3.3. Information You Will Need

3.3.1. Documentation Installation Manual

The document you are now reading, which is the official version of the Installation Guide for the bookworm release of Debian; available in various formats and translations. Hardware documentation

Often contains useful information on configuring or using your hardware.

3.3.2. Finding Sources of Hardware Information

In many cases, the installer will be able to automatically detect your hardware. But to be prepared, we do recommend familiarizing yourself with your hardware before the install.

Hardware information can be gathered from:

  • The manuals that come with each piece of hardware.

  • The BIOS/UEFI setup screens of your computer. You can view these screens when you start your computer by pressing a combination of keys. Check your manual for the combination. Often, it is the Delete or the F2 key, but some manufacturers use other keys or key combinations. Usually upon starting the computer there will be a message stating which key to press to enter the setup screen.

  • The cases and boxes for each piece of hardware.

  • System commands or tools in another operating system, including file manager displays. This source is especially useful for information about RAM and hard drive memory.

  • Your system administrator or Internet Service Provider. These sources can tell you the settings you need to set up your networking and e-mail.

Table 3.1. Hardware Information Helpful for an Install

Hardware Information You Might Need
Hard Drives How many you have.
Their order on the system.
Whether IDE (also known as PATA), SATA or SCSI.
Available free space.
Partitions where other operating systems are installed.
Network interfaces Type/model of available network interfaces.
Printer Model and manufacturer.
Video Card Type/model and manufacturer.

3.3.3. Hardware Compatibility

Many products work without trouble on Linux. Moreover, hardware support in Linux is improving daily. However, Linux still does not run as many different types of hardware as some operating systems.

Drivers in Linux in most cases are not written for a certain product or brand from a specific manufacturer, but for a certain hardware/chipset. Many seemingly different products/brands are based on the same hardware design; it is not uncommon that chip manufacturers provide so-called reference designs for products based on their chips which are then used by several different device manufacturers and sold under lots of different product or brand names.

This has advantages and disadvantages. An advantage is that a driver for one chipset works with lots of different products from different manufacturers, as long as their product is based on the same chipset. The disadvantage is that it is not always easy to see which actual chipset is used in a certain product/brand. Unfortunately sometimes device manufacturers change the hardware base of their product without changing the product name or at least the product version number, so that when having two items of the same brand/product name bought at different times, they can sometimes be based on two different chipsets and therefore use two different drivers or there might be no driver at all for one of them.

For USB and PCI/PCI-Express/ExpressCard devices, a good way to find out on which chipset they are based is to look at their device IDs. All USB/PCI/PCI-Express/ExpressCard devices have so called vendor and product IDs, and the combination of these two is usually the same for any product based on the same chipset.

On Linux systems, these IDs can be read with the lsusb command for USB devices and with the lspci -nn command for PCI/PCI-Express/ExpressCard devices. The vendor and product IDs are usually given in the form of two hexadecimal numbers, separated by a colon, such as 1d6b:0001.

An example for the output of lsusb: Bus 001 Device 001: ID 1d6b:0002 Linux Foundation 2.0 root hub, whereby 1d6b is the vendor ID and 0002 is the product ID.

An example for the output of lspci -nn for an Ethernet card: 03:00.0 Ethernet controller [0200]: Realtek Semiconductor Co., Ltd. RTL8111/8168B PCI Express Gigabit Ethernet controller [10ec:8168] (rev 06). The IDs are given inside the rightmost square brackets, i.e. here 10ec is the vendor- and 8168 is the product ID.

As another example, a graphics card could give the following output: 04:00.0 VGA compatible controller [0300]: Advanced Micro Devices [AMD] nee ATI RV710 [Radeon HD 4350] [1002:954f].

On Windows systems, the IDs for a device can be found in the Windows device manager on the tab details, where the vendor ID is prefixed with VEN_ and the product ID is prefixed with DEV_. On Windows 7 systems, you have to select the property Hardware IDs in the device manager's details tab to actually see the IDs, as they are not displayed by default.

Searching on the internet with the vendor/product ID, Linux and driver as the search terms often results in information regarding the driver support status for a certain chipset. If a search for the vendor/product ID does not yield usable results, a search for the chip code names, which are also often provided by lsusb and lspci (RTL8111/RTL8168B in the network card example and RV710 in the graphics card example), can help. Testing hardware compatibility with a Live-System

Debian GNU/Linux is also available as a so-called live system for certain architectures. A live system is a preconfigured ready-to-use system in a compressed format that can be booted and used from a read-only medium like a CD or DVD. Using it by default does not create any permanent changes on your computer. You can change user settings and install additional programs from within the live system, but all this only happens in the computer's RAM, i.e. if you turn off the computer and boot the live system again, everything is reset to its defaults. If you want to see whether your hardware is supported by Debian GNU/Linux, the easiest way is to run a Debian live system on it and try it out.

There are a few limitations in using a live system. The first is that as all changes you do within the live system must be held in your computer's RAM, this only works on systems with enough RAM to do that, so installing additional large software packages may fail due to memory constraints. Another limitation with regards to hardware compatibility testing is that the official Debian GNU/Linux live system contains only free components, i.e. there are no non-free firmware files included in it. Such non-free packages can of course be installed manually within the system, but there is no automatic detection of required firmware files like in the debian-installer, so installation of non-free components must be done manually if needed.

Information about the available variants of the Debian live images can be found at the Debian Live Images website.

3.3.4. Network Settings

If your computer is connected to a fixed network (i.e. an Ethernet or equivalent connection — not a dialup/PPP connection) which is administered by somebody else, you should ask your network's system administrator for this information:

  • Your host name (you may be able to decide this on your own).

  • Your domain name.

  • Your computer's IP address.

  • The netmask to use with your network.

  • The IP address of the default gateway system you should route to, if your network has a gateway.

  • The system on your network that you should use as a DNS (Domain Name Service) server.

If the network you are connected to uses DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol) for configuring network settings, you don't need this information because the DHCP server will provide it directly to your computer during the installation process.

If you have internet access via DSL or cable modem (i.e. over a cable tv network) and have a router (often provided preconfigured by your phone or catv provider) which handles your network connectivity, DHCP is usually available by default.

If you use a WLAN/WiFi network, you should find out:

  • The ESSID (network name) of your wireless network.

  • The WEP or WPA/WPA2 security key to access the network (if applicable).