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I'm installing alongside windows. My HD has ~1 TB of space. I'm assuming when installing, if I ask the installer to partition 400 GB of space for Ubuntu, this would leave ~600 GB of space for Windows.

But how is this 400 GB used? Will it be used for me to save any random files I end up saving? (e.g. music, photos, apps, etc.?)

Or will it be used for some weird tech reason that I, as a casual user, am not aware of or concerned with?

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But how is this 400 GB used?

That is up to you.

Theoretically you could create a 250 Gb swap file and reserve 10 Gb for the OS files and 140 for /home/. Not that I would advice it but it is possible.

For the basic system (ie. Ubuntu itself with kernel etc etc) 10 Gb is more than enough (ie create a 10Gb partition and call it / during installation).. Your personal documents can be stored on a separate partition on those 400 Gb (ie create a 380Gb partition and call it /home during installation). The remainder can be used for swap.

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I myself need more about 50GiB for my root partition but this depends on how much software you want to install (especially games can get very large, from the Humble Bundle for example, or special software like Matlab etc.) – FSMaxB Sep 27 '13 at 8:56
@FSMaxB oh I play games too but those I install in /opt and guess what ... it has its own partition :D Just like my 1st line: whatever rocks anyone's boat (at work we got /etc and /opt in diff. parts but I see no need for it at home). – Rinzwind Sep 27 '13 at 9:01
Don't forget /usr/local but you can always do symlinks – FSMaxB Sep 27 '13 at 9:08

In the default configuration that partition will contain the OS and your home directory including all your personal data, documents and media (if you decide to save them there).

More experienced users often have a separate partition for their home directory, which can be much larger than the one for the root directory.

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