I have an old laptop that I would like to convert to a media center (media player, netflix online, youtube, etc.). It's got something like 1.3 GHz, and 1GB ram and currently has XP so its really just not powerful enough. For this reason - and also because I'm traditionally a windows-only guy I would like to install Linux on it.

I have both Ubuntu and Knoppix ISOs on an external drive but no CD burner. How can I possibly install these onto the laptop?

Currently the laptop has only one partition - I would prefer to preserve my install of XP and dual boot but I'm really not too worried about it.

I had posted this on serverfault but they suggested here as a better fit.

  • it should be pointed out that while Wubi worked great for installing Linux with no CD, I could not achieve my goal of having a Linux media center since neither Netflix nor iTunes as of now work on Linux – George Mauer Oct 25 '09 at 17:37

10 Answers 10


You might want to try http://wubi-installer.org/ , which does not require install media at all.

If you have a USB pen drive handy, you might want to try one of the procedures detailed in




Good luck!

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  • Wubi is an excellent choice. However, it's good to be aware that you need a spare partition if you ever want to move the Ubuntu install out from the Windows file Wubi installs it to. linux.com/archive/feature/130713 – user4358 Sep 30 '09 at 1:01
  • Wow thanks seems like wubi is exactly what I needed. I think for the time being I just need something to play with. Once I get it all figured out I'll probably do a new install anyways. – George Mauer Sep 30 '09 at 2:37

Does your BIOS support booting from USB? If so I've used UNetbootin with success in the past.

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  • How do i find out if it supports this? I was thinking more like some way to create a new partition out of the existing one and installing to it. – George Mauer Sep 30 '09 at 0:21
  • Look through the BIOS to see if it has an option to boot to USB devices. If so, you're in luck. Barring looking through your BIOS, you could download the manual for your motherboard and see if it supports booting from USB. – Cory Plastek Sep 30 '09 at 0:26
  • HDD, CD, LAN, FDD - what the heck is FDD? And how do I boot from the LAN? I have other PCs – George Mauer Sep 30 '09 at 0:33
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    HDD: hard disk drive FDD: floppy disk drive <a href="kegel.com/linux/pxe.html">How to boot from LAN</a> – steveha Sep 30 '09 at 1:00
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    Er, sorry, I keep forgetting that comments can't handle HTML tags. Here's that link for booting from LAN: kegel.com/linux/pxe.html – steveha Sep 30 '09 at 1:01

Would Wubi be of interest? Seems like it would fit the bill. Sets up a dual-boot Ubuntu 9.04 (of this writing). Installs just like any other Windows app.

There is a bit of a performance hit for disk IO but when I've used it in the past it didn't seem like a major hit.

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  • Wubi is a great solution for you problem it will not touch any partitions but install into a disk image that is stored within your XP partition. Doesn't need to be burned either. Just download and install. – OliverS Sep 30 '09 at 5:46

If you have a laptop that lets you boot from a USB drive/stick, you can use UNetbootin to create a bootable linux USB drive. You can then boot from the USB drive and install linux onto your hard drive as you would from a LiveCD.

Ubuntu Community Documentation instructions for this procedure: Installation From USB Stick. The basic procedure remains the same irrespective of the linux distro you decide to go with.

From the UNetBootin FAQ: How does UNetbootin work, and what does it do?

For the Live USB creation mode, UNetbootin downloads and extracts an ISO file to your USB drive, generates an appropriate syslinux config file, and makes your USB drive bootable using syslinux.

For the Hard Disk / "frugal install" mode, UNetbootin uses a Windows or Linux-based installer to install a small modification to the bootloader (bootmgr and bcdedit on Vista, grldr and boot.ini for NT-based systems, grub.exe and config.sys for Win9x, or GRUB on Linux, uses the bootloader to boot the desired distribution's installer or to load the system utility, no CD required. After the distribution has been installed, or once done using the system utility, the modification to the bootloader is then undone.:

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3 words: bootable flash drives

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  • Yeah, but I only have an HDD, FDD, LAN and CD option – George Mauer Sep 30 '09 at 2:36

Another option: open up your laptop, remove the drive, and use an adapter to plug the drive into another computer's motherboard. Then boot a Linux install CD and do your work; you can resize the XP partition instead of deleting it, so the laptop would still be able to boot Windows. Once done, put the hard drive back in the laptop.

This may be easier and faster than figuring out net booting.

But it wouldn't hurt to use Unetbootin, as Nick Kavadias suggested, to make a bootable USB flash drive; try to boot from that. Even if it doesn't work, you will at least have a bootable Linux to use with newer computers; it can be handy.

You might also be able to use an external USB CD drive to boot and install Linux, but if that works, the Unetbootin flash drive will probably work also, and will be faster.

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I know about Debian (the original project was from Ubuntu if I'm not wrong -- not sure maybe wuby already mentionned), that provides a win32 installer. It will modify the windows boot file to add an entry for a Debian installation, starting from there you'll be able to partition your drives, etc. See goodbye-microsoft.com.

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You could also beg/borrow a USB cdrom drive if you don't want to burn an image to a USB stick

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You could use something like the VMware Workstation trial to install Ubuntu onto a physical partition, then boot into it later. A generic Ubuntu kernel should boot on a VM as well as physically with no issues.

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Here is an option to install Ubuntu over network (assuming that your computer supports this).

Before trying this, make sure to:

  • backup important data. This will help a lot if something goes wrong
  • defragment the filesystem on your Windows partition. This is highly recommended, because it increases the chance that you'll be able to resize the partition sucessfully later. This will also decrease the duration of resizing.
  • use a partition management tool like Partition Magic to resize your Windows partition.
  • create an empty partition on the spare space. There is no need to format it (AKA create a filesystem on it), you will be able to do this during the Linux install process

Then prepare another computer to serve you stuff over network as described in the above link, boot over network, install Linux on the new partition and profit.

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