First, if you don't already have them, you'll need to download a program to burn ISO images to a CD/DVD disc. Many programs can do this, but I recommend freeware the programs ImgBurn and PowerISO 5.9. To use PowerISO for installing Linux, you'll need to register it for $29.95.
If your PC can boot from a USB drive, you should get a program that will let you run and install Linux from a USB drive. My particular favorite for this job is Yumi for Windows. Other worthwhile choices are LinuxLive USB Creator and UNetbootin. All of these programs are free.
Given a choice between a DVD disc and a USB stick, I'd go with the USB option. Mint, and any other operating system, will install and run much faster from it.
When you get to the Mint download page, you'll see a selection of download mirrors. Pick the one that's closest to your location and start your download. In the top section, entitled "Information about this edition," you can also choose to get a copy of Mint via BitTorrent. The ISO image file you'll be downloading is about 1.2GB in size, so if you have a slow Internet connection, you might as well get some lunch while waiting for it to arrive.
Once you have the file in hand, use your burning program to burn the ISO image to your disc or USB stick. If you're using a DVD—Mint's too big to fit on a CD—use the program to check your newly burned disc for errors. As the years have gone by, I've found that more problems with running Linux and installing Linux from DVDs have come from bad discs than all other causes combined.
Next, place your disc or USB stick into your PC and reboot. Do not simply let it reboot. You're going to want to stop it during the boot-up process and get to the BIOS. What method your PC uses to do this varies. Look for a message as the machine starts up that tells which key or keys you'll need to press in order to get to the BIOS. Likely candidates are a function key or the Esc or Delete keys. If you don't spot it the first time, don't sweat it. Just reboot and try again.
After you get to the BIOS, look for a menu choice labeled Boot, Boot Options, or Boot Order. If you don't see anything with the word "boot" in it, check other other menu options such as Advanced Options, Advanced BIOS Features, or Other Options. Once you find it, set the boot order so that instead of booting from the hard drive first, you boot from either the CD/DVD drive or from a USB drive.
That done, insert your DVD or USB stick and reboot. Then, select Start Linux Mint from the first menu you see. Your machine should soon be running Linux. In this mode, you haven't installed anything on your PC yet. Use this opportunity to play with Mint to see if you like it at all.
Using a DVD drive it will run slowly, but it will run quickly enough to give you an idea what it's like to use Mint. With a USB stick, it will run fast enough to give you a much better notion of what working with Mint is like. Indeed, some people carry Linux with them on USB sticks and use that as their walk-around operating system for hotel, conference, and library PCs.
Like what you've seen so far? Then you're ready to install Mint. First, make a complete backup of your XP system. Installing Linux in the way I'm going to describe shouldn't hurt your XP setup in the least, but why take any chances?
Next make sure your PC is connected to power—you do not want to run out of battery power during an operating system install!--and that you have an Internet connection and at least 7.8GBs of free drive space.
That done, reboot into Linux again. Once you have the Mint display up, one of your icon choices on the left will be to install Mint. Double-click it and you'll be on your way.
You'll need to walk your way through several menu choices. Most of these decisions will be easy. For example, the language do you want Mint to be installed in and the time zone are you in. The one critical choice will be how to partition your hard drive.
Partitioning a hard drive can become very complicated, but fortunately, there's an easy choice that will let you dual-boot both XP and Mint. Simply pick the first option on the Installation Type menu: Install Linux Mint alongside them.
This procedure will install Linux Mint next to your existing XP system and leave it totally untouched. When I do this, I usually give half the drive, or half the remaining drive space to Mint.You'll be asked to choose which operating system you want do boot by default. No matter which one you pick, you will also have a few seconds to decide to boot into the other operating system.
You will also be required to give your system a name, pick out a user-name for yourself, and come up with a password. You can also choose to encrypt your home directory to keep files relatively say from prying eyes.
Once the entire installation process is done, you can choose to boot into Linux Mint. The first thing you'll want to do after that is to update your system to the latest software. Unlike Windows, when you update Mint, you'll be updating not just your operating system but all the other programs you've installed on your system. To do this, click on the shield icon in the menu bar. By default, the bar will be on the bottom part of the screen and the icon will be on the right. It will then prompt you for your password and then ask if you really want to update your system. Say, yes, and you'll be ready to give your brand new Mint system a real try out.