As you delve into Linux, you will find it is TOTALLY flexible and customizable.  You can make it anything you want.  Well, almost.  This total flexibility is the greatest thing about Linux, and it's the worst thing about Linux.  When you get to the point that you understand Linux, that flexibility is great.  For the Linux newbie however, the myriad of choices and options are overwhelming.  This guide will help you install what I think is the best Arch Linux personal desktop solution for a beginner to Linux..

So why Arch Linux?
  The about page on the Arch web site says it very eloquently, so I won't try to improve on it.  Please read the about Arch Linux page, it may answer a lot of your questions about Arch Linux.

One of the questions this Arch Linux installation guide will raise is, why bother writing another installation guide when the official Arch Linux install guide and the beginner's guide are already in the Arch WIKI?  First let me say that the Arch community has done a great job with both of the installation guides in the WIKI and with the WIKI in general.  The community has received numerous compliments on the WIKI in the forum and else where.  To answer this question, let me start by quoting two sentences from the about Arch Linux page.  You did read it, didn't you?

Arch is installed as a minimal base system, configured by the user upon which their own ideal environment is assembled by installing only what is required or desired for their unique purposes.

To summarize: Arch Linux is a versatile, and simple distribution designed to fit the needs of the competent Linux® user

In my opinion, the first sentence is the essence of what makes Arch Linux a great Linux distribution.  However, someone new to Linux, or with limited experience in Linux, has yet to discover what their unique purpose is.  The second sentence says Arch is designed to fit the needs of the competent Linux®  user.   As such, someone with little or no Linux experience can be overwhelmed by Arch.  However, if you are determined, have some spare time to spend, and are willing to read and do some research, someone with little Linux experience can get Arch Linux installed.  The Arch WIKI and the forums are so good, this has happened a lot.  Which I think is great.  The down side is, this has lead to the same questions being asked repeatedly in the Arch forums.  In a round about way, we have now come to the point of this particular Arch Linux installation guide.

This is going to be my attempt at a newbies installation guide for Arch Linux.  This will be a "take you by the hand and lead you through it step by step" approach.  Unlike most lead you by the hand guides that tell you to do this, and do that, I intend to also tell you WHY you are doing what you're doing.  One goal of this guide is to address most of the questions that are repeatedly asked on the forums.  Perhaps this can make the transition to Arch Linux a little less painful.  To attain this goal, this guide will be longer than what is necessary to simply get Arch installed.  Hopefully this will be a combination of an installation guide, an Arch Linux guide, and maybe a general Linux guide.

Why do an install over the internet using FTP/HTTP?

Arch is a rolling release distribution.  The Arch devs do not release installation snapshots very often.  So, the packages on the installation ISOs are usually out of date.  After installing Arch using the packages on the ISO, the first thing you have to do is a system update, which downloads updated packages.  These updated packages may also contain updated configuration files that you will have to deal with.  How to avoid all this?  Install Arch Linux with the FTP/HTTP method.  This downloads and installs the absolute latest packages and configuration files from your favorite mirror site. 

What are the hardware requirements?

Due to the greater instance of installation problems on Lap Tops, I recommend that Linux beginners start by installing on a desktop.  After you become more familiar with Linux, you can try installing on a Laptop if you wish.  Arch Linux will install smoothly on most hardware.  In my humble opinion,  as a company Nvidia is probably the best at supporting the Linux community.  I find that Nvidia chip sets, and Nvidia Graphics cards or Nvidia integrated graphics have the best Linux compatibility.  The best thing to do is try Linux on your hardware and see what happens.   The vast majority of the time it will install just fine with no or few problems.

Since Arch Linux is i686 optimized, the one thing you WILL need is an i686-based computer such as PPro, Pentium 2 or higher, AMD Athlon/Duron, etc.  The other option you can use is a 64 bit computer that is x86_64 compatible.  Note that AMD K6, Transmeta Crusoe, CyrixIII, and early VIA-C3 CPUs are NOT supported.

You will also need a CD ROM drive or a 1 Gig or larger USB stick.. I strongly suggest installing Arch Linux on it's own hard drive.  To be absolutely safe, it should be the only hard drive connected to the computer during installation.  As a beginner, it is too easy to partition the wrong hard drive and completely wipe out your Windows installation.  You can add your Windows hard drive back after installation and dual boot if you want to.  However, in my opinion, if you want to use both Linux and WIndows, it is best to have two computers, and switch between them using a KVM.  Then you can switch from WIndows to Linux and back by simply hitting some hot keys.  I have had very good results using a PS2 KVM with a PS2 keyboard and mouse, very mixed results when using a USB KVM with a usb keyboard and mouse.

To insure success, I suggest keeping the installation as simple as possible.  So I suggest you use an internal hard drive connected to either the mother board's IDE connector or the SATA connector.  Stay away from RAID arrays, trying to install to a USB drive, etc. for now.  You have to learn how to walk before you can run.  Once you have mastered the simple setups, you can then go on to try some of the more exotic things you can do. 

I would also recommend you have a broadband internet connection.  You could do this with dial-up 56K, but it would take a LONG time.  Unless you have a separate phone line for your computer, people would have a hard time calling you for a long while.

The first step is obtaining a copy of Arch Linux.  Go to:

and choose a mirror close to you.  In North America, is very fast when it is working, but it is down from time to time. and also work good for North America.

After you have gone to your chosen mirror, click on iso then latest.  Notice there are two kinds of files there.  archlinux-2009.02-core-xxx and archlinux-2009.02-ftp-xxx.  The 2009.02 indicates the date this version of the installer was released.  In this case February 2009.  The core  version has a snapshot of the Arch Linux  core repository as it was in February of 2009.  This contains all the files necessary for a base install of Arch.  With the core version, you can install from the CD or USB and load the February 2009 packages.  Or you can do a FTP install and download and install  the latest packages from an internet connection.  The ftp version does not contain a snapshot of the core repository and can ONLY do a ftp install from the internet.  The core version is more versatile in that it can do both a CD or FTP install, but it is a larger file to download.  The FTP version is a smaller download, but isn't as versatile.

Also note that there are both  img and iso files.  img files are for loading onto an USB Flash stick and installing from USB.  iso files are for burning to a CD-R and installing from the CD drive.  I recommend using the CD .iso if possible.   I would download either *-core-i686.img or *-core-i686.iso for a 32 bit system, or download either *-core-x86_64.img or *-core-x86_64.iso for a 64 bit system.

You can use this guide to install either the i686 version or the x86_64 version, the installation procedure is the same for both.  You have to install the i686 version on a 32 bit machine.  You can install the i686 or x86_64 version on a 64 bit machine.

Now use either a Windows or a Linux CD burning program and use the "Burn iso" function to create an installation CD.  If you look at your newly created CD with a file browser, you should see some folders, and you should be able to open these folders and see more files and/or folders.   If you only see one file, then you didn't burn the CD properly.

To create an installation USB flash stick in Linux, use the command dd.

You have been warned.

# dd if=path_to_img_file of=/dev/sdb

You may have to change the /dev/sdb to whatever is appropriate for your circumstances.  This brings us to the first commonly asked question on the forums that I will try to address.  Do not try to  install to /dev/sdb1 since this USB stick will need to be bootable.  /dev/sdb refers to the entire drive.  /dev/sdb1, /dev/sdb2, etc refer to partitions on that drive.  By specifying /dev/sdb in the dd command, the MBR (Master Boot Record) will be installed in the proper place on the drive to allow the USB stick to be bootable.  Once you are finished using the USB stick for installing Arch Linux, you can re-format it to FAT 16, or FAT 32 and use it just like you did before.  If you are a beginner to Linux, I would recommend using the CD drive iso version as there is less chance of messing things up.


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