Introduction: Bring New Life to an Old Laptop With Ubuntu!

Picture of Bring New Life to an Old Laptop With Ubuntu!

1.7 GHz processor. 512 MB of RAM. 40 GB hard drive. If you know about computers, that sounds like the specs of a tablet or a netbook computer. However, this is from a Dell Latitude D600. Back in the day, this was a top of the line laptop. Thin and light, it was new technology. That was 7 years ago.

This was given to me by my dad; it was an old computer that had been sitting in a drawer for a few years. I tried running Windows, but it was too slow. Then I remembered Linux.

This Instructable will be showing how to put Ubuntu, a form of open sourced Linux, as the main OS on a laptop that desperately needs rebirth.

The recommended minimum system requirements are:
-1 GHz x86 processor
-1GB of RAM (It works with 512 MB though, although it is a little slow)
-15GB of hard-drive space
-Graphics card and monitor capable of 1024 by 768
-Either a CD/DVD Drive or a USB port
If you are missing some parts see step 7.

(By the way, it is either pronounced u-bun-too or oo-boon-too)

*Please note that some of the pictures are from Ubuntu 10.04 Lucid Lynx, not the latest 10.10 Maverick Meerkat. However, there are not many changes, and it will still work.

Step 1: Why Ubuntu?

Picture of Why Ubuntu?

A brief explanation:

Ubuntu is a free, open source Linux operating system. It is named after South African ethnic concept meaning "humanity towards others". Based on a quick search, I found out that an estimated 12 million people are using Ubuntu worldwide.

Why Ubuntu?

1) it's free! No strings attached. Also, almost all applications (thousands) are free too (I have not found one that you have to pay for yet). For example, it comes pre-installed with Firefox, but I prefer Google Chrome, so I installed it.
2) No viruses! There is no need for ant-virus software, as viruses aren't typically designed to run on Linux. If you download one, it will just stay in your computer and do nothing.
3) It is open sourced! If you want to design your own app, or modify a key part of your system, you can.
4) It is fast! Even on my laptop booting takes only a couple of seconds.
5) It looks pretty! It has a really nice appearance, and almost everything is customizable.

If you are still not convinced, or want more information, go check out their website at

Step 2: Downloading

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First of all, you need to go to Ubuntu's website. Download the latest 10.10, 32-bit version of Ubuntu. You download it to a place you will remember, like the desktop. It is necessary to burn it as an ISO image to work. You can use various programs; I used Roxio, but Ubuntu recommends InfraRecorder, probably because it is free. Hereis the link for the download. However, feel free to use whichever you want.

Please burn the newly created file onto a CD, DVD, or USB.

Step 3: Testing the System

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To start Ubuntu, enter the BIOS. (F2) Select boot order. If you saved to a CD/DVD, move  Diskette Drive to the top of the boot order. If you saved to a USB, move USB storage device to the top of the boot order.

It should bring you to a menu where you can choose your language, and chose to either try Ubuntu, or install it. For right now, let’s just choose Try Ubuntu. When it has loaded, try doing some basic functions.

Open some programs, like Open Office (The free version of a word processor) Firefox, Rhythmbox (a music player) or other applications. See if you like it, as this will be your operating system. If you want more programs, you can download them either through the Ubuntu Software Center, or online. However, only some programs have a Linux version. After all, it's just more programming for them.


Step 4: Do You Like It?

Picture of Do You Like It?

Now's the time where you decide whether or not this operating system is right for you. If it is, reboot you computer (top right corner) and restart the computer. You are going to want to go into the BIOS again, and boot from your device.

This time you will select Install Ubuntu. Make sure all of the requirements are met, then press Forward. Install over the previous disk if you don't care about Windows :) If you want to dual boot, either select Install alongside other operating systems or specify partitions manually (advanced). I have not yet tried this, so you might want to consult somebody on the Ubuntu Forums.

Don't forget to change the BIOS back to normal when you are done or it will always boot from the USB or CD.

Step 5: Stickers!

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I didn't really like having a laptop that runs Linux advertize Windows XP. I decided to go on the internet and print out stickers to replace them. To get the previous ones off, use a sharp fingernail or maybe a razor blade. to get the reside off, some soap and water will do just fine. For the images, you can do a quick search on "Ubuntu Stickers".

Does anyone have an idea about how to cover the DELL in the front? I thought about a sticker but I still would like my laptop to look sleek. Please comment below if any ideas come to you.

Step 6: Favorite Programs

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Ubuntu comes pre-installed with many programs, including OpenOffice, Firefox, an email program (I cannot remember which specific one as I have many installed), a music player, games, accessories, and much more! However, if you are like me, you want to get the most out of your OS. Here are some of my favorite applications to do so.

A cool application that was shown earlier was called Avant Window Navigator, or AWN for short. It is a sidebar that you can pin various things to, like shortcuts, search bars, local weather, and much more. Here is a direct download link.

Themes, icons, buttons and wallpapers are completely customizable in Ubuntu. To change them go to System-> Preferences-> Appearance. You can download some more at I once had a Mac look-alike theme, in an Ubuntu OS, on a dell computer. I really confused some people!

GIMP Image Editor is also a great program. It is similar to Photoshop CS, but free. It might come automatically with the Ubuntu however. Here is the link if it doesn't.

When I was learning basic JavaScript in XHTML, I used a program called BlueFish Editor. It is similar to Notepad ++ in Windows, but it has some of the tags available across the top. It is available through the Ubuntu Software Center. It does not come pre-installed.

Also, I prefer Google Chrome over Firefox. I am not sure why, I just do. You can download it here. It automatically detects your operating system and chooses the right version for you. Pretty cool, huh!

When you download Ubuntu, you get 2 free GB of online (Cloud) storage with Ubuntu One. It is a neat program, and if you need more storage space, you can always purchase more. 

If you have any favorite programs, mention it in a comment with a few reasons why and it might get added here!

Step 7: Computer Not Powerful Enough?

If you have a really old computer, there are other Linux alternatives.
I had a slideshow of this computer up a while ago and I got some comments about Ubuntu alternatives. I did not change because I didn't want to go through the whole process again.

Here they are:

mrmath recommended Xubuntu.
wirah and Computothought recommended Lubuntu
ron2470 recommended Linux Mint
absolutekold recommends Damn Small Linux
EdurusFas recommends  Wary 5.2

Thanks guys/girls/robots!

I do not have experience in these programs so you might want to seek help either on the Ubuntu Forums, Instructable Forums, or the Instructable Answers.


techboy411 (author)2015-01-11

I have this SAME Latitude, exept with a 1.3-ish GHz chip and 20GB HDD!! Runs XP, but it's still a runner!

NayabW (author)2014-12-27

You could use a sheet of cardstock to create a linux penguin logo

cian h r (author)2013-09-08

Where did you get your desktop background from?

CreativeGeek (author)2013-05-09

I wanna get a D830 and put Xubuntu on it

SgtJellyfish (author)2011-10-14

we still use them at school, but i dont because my class is a laptop class and we have latitude E5400s. but then the next computer class got better than us :( (still latitudes though).

denona (author)2010-12-19

for the dell thing if it does not pop out higher then the rest for the front of the lap top you could cover it with car body filler and sand it down smooth.

your dog (author)denona2010-12-20

Nice solution! Where would one by car body filler?

denona (author)your dog2010-12-20

well im not sure where you are from but i know wal-mart sells it

jimvandamme (author)denona2011-08-08

It's just fast-setting epoxy with a lot of talc powder filler so it's easy to sand down. If you don't want to buy a whole can of body filler just use a glob of epoxy.

bfloobis (author)2011-08-06

my cpu is so old it has a 4gb hard drive... this wont work...

jimvandamme (author)bfloobis2011-08-08

Since there are over 300 Linux distros, you should find one that works and that you like. I tried a few on an old laptop (256M memory) and really like Puppy. Also there's a good list at
A 4GB hard drive is plenty big enough for your OS and apps, but you won't have a lot of room for data. If you have a USB port get a thumb drive and keep stuff on that.

your dog (author)bfloobis2011-08-07

make sure to check out step 7 for other alternatives!

atomicwaterstudios (author)2011-03-31

ok i need to know ifthis os can play games with ease cus from what your telling me is that this is faster then windows right? but i dont want my custom comp to use a os that cant handel games like gmod/garrys mod team fotress2 and stuff like that cus i need to save all the ram i can and stuf so can you tell me is this os any good for playing steam games or games in genral? cus im a avid gamer i want the best of everything like speed ram and other stuff so can you awnswer this question plz .................... o and can you post a tut on how to put unbunto on to a comp thats areldy running windows??? it will be a big help thanks plz awnswere i know my spelling sucks kinda but im too lazy to spell check so thx

it is possible to run Windows software in linux using a program called is a compatability layer that allows Windows apps to run. Many games and such will work with it, but it can take a lot of tweaking to get more complex software to run. I just got Ubuntu reinstalled on my system, and will probably get to messing with it again as I'd like to be able to play Rift linux side without having to reboot into Win7. Here's a link for anyone interested: :)

bfloobis (author)bg4m3r2011-08-06

i thought wine was for macs...

your dog (author)bg4m3r2011-06-24


linux is a completely different operating system, so any windows games like gmod will not run on it anyway, however it is possible to play games or use windows programmes through wine, although it most likely wont be as smooth or as bug free an exprience as runnig on the platform it was made for. that said i have been a solid linux user for several years now and in day to day use it consistently outperforms windows in both speed and resource usage and has many major advantages in security and support, if your new to linux i suggest trying a distro like pinguy os that has everything youll need pre-packaged as a live usb, then if you like it install it alongside windows with Grub or something

From what i know, Ubuntu is more lightweight, but I am not sure if it is worth the trouble, unless your Windows OS is dragged down by many programs and anti-virus software. To install both, you probably need to partition your drive, as well as set up your boot loader and drivers.

Ubuntu wasn't really designed as a gaming system, but if you wanted to, you probaby could get to work. There wouldn't be many advantages, so it might not be worth it.

kelseymh (author)2010-12-19

Back in the day, I had a Dell laptop: a 100 MHz 80486 processor with 128 MB of RAM, and a touchpad. I installed Slackware Linux on it, and used it for over a decade (from 1990 to 2001), including doing all of my data analysis and writing my Ph.D. thesis on it (in LaTeX). I used the FVWM window manager. I had AFS installed, so I had complete access to all of my data at work, across my dial-up (PPPoE) ISP connection.

It served me perfectly well until the Kapton ribbon cable between the base and the LCD finally broke (the hinges had broken a few years previously, and I used a lovely amethyst geode to hold up the screen).

Today, user-level installations of Linux have gotten almost as bloated as Windoze (1 GB of RAM, 15 GB of disk?!?), but you can still have an extremely servicable Linux installation on a small system, as long as you're not lazy enough to demand all the bells and whistles. There are fully functional Linuces for embedded systems.

From all that I've read (including your I'ble), Ubuntu is an excellent installation choice for users who are not, and don't want to become, system administrators. Which distribution of Linux someone chooses is pretty much a religious choice, dependent upon how comfortable they are with getting their hands covered with bodily fluids :-)

absolutekold (author)kelseymh2011-06-16

Another good one is Damn Small Linux.. I had that on an old 512M thumb drive with a virtual machine for use on computers at college or direct boot on the old ibm laptop (500mhz 256ram) i had laying around (screen got shot with airsoft so it became my desktop). it was nice to be able to take my whole desktop with me wherever i went, it was better cause i could use that to stealth out to my home server and roam the internets without the college being the wiser (some IT professors really hate encrypted ssh tunnels). Ubuntu is not the best for older hardware (although it is still more forgiving than windows) Xbuntu has a far smaller footprint with all the "relative" ease of use. The only difference is the XFCE desktop with none of the shiny and all of the functionality. or going back to Debian (what ubuntu is built from) allows you to build a small conservative system with only marginally more gore. Admittedly 1.7ghz and 512M isn't very old by linux standards if you see some of the stuff still supported. Iup till about a year ago i still had a sun E3000 server with 6 250hmz cores and 6gigs of ram as my mail/web/ftp server running debian stable.. that was a nightmare to set up and @ near 2000 watts under load got to be too expensive to keep running. now it's a coffee table.

EdurusFas (author)absolutekold2011-08-05

Also good is Wary 5.2 (another Linux derivative) It is specifically created for older computers. I have it installed on a HP Omnibook that used to run WinXP extremely slow. It has its drawbacks though (such as the touchpad and some of the functions on the keys (such as volume) are not functional) but other than that, it works well and does not have issues when it plays movies/videos.

your dog (author)EdurusFas2011-08-06

oh ok cool! I will make sure to add you to the linux alternatives section!

your dog (author)absolutekold2011-06-24

Do you mind if I add your name next to damn small linux under the linux alternatives?

As well as the thumb drive.. that reminded me of this article

about your server, good job recycling it! how old was it?

absolutekold (author)your dog2011-06-28

Please feel free to do so I don't mind. Seeing as i'm writing this on a older toughbook (CF-29) that I switched to Ubuntu (a bit of an adventure in itself) and promptly put the windows sticker on the lid and drew the classic circle around it with a line through it. That gets almost as many comments as the toughbook itself. I also saw that article and started drooling. Andrino's are nice but that would allow for some truly epic builds once the mod community gets a hold of it.

as for the sun... the old sun page that had all the info has vanished since the merger with oracle but for those interested the history can be found on wikipedia
and the stats are here
and the 160lb weight is unloaded(!!!!) full up it weighs considerably more. as proof i bought the thing on ebay for $10 and paid $280 to have it shipped.
but if you're not a guru don't try one of these the installation as it was a living nightmare. I did get a fair amount of help from the forum's and the local LUG (Linux User Group) but it was many hours of command line work to get everything working right.
That reminds me if someone is getting started look for a nearby LUG they will certainly lend a hand and are in most major and some not so major cities. There you can get a chance to talk to people who are very good with linux who can take some of the trepidation out of the whole ordeal.

When I have installed ubuntu it has used hardly any space I found one of the later versions to only take up 5gb on my hdd

your dog (author)kelseymh2010-12-19

Wow. that laptop has served you well! Have you ever thought about rebuilding it?

Anyways, the intent of this Instructable is to provide new life to an old computer by using a simple, user friendly OS. I am not a system administrator. I have not done programing, besides XHTML and very basic JavaScript.

I originally did this program to learn about operating systems. I was just curious, and had only been on a Windows machine before. I had only just learned about Linux. Then I realized how well Ubuntu functions on this laptop, and realized I could share my learnings with other people.

Where to go now? I love doing hacks on small, mobile devices. I want to get involved with android. I wanted to participate in the Google laptop beta, but it is too late now. Eventually, I hope to learn how to really program.
Thanks for the comment!

jpotwin1 (author)2011-03-21

I just found this as I am trying to install Ubuntu on the same computer. It works find, except I am having the worst time trying to get Ubuntu to recognize my wireless card. I have tried ndiswrapper and to no avail. You wouldn't happen to have any suggestions, would you?

your dog (author)jpotwin12011-03-21

You are installing version 10.04 or higher, correct? From what I have read, the automatic driver finder did not exist in any of the previous versions.

I never really had any problems with drivers; for me it was just difficult to connect to my crappy wireless router.

Other than that, I am not quite sure what to do. Try making a post on the Ubuntu Forums.

J Man!!! (author)2011-03-20

Over 30 million users now

your dog (author)J Man!!!2011-03-20

Where is your source?

In January 2009, the New York Times estimated 10 million users. In June 2009, ZDNet estimated 13 million. In April 2010, Kenyon said 12 million users.

I would be happy to change it if you found a reliable source!

Captain Pedantic (author)2011-02-22

Where did you get the waterslide cartoon in step 2?

also online, and i do not have the original link.

TOCO (author)2011-02-02

I am viewing this instructable on an old dell dimension 8250 desktop. It had xp but it became slow so I decided to wipe the hdd and install xp again. It worked great for a while and then it was slow again. This time I installed ubuntu. It is so much better and I got skype working with my microsoft lifecam. I even got a program called wine. It gives you a virtual windows drive that you can install windows applications to. I was able to get it running unreal tournament goty. Now I can still bring it to lan parties when I want and I can still install and play the same games as everyone else. I even had a mini lan party at my house against two windows machines. It ran so much better and it networked to them just fine.

your dog (author)TOCO2011-02-02

I have heard of wine before, but did not try it. I was going to install iTunes on Ubuntu, but then I finally realized how much I hate it. It is so restrictive, and I have since gotten rid of all apple technology. Go android! (10.1 archos tablet).

Anyways I did not know what a lan party was so I googled it. It's a neat idea! That's cool that it functions so well.

I will look into wine, (sound funny) as i might want to install it and play the old version of windows pinball.

TOCO (author)your dog2011-02-09

Where did you get the background shown in step one? Also where did you get the background in step 4?

your dog (author)TOCO2011-02-09

i downloaded them off the internet; I do not have the original link, so i will just put them up here. I hope they upload full size.

TOCO (author)your dog2011-02-09

sweet, Thanks. I wonder what the guys at the lan party will think if they see my computer with the background withe windows and linux. I found this one too.
I am a big simpsons fan and this was my favorite one that had anything to do with ubuntu. I was supprized to see how many ubuntu backgrounds will come up related to sex. I think that ubuntu shouldnt even be related to that. If only bord guys werent so pervy.

your dog (author)TOCO2011-02-12

hahaha the simpsons one is pretty good!

TOCO (author)your dog2011-02-03

I have a motorola backflip running android right now and I love it compared to my dads iphone. Windows pinball is a fun game. Do you know of any free versions other android market like I got my backflip from a friend. His dad works for motorola and it was one that they tortured the keyboard so it didnt come with the market as it was never supposed to be used by someone. I already have and

your dog (author)TOCO2011-02-06

no, sorry i can't think of any.

TOCO (author)your dog2011-02-07

Thats fine. My friend actually handed me one with the android market without me even asking if he had one with it. I love the android market.

your dog (author)TOCO2011-02-08

Oh, sorry I think I misunderstood you. Do you mean it doesn't come with Google marketplace?
If so, you can download the .apk. The instructions are here:

TOCO (author)your dog2011-02-09

It didn't come with it bc it was a testing unit used by motorola to test the keyboard. It was never intended to be used as a phone by someone. But when they are done using them my friends dad is allowed to take the tested units. But luckily he just got done testing more backflips. My friend gave me a new one that came with the market. He gave the one w/o the market to another friend who went home and upgraded it to android 2.1 and rooted it so he was able to get the android marketplace.

omnibot (author)2010-12-20

Nice work, I do this to whenever I find an old laptop in the trash. I usually go over it abit, rebuild the batterypack, clean it up and whatnot and give it away on a local freestore thus saving the environment some damage by extending life for a product, support the Ubuntu/Linux and OpenSource community and making someone happy by getting a free laptop. Yay!

your dog (author)omnibot2010-12-21

That's a great idea! If you find a lot of them, you could always donate to a school as well.

aelias36 (author)2010-12-19

Hmm... Perhaps you could 3d print a custom back bezel? And if the "Dell" part just pops off from the inside, you could just print out a new logo. Expensive though...

your dog (author)aelias362010-12-19

Good idea but you're right, that seems expensive. I don't believe I know anybody that has access to that type of equipment either.

aelias36 (author)your dog2010-12-20

Ponoko is the answer, then! Instructables is even doing a contest with them:

your dog (author)aelias362010-12-20

Oh yeah, I think I entered this instuctable in that contest!

aelias36 (author)your dog2010-12-20

Well then, good luck on winning!

About This Instructable




Bio: Hello! I tend to make instructables about simple life hacks, and misc. technology projects. Sometimes, if I find a great recipe, I will post it ... More »
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