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Old 08-02-2006, 11:31 PM   #1
Registered: Aug 2006
Distribution: Kubuntu Edgy 2.6.17-10
Posts: 31

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Partitioning/Distro advice? (long post, lots of info)

Hi all!

This is a long Intro because I have lots of questions and might as well tell you where Iím at in my research, as I'm still trying to narrow down that reading with a specific distro to read about, and who else to ask but someone more experienced?

Itís been 2 days since I dropped $100 on Linux books (4 days since I started reading the net stuff) because Iím finally ready to bite the bullet and transition from Windows. It was the whole WGA Notify hell that pushed me over the edge. Yes, Iíve disabled it. I donít think I can jettison Microshaft completely due to my 4-month-old hardware, which includes a TV tuner that I may not be able to get working under Linux (full details of hardware at the bottom).

Iím basically looking for advice on a distro, confirmation about partitioning strategy, and other preparation tasks that I may not be fully aware of yet.

For the 1st and 2nd parts of this, I know Gentoo isnít usually recommended for a newbie, so Iím now downloading the LiveCD of Ubuntu, (the distro chooser recommended it, OpenSuse, and Mandriva) but Iím still hankering toward Gentoo precisely because of my significant hardware and software application requirements. It sounds like it has the widest possible range of possibilities. Iíve already got my HD partitioned into a dual boot system using PM 8 and BootMagic (although I later added Acronis for true image backups), with:
* Dos/BM that may now be too small to add the Linux (55 MB)
* XP x64 on the first bootable partition (15+G)
* Media Center Edition on the second NTFS partition(20+G), which is usually where I work.

I also have other partitions for my data files (62G), backups (32G), multimedia (147G), and finally an old separate drive I use for storage of drivers and stuff I rarely access (20G) but would need if I have to reformat a partition. Unfortunately, it's an IDE drive, so PM8 and Windows is saying the old drive is the first one (0), and not the bigger SATA drive (1). Since the x64 was the 1st OS I bought with the PC, and it turns out LG still doesnít make a 64-bit driver for it to get it into DMA mode, itís that partition that I intend to wipe for Linux. Iíve read that the PM 8 is definitely the way to go as far as preparing the PC to have Linux and XP coexist until itís safe or necessary to jettison MS completely.

And please, Iím not made of $. It may sound like Iíve got it, but Iím a newly disabled pensioner and only had the $ for all of this investment a few months ago when I took a crooked thief/past employer to court for breaking all kinds of federal and provincial laws, and won a small settlement that I invested into hardware & software. The whole thing was designed to be a home theatre PC that would also allow me indulge my hobbies, which includes volunteer work developing bibliographical databases for a national charity. That work, too, has involved authoring a staff training DVD and requires the use of MS Office (theyíre a publisher/research think tank). I know Iíll have to stick with the MS Office and go the paid CrossOver Office route, and now Iíve got the added problem that I may have to buy a new printer (power died on it the day the warranty expired) just so that I can print off the documentation Iíll need before I go live with the Linux. CrossOver Office may not help with the bibliographic software, however, which is a plug-in to Word as far as the FE is concerned, and has its own database as the BE. Iím not a big gamer, although my teenager is, and weíre both film buffs. He, of course, has his own PC, so hence the wireless router.

Iíve already played around with Knoppix LiveCD, which didnít let me surf /read about Linux more due to my router, but did seem to detect some sort of tuner, and played movies without the use of the tuner or the DVD writer fine. I also tried like heck to get ChrisTV working on the x64 partition before I gave up and dropped the second $400 to get the MCE OS, its hardware and the 2nd G of RAM. With only x64, PM8 had ruined my MBR (they are NOT compatible, but I did get it to work eventually), so Iím understandably nervous about modifying the MBR again to accommodate Linux. I probably wonít reinstall the PM8 again, and rely on the floppies with the program to resize my partitions.

My questions: am I definitely wrong to go Gentoo? What else has those same advantages like excellent hardware detection and many apps?

Logical or primary partition for Linux? Obviously itís primary now with the x64
How big should the bootloader partition be to handle both the XP MCE and something like Gentoo? Iíve read that ext3 is better than ext2, and that lilo will have to be on the ext3. And no, Iím not forgetting about the swap partition.

Anything else Iím forgetting?

I figure I can at least try to get the partitioning part of the prep and the downloading of drivers Iíll need done before the final distro choice and install, while Iím waiting for my printer to be fixed Ė if possible.

Any help/support/advice would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks in advance!

Asus A8N32-SLI Deluxe MB with AMD 64 X2 3800+ 2.01 GHz and 2G RAM
2 On-board NICs connected to D-link 604 router and broadband cable modem; also onboard 7.1 NVIDIA Sound with speakers & USB Mike
Thermaltake Mozart case with Antec TruePower 2.0 550W PS
Only 1 XFX GeForce 7800 PCI-E so far, connected via DVI cable to 26" LCD HDTV
Itís the PowerColor PCI-E x1 tuner, driven by ATIís Theatre 550 Pro software, thatís connected to a Rogers Scientific Atlanta Explorer Digital Cable Box (I cannot have OTA reception because Iím in a basement apartment, and had to junk HDTV itself because 6 mths of hell from the cable company meant it was more trouble than it was worth. However, I love commercial-free film classics on TVO.)
LG superdrive (CD/DVDwriter)
Floppy, keyboard, USB optical mouseÖanything else? Yes, the main HD is a 300G Sata, and I was thinking about getting a 2nd matching HD to take advantage of the MBís onboard RAID Ė until the doing Linux properly became such a high priority
Old 08-03-2006, 12:16 AM   #2
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Registered: Oct 2003
Location: New York City
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A few things you say struck me as odd/unnecessary, so I'll stick to those. I know nothing about TV tuners, so that is something to bear in mind.

First off, you will not use ext2. That is old technology. Any current(ish) distro will give ext3 as a default filesystem. Anything that handles ext3 can also do ext2, and ext2 doesn't journal, so a crash on ext2 (power failure) puts you at risk of losing any data on the drive. There are mountains of posts on the merits of various filesystems. Ext3 and reiserfs are the most common I believe. I like reiserfs, but either are fine. Chances are very good you'd never know the difference from just using the machine.

The boot partition's ability to boot windows has nothing whatsoever to do with it's size. 100 MB is plenty of space for a /boot partition. It is all of 2-5 lines of plain text that allow you to boot an OS, so the space won't matter. Your 2 options are grub and lilo. Every distro defaults to one (most often grub), but you can install either. I prefer grub, straight text, and no need to reinstall it with each new kernel. Lilo has its advocates as well. Also along the lines of "you'll never know the difference" is if you should put it on a primary or logical partition. There might be a difference in terms of single digit milliseconds, but you as a human being won't ever see a difference. Linux will call the SATA srive /dev/sda, and the IDE /dev/hda, this 0 and 1 you speak of must be a partition magic thing.

You will be able to mount all of your drives to read from windows in linux. The kernel developers are hard at work getting NTFS write ability stable. They announced that they have it, but it will take some time to be certain. What that means to you is you'll have no issues playing a movie that you have stored on a windows partition, but writing a new one to the same partition may prove difficult/impossible at present.

With 2 Gb of RAM, you don't need swap. Having a little swap is always good, but the rule of double your RAM for swap space would be a grand waste on your machine. On my laptop with 256 ram, I never go to swap. With 2 Gb, you certainly shouldn't touch it. I wouldn't waste more than 500 Mb of space for swap, if even that much.

What you will need is some space! I didn't total up your partitions, but at the bare minimum, I would think you'd want at least 10 Gb for linux. 20 is much better, and 100 more still. You can either do that through a 2nd sata (probably easiest), or 2nd IDE. You are talking about software RAID when the motherboard does it. Getting that to work under linux is tough. That often fails. Search here at LQ for posts about mobo raid.

MBR wise, you have 2 choices. Let linux overwrite the MBR, or use a special boot device to boot linux, by installing to a boot floppy. Overwriting the MBR is nothing serious, so don't sweat that. Installing GRUB or LILO autodetects windows, and makes entries for it. Even multiple versions. I used qtparted yesterday to shrink a win partition on an IBM thinkpad. The 40 GB disk was 5 Gb recovery partition, and 35 NTFS. I shrunk the NTFS to 10 GB, and installed Debian in the 25 Gb free space. To my surprise, with no interaction from me, the Debian installer saw both the XP partition and the recovery partition. Even if it misses something, you add a few lines to the GRUB config file, and it boots again. If you go the boot floppy way, then with the floppy in, linux boots. With it out, windows boots.

I strongly suggest not using the partition magic. QTparted is free, and on the knoppix disk. You boot into knoppix, and have it resize your partitions, then you have free space. I find it best not to partition that space, just leave it blank. Put the installer disk in, and let it partition the space as you see fit. Setting up the swap/ext3 whatever can sometimes lead to problems in partition magic, so I avoid it at all costs.

Distro wise, you'll get as many different opinions as there are people that post. I won't plug Debian, the best distro, but merely suggest you try something, and see if you like it. If you don't try something else. Beauty of it is you can try almost all of them for free. It's like being the proverbial kid in the candy store. Taste, chew, decide, move on if needs be.

I'm unclear on your network. You mention having 2 NICs, then mention both a router and cable modem. Are those in line, or does one NIC go to the modem, and the other to the wireless router? In any case, that vast majority of wireless routers accept wired connections too. Avoiding the wireless NIC can help, as many folks stumble getting ndiswrapper installed. Ubuntu is supposed to be good at detecting wireless cards if you have one. Gentoo is fine too. It would be considered a hard distro by most, but it is like learning to ride a bike. Gentoo (and Slackware) are like getting on your father's bike at the top of a hill. You're going to learn a whole lot really quickly, or you're going to crash. Many would say that is the best way to learn *nix quickly. Going the "training wheels" way and using Fedora or Suse is fine too (no insult intended for those that like those distros).

All in all, linux is linux. Some might detect hardware better, but nobody has a lock on getting something to work. If it works under any distro, it can work in all distros, just a matter of knowing how to do it.


Last edited by JimBass; 08-03-2006 at 12:19 AM.
Old 08-03-2006, 12:16 PM   #3
Registered: Aug 2006
Distribution: Kubuntu Edgy 2.6.17-10
Posts: 31

Original Poster
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Re: Parititionning/Distro; Thx; more questions arise

Thanks Jim for tons of great info so quickly. However, I must admit that I'm confused on a couple of things. But b4 I go into further questions to clear up those confusions, a quick update:

Ubuntu Live (newest version) is what I'm working from now, and there seems to be no problem with my router stopping me from surfing - unlike with Knoppix Live. However, I'm not getting any sound yet...but that's secondary for me at the moment. I really like the look and feel of Ubuntu, as I think it's the Gnome and how clean it all looks. (Of course, I often say that 'clean and simple' is a silver lining to the cloud, meaning more is hidden, so a seemingly more complex look has its advantages.) Yes, the networking part is all in a line: cable to cable modem to router to one of my onboard nics with the standard wire (my son's PC has the wireless adapter, which is still slower than wired). I've disabled the other onboard Nic simply because I don't need to use it (it was helpful during installations of OS's because I didn't need to have OS's and networking setup to access Internet for driver downloads and such), having bought the router and the other PC 3 yrs ago when I was stuck sharing a PII with a teenager. I did like the extra security of a router, but that and all of my many anti-spyware/antivirus/anti-browser-hijacking tools didn't seem to help all that much, and certainly didn't prevent the spyware MS (the WGA Notify) installed due to MS lies and stealth. I'm now using ZoneAlarm again to monitor MS.

Anyway: here's one very confusing aspect of all this: I'm not sure what I can do with the LiveCD vs. an install, as I tried to update the apps and couldn't for some unknown reason (only available for installed Linux?). I was able to change the sound from the default mike to the nvidia, and then totem came up without the "can't activate totem because the sound server cannot be accessed" or some error message like that that I got with the sound set to the mike. Nor could I view any of the files on my drives, as I tried to test the sound by running an mp3, whereas I could do this with the knoppix live. All The documentation I've read so far rarely makes a distinction between what's possible with Live vs. installed.

Also, I'm not sure if we're talking about the same thing when we're talking about the bootloader. that's the trouble with terminology between platforms. Jim, when you write "100 MB is fine for a /boot partition", (remember I have 55 MB now) do you mean the same thing as I do? the Dos/BootMagic partition?

And why do you say avoid PM? I do have the retail version here; it's paid for already so cost isn't the issue. It's also very modern version, and I got a lot of my information from its manual where it discusses installing Linux, and it seems to jive with what the linux documentation I've read says. I've also been strongly advised not to use QtParted in other online documentation; it is is a clone of PM, so I'm wondering what kinds of problems you mean when you write, "Setting up the swap/ext3 whatever can sometimes lead to problems in partition magic, so I avoid it at all costs." Obviously I need to gather as much info as I can first about what could happen, then make some decisions about which conflicting advice I'll follow (conflicting advice is inevitable), but it helps to be forewarned before I make those decisions.

Really, I'd just wanted to use the PM8 to resize my partitions and wipe out/reformat the x64 partition anyway, and then do the install. I know the Linux installers can do the rest (they could do the reformatting, too, but my issue is to avoid it making errors about where to put itself), and am mindful of what the PM8 manual said about NOT putting Lilo (if that's what the distro I choose wants to use) in the dos/Bootmagic partition. Hopefully I'll be able to choose grub to avoid PM8's mentioned problems with Lilo if it's put into the Dos/BM. I just want to make darn good and sure a distro doesn't try and put itself in the Dos/Bootmagic partition or the "first" partition it sees, which could mean it puts it in the older IDE drive.

Of course, it might be a good idea to move the files I have there to the Sata drive, and tell or let Linux install itself to the IDE. There should be almost 20 G there, btw, and the current x64 primary partition where I was expecting to install Linux has just over 15G. Obviously, I could change the sizes of the 15G and other Sata partitions anyway.

As for your advice on space needed for the files I'll create, I was expecting to use my current Windows partitions for Data and Media (for MP3, recorded movies, docs, etc.) which together have over 200G. If I can mount those logical partitions and access those files from Linux, can't I use them to store Linux files, too? I definitely believe in keeping all of my own files (in Linux you'd refer to them as /home or /user files) on a separate partition, leaving only OS, system, and app files in the OS partitions.

And why do you say the MBR is no biggie? It certainly was a huge biggie for me when my MBR was destroyed after I tried to use PM8 with only x64. Trying to recover from it meant installing a floppy after all, brand-new hardware swaps due to the proverbial screw we thought had fried the mobo so there was no way it would post (it ended up being a RAM failure), and every single problem in the book. Everything (!) seemed to die on me during those six weeks, including stuff not even controlled by the PC (e.g. cable boxes and the still-under-warranty D-link is wonderful with support). I can't lose Windows again until I'm comfortable Linux meets all of my needs. It takes weeks to reinstall and configure properly, with hundreds of programs and settings, and backups won't help if the partition tables and MBR is destroyed. It was a nightmare.

I'm tempted to use your boot floppy suggestion, but floppies do fail too often for my tastes. I have hundreds of them from my dos/windows 3.1 days over 10 years ago, so many are old, but so little info fits on them they're almost useless. I suppose I could substitute CD-RW for the word 'floppy', though.

As I said, I love the look and feel of Ubuntu, as well as what I've been able to do with surfing so far, but am a little concerned about it not detecting the TV tuner (unlike Knoppix) or letting me access the files on my other partitions/drives (again, unlike Knoppix live). Knoppix also has the MythTV, but I'll spare you those details because you said you didn't know about tuners. However, its the tuner that makes it a home theatre PC.

My main piece of documentation that I'm accessing, beyond the Internet and distro-specific manuals that are part of the downloads, is Negus/Wiley's 2006 ed. of the Linux Bible. It has whole chapters on the different distros, but obviously can't be completely distro-specific. And I am precisely the type to enjoy learning the hard way fast (as you mentioned about Gentoo); for all my protestations about the nightmarish hell I went through after the MBR/partition destruction. I'm just sick of windows I think, and the idea of being lied to by a company who's gotten so much of my $ and time over the years. Particularly from the Ubuntu Live, I'm really starting to see why Linux has such loyal fans.

Anyway, further help from anyone on these additional questions would be appreciated. Now I'm off to get my printer repaired.
Old 08-03-2006, 02:56 PM   #4
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The problems I have seen with partition magic are due to imcompatibilites between what partition magic does and what the linux installer sees. Using partition magic to clear 20 Gb of space on your SATA wouldn't be a problem. All I was saying was don't proceed to use partition magic to format that free 20 Gb into partitions ofr linux. Just leave it as free space. Let whatever distro you choose actually partition the space. Search here for posts where somebody used partition magic and ended up with problems. Not the software's fault, usually was human error or misunderstanding, but it seems far easier to let the installer create the partitions it is about to use.

The MBR is not a partition. It is just a little tiny bit of space that tells the BIOS where to load the OS. For win folks it is a big deal, as they have no way to manipulate it, as you have seen. We of the *nix world have knoppix, slax, and plenty of other live distros, that will see and allow you to manipulate all the partitions on your drives, without any regard for the MBR. If your MBR gets hosed, even win has a utility to repair it. Put the XP CD in, boot to repair command prompt, and do something like /fixmbr and it sets you back to XP. In *nix, you just reinstall grub/lilo, and the problem is over. So yes, don't sweat it.

You could use a boot CDRom, or make a boot floppy and just copy it time and again so you can boot. if you have such strong reservations about the MBR thing, that would be a safe way to go. Google for installing grub or lilo to floppy, and apply it to a CDrom if you prefer.

You can't update a live CD because it is running off the CDRom itself, not touching the drives. Once it is installed you can update it, but the drag of a live distro is you can't manipulate it once it is burnt.

Mounting the windows partitions is fine for reading only. As I mentioned before, you may be able to write to it soon, but not at present to the best of my knowledge (haven't ran win in years, so I don't deal with it directly). That means you could read your movies out of your win drives, but you could NOT add a new movie to the same location from linux. You would have to store the data in your /home directory, or change the filesystem on yoyur data drives to fat32 from NTFS.

Your current partition magic 55 MB partition should probably be left alone. You could erase it completely, and make that the boot partition, but I don't know how that partition works and what it does, so just doing so could leave you with unbootable windows.



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