Install Ubuntu 12.04, 13.10 or 14.04 on 3TB Disk

Like me, you may have become complacent in installing Ubuntu Linux. It always ‘just works’. Right? Well, I had an unpleasant surprise when I wanted to install 13.10 on my shiny new Lenovo ThinkCentre tower with an equally shiny, new Western Digital Red 3TB drive. I wanted to use one of these drives to boot from because a) it’s huge and I have lots of data b) it’s got some good reliability reports c) it only uses 4W and I will have it switched on 24×7 and d) on a price per GB basis they’re extremely cheap. When I installed Ubuntu (be that 12.04 LTS, 13.10 or 14.04 beta), it all installed OK but then I always got the ‘couldn’t find an operating system’ kind of complaint at reboot.

The Solution

After digging around the Interweb, it looks like I needed to partition the system in manually. To repeat my solution you will need:

  • A USB stick of at least 2GB – I got a few so I could be working in parallel and also handing for re-working / re-trying.
  • The Boot-Repair Disk Linux distro.
  • Ubuntu 12.04 LTS Precise Pangolin, 13.10 Saucy Salamander (at the time of writing not a great idea to install since it’s almost end-of-life) or 14.04 Trusty Tahr(at the time of writing in beta).

Use the Ubuntu Startup Disk Creator tool to put Boot-Repair and (if you have multiple USB drives) Ubuntu onto your USB drive(s).

Boot your target computer from Boot-Repair Linux. Exit the Boot Repair application and start GParted from the menu. Make a new partition table of ‘gpt’ type (GPT partition tables are huge-disk and UEFI BIOS friendly).
Make some partitions using GParted. In order (all primary partitions, cylinder aligned):

  • A 64MB FAT16 primary partition. You can label this partition ‘boot’.
  • A 4096MB Linux swap partition. You could label this ‘swap’ but that would seem a little redundant ;-).
  • A 256GB (256,000) ext4 partition. You could make this larger, but I would suggest that over 1TB you might run into booting problems again. You can label this partition ‘ubuntu’.
  • Other partitions as you want, either for booting other OS (for me that would be other Linux flavours), and/or for data, home directories or whatever. On GPT partitioned disks you can have loads of partitions for lots of different boot configs without resorting to the now very old and crusty extended partition nonsense that harks back to OS/2 days.

Format the partitions appropriately while you’re there.

Now boot your target computer from your Ubuntu installation USB stick. Follow through the usual paces and stop at the screen ‘Installation type’ – choose ‘Something else’ not ‘Erase disk and install Ubuntu’. Using ‘Change..’ select Use as: ‘EFI boot partition’ for the 64MB partition and Ext4 journaling file system with mount point ‘/’. Looking good? Right, hit Install, answer the rest of the mundane installation questions and then go make a cup of tea (this step is optional, although recommended).

For the record, I didn’t need to change the UEFI settings in my BIOS which were already set to ‘automatic’ (i.e. trying both old-school as well as UEFI boots).