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Thread: How to install Ubuntu on old hardware.

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jul 2007

    How to install Ubuntu on old hardware.

    I wanted to install Ubuntu on a older laptop so that I could still have all of the bells and whistles where I wanted them and not have some of the hassles of the lighter distributions. I tried DSL first, but I wanted a more permanent solution in the form of a traditional hard drive install. Plus I like modern fonts and wanted a new browser rather than firefox 2.0 on DSL.

    I'm typing this post from the machine I installed Ubuntu 10.10 on. Here are my specs:

    Ubuntu 10.10 32-bit Alternate
    IBM Thinkpad iSeries 700 MHz with 128 MB of RAM.
    Netgear WG111v2 USB wireless adapter.
    Google Chrome (Firefox, and epiphany-webkit)
    This machine is slow, but it's far more tolerable than I would have thought. The biggest problem with the limited system specs was overflowing the RAM and having to use swap, so this includes some ways to reduce RAM consumption. Without anything open, I use most of my RAM, so I'd recommend a system with a tad bit more RAM than this system has. The command line seems very responsive, and web browser performance is decent.

    On to business.

    I tried installing Lubuntu from the live CD, but it kept freezing. Instead, I downloaded the Ubuntu 32-bit Alternative CD so that I could install without a GUI. On this machine, I needed to add some boot flags, otherwise it would get stuck on a blinking cursor. On the alternate CD main menu, press F6 to open boot flags, then hit escape to get to the boot line. Leaving a space after the "--" at the end of the line, add these flags if you have trouble with the installer stopping when it starts:

    vga=792 acpi=force irqpoll
    After running through the install, don't log in because the default desktop environment is pretty heavy. Instead, press Ctrl+Alt+F1 to go to a virtual console. Let's make ubuntu run faster before we log in graphically.

    cd /etc/init/

    In this directory are config files for startup processes. You can see a description by reading the comments in the file. I suggest running cat to view the contents and determine on a case by case basis what you want to disable. When you decide you don't need a process, rename the file. I chose to append a .no to the end of the file. That way, if you disable something you actually needed, then you can reenable it by moving it back. (text to the right of the # are comments and aren't necessary).

    clear;ls | grep -v .no #clears the screen and shows the files in the current directory, skipping ones you've already renamed.
    cat filename.conf #prints the file
    sudo mv filename.conf #renames the file
    Here are the files I have and renamed (I disabled power management because I doubt this old of a laptop could run on battery, but I might re-enable it since the battery seems to work):

    acpid.conf (you can set this the first time by typing alsa-mixer and lowering the volume before rebooting)
    hwclock.conf (I disabled this because the battery in my BIOS battery is dead anyway)
    tty1.conf (you need at least one of these for a virtual console, this is Ctrl+Alt+F1)
    You can restart the computer and try out the settings:

    sudo shutdown -r 0 #restart
    sudo shutdown -h 0 #or just shutdown
    After rebooting, you can log in graphically, where we can disable some more processes:

    System -> Administer -> Startup

    Disable practically everything, unless you need something specifically. I disabled everything because I'm not even using the default Gnome environment.

    Log in to your wireless and install another window manager that uses less RAM. This one looks great and is pretty lean:

    sudo apt-get install fvwm-crystal
    I would also open gconf-editor and make changes in various program settings to disable things you don't want.

    System -> Administer -> Login Screen

    I set my computer up to log in directly to fvwm-crystal so that I don't waste startup time on this slow machine with the login manager.

    If you have problems where it logs in to Gnome instead of fvwm-crystal, then you can remove it from your login menu as an option and force it to load fvwm-crystal:

    cd /usr/share/xsession/
    sudo mv gnome.desktop
    Then set the default to load fvwm-crystal:
    cd /etc/gdm/
    sudo nano custom.conf
    Change the line that says DefaultSession to "DefaultSession=fvwm-crystal"

    Reboot to your new desktop.

    If you have the same iSeries thinkpad as me, the screen resolution is wrong and we'll need to force it to use the correct resolution.

    sudo gedit /etc/X11/xorg.conf
    sudo services gdm restart #start the GUI again
    Here is my configuration:

    Section "Device"
    	Identifier	"Configured Video Device"
    	Driver	 "vesa"
    Section "Monitor"
    	Identifier	"Monitor"
    	option "DPMS" "True"
    	Horizsync 30.0-60.0
    	VertRefresh 50.0-70.0
    Section "Screen"
    	Identifier	"Default Screen"
    	Monitor	 "Configured Monitor"
    	Device	 "Configured Video Device"
    	Subsection "Display"
    		Depth	24
    		Modes "1024x768@60"
    One of the advantages of this window environment is you can still use the wireless applet you used in gnome. Just right click on the desktop to open a terminal and type "nm-applet" to open the network manager.

    Now you can go download google Chrome, install Battle for Wesnoth, or Epiphany, and enjoy your newly resurrected computer.

    If you have any suggestions to get even more performance from older hardware, please comment. I hope someone finds this useful.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Oct 2009
    Reykjavík, Ísland
    Xubuntu 19.10 Eoan Ermine

    Re: How to install Ubuntu on old hardware.

    Thanks, it looks interesting. I have and old portable running Lubuntu, but maybe I should try this.

    I am a little skeptical, though. Is there any development going on in fvwm-crystal? A brief googling only yields semi-old web pages.
    Bringing old hardware back to life. About problems due to upgrading.
    Please visit Quick Links -> Unanswered Posts.
    Don't use this space for a list of your hardware. It only creates false hits in the search engines.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jul 2007

    Re: How to install Ubuntu on old hardware.

    If lubuntu is working well for you but you want to try and make it faster, I'd just try some of those tweaks on it, like renaming files in /etc/init.

    fvwm-crystal doesn't look like it's changed for years as far as I can tell, but I don't use it all the time. You could try some other window managers. After the above tweaks, even gnome ran much better.

    Here are some other lightweight window managers:
    wmii - no desktop, just windows adjacent to windows. could fit this on a 3.5 in floppy
    enlightenment - 2mb or so in size, but still has some eye candy


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