Linux: Preparation of the system prior to installation

Required hardware

Linux does not require a state-of-the-art computer in minimal configuration:

  • a 386SX processor or higher
  • 4 MB of RAM (8 MB recommended)
  • a hard disk controller and a hard disk with 20 MB of free space (100 MB recommended)
    (in practice, Linux can run from a simple floppy disk)
  • a CD-ROM drive
As to connected peripheral devices, hardware components that are commonly available on the market are much more likely to be supported by Linux...


Linux can be installed in addition to the operating system that is already installed on your machine.
Before launching the installation, make sure that the file system is errorfree by using a program such as scandisk or chkdsk to verify the integrity of the drive, since Linux makes much heavier use of the disk than DOS, for example.

Installation stages

Linux is installed in several steps which make it possible to implement a file system that is recognized by Linux (ext2fs) on one or several dedicated partitions and then to proceed with the installation itself. To configure a node prior to startup from the disk, the steps are as follows:

  • Creating boot disks
  • Startup of the system from the floppy disk
  • Creating the main partition of the hard disk
  • Creating the swap partition
  • Creating the file system
  • installation of Linux
  • Configuration of the kernel
  • Restarting the system

Creating the boot and root disks

Floppy disks that allow booting of the system under Lindux with a minimal kernel make it possible to install Linux. These floppy disks will be created by using a program which makes it possible to copy image files (all files to be placed on floppy disks) onto a floppy disk. There are two such floppy disks:

  • boot disk: containing a Linux kenerl which makes it possible to start up the system
  • root disk: containing the installation program
The image file to be chosen in each case depends on the configuration of your system and will be called:
  • scsi, in the case of a SCSI CD-ROM drive
  • sbpcd, in the case of a Panasonic CD-ROM drive or a Sound Blaster Pro branched drive
  • nec260, in the case of a CD-ROM Nec 260 drive
  • Mitsumi, in the case of a CD-ROM Mitsumi drive
  • cdu31a, in the case of a CD-ROM Sony CDU31 or CDU33a drive
  • cdu535, in the case of a CD-ROM Sony CDU531 or CDU535 drive
For both of the two image files (boot and root), you just need to go to the directory containing the proper image file and then type "\rawrite", the program will then prompt you for the name of the image file (scsi, for example, for the image file of the boot disk), then the drive (a:)

You may finally create an additional disk for subsequent use (for example, if you plan to buy a SCSI card because you have a CD-ROM IDE drive...).

Booting from the floppy disk boot

Once the disks have been created, reboot the computer after placing the floppy disk in the drive a:
After a few messages, the system displays the line: "boot:", hit enter to continue.
The system then asks for the root disk

Creating partitions

To be able to use Linux, you must create a partition (preferably larger than 900 MB to be able to install all options) using the "Linux Ext2" file system and (optionally) a swap partition (virtual memory, i.e. a part of the disk that is used in case of a lack of active memory) with a size of several MB.

You may optionally create other partitions to be dedicated to a special type of data, for example a partition for your documents, one for utilities, etc.

There are different ways to create partitions:

  • Under a Microsoft system, prior to starting up the system with the boot disk:
    • Under Windows 9x, the software Partition Magic 4 makes it very easy to create ext2fs and swap partitions without losing data on the disk
    • Under MS-DOS, use the software fdisk that is supplied by default, which is more ergonomical that the software with the same name that is supplied with Linux
    • Please also note the existence of a DOS utility with the name fips, which makes it possible to perform non-destructive operations on partitions
  • Under Linux, upon successful startup of the system. The installation procedure varies depending on the distribution:
    • with Slackware type distributions, you must enter the commands manually, i.e. successively partition, format, create the file system, and install.
    • with RedHat type distributions, these operations are automated, and you must respond to questions...

Once the partitions have been created, you will certainly be asked for the type of the two preceding partitions. They are:

  • type 82 for the secondary memory
  • type 83 for the main partition

  • The main partition must be located in the disk interval between the first and the 1023rd cylinder!
  • Write down the size (in number of blocks) of the main partition and of the swap partition on a piece of paper for future reference

Creating the file system

Under certain distributions, you will be prompted to create a file system before launching the installation (this is not the case, among others, with the distributions RedHat 5.2 and Mandrake 6.0, for which all of the following operations are automated menus).
Once you have created the main partition and the partition of the secondary memory (swap partition), activate the secondary memory and create the file system of the main partition.

The secondary memory is activated by using the following command:

mkswap -c partition size
For example, for a secondary memory using 10000 blocks, on the second partition of the second disc (hdb2) the command would be as follows:
mkswap -c /dev/hdb2 10000
Use the command swapon to activate this partition

Use the following command to create the file system ext2fs:

mke2fs -c partition size
for example:
mke2fs -c /dev/hda2 202137
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