7 Things To Remember Before Installing Debian

Brief: If you are thinking of or going to install Debian Linux, here are few things to remember before installing Debian.

This is a follow-up to my introductory article about some of the reasons why I love Debian. In this article, I am sharing some generic tips and ideas which may make Debian Linux installation process easier for you.

Disclaimer: I am not responsible if you brick your system. I am also not responsible if you manage to have a broken installation. Having said that, I have seen and experienced the most broken installations returned to a healthy state. The key there as everywhere else was patience. If you are patient, Debian will share her secrets one by one.

Things to consider before installing Debian Linux

Things to consider before installing Debian Linux

Before starting, I would encourage you to take a blank page from a notebook, fill it with as much clarity on the different choices, ideas that are being presented. The more clear you are in your head about Debian installation to take place, the more easier it would be not just for now but for a long time to come.

0. Power

Before starting on with installing Debian, make sure you have enough A/C/battery power to see it through. For Desktops having a Standby UPS giving at least 45 minutes to 1 hour 30 minutes is needed. For a laptop, a full charge is welcome, while SBC’s and small-form hardwares 10-15 minutes should be enough.

While there are multitude ways to get Debian, for new users the best way is through using the Debian Live ISO. But this is only if you are targeting/using a desktop or/and laptop and want to use Debian GNU/Linux for everyday use. So the first thing to know is –

1. What is your target?

Debian is usable from single board computers (SBC’s) to Servers to Clusters and Data Centers. Hence, it’s imperative that you are clear about where you want to install. Having clarity about target machine narrows down your choices and makes for easier troubleshooting as well as influencing the choices you make during the Installation process.

For instance, in most servers, desktop environments are not installed as they don’t need/want it and can use the saved cycles for whatever they are serving.

Similarly, the netinstall iso is perfect if your target is either a router, an SBC, television/Entertainment System, automotive systems or wherever you have small memory footprint and need to customize a lot. The Netinstall CD is perfect for such scenarios.

2. Hardware

There was an article in recent past about how some laptops of Lenovo ‘Thinkpad’ range were not able to install Debian. Re-reading the article and the patches posted sometime back, it seems it comes down to SSD’s using PCI Express as an interface.

If you are using SSD in M-SATA or SATA (for desktop) you should be good to go. While Intel has been blamed for non-standard implementation I would suggest to stay away from other competing vendors such as Micron and others till the situation is not clear. If you are using SSD in M-SATA don’t think it should affect you.

3. Desktop Environment

Before downloading one of the ISO’s from the list, especially if you are going to install on a desktop/laptop/SBC or/and small form computers it is better if you are clear about what desktop environment, look, feel, memory and system requirements the desktop environments need/want and what is available in your target device.

For e.g. GNOME and KDE would be very sluggish if you have a system which has say just 1-2 GB or RAM whereas Fluxbox, MATE, Enlightenment and few others would do very well. If however you have plentiful memory than those two could be tried.

One thing to note that in Debian as well as other GNU/Linuxes you can have more than 1 desktop environments. For instance, I have 3-4 competing desktop environments on my desktops as well as laptops and I can choose whichever I want to use at any moment in time. You can also mix and match applications from one desktop environment to other.

A brief comparison of different GNU/Linux desktop environments can be found at Wikipedia.

4. Minimum free space

It is preferable to have at least a minimum of 10 GB of HDD space if you are installing it on a Desktop/Laptop. How much space to dedicate depends upon personal preferences as well as what you want to do.

For instance, while doing a server installation, the administrator may typically dedicate a separate dedicated partition for logs whereas for home users it might not be so much of a concern to give dedicated partition for it.

At the barest minimum you should have at the very least three partitions – / (commonly known as root) , /home and swap .

If you are going to download lot of Videos, it’s a good idea to have a separate partition for it with enough space. Having separate partitions gives better flexibility to grow as and when needed.

For instance, if you make a separate partition for Videos and it becomes bigger than you originally intended, you could simply add a new HDD, copy your data/Videos on it, point the new HDD/partition for Videos in your /etc/fstab and re-use your old HDD partition to beef up either your user’s home or wherever else you think space is needed in either short-time or long-time.

While such tweaks can be done later, it is preferable that you plan ahead. For instance, if I know that I am a heavy music and movie downloader, and would run out of space I have dedicated for Videos in a month or two, it probably is a good idea to buy a new HDD now, format and dedicate it for Videos rather than do it later. Pre-planning is half the war won.

5. Updates and Downloads

The net install iso has its own compromises that you need to know. The benefit of the net install is that it gives you the barest minimum needed and if you want to update, you need to update only few packages and the rest of the packages that you download would be the latest.

This is a good way to install on your desktop/laptop as well provided you have blazingly fast Internet. The other way is to turn off updates at installation stage if you have slow Internet and do it later.

The installation process on newer machines should take between 10-15 minutes or more depending upon factors like:

  • Machine and its age
  • Memory/RAM
  • Multi-core processors
  • Traditional Magnetic HDD vs NVM SSD
  • Iso size

Of the five, memory (RAM), Iso size and storage have the most impact on installation times. I have had the pleasure of installing on systems with large memory and SSD’s in 5 minutes or less to agonizing installations of 40 minutes or more.

6. File System Formats

It has been a while now but the last time I installed, I counted quite a few number of them. A slightly old list of the filesystems can be found in the Debian wiki. Unforunately, the wiki is not up-to-date although some basic comparisons of the different filesystems can be found in this wikipedia article.

I would urge to search a bit more on the web and see what different people are seeing, using and depending on how you plan to use Debian, make the right call.

7. Password

Make sure you create a root and a user account and have an alphanumeric 5-10 password, preferably using a random generator. I recommend to have two different passwords, one for root as well as one for the user.

How do you install Debian Linux?

I hope these tips and tricks help you in making the right choices and help you to install Debian in a slightly better way.

If you use Debian Linux, do you have some tips to share with rest of us?

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  • I use Debian “buster” on an old 32-bit Dell Dimension machine, and with 1.5 GB of RAM and 1.8 GHz processor on a 80GB disk it was very slow. I cranked up the memory to 2 GB and put a 2.66 GHz CPU and it’s much faster! Also, for laptops, many have Intel chipsets, you may need a non-free iwlwifi driver, otherwise it will not be able to configure the wifi. You can find the driver with a bit of googling and everything should work.

  • At the barest minimum you should have at the very least three partitions – / (commonly known as root) , /home and swap

    That’s incorrect , you can skip the home and the swap partition.