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I am going to install Gentoo Linux, and I see three options on their website:

  • Minimal Installation CD, 2019-05-26, 286 MiB
  • Hybrid ISO (LiveDVD), 2016-07-04, 2 GiB
  • Stage 3, 2019-05-26, 260 MiB

From their website:

The Gentoo minimal installation CD is a bootable image which contains a self-sustained Gentoo environment. It allows the user to boot Linux from the CD or other installation media. During the boot process the hardware is detected and the appropriate drivers are loaded. The image is maintained by Gentoo developers and allows anyone to install Gentoo if an active Internet connection is available.

and

A stage3 tarball is an archive containing a minimal Gentoo environment, suitable to continue the Gentoo installation using the instructions in this manual. ...

I would opt for the hybrid ISO, but it is too old.

What is the difference between the minimal installation CD and "Stage 3", considering they have roughly the same size?

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The minimal installation CD and the staging tarballs are two separate things. The CD is basically a LiveCD environment containing the minimal amount of tools you are going to need to build a Gentoo install when following the Gentoo Handbook. It's possible to use any LiveCD (e.g. Ubuntu, Debian, etc.), but it is recommended to use the Gentoo one to ensure that you have all the necessary tools to build the install.

The stage 1,2,3,4 tarballs are archives containing the actual Gentoo base files themselves. Basically, the tarball will contain the files that will act as the foundation of your Gentoo install. From there you build up (depending on which stage you choose to work from). You can read about the differences between the stages here: https://wiki.gentoo.org/wiki/Stage_tarball

For first-time people wanting to experience the "full" Gentoo experience, I suggest using the Minimal Installation CD and working from the Gentoo Handbook from a Stage 3 tarball.

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