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December 15, 2003

2 Hour Gentoo Install

Somewhere out there I'm sure there is a record for fastest Gentoo install, and I bet I don't hold it. I was moved to care about how long it takes to install Gentoo a week ago when I attended a meeting of Tufts IT folks. The subject of the meeting was along the lines of "who's using Linux, for what, how can we collaborate." A chunk of the meeting was spent talking about the Linux supercomputing cluster (32 nodes) which is based on Gentoo.

There was some good discussion, heavily geared to sway users to consider Gentoo. Two big concerns were 1) degree of difficulty to install and 2) time to build.

There currently isn't any way around the difficulty of the Gentoo install. If the user is only technical enough to boot from a CD and click through the install (ie RedHat) then Gentoo is probably out of the question. I happen to find the documentation clear and complete, but it does mandate some fdisking and a nano of hosts/fstab etc which is beyond reach for some people.

There are some options when it comes to the length of install time. Gentoo offers 3 different stages, each requiring less compiling than the last. The ultimate in quickness can be found in the GRP (Gentoo Reference Platform) cd, which is a 2-CD set of pre-built binaries (some would say you violate the essense of Gentoo by installing pre-built binaries).

I wanted to give the GRP a shot and see just how fast I could be up and running. Not counting the download and burn time for the GRP CDs, it took just under 2 hours, most of which was waiting for things to build, copy etc. The longest part was compiling the kernel which took ~30 minutes.

It was an interesting experiment, and will be the last time I install from GRP . . . if I have any say. As soon as I had the system up and running I began finding packages that needed updating, many of the pre-built binaries were older and I spent a good chunk of time rebuilding libraries and applications.

I should note, the machine is a P4 1GHz with 256M ram, a few years old.

Posted by mike at December 15, 2003 11:13 PM