Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Ubuntu 10.04 and the Dell D600

I have written here in this blog of my brother and his conversion years ago from Windows to Linux and Apple. He has four computers, two of which have Linux, and two of which a have PowerPC based OS.X. One of the Linux computers recently suffered a motherboard failure, so he was down one.

While it would not be quite true to say he was in the market for a new computer, since he does not spend much money annually on computers, he was looking for another computer opportunity. He was given a Dell D600 laptop by another relative, fulfilling that need.

The new-to-him computer had Windows XP, and ran....

...... very .....

.... slowly.

He asked me if Linux could be installed on it. I was pretty sure it could be, since I have it running extremely well on my D620.

The heritage of the D600 is unknown. It has a big orange sticker on the bottom saying it was reconditioned, but not by whom, or how. It ran hot as well as slow, and the battery was not a Dell part, and did not hold a charge. With a single core Pentium-M 1.4 Ghz processor ( because back then everything was single core ) , and 512 MB of RAM, it was not bleeding edge, but I thought Ubuntu 10.04, with all of it's optimizations and speedups would work well on it. The screen was big and bright and still a modernish 1400x1050 (SXGA+). It's 4x3 but other than that it looks as good as most any other modern laptop.

They wanted to keep XP on the hard drive as a just-in-case, which was a slight problem because the hard drive was a very un-modern 30 GB. Windows was consuming 14.5 GB.

I have seen MS WinXP installed on lessor hardware run better, so I am pretty sure that there is something wrong with the WinXP installed on the system, but I did not look into it. I booted Live version of Ubuntu 10.04 beta 1 from a USB fob, and checked for hardware compatibility. The only problem was the Wifi. It was a Broadcom part, but Linux would not enable it, and Ubuntu would not install non-standard hardware drivers on it either. I decided that I would just go the NDISWrapper route, and so told Ubuntu to install.

I do not know how long it took to resize the hard drive. I re-laid out the disk from 1 big to 4 various sized partitions. Post layout there was a 15 GB Windows partition at sda1, a 5 GB partition for sda2, a 2 GB partition for sda3 and a 7+GB partition for sda4. This was for /windows, /, swap, and /home respectively. I walked away and let the disk be worked over by the installer. The disk partitioning program that the installer uses gives no status as to progress as it resized, so I had no idea how long to wait. I went to lunch instead. That no-progress-status bug has been there for a while, but it does not affect the ability of the program to resize a disk, so I guess it is not high priority to get it fixed.

It was done shrinking heads when I got back, so I installed Ubuntu, and rebooted.

Everything was perfect except no WIfi. The Broadcom part (probably a Dell TrueMobile 1450 by brand) was not going to co-operate. I plugged in an Atheros based USB external 802.11 unit, and wifi popped right up, so I loaded up all the service, and rebooted. Still no Wifi. If Ubuntu does not support it out of the box these days, I usually don't mess with it. There may have been a way using fwcutter to get it going natively, but instead I just plugged in the Atheros, and loaded NDISWrapper and Ndisgtk, which is a GUI for managing NDISWrapper. I pointed Ndisgtk at an .inf file I also got from the Internet, and the card flew up and gave no further problems. Everything was configured correctly to survive reboots as well.

I had not seen the wireless issue when I installed Ubuntu on the D620 because it was Centrino branded, meaning it had Intel wireless, and that works natively in Linux these days due to Intel supplying support to the Linux community for their hardware. When I have a choice I use Intel or Atheros chipped Wifi for Linux laptops.

It would be nice if every single card out there just worked, and I almost bet that when the Mint version of Ubuntu 10.04 is out in a month or two that it will just work there, but I did not want to wait. While I did not mention my worry to my brother, I was concerned that the computer when running XP might be infected with something that would be working to steal his identity or similar. I did not want to take a chance. I wanted Linux up as fast as possible.

10.04 booted quickly, and ran quietly. No CPU fan most of the time. The D600 did not heat up. I loaded up Google Chrome for additional speediness, and surfed the web for a few hours. I tried a few games and OpenOffice 3.2 and a couple other things just to be sure that everything was running as it should be. It was just like any other Ubuntu 10.04 install I have done. Fast and quiet and everything working.

It was interesting to see when OpenOffice starts that the Sun branding is already replaced with Oracle branding. It was also nice to see all the work done on Oo 3.2 had really helped it's load times. It starts very quickly: a matter of seconds. Since this was going to be in part a school laptop, having a working OpenOffice was key.

I delivered the laptop, and my brother fired it up and played with it for a while. At first he said "Wow". Then, after a bit "This is much better". Then after another bit "I can't believe how much better this is".

To be fair, the MS Windows that was installed was probably infected with malware or something. It should have run better than it was. I did not try and figure out what was wrong. I just shrunk it down to make room for Linux.

My brother will probably upgrade to 1 GB, and replace the battery at some point. And when 10.04 goes GA tomorrow, I'll have him do a quick upgrade to get totally current, but other than that he is good to go.

So, for that matter, is Ubuntu 10.04. Another strong release.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


Kris said...

Thanks. This is helpfull. Yesterday my brother in law came with his d600 that ran ......... slowly........with.........xp. I am still doubting whether I'll load Mint or ubuntu on it

Anonymous said...

Dude, Ctrl-F2.

Anonymous said...

yeah, d600's have a proprietary wireless setup, just connect to the Internet (with Ethernet cord/other wireless device), run Additional Drivers under System->Administration.
It should find the True Mobile Broadcom Drivers and install.