How to install Ubuntu: run Linux on your laptop or PC

How to install Ubuntu

We reveal how to install Ubuntu, the free open-source OS, on your laptop or PC

Ubuntu has branded itself as the friendly face of Linux, and this focus on accessibility extends to the setup. The OS is remarkably easy to find, download and install, and during the past few versions Canonical has done sterling work in streamlining the process and making it easier to handle. See also: Getting Started with Ubuntu.

How to install Ubuntu

Before you install, though, there are some decisions to be made. First of all, you need to know which version to install.

For simplicity’s sake, we’ll ignore derivatives such as Kubuntu and Xubuntu, not to mention server variants, and focus on the core Ubuntu Desktop and Ubuntu Netbook Editions.

32-bit or 64-bit?

The arguments over whether to go for 32- or 64-bit versions of Ubuntu mirror those over the 32- and 64-bit versions of Windows. 64-bit Ubuntu is marginally faster in tests, and adds support for more than 4GB of RAM. Take a look at: How to install Ubuntu software.

There are issues with hardware and software compatibility, although these are easing, and some applications either run more slowly in 64-bit mode or won’t run at all without some tweaking.

Confusingly, Canonical cites the 32-bit version as the recommended choice on the Desktop Edition download page, but then goes in favour of the 64-bit version on a help page. In our experience, the advantages of the 64-bit version make sense, and problems are relatively few and far between.

Installation methods

The standard method of installing Ubuntu has generally been to download the ISO file and burn it to a CD, but Canonical is aware that netbook owners may not have access to a CD drive, and that a USB stick is often more convenient.

It’s also possible to try Ubuntu from USB or CD, or even install it to a USB drive as a persistent installation to give you the same desktop and applications on any PC. For now, though, we’ll assume you want to install it to a hard disk.

The simplest way is with a full install, and if you have an old PC, laptop or netbook gathering dust, this is a great way to make it genuinely useful once again. See also: How to install Windows apps in Ubuntu.

It’s a clean and easy installation; the installer will happily wipe your old Windows partition, and Ubuntu’s generous system requirements mean it will run happily on a single-core CPU with 1GB of RAM. It’s even possible to run it on a 1GHz CPU with 256MB of RAM, although we recommend at least 512MB.

Ubuntu’s generous system requirements mean it will run happily on a single-core CPU with 1GB of RAM.

Run it on an Atom laptop – the standardised hardware is an easy target for Ubuntu’s installer – and it’s unlikely you’ll want to run Windows ever again.

You can also install Ubuntu alongside an existing Windows setup. Run the Ubuntu installer and it will give you all the options you need to set up Ubuntu and Windows partitions manually, or you can use the easy “Install Alongside” option, decide how much space to give each operating system and let Ubuntu handle the rest.

The two operating systems work smoothly without any interaction, and both Windows and Ubuntu will run at maximum speed.

Installing Ubuntu from a USB memory stick

How to install Ubuntu from a USB: step one

To install Ubuntu from a USB memory stick, you'll need three things: the ISO file for your version of choice, the Universal USB Installer program and a 2GB memory stick.

You can find ISO at www.ubuntu.com/download and the USB Installer from www.pendrivelinux.com.

How to install Ubuntu from a USB: step one

How to install Ubuntu from a USB: step two

Run the Universal USB Installer. Select your version of Ubuntu from the first drop-down menu, navigate to your ISO file in the text box, then select your USB drive from the second drop-down menu.

Check the box if you need to format the drive, then click Create. Hey presto, one bootable USB stick.

How to install Ubuntu step two

How to install Ubuntu from a USB: step three

First, check that the BIOS of your new Ubuntu system is set up to boot from a USB drive (check manuals for details if need be).

Now insert the USB stick and restart your PC. It should load the Ubuntu installer. Click the Install Ubuntu button and tick the two boxes on the next page before clicking Forward.

How to install Ubuntu from a USB: step three

How to install Ubuntu from a USB: step four

In this case, we want to install Ubuntu alongside the existing Windows installation, so choose “Install alongside other operating systems”. If you're happy to wipe the drive and start again, pick the second option, “Erase and use the entire disk”.

How to install Ubuntu from a USB: step four

How to install Ubuntu from a USB: step five

This screen shows your existing partitions and how they will be divided up post-installation. To change the share for either Ubuntu or Windows, just drag the dividing line to the left or right. Click Install Now when you're ready.

How to install Ubuntu from a USB: step five

How to install Ubuntu from a USB: step six

While Ubuntu installs, you can select your location, your keyboard layout and finally enter your details as the initial user. When it's finished installing, Ubuntu will restart, and it's time to log in and explore.

How to install Ubuntu step six

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