a laptop, see the general information on the  Linux on Laptops web page. you can also find out a lot of information about your laptop by googling "Linux" or "Fedora" and the model number of your laptop. If you laptop came pre-installed with Windows, make sure that you have either a full installation CD of Windows, or the rescue disks that came with your laptop.

I have researched my computer hardware and <whatever Linux disto and version> seems compatible with what I have. I am worried about so called "dual booting" with Windows XP, because I don't want to lose my data. Can I install Linux to a second hard drive?

The simple answer is, you can do either. Recent versions of any Linux distro will safely dual boot Windows and Linux, if you take a few reasonable precautions.

TIP #3: Before making any major changes to your system, always make sure that you have a backup of important data. This is common sense.

If you have only one hard drive in your system and you currently have Windows XP installed, defrag the hard drive and backup any important data files.  Why? Windows often has fragmented files on the drive, sometimes at the end of the partition. Defrag the drive and you move these fragmented files closer to the beginning of the partition. This decreases the chance that these files might be lost, as Linux uses free space to make it's needed partitions on the drive.

If you prefer to install Linux on a second hard drive on the system, this is fine as well. Just make sure that you don't remove the Windows XP hard drive, or change the boot order of the bios before the installation.  These are common mistakes that new users make, thinking that they will have less of a chance of losing their data on the main hard drive by removing it before the Linux installation. Remember a few key points;

  1.  Changing the boot order at any time in the bios, changes the logical order of the drives and will confuse the Linux bootloader (Grub). You can't expect Linux to then boot correctly, as it will look for the boot files in the original drive that it was installed on. Change the boot order in the bios, or add a drive after you install Linux and the bootloader will not work properly.
  2.  DO NOT remove any hardware before installing Linux, such as your Windows XP hard drive. For the same reason as mentioned above.
  3.  Fedora Core 5 will attempt to install a bootloader to the MBR (Master Boot Record) of the primary boot drive in your system.  If you remove your XP drive and install Linux, it assumes that it should write to the MBR of the current boot drive.  If you then place the original boot drive in the system and make it the primary drive on the system (by jumpers or changing the bios boot order), the Linux bootloader is on the non-booting drive. In this case, only Windows XP will boot, as that drive has only the XP bootloader on the MBR.
  4. If you install Linux on a second hard drive, make sure that the bootloader is installed to the MBR of you boot drive, not you second hard drive.  See point #3.

TIP #4: Remember, if you have a motherboard that supports both sata and IDE (pata) drives, the boot order is even more highly dependent on the bios, or if you have a jumper on the motherboard that allows enabling or disabling sata on the system, if this jumper is set correctly.

Should I/ do I need to pre-format my drive, or will Linux take care of this for me?

This is a question that comes up again and again. It also is a debate with experienced Linux users. i always pre-format, but that is due to my complex hard drive setup, which has multiple Linux distros on it.

Generally, there is no need to pre-format a hard drive. Most distros will either offer to use free space on the hard drive to make the needed Linux partitions, or use (if it is available) free space on the hard drive. You can even have Linux take over the entire hard drive, if you prefer. However, most new users have, say, Windows XP occupying the entire hard drive on their system.  If you install Linux on the only hard drive in the system, there are a few considerations.

You must have enough space on the drive for every OS on the system.  In a dual boot Windows/Linux situation,  it's a matter of preference. But, a rule of thumb, at least 10 gigabytes (gigs) of space for Windows and at least 10 gigs for Linux. I would recommend if you have anything less than a 40 gig hard drive, don't install Linux on the drive.  Why? I find most users often decide after installing Linux that they need more room for either OS.

Next Page: The actual installation.