How To Choose The Right Ubuntu CD

By | 2007/03/10

I realized the other day, based on repeated questions, that many people don’t know which CD is the best to download. When looking at a list of CD options from a download page the options can be very overwhelming. I thought I would break things down for everyone today. Hopefully this’ll help new users find the right CDs, leading the fewer installation problems, better hardware support and a better overall experience.

First you need to decide whether you want the Desktop, Alternate or Server CD. After you’ve made that decision you’ll need to make sure you get the right architecture for your machine. Here is a breakdown:

The Desktop CD

The Desktop CD allows you to preview Ubuntu before you install anything. It’ll boot into a LiveCD with full functionality with an option to install during this preview. This installer seems to install things more quickly than the Alternate (below) and walks you through the installation in just a few steps. This is the suggested method for most new users. If you want to see what Ubuntu has to offer with no strings attached you’ll most likely want the Desktop CD.

The Alternate CD

The Alternate CD can be a bit intimidating to some users, although many of the options are the same as the Desktop CD. This installer is completely text-based and does seem to take a bit more time to install the system, but it has a few better support options when compared to the Desktop CD. A few things that I have found better supported on the Alternate CD are things such as RAID, LVM and boot-loader functions such as bypassing the grub installer or working with other boot loaders such as Acronis. I, personally, prefer using the Alternate CD installer.

The Server CD

The Server CD is for installation on server machines such as web or mail servers. It has a server-specific kernel, smaller memory footprint and only takes about 500M for a full installation. This website is hosted on an Ubuntu run web server based on this Server CD. To give you an idea, the server is a Pentium III 500mhz with 256M total memory and the Ubuntu Server CD keeps it running like a champ! If you need a home or office based server this would be the right CD for you.

Now for the architecture. You need to make sure that you’re installing the CD that best supports your computer architecture. Whether it is a Mac (old-school or Intel), Intel based PC or AMD based PC. You’ve got to make sure you’re getting the right version for your hardware for best support and performance.


Here is a quick breakdown of some of the major machine types that are best suited for the i386 download. This is generally the most widely used / most popular hardware type. If you’re not sure what you have this is probably the safest guess.:

Intel Pentium (1-4)
Intel Celeron
Intel Pentium M
Intel Mobile Pentium 4
Intel Celeron M
Intel Core Solo, Duo (Not Core 2)
AMD Geode (GX, LX, NX)
AMD K6/K7 (Duron, Athlon)
AMD Sempron models without AMD64 support


Here is a quick breakdown of some of the major machine types that are best suited for the AMD64 download:

AMD Athlon 64
AMD Turion 64
AMD Opteron
AMD Sempron models with AMD64 support enabled
Intel processors that support EM64T: Intel Core 2 processors, Pentium D, Pentium Extreme Edition, some versions of Pentium 4 and Celeron D
Intel Xeon


This architecture is best for those of you with the old-school Mac machines. Anything pre-Intel on Mac hardware is best suited for this installation. These are usually referred to as G3, G4 or G5. Note: This architecture is still available for download but will not be available or supported in future Ubuntu releases.

I hope this helps people find the right fit for the right machine. I want to make Ubuntu a pleasant experience for everyone and I believe making sure you know the right installation options for the right machine is the basis of it all. If you have any hardware or installation type suggestions please leave a comment and it may be added to the post.

16 thoughts on “How To Choose The Right Ubuntu CD

  1. sam

    This info should be included in the download page!

  2. Weiers

    Hi Christer, I’m sorry that this is off topic. I read your blog every day via RSS feed in the Liferea feed reader.

    It seems you’ve activated a setting that causes only the first paragraph or two to display in the liferea feed reader. I need to then click on the “more” option to launch the article in my browser.

    You may have a reason to do this, but it is a bit of an inconvenience for me.

    I really enjoy your blog. This particular post is useful. I recently installed Suse SLED10 on 10 computers because I could not get the Ubuntu Desktop CD to install properly on them (Celeron computers Pentium iv). I think I could have avoided that by trying out the alternate install cd. I’ll probably wait for fiesty to launce and try again.

  3. Guardian


    I have AMD Anthlon 3800 [64-Bit]. So I have an Amd64 version of kubuntu on my system.

    But I could’nt take advanteges of my Nvidia GeForce 7300 GS yet, I tried to install from source code by the file that I downloaded from Nvidia’s site..

    And the second question is; is there any advantege to use 64bit version of kubuntu than i386. I think to change my system to i386 version..

    thank you for your sharings..

  4. JanC

    Your list of processors for i386 & amd64 is not correct/complete:

    – most Xeon processors don’t support EM64T (most of the recent ones do, but older Xeons don’t)

    – most Pentium D processors don’t support EM64T (although maybe most recent ones do)

    – not all versions of the P4EE support EM64T

    – I heard/read somewhere (but I’m not sure) that some very early Core 2 Duo processors don’t support EM64T

    – Via C3 processors should also work with the i386 CD

    Also, most desktop users with an amd64-compatible processor probably want i386 instead of amd64, because of software compatibility issues…

  5. Lane Lester

    I thought it was cool that there was a special version for my AMD64 CPU. Then I started running into all kinds of problems finding applications and drivers for that kernel. It is definitely not as well supported as the i386… which I am now happily running.

  6. Jason

    Nice work, never knew what the alternate CD was for.

  7. Onno Zweers

    I have recently read the story of a newbie who installed the server cd and then was stuck because it didn’t have a graphical user interface. I’d day to newbies: install the desktop cd even if you want to run it as a server.

  8. Huygens

    Hi Christer,

    You could have taken the chance to improve the wiki counter part at the same time.
    The second link in the “Start here” section of the wiki main page ( is just about which CD to choose. However, it is more or less only about the architecture choice, not the difference between the alternate/desktop/server.

    Anyway, I think I’m going to do it myself. Could you state under which licence you are publishing all those tutorials (esp. this one in particular)? So I know if I can copy&paste your text into the wiki, if I have to give you credits for the work, etc.


  9. Chris

    A very nice breakdown of the CDs, however I notice that the net install CD is missing from your list, and is frequently passed over when people name off the ISOs you can download. The current i386 Edgy one is available here:

    If you’ve never used it, it’s essentially the Alternate Installer except that it fetches all the packages directly from the repos. This is -really- nice because it means you always get the most updates packages, no need for updating afterwards. It’s also pretty quick if you have a decent net connection. I’d highly recommend the net-install for people that have a fast connection and want to have an updated system that’s ready to go immediately.

  10. Gary

    I have down loaded the Unbuntu Desktop CD version. But can not seem burning it to a CD and make it bootable. I have been searching and searching the web for clear instruction on how to burning the following image file to a bootable CD.

    I have ISO Buster to extract the iso image files. But I need help on create a boot live CD from the image.

    Any help would be greatly appreciated.

  11. Pingback: Reasonable Goods » Linux Distribution: Ubuntu

  12. satish

    i ve downloaded ubuntu live cd , burnt it on a cd and made it bootable…when i m booting with tht cd in my drive, i m successfully booting..but i m getting A:\>
    on my monitor display..when i m changing directory , it was reporting an error..wil u plz suggest me something to solve my pbm…

  13. Pablo

    where does an Intel Atom N270 fall please??

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