31 Mar 2009

Linux on the Acer 4530 - Choice of Distro

As I mentioned in my previous post, this article concerns installation of Linux on my personal laptop. I'd been using Vista since I bought the laptop and its only recently that I ran into an issue mandating formatting and reinstallation of the boot drive.

My Acer 4530 laptop goes with the following specs. A more elaborate description can be found on ExpertTester's blog
  • AMD Athlon 64 X2 QL-60 @1900 Mhz
  • NVIDIA nForce 610M (MCP67-MV) Chipset
  • 1 GB DDR2 SD RAM @ 667 MHz (+ 1GB Free RAM ;-)
  • 160GB SATA Harddisk Drive
  • 802.11b/g Wifi, Inbuilt EDR2.0 Bluetooth
  • Nvidia 9100M G with 256mb Dedicated memory.
  • 8x DVD RW Double Layer Optical Drive
  • 3USB 2.0, 1 LAN, 1 Modem, one Express/54 slot, 1 VGA out, 1 SD/MMC reader Slot
  • Webcam with optimized low-light mode
Now when it came to installing Linux, the first choice I was faced with was to choose between the various Linux distros available. For the uninitiated, Linux is essentially a free operating system(OS). The core of the OS called the "Kernel" is developed by an amazing team of dedicated geeks. The latest kernel source can be obtained at www.kernel.org. Various project teams then package the kernel with their choice of shells, drivers, system utilities, desktops & other user applications like games, openoffice, media players etc. Such a complete package serving as a full-fledged Linux OS is called as a "Linux Distribution" (distro for short). Currently there are more than a dozen mainstream popular Linux distros & probably atleast 5 new distros get announced every two months. For details on these distros and comparisons, you can refer to www.DistroWatch.com, LWN.net and www.PolishLinux.org.

I spent a couple of weeks collecting as much information as I could regarding the various distros and finally I had narrowed down to these few contenders.
  1. Ubuntu - Was the first thing everyone else was suggesting and enjoys immense popularity.
  2. OpenSuse 11 - It seemed that a lot of people indeed got the Acer 4530 working nicely with Opensuse.
  3. Fedora 10 - Yet another popular distro - especially considering its Red Hat lineage.
  4. Mandriva 2009 - Easiest for the beginner with nice hardware detection and support.
  5. Gentoo - Sounds great but sadly not for the beginner by any margin.
All these distros come packaged as LiveCD's that allow you to test out the distro without having to actually install it. You can just burn the distro to a CD and boot from the CD to check out the particular Linux flavour. However considering the fact that I'm using a pathetic CDMA modem based connection (avg 6KBps bandwidth), I had to really decide on which distro I'd download and burn as a liveCD.

Another choice you have is that of the GUI desktop you prefer. Most distros come with KDE and GNOME desktops though XFCE is also being considered by some. This is personal taste and I decided to start out with KDE.

Finally after googling around a lot, I decided my distro had to be Mandriva 2009 KDE One edition. I read up a lot from various forums and the options that swung the vote in Mandriva favour (atleast at the time of writing this) were
  1. Graphical no-hassles installer with easy disk partitioning and setup.
  2. Binary Beta driver for Nvidia. I work frequently on images using Gimp and wanted the display to function at native resolution (no scaling).
  3. Support for some proprietary drivers as well. (Okay I'll live, even if I don't have the source).
  4. RPM based packages with auto-update facility.
  5. Graphical control center with neat grouping.
As a beginner, another option you'd be faced with when you go about downloading a distro is the choice of system architecture. Many distros are available with seperate download iso's for the x86_64, i586 and i686 architectures. This thread give a pretty good rundown on which one to go for. Since the Acer 4530 has a 64-bit processor, ideally one should be downloading the x86_64 version for a distro if it is available.

I started uTorrent to download the Mandriva 2009 one edition liveCD and waited patiently for the download to end on my camel-speed connection (ETA 2 days, 4 hrs). After 2 days. I got it burned on a re-writable DVD and I was ready to get booted into the world of Linux.

Next article : Installing the OS and getting the system ready.

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