Installing Lubuntu on an old Dell PC

As a scientist (especially one in bioinformatics), access to machines with Unix-based operating systems is a necessity. While a portion of my work requires more resources than a typical desktop/laptop provides, much of my research can be done on a machine with modest memory and processor power. I prefer using Macs, but unfortunately I no longer have access to a MacBook that I can carry around with me. A few weeks ago, however, I managed to find an older Dell laptop in our lab that nobody was using. It didn’t have an OS loaded, but after having used Mac and Linux exclusively for several years, there was no way I was going to revert back to Windows. However, I wasn’t sure how well modern Linux distributions would run on the laptop’s older hardware, so I did some searching.

Enter Lubuntu. This OS is a stripped-down version of the popular Ubuntu distribution. It was designed to have a significantly reduced memory footprint so as to be a feasible option for running on older hardware with less RAM. Bingo! I downloaded the installer image (version 10.04), burned it to a CD, and installed. The installation process was easy enough for anyone with basic computer skills. Once the installation was complete, I plugged in the ethernet and began surfing the web. I was impressed with how quickly things ran on the older hardware.

The only issue I had came when I tried the wireless. For some reason, the machine didn’t recognize the wireless card, so I couldn’t even try connecting to a wireless network. I searched online and found several other people that had had similar issues. After trial and error, I was finally able to come up with a solution.

  1. Install the pcmciautils package.
  2. Install the wicd network manager.
  3. Remove and purge the default network manager.
sudo apt-get install pcmciautils
sudo apt-get install wicd
sudo apt-get remove network-manager network-manager-gnome
sudo apt-get purge network-manager network-manager-gnome

Unfortunately, I’m still having problems connecting to our home wireless router (it may have as much to do with the Qwest router as anything). However, at home I can simply plug in to the ethernet and I’m fine. The computer has not had  a problem connecting to wireless anywhere else.

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