I have a 4-year-old laptop that wasn't even that fast 4 years ago. It has XP on it, but I'm thinking of just formatting and putting Ubuntu on it. I have never worked with Linux and have been wanting to give it a try (plus it should run faster on this older machine, right?).

I would just like to be able to use the machine as a makeshift netbook since it's much smaller than my primary 17" laptop. What would be the best way to give it the full rehab and speed it up enough to run things like Chrome and OpenOffice?


I use a 6+ years old Dell laptop with 512MB DRAM that works pretty good (and better than XP) with Ubuntu. In fact I have installed a USB Flash drive with Ubuntu which I boot on this laptop among other machines.

I have since reduced booting into XP to almost once a couple of weeks. It runs Ubuntu for over 10 hours a day.

It would be useful to try a Ubuntu boot with a LiveCD once and then try it for a while (with the XP still around) using a USB Flash install. That would give you a good feeler on how your laptop performs.
Who knows you might decide to continue using the USB Flash Ubuntu instead of a harddisk install.

  1. Browsing
    • firefox will work, while there are other options
  2. Documentation
    • my choice is Vim, however there is openoffice and even PDF Creation tools


  • My preference is firefox because of the number of extensions available for it. This is quite subjective and your choice may differ.
    I never said there is anything wrong with Chrome.
    Firefox is just an example for you -- point is that most regular browsers will work.
    That should cover your browsing interests with the laptop
  • Vim is a text editor and I do a lot of documentation in text.
    However that may not suit you and you might be used to Microsoft Word documentation.
    In which case OpenOffice might work for you.
    While it will not work perfectly like MS-Word (PDF), it would let you work with Word .doc files.
    As another example, Evince will let you view PDF files,
    (that link also has some other tool references for PDF viewing and creation).
  • Finally, installing to the hard-disk is not a problem either.
    But, I presume you want to check the Unix version you use with your laptop for compatibility and comfort. Using a LiveCD does not give you the correct experience with most Unix versions (except maybe those like PuppyLinux).
    So, Installing from a LiveCD onto a USB Flash drive that you can boot on your laptop will let you experience linux more like an install (note, I refer to installing to the USB Flash not making it a LiveCD). Once you have satisfied yourself that the flash installation is working fine with your hardware, you can decide to install to your hard-disk and maybe even wipe out XP.
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  • Midori isn't completely full-featured, but it's a very lightweight browser. I have both installed. – Broam Mar 5 '10 at 14:20
  • What's wrong with Chrome on Linux? And I've never heard of Vim - why do you prefer it over OpenOffice? I have no qualms with uninstalling XP and being done with it on this machine, so what would be the downside of a hard disk install? Sorry, lots of questions. Thanks. – NoCatharsis Mar 5 '10 at 16:33

Boot from a Linux live CD, ensure it plays nicely with your hardware, then install it to your hard disk. If you find Ubuntu too slow on your machine, try Xubuntu, which uses a lighter desktop manager. I think you'll be fine with Ubuntu with a laptop that new though.

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  • Phoronix's latest benchmarks of XFCE indicate slower performance than Gnome, so I no longer recommend Xubuntu. That, and the fact I couldn't get it to install on a system that met the minimal disk space requirements, due to insufficient disk space. – kmarsh Mar 5 '10 at 14:02

General agreement with the concept, as far as specifics for general out of the box browsing I recommend Linux Mint which is a distro that is based on Ubuntu, but has a lot of the browser extensions and codecs already loaded. I also like the theme better. I am a long time Ubuntu user, but may switch to Mint at home with the next release because I have been running it live from a CD while surfing in public places with an old Dell D610. I love it. As far as cost however, if you have something in the class as this Dell it would be well worth taking the RAM to at least 1Gb (I have 1.5) for no more than memory costs the gain will end up giving you a box you can really enjoy.

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Ubuntu is definitely an option. I've rehabilitated several laptops with Ubuntu, and usually the performance gain is noticeable. If it's got 256MB or more of RAM, of course.

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  • Yes, I think this machine has 512MB. So when you have rehab'd these machines, is it as simple as downloading Ubuntu and following the installation instructions? – NoCatharsis Mar 5 '10 at 16:42
  • That is what I've done, yes. – user3463 Mar 8 '10 at 9:35

a basic install + openbox (which pulls in X) + swiftfox is what i use. Fits nicely into a 4 gb drive and runs lightning fast, even on a crappy box.

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  • How do you mean Openbox "pulls in X"? And for a 4GB drive, do you mean that that is what you run off of a flash drive? – NoCatharsis Mar 5 '10 at 16:35
  • start with a basic cli install, install openbox via apt, and X gets installed as a dependancy. And yes, it runs straight off a flash drive. When i want to backup, i just image the whole key, and i'm good ;p – Journeyman Geek Mar 5 '10 at 22:51

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