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3. Hardware Requirements

3.1 On what architectures/systems does Debian GNU/Linux run?

The Debian Linux distribution includes complete source-code for all of the included programs, so it should work on all systems which are supported by the Linux Kernel; see the Linux FAQ for details.

The current Debian Linux distribution contains a complete, binary distribution for Intel-based PC's, including 80386, 80486, Pentium, and Pentium Pro's. The development of binary distributions of Debian 1.1 for 68k processors is currently underway, and ports to Alpha, Sparc, and MIPS processors are expected to follow.

3.2 What hardware is assumed by the stock Debian GNU/Linux boot disks?

The configuration file used to build the standard distribution Debian GNU/Linux kernel assumes an 80386 CPU, and includes support for PCMCIA cards, most SCSI cards for which there exist Linux drivers (with the notable exception of the NCR53c810), and most Ethernet cards for which there exist Linux drivers.

Linux kernels suited to a variety of special platforms are included in the directory buzz-fixed/disks-i386/special-kernels at any Debian FTP archive site, along with their configuration files. Briefly, these platforms include:

3.3 What amount of disk space is recommended?

A generous installation, sufficient to accommodate a few users, X windows software, and several large applications, might require disk partitions at least as large as:

The optimum disk space allocated for swap depends critically on the way the system will be used. Many people just choose to set aside twice as much disk space as they have RAM space. Systems with large RAM may not need so much swap space, especially if there are only a few users. The installation process supports systems with no swap space.

But how much RAM and disk space are absolutely essential?

These minimal requirements are sufficient for a system without X windows and only 1 or 2 users:

Debian Linux can be installed on systems with only 4 MBytes of RAM. The latest installation disks are especially organized to provide an easy installation path for machines with small memories. Some users report success at using Debian Linux to convert PC's having limited RAM (and disk space) into X terminals. An 80386-based system with only 4 MBytes of RAM and 40 MBytes disk space has been used to run Debian Linux in this way; i.e., both networking and basic X11 server functions operated satisfactorily. This mode of operation even works if 1 MByte of the RAM is used as a ramdisk when the machine is booted, implying that only 3 Mbytes of RAM is absolutely essential for using Debian Linux on a PC in order to use it as an X server. This mode of operation requires a swap partition; without it, the system won't even go into multi-user mode.

3.4 How should I partition my drive?

Partitioning a drive has the disadvantage that drive space can be used much less flexibly than an unpartitioned drive. Most users find, however, that this disadvantage is more than offset by the fact that damage to a filesystem on a partitioned disk is usually limited to a single partition. Furthermore, backups of a partitioned hard disk can be more easily managed because the files that change most frequently are likely to be localized to a single partition.

A user with a 1.6 GByte drive has concluded after a survey of Debian users that it's reasonable to design a partitioning scheme that closely follows the Linux standard File System Structure. For his 1.6 GByte disk, he chose these partitions:

Note that for best performance one should definitely place the swap file in its own partition. Ideally, this partition would reside on a drive controlled by a different controller than that which contains the user partition. (But hard evidence that this approach really yields better performance is lacking at present.)

3.5 Are very large disks supported?

There is an upper limit on the size of the disk partition that's used for booting. This limit applies to all operating systems, not just Linux, and not just Debian Linux. Basically, the BIOS's typically available on PC's cannot access disk partitions larger than 1024 cylinders or tracks. Thus, any operating system used on a PC cannot be booted from a disk partition larger than 1 GByte. It's worth emphasizing that this restriction only applies to the partition from which Linux is booted. Other partitions can be larger. One solution to this limitation is to place the directory /boot/ in its own (very small) partition, entirely within the first 1024 blocks of the disk.

Recent versions of the Linux kernel include the the Multi-Device disk driver ('md'), which provides striping support (sometimes called RAID 0) in software as well as a linear mode of joining 2 or more disks into a single logical device that can be formatted as a single file system.

3.6 (How) does Debian provide PCMCIA support?

The version of the kernel distributed with the Debian installation disks includes support for PCMCIA cards. That is, its .config file includes the line: CONFIG_BLK_DEV_IDE_PCMCIA=y. This configuration just supports modification of the IDE driver in the kernel to support IDE disks that are PCMCIA cards.

Utilities that actually provide pcmcia card services have been developed by David Hinds. These utilities are provided in the Debian distribution by the package pcmcia-cs-KKK_VVV-RRR.i386.deb, where the components 'VVV' and 'RRR' follow the usual conventions on Debian package names, and the component 'KKK' refers to the kernel version for which the pcmcia-cs package was built.

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