Monday, 27 December 2010

Christmas: a time for surprises

Christmas has come and gone and I was treated to a second-hand DELL Inspiron 1501 laptop for the knockdown price of a new Macbook!

My daughter has abandoned Windows for the forbidden fruit and I got her cast-off. Her five-year-old laptop really was on its last legs and, despite a new battery a month or so ago, it seemed certain that the old workhorse was destined for the scrap heap (I mean, recycling centre, of course).

However, once the new Mac was up and running with all the data and files (including the awful iTunes software) transferred from the DELL, I decided to see how Ubuntu would perform on this ageing hardware before consigning it to the junk yard. I opted to run Karmic 9.10 (knowing that the graphics would never cope with a newer version) and eschewed to cut-down netbook version for the desktop software already running on my DELL Dimension. Of course, this meant that I didn't need to worry about downloading and validating a new OS and I used the same disk as my desktop install.

I kept things simple with a clean installation that replaced Windows Vista (Basic) with Ubuntu Karmic. I didn't even bother partitioning the drive: this experiment really was just to satisfy my curiosity and, if things worked out ok, to give me a disposable device that I could test stuff on.

The only hiccup that I encountered with the install was that the wireless network card refused to work. Running

lspci -nn | grep WLAN

in a terminal, gave me the following information about my WLAN card:

05:00.0 Network controller [0280]: Broadcom Corporation BCM4311 802.11b/g WLAN [14e4:4311] (rev 01)

This information told me that I needed the b43 drivers and firmware for my card. This is achieved by installing the fwcutter package (using an ethernet connection!) and extracting the firmware for the card.

sudo apt-get install b43-fwcutter

You can follow the instructions via the Ubuntu Wiki (here) if you need precise instructions on getting a Broadcom NIC working. A reboot was necessary once the correct driver was installed.

Once the wireless card was up and running, the little DELL exceeded all expectations! It's lightning quick to boot (and to shut down) and it seems to enjoy running Ubuntu far more than it ever did Windows: all-in-all, a lovely surprise for Christmas and a great "toy" to play with (and blog about) over the coming weeks and months.

Happy New Year.