How to Install Linux on Any PC or Laptop

Table of Contents What You Need for Installing Linux Choose a Linux Operating System (“Distro”)

You’re considering Linux as a replacement operating system, but there’s a problem: you don’t know how to install it.

Switching to Linux can be straightforward. Choose a Linux operating system (OS), write the installation media, and sit back and wait. But while simple, it does come with some complications. Here, we look at how to put Linux on your PC with the minimum of fuss.

What You Need for Installing Linux

Elementary OS Linux

To install Linux on a computer or laptop, you will need:

  • A suitable target device (the PC or laptop) – note that installing Linux is destructive to existing data on your computer, so a clean system is recommended
  • A downloaded Linux ISO file
  • Installation media (writable CD or DVD, or USB flash device)

That’s all there is to it. However, you may spend some time choosing and downloading the ISO file before you’re ready to begin.

Choose a Linux Operating System (“Distro”)

Before proceeding you will need to choose and download a Linux operating system to install on your chosen computer.

Various Linux operating systems (also known as “distros” which is short for “distribution”) are in wide use, from big names like Ubuntu and Mint to Fedora, Manjaro, elementary, and Pop!_OS. Each of these balance usability with productivity, much as you would expect from a mainstream operating system.

While there is some difference between these OSs (despite all being Linux), you can expect similar levels of compatibility with your computer’s hardware.

Related: The Best Linux Operating Systems

A note on the target device: you can use a desktop or laptop computer to run Linux. Some Linux versions are particularly suited to older hardware like low-spec laptops and netbooks. If this is something you have in mind, take the time to research your computer model to find the best Linux operating system for it.

Overall, take this as a rule: choose a Linux distro by first ensuring it works with the hardware you plan to install it on.

How to Download Linux to Your PC

With your Linux operating system selected, you’ll be ready to download it to your computer to prepare the files for installation.

In most cases, a Linux distro downloads in ISO format. This is a disk image format, which can be written to a CD, DVD, or USB flash storage. You can expect ISO files to be around 2GB in size usually, although some more compact distros might be half this size.

As such, you’ll need to ensure you have the necessary storage space on your download PC to store the ISO before you prepare it for installation. Downloading is simply a case of visiting the Linux distro’s homepage and downloading the option that most closely suits the computer you plan to install Linux on.

Prepare Linux for Installation

With a Windows 10 or macOS computer, the operating system is preinstalled. However, you may have found yourself in a situation where the OS must be reinstalled. In such cases, you would take the time to prepare installation media, using an optical disc or USB disk.

A similar process is required for installing Linux.

Windows 10 and macOS both make it easy to mount an ISO file in the operating system, enabling you to browse the contents of the disk image. However, writing the ISO file to your intended installation media is a little trickier, and requires a dedicated tool.

Related: How to Create a Bootable USB From an ISO

(macOS users should see our guide on mounting and burning ISO images on a Mac.)

With the installation media created, safely remove it from your computer.

How to Install Linux on a Laptop

Installing Linux basically requires you to prompt your computer to boot from the installation media rather than the hard disk drive.

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With your laptop computer switched off, connect the installation media, and boot the laptop. If the media is detected, you’ll be able to start the installation process (or boot Live mode, see below). This is a guided process, with steps for your region and location, connecting to wireless networking, and selecting a disk partition.

The exact steps involved will depend on the chosen Linux distro. Note that if wireless networking isn’t an option, it is worth connecting the computer to Ethernet to enable the downloading of updates during the installation process.

How to Install Linux on Your PC

Installing Linux on a desktop PC is very similar to installation on a laptop. There is arguably wider hardware support for desktops, but overall, the process is identical.

muo-linux-ubuntu-virtualbox-create-install-erase

Where it may differ is in the presence of an optical drive. As CD and DVD drives are increasingly rare on laptops, it makes sense to use a USB installation media; with an old desktop, you can probably use the optical drive for installation. While this might be slower, it can also be more convenient than scrabbling around looking for a USB thumb drive.

Again, the exact steps required for installing Linux on your computer depend on the specific distro. The guided process should help you to make the right choices, however.

Forget Installation: How to Get Linux on a Computer Without Installing

By this stage you should know how to install Linux on a laptop or desktop computer. But what if you want to run Linux on your computer without installing it? You have three options for running Linux without removing the existing operating system:

  1. Run Linux in Live mode – Linux distros feature a bootable live CD environment (including USB media) which lets you use the operating system without installing it
  2. Run Linux in a virtual machine – virtualization is a great way to run Linux and get to grips with it without installing on a physical hard disk drive
  3. Setup Windows Subsystem for Linux – Windows 10 features an optional tool for running Linux, which is simple to enable and lets you install a Linux distro direct from the Microsoft Store

Whichever option you select, you’ll still be able to enjoy an extensive Linux experience. This flexibility is one of the key reasons for Linux’s enduring success.

Congratulations, You’ve Installed Linux on Your Computer

As you can see, installing Linux isn’t nearly as complicated as you might have thought. All it requires is a suitable target computer, the right Linux version, and suitable installation media.

The process of installation is guided in most cases, helping you to ensure your Linux computer is set up just the way you want. And if you don’t have a spare computer, installing Linux on your existing PC with a virtual machine or Windows Subsystem for Linux is also an option – as is running Linux as a Live CD.


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