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I downloaded Ubuntu 12.04 from the official site and it arrived as a ZIP file. Unzipped and got a lot of folders, totaling up to over 700 MB. There isn't any ISO image in the extracted content. So what do I burn to make a bootable Ubuntu CD for my new HDD?

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The ISO file is the ISO image that had to burn with minimum speed on Cd , you can even try installing From Live USb Drive through unetBootin –  tijybba Jul 12 '12 at 10:19
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ISO files can also be extracted, maybe that's what he meant by ZIP file. No need to extract it. Delete all the extracted folders, and burn the original ISO that you've downloaded to a CD or you can also create a LiveUSB. –  Peachy Jul 12 '12 at 11:14
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@msPeachy: maybe make that an answer? :) –  izx Jul 12 '12 at 18:22
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2 Answers

The official Ubuntu 12.04 downloads are all ISOs, not ZIP files.

Download from the official site here (Right-click, Save Target as...) and then burn the ISO with Brasero, Nero, etc:

http://releases.ubuntu.com/precise/

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You don't unzip the file, you just "burn" it. That is a special operation to make a bootable disk. An ISO can be bigger than 700Mb but the result fits on a standard CD.

For instructions look here: https://help.ubuntu.com/community/BurningIsoHowto

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