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I have a really old Dell laptop that is beyond slow with its current WinXP installation. I want to make it usable again by installing a Linux distro (such as Xubuntu) but there is one big problem: It won't boot from anything besides the hard drive.

It comes with an external optical drive that connects through something... it's not USB, that's all I know. It USED to boot from CD using that drive, but now, for some reason, it won't anymore. It has a single USB 1.1 port. Of course it doesn't boot from USB.

But, would it be possible to take the hard drive out of the laptop, put it inside of another computer, install the OS onto that hard drive using the computer, and then put the hard drive back into the laptop? Without having screwed up hardware configuration in the OS? Is there any other way of installing an OS with a computer that won't boot from anything? Or is it completely hopeless?

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I can't offer a specific solution, since it's been some time since I've been in your situation. However, if your laptop has a floppy drive, there are ways to boot with a Linux floppy disk that will allow you to chain load a bootable CD (assuming yours is recognized) or over the network (assuming you have a supported NIC). Can you provide the model number of the laptop? It's possible someone here has done this on the same laptop before. –  James Sneeringer Jan 30 '12 at 2:51
    
Heh... Dell Latitude l400... –  Jon Jan 30 '12 at 2:54
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1 Answer

Linux is very versatile. I have installed Linux mint on a laptop hard drive and have swapped it in and out of several laptops with no issues. The installed version of Mint (and many other distros) is not far from the live version, so it will detect and use drivers as needed.

I would feel very confident saying you could easily install Mint, and maybe one of several other distributions with the drive in another computer, and have VERY little, if any, problems once swapped into the target system.

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That's great, I'll have to try it then. I'm planning on using a lightweight distro like Xubuntu or Lubuntu because the computer is so old and only has 256mb of ram... –  Jon Jan 30 '12 at 14:48
    
Another distro you might want to try is crunchbang (#!). I've been using it for a while now, and it's been pretty amazing. On my netbook with a 1.6GHz atom cpu and 1GB ram, it was enough that I could run another copy of it in a VM. –  Rob Jan 30 '12 at 15:28
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