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Can Ubuntu partition and format before installing itself on a Dell Dimension 4400 whose HD is wiped clean of Windows XP?

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The Ubuntu installer will always create and format an ext4 partition for itself unless it is explicitly told another partition scheme. Look at the Partioning Wiki for more information.

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Yes, Ubuntu can create partitions and format them.

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Yes, the Ubuntu Disk or USB installer will handle this no problem. They have a tool called gparted, which can even do this without installing Ubuntu.

Gparted can format the drive , create or delete partitions, move partitions, add labels, etc.

Just boot with the install media inserted and follow the prompts. You don't even need to wipe XP first, the installer can do it.

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