Any advice on a clean install of Linux from no prior OS?
September 23, 2015 12:53 PM   Subscribe

Hi - I ordered a refurbished Dell laptop which came without a Windows install (thanks Dell), so I think that I would like to try Linux as my OS, installed sans Windows. Can you help me confirm that what I'm planning to do makes sense?

Here's what I'm planning to do!

1. Swap a Solid State Drive for the Hard Drive. (This was always part of the plan, but seems like Step 1 obviously.)

2. I'm probably going with Linux Mint. (I'm a first time Linux user, migrating from Windows. Ubuntu's Unity GUI seems . . . kinda Mac-like and too shiny for me.)

3. I'm going to make a USB install - probably following this overall set of instructions for the install:

Do I need to think about anything else or do anything different? Questions I have no answer for include:

1. Am I entering into some kind of unknown nightmare related to drivers?

2. Should I also install Windows for some reason?

3. Do I need to worry about partitioning at all?

4. Am I doing anything in the wrong order?

posted by kensington314 to Computers & Internet (16 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
1 - possibly, but the only way to be sure is to try.
2 - no
3 - not really. the installer will tell you what to do i guess. but really one big partition is not so bad.
4 - no
it's not hard! i don't know anything about mint, specifically, though.

edit: and really, if you're installing to a new disk, just go ahead. there's nothign to break. you can always put the old disk back in...
posted by andrewcooke at 12:58 PM on September 23, 2015

My only suggestion here is to try a live-cd. Basically boot from cd. If you're going to have driver problems it'll likely show up there.
posted by mce at 1:02 PM on September 23, 2015

Response by poster: mce, how should I go about selecting a Live CD version? I didn't find anything from the Mint team, but I found this unaffiliated version -
posted by kensington314 at 1:14 PM on September 23, 2015

The instructable you linked should create a live usb from the Linux Mint iso. The first step in the install process is booting the "Live-DVD" (which will actually be a usb stick in your case). Then you can poke around, verify that you don't have any driver issues, and check out how you like the system before doing the install.
posted by eruonna at 1:23 PM on September 23, 2015

1. Google the model name and numbers in correlation with "Linux mint" and you'll likely find someone else asking the same (more or less) question. Drivers on laptops used to be in my experience a massive pain in the butt. If the laptop is NOT brand new, you'll have better chances of not running into the hell of finding drivers.

2. Nahh..... I mean, if you want to play early Sims games or Roller Coaster Tycoon you'll need a program that can emulate Windows or a program that runs Windows programs on Linux.

3. The setup for Linux mint will guide you through the partition steps if you're unsure, and it will be even easier if you're not also installing Windows. This is another area where the relative new-ness of the laptop will be relevant. Windows 8 and up use the UEFI Boot feature if available, which lets them boot very quickly. If you were using a laptop or a harddrive that had been used with 8, it could cause complications, but you most likely won't encounter that with a clean drive and a clean laptop.

4. Live CD versus Live USB doesn't make a huge difference, though it may be easier to burn an image to a CD than to a flash drive. Any problems you encounter with drivers will occur either way.

Here's to hoping it just werks
posted by shenkerism at 1:24 PM on September 23, 2015

On the subject of linux drivers, devices these days tend to fall in one of three categories:

a. Works out of the box, you'll never need to do anything about it unless you want to fiddle with settings or do something non-standard - this goes for most devices, things are really a lot better than they used to.

b. Some futzing around will be required to use your device, or you might not be able to use some of its functions - this sometimes happens with non-standard stuff in laptops, things like switchable graphics cards, fingerprint readers etc.

c. Some device is not supported because of Reasons - doesn't happen often, but when it does the reason is more often bureaucratic / legal rather than technical so it's possible it will never get fixed.

Basically you want to make sure your hardware doesn't belong in group (c), or if it's in group (b) you chose a distribution that won't make things harder for you.

Since you already have Windows running on the machine, I suggest looking up the exact models (or even better, chipsets/USB/ PCI vendor IDs) of your stuff in Device Manager and checking out Google and/or distribution fora for people having trouble using them with linux.

On installing Windows: If it turns out you do actually need a Windows install for occasional use, you can set one up in a Virtual Machine pretty painlessly later (I'm pretty happy with VirtualBox for this) - go ahead and wipe the entire disk, it's a nice feeling :)

On the subject of partitioning: people often try out various distributions before settling on one they are comfortable with - unless you go for one of the more advanced distributions, the installer will take care of partitioning for you, but you might want to set it to not use the entire disk so that you have room to play with additional installs if you feel like it.
posted by Dr Dracator at 1:25 PM on September 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

shenkerism gives good advice about googling model numbers, though I'd say that you don't need to include "mint" as a search term specifically. Or at least don't worry if you do include it and don't find much, because a solution that works for an Ubuntu or Fedora user will probably still be useful to you.

Also, just so you know, linux doesn't lock you into any particular GUI (or even any GUI at all). If you find yourself unhappy with the one you're using you can easily install another (in fact some people install a bunch to switch back and forth or experiment). The only thing is that while command-line instructions will be the same regardless of GUI, instructions you find on help forums might assume you're using some specific UI (usually either gnome or kde, and I assume whatever you install will default to one or the other).

Anyway in your case I'd probably not even bother with the LiveCD and just go ahead and install, which shouldn't take very long. If you find yourself unhappy with either the distribution or the install options you chose you can always just do a new install. But LiveCD first is also fine.

I guess the biggest tip is to prepare yourself for the frustration not of linux specifically but of finding yourself in an environment you're not yet fluent in. Though that can be fun, too.
posted by trig at 1:55 PM on September 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

For making a live USB, assuming you have a Windows installation on another computer you can use, just download the Universal USB Installer from It can download ISOs and create LiveUSBs or installers for a large number of distributions. YUMI, available from the same site, allows you to install more than one to the same USB stick, given a large enough stick. That way you can experiment with a wide variety of distributions before choosing one.

FWIW, there is now a version of Ubuntu that uses MATE. (The UI that Mint uses) I mention this because Ubuntu has a wider variety of packages available than most any other distribution.
posted by wierdo at 2:55 PM on September 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

I have recently installed my very first Linux on a netbook and a laptop so I can certainly speak to some of your concerns.
I'm running it with Cinnamon as a desktop environment, which is pretty neat if you are coming from Windows, as it has a polished feel and it's pretty userfriendly. Many things are where you'll expect them to be. It's much more Windows-like than Unity.

Mint works rather well out of the box and you may not run into any driver problems at all. No promises, but it's possible.

I used a USB drive as described here. It all went swimmingly. Partitioning was easy and I was prompted to do it; not a worry in any way. I just made a 10 gb partition for Mint, and made all leftover space into a partition for data.

I'm a beginner myself and I promise you it's not horrible. Mint has a way of growing on you. I haven't seen any scary terminal windows so far!
posted by Too-Ticky at 3:00 PM on September 23, 2015

I recently installed Debian 8.1 with LXDE on a Dell Vostro 1500 laptop (from 2007) and the only unusual difficulty was that the wifi driver didn't get installed automatically; so I had to find the associated error messages in /var/log/syslog and some Googling led me to manually install the driver package "firmware-b43-installer". But this might just have to do with Debian's averseness towards non-free software; quite possibly it would have all worked out of the box in something like Ubuntu or Mint.

I was pleased to find that even things like the media buttons for adjusting the speaker volume and pausing and playing video and audio worked without any effort on my part.

One thing that did trip me up post-installation, though, was that wine needed the 32-bit versions of all the libraries to run the handful of Windows applications I use (the Vostro having a 64-bit processor, I had installed the amd64 version of Debian), and some research led me to running commands along the lines of
sudo dpkg --add-architecture i386 && apt-get update && apt-get install wine32
and then to delete my .wine directory and re-generate it with
WINEARCH=win32 WINEPREFIX=/home/username/.wine winecfg
and then everything worked.
posted by XMLicious at 3:26 PM on September 23, 2015 [3 favorites]

I would always try and partition the disk to make /home it's own partition. I've found it invaluable when switching distributions later.
posted by salmacis at 7:54 AM on September 24, 2015 [3 favorites]

2. Should I also install Windows for some reason?

When you think of all the ways that a Windows partition would possibly be useful (in the case of your use) ask, 'Can this also be done on a Virtual Machine?' With Virtualbox or QEMU with QtGui, you can have all the usefulness of interacting with the larger Microsoft ecosystem while maintaining a full-linux box, and getting the full use of a whole disk.
posted by eclectist at 9:34 AM on September 24, 2015

Kensington, don't over think or over worry this. It isn't difficult. You burn an iso to DVD or USB, boot it, start the installer, make a very few choices, enter a name and password, and wait until it finishes.

You will need to know how to tell the BIOS in the Dell to do a one-time boot from the DVD/USB.

If you haven't been there already, go to the Linux Mint site and take a look around. ()

Linux Mint distributes releases with four different interfaces: Cinnamon, Mate, KDE, and XFCE. My recommendation to someone coming over new from Windows is Cinnamon.

You can boot and run a DVD image or a USB image. The only difference is that the DVD will be significantly slower to boot and run. (Install images no longer fit on actual CD's.)

There's guidance on burning DVD's and USB's toward the bottom of this Ubuntu page: .

Mint is based on Ubuntu. The Mint installation routine is a slightly simplified version of Ubuntu's. Other than a relative handful of packages developed and maintained by Mint, pretty much everything in a Mint install is from Ubuntu,

Mint has a user forum. And the Ubuntu forums have a Mint section in a forum dedicated to other OS's. Since Mint is Ubuntu-based, you might get faster answers there.

Mint very likely has the best driver support out of the box, so if by some chance you find a component it can't handle, you may have a difficult time getting it to work. I think that's very unlikely on Dell.

Since you're using a PC with no OS installed, presumably it has a single drive with no partitions on it. When you're ready to start the installer, it will offer you a choice of how you want to set up the drive. The first option -- use the entire disk -- will very likely be your best bet.
posted by justcorbly at 10:23 AM on September 24, 2015

I would recommend against Mint, as they have a terrible track record of shutting off security updates that Ubuntu provide. I haven't seen a good reason to run Mint beyond "angry at Ubuntu for some reason, but not angry enough to use Debian or Trisquel".

If you don't want to use unity, Ubuntu can be switched to gnome trivially. You could also try Xubuntu or Lubuntu or Kubuntu for a different desktop experience right from the installation.
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 5:07 AM on September 25, 2015

If you did decide to go with Debian rather than a commercial distribution, pay special attention to the Unofficial Repositories page on the wiki. In particular you'd probably want to install one of the libdvdcss packages from the Debian Multimedia repo, which are necessary for playing most modern DVDs but which qualify as non-free software and are hence taboo in the distro proper.
posted by XMLicious at 5:29 AM on September 25, 2015

rum-soaked space hobo: I would recommend against Mint, as they have a terrible track record of shutting off security updates that Ubuntu provide.

It's a little more nuanced than that. Nothing is shut off; you can get any update provided by Ubuntu that you want.

Personally I use Mint because I really like Cinnamon and it all feels nice and polished and easy to get used to. It's a very newcomer-friendly distro. Nowadays, more so than Ubuntu.
posted by Too-Ticky at 4:46 AM on November 18, 2015

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