Enticed by the holiday's tech sales offerings as 2021 nears its end, I recently purchased a Dell Inspiron desktop for the purpose of installing a Linux distro on it- in particular Red Hat Enterprise Linux 8.5. The price was great, I was tired of virtualizing RHEL on my laptop, and despite my previous negative experience with installing Linux on cheap but new hardware, I decided to dive into the task and give this conversion a try. The configuration is more than decent for what I want from that machine and after all, Linux itself isn't exactly a needy customer when it comes to hardware resource. "Well maybe things have improved over the years"- I thought. And yes they did, but not as much as I've expected.
Not as easy as "shrink the Windows partition and then run the installer"
Commodity hardware, like the Inspiron desktop and its equivalents with other PC maker brands, is still under Windows' tight grip. If you want a PC with RHEL or Ubuntu pre-installed on it and shipped to you, you'll have to spend more. It won't be the cheapest laptop or desktop on the store shelf. It is almost guaranteed that cheap but new configuration will ship with Windows on it. I was not able to find an option on Dell's website that'd customize the pre-installed OS on Inspiron. That option was available on their higher-end configurations though, but if one wanted RHEL pre-installed, Dell wanted to charge yearly susbcription right from the start. Even without the subscription, those configurations cost at least 50% more than I spent on my Inspiron and the monitor.
Many a tutorials that I found online give that simple advice for dual booting Linux on a Windows machine: while in Windows, shrink the Windows partition and then run the Linux installer and it'll all be fine. That advice isn't bad if all you need is dual boot Windows-Ubuntu or Windows-Fedora. For any other distro, you are at the mercy of the BIOS maker.
Before you buy, ask "can I disable SecureBoot?"
SecureBoot is a technology that, explained in very simple terms, allows only securely signed OS images to boot on your PC. That looks great in theory. In practice, Windows is the only OS blessed by SecureBoot to run on PCs. The only Linux distros with that blessing are Ubuntu and Fedora.
You'll be out of luck if you bought some new but cheap configuration with SecureBoot on it if you want to install Linux that isn't Ubuntu or Fedora and the option to turn off SecureBoot in BIOS simply doesn't exist. Not all makers will expose that option to you. And good luck asking customer service that question. I honestly haven't asked, and got a PC with an option to turn off SecureBoot by pure luck.
If BIOS allows you to turn off SecureBoot and you went and turned it off, you aren't done with BIOS yet.
AHCI is your friend for painless Linux installation on new hardware
RHEL won't install if the storage on that PC is handled by BIOS in RAID mode. It won't be even seen by the RHEL installer. If there's an option in BIOS to turn the storage handling to AHCI mode, do turn to AHCI. There may be a warning popping up about Windows possibly not booting up after that switch to AHCI. My intention was never to keep Windows on that machine, so I galantly disregarded it. Your case might be different.
All you have to do now while in BIOS is to set up the boot order to prioritize boot from the installation media rather than from the hard drive and _now _you are done with the BIOS.
There are obstacles but people adapted
There's a considerable body of online knowledge on how to deal with obstacles that PC makers put to keep Windows on cheap hardware in the name of security. Years and years worth of testimonials of people buying cheap PCs, converting them from Windows to Linux boxes and reporting back on issues they encountered. So have your still functioning personal computing device firmly by your side- be it another PC, a laptop or your smartphone- read those testimonials and try to learn from those people's experience.
Why not dual boot
It was probably still possible to arrange dual boot Windows-RHEL on my new Inspiron, after I resolved the issues with SecureBoot and RAID. And I honestly gave Windows 11 a chance. I patiently waited, for days, for the updating process to finish. One update after another, the longest actually being the BIOS update. It may have been the internet connection that slowed things down (wireless router in a different building that I don't have access to) but after all was done (actually when I got back a bootable machine, updates were not done) and I started exploring Windows and saw how underwhelming it is- nothing honestly that sets it apart from other OSes, no distinguishing feature that no other OS can do, nothing that compels one to reach out for Windows and say "I want this OS!"- after all these years... that was what Microsoft came up with: a gateway to an MS Office subscription, an obligatory antivirus tithe and Edge as the new browser (and probably the slowest of all). No thanks, and bye. Windows is not for me, I guess.
That was my own experience, yours may differ. You may have even found some better solutions to issues involving conversion of cheap Windows PCs to Linux. I am looking forward for your comments.