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Author Topic: Linux tutorial 4 - Hardware installation  (Read 15570 times)


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Linux tutorial 4 - Hardware installation
« on: December 10, 2007, 07:08:21 PM »

This is the fourth in the series of tutorials. We'll be looking at how to install common hardware.

Hardware installation in Linux is quite different from how it is in Windows. The reason is of course that all manufacturers of PC hardware supply Windows drivers and installation software with their products. By and large you just stick the supplied CD in the drive and do what it tells you to do. A few manufacturers supply Linux installation software as well, but this is still fairly rare, and Linux developers have developed their own methods.

If you're going to buy some new equipment it's always worth looking at the Linux hardware guide first, to make sure that you don't buy something which isn't yet supported.

Internal hardware

With modern Linux systems most internal hardware will be detected and automatically installed during the operating system installation. If something didn't get installed properly, or you add something new after installation, you'll have to set it up afterwards.

Sound cards and onboard sound systems

In general these are detected by the installer and work with no problems. If you add a sound card after installation, you will need to set it up using the tools available in the distribution you're running. Some distributions include friendly GUI utilities for this, but not all.

For those that don't you'll need to use the command line. Open a terminal window (you'll find it in the menu system, or in the quick-launch section of the taskbar) and do the following:

If you're using Ubuntu or one of its derivatives:

Type sudo alsaconfig  (sudo puts you into administrator mode for that command only).

You will be asked to enter your password, then the configuration utility runs. Normally you can just OK each of it's questions, and at the end your sound should hopefully be working.

For other distributions:

Type su

You will be asked to enter the root password. This puts you temporarily into administrator mode.

Type alsaconfig

The configuration utility runs. Normally you can just OK each of it's questions, and at the end your sound should hopefully be working.

Type exit   (This terminates your temporary administrator mode)


In most cases the graphics system will be automatically detected and configured during installation. With a fairly recent monitor which provides information to the driver about its characteristics and capability (EDID information) you should end up with a reasonable display. With older monitors which don't supply full EDID information, a safe setting will be applied, and you'll need to do a bit more work after installation. Occasionally the installer will fail to deliver a usable display, and dealing with that situation is beyond the scope of this document.

Assuming that you have a usable display but want to improve it, some distributions include friendly GUI utilities for configuring the graphics. Notable stars in this respect are OpenSuse, Mandriva and PCLinuxOS, and Mepis also has a reasonable utility. With these utilities, it's often the case that all you need to do to get a good display is select your monitor type from a long list or enter its sync frequencies (available in its user manual).

For top graphics performance (for gaming for example) you'll need to install the manufacturer's proprietary driver to replace the free Linux driver which you are currently using. It would be best to consult the distribution's support forum or other help facilities for advice on this.

Peripheral hardware


Support for printers varies quite widely between manufacturers. Hewlett-Packard supply a utility called hplip which provides full-featured support for HP printers, scanners and all-in-ones, and most distributions install this utility by default. Epson support is also good, Canon and Brother rather less so, and Lexmark are better avoided altogether. Samsung laser printers usually have Linux drivers and installation software supplied on the CD. To check out support for particular printers, go to Linux printing information.

Many distributions include GUI printer installation utilities. For those which use the KDE desktop, the KDE Control Centre includes a printer installation module which is easy to use. In all the mainstream distributions you can install and manage printers using the CUPS (Common Unix Printing System) web interface: open a browser and type 'localhost:631' (without the quotes) in the address bar. In a few cases you may have to type 'localhost:631/printers' instead.


Scanners are supported by a suite of software called SANE (Scanner Access Now Easy). The acronym is perhaps a little overstated, but in many cases it is easy. HP scanners are supported by hplip (see above), and for these there is usually nothing to do other than install the hplip package if it's not already installed, and run a program which makes use of the scanner, such as Kooka on KDE desktop systems. The SANE suite of software includes a GUI scanning program calles xsane, which will detect and make use of any scanner which is supported by SANE.
To check out support for particular scanners, go to SANE project website.

USB memory sticks and disk drives

With most modern distributions there is nothing to do to make these work. You just plug them in and they are detected and made available. Sometimes a dialog will pop up asking whether to open the device in a file manager or do something else, and sometimes a desktop icon will appear, and you click on this to access the device.


This is an area which can be quite hit and miss. If you're lucky you will be able to plug your webcam in and run a program which uses it (e.g. Pidgin, previously called Gaim Instant Messenger) and it will work. If not, you'll have to do some work. The support forum for your distribution is a good place to start, and these sites may help:

The Webcam HOWTO
Using webcams under Linux