Digging Even Deeper: Installing Linux on Older Devices

Today I was given the chance to play with a pretty old laptop, 256mb RAM Centrino 1.4ghz, so really a test for any operating system to get it running. The owner was hoping to be able to donate it to a local primary school if it could be any use to them, the biggest concern for me was really whether it could even be connected to the internet.

The laptop was a Packard Bell Easy Note E2, there was virtually no trace of this model on the web to be found, so not much in the way of starting points. I loved the design though, because it was older it had servicing more in mind than obsolescence. The CPU had its own hatch, so cleaning the fan or removing it would be an easy job; similarly there were hatches for the wireless card (didn’t have one though), the HDD and the RAM. It seemed to be limited to only 256mb of RAM despite having two slots, only one of which was occupied; so I initially got excited that it might be expanded to 512mb or perhaps even 1gb. Unfortunately running a check using the terminal in Puppy suggested it was at maximum; a silver lining was learning whilst finding out how to discover this information, that my desktop can apparently run up to 32gb across its four slots. Every cloud and all that…

The snippet below is from Ubuntu derivatives which use apt, but should work on other distros with apt-get

sudo apt update
sudo apt install dmidecode
dmidecode -t 16

The bios on the Easy Note didn’t allow for usb booting and so I needed to get an extra tool to help me with that job, although initially I did burn puppy to a DVD-R, for some reason I couldn’t manage to properly wipe a -RW. Although I did in the end pop out to get some CD-Rs in order to solve this problem, thanks Wilkos for the £1.75 for 10 pack and the 75p bag of unbranded building blocks compatible with other leading brands of building blocks…

XP ran really well, I don’t think the laptop had endured much heavy usage in its life, so it was a shame that I couldn’t connect it to my wireless network and didn’t have LAN cable handy. I tried to tether my phone and provide some kind of connection, although knowing the lack of support for the operating system that using the web wouldn’t be a good idea. This caused the laptop to simply switch off immediately, so I am not sure that the power supply was exactly original and this was repeated later a few times when running the DVD drive trying to get Slax running. So it certainly needed a new power supply along with a reclaimed Wireless Card PCI Mini.

In the end I managed to get three different puppies running, all based Ubuntu though so a much of a muchness really. Focal Fossa and Bionic Beaver both seemed to run well enough until trying to open the browser, so I also tried … I didn’t quite manage to get Slax running as the power cut off during booting from CD and as the evening turned to night, I decided to take the small victories and cash in. So I restored xp to first run as initially promised to clear off data and called it a night.

In the end the issue with Slax was more to do with the CD Drive and not using the correct power adapter, it tried to draw too much juice and that caused the power failure. Later on I got hold of the correct adapter and tested Slax, which is a wonderfully lightweight distro and very beautiful too, the only shame being it appears to not be updated any more. Such a shame.

I don’t like to see things go to waste and take an anti artificial obsolescence stance, so the joy for me comes from the challenge of trying to breathe life into something otherwise destined for the recycling centre or a dusty loft. In this case a perfectly good computer for office uses fell down when faced with the internet.