Ubuntu Studio Revives an Old Dell

The Article

Do you have an old computer laying around that is collecting dust because it runs about as fast as a dead snail? Well, don’t throw that beast out (Unless it has a big yellow case and a monochrome monitor on top – then it may be a lost cause!), you may be able to revive it with Linux! Some Linux distros like Fedora 24 running Gnome 3 certainly require a very modern computer. This distro is very slick, even resembling the notorious fashion of Mac OSX. But if you have that old computer, there are Linux distros that can help to revive that slow computer. This tip installs Ubunutu Studio on an old Dell computer that was running a 32-bit version of Windows Vista.

Ubuntu Studio is a full multimedia suite that is specifically designed for productivity in the creative arts.  Ubuntu Studio is installed with packages for Audio, Graphics, Video, Photography, and Publishing.  Full details can be obtained from the feature tour page on their website.  This computer is being re-purposed for a high school student deciding on whether to do musical or graphics work (with a little video).  This distro is the perfect choice because the xfce desktop is very lightweight, so it will work well on an old computer, and the packages are excellent for his purposes.  The audio components built into the system include track mixers, audio editing, synthesizers, and other programs needed to create professional audio tracks.  The graphics component includes GIMP, InkScape, Blender, and MyPaint for optimally editing graphics.  The video, publishing, and photography sections of the distro are equally impressive.

Ubuntu Studio is not the very best choice for revitalizing an old computer, we are using it because it is a computer his family had and did not need and we know it will work.  If you do have an old slow computer, other distributions you might consider include Peppermint OS.  This distro is based on my favorite: Linux Mint, but it uses the xfce desktop so it is very lightweight.  The distro requires half of the system resources as Windows 10, which is better on system requirements than older versions of Windows.  Despite the lower system requirements, Peppermint is still a very attractive operating system with a modern looking user interface.

Another light weight Linux distro is LUbuntu.  I use LUbuntu as my banking operating system running off of a USB flash drive allowing me to easily make a .iso backup image.  LUbuntu has similar requirements to Peppermint, but I have not found it to be as flashy, though it should perform better on an older computer.  This distro uses the LXDE desktop designed specifically for lower performance computers, and does bring responsiveness to older computers.

Many other lightweight Linux distros are available.  Check out the Notes and Resources section for some other distros suitable to breathe life back into an aging computer.

Setting Up This Install

The install onto this computer was pretty basic.  First we had a look at the processor in the computer to know if we needed the 32-bit or 64-bit version of the operating system.  If you computer supports both, you will generally see better performance with a 64-bit OS.  To find the processor on Windows Vista (and all other versions of Windows), you can right click the My Computer icon on the desktop or the Computer menu item in the Start Menu.  If you are still not seeing that option, find the Device Manager in your control panel, locate Processor in the list, and then you will be able to see the processor details.  This particular computer is equipped with the AMD Turion 64 X2 TL-60 processor.  A quick internet search revealed that the processor is 64-bit.  Note that it was very common to buy a 64-bit processor computer running 32-bit Windows Vista.  If you happen to check out your computer properties and notice the current operating system is 64-bit, you are done.

Once we determined we could use the 64-bit version of Ubuntu Studio, we downloaded and verified the .iso image and then used that image to create a USB Live Key.  With the USB key in hand we are ready to install the operating system.  On the older computers like this one, this is actually a slightly easier process.  On Windows 8 and Windows 10 the BIOS might have Secure Boot enabled and you will need to get around that.  Since I did not need to fight Secure Boot, I will not discuss that here, but there is a Microsoft article on the topic here.  To get the system booted up, I placed the key into an available USB port and repeatedly hit the F12 key when I turned on the system.  On most computers the F12 key loads the Boot Menu that allows you to select where your computer will boot from.  If there is not a Boot Menu, you will need to enter BIOS (Usually F2, F10, or ESC) and find the Boot Order or Boot Sequence and make sure that USB boot is ABOVE the Internal Hard Disk or HDD.

Once the computer boots up you will have the option to directly install or to try out the system.  On this video I just installed from this menu, but you can run from the USB drive to explore and there will be an option to install the OS on the drive.

Once we clicked on the install button or selected that option from the menu, I followed the on-screen instructions.  On this install, I opted to wipe the disk and install Ubuntu Studio fresh.  The other option would allow you to dual boot the system, but I generally do not recommend this, particularly for beginners.

Once the system is installed, I restarted the computer and removed the USB drive from the computer.  When the system starts, you may get a notice about language packs.  Go ahead and install this, then go into the menu, under System, select the Software Updater and run the updates.  Once this this complete, you will restart the computer and you will be ready to go.  You can follow along in the video for some customization or just explore on your own.

I hope you enjoy breathing new life into an old computer and find a use for a system you thought was useless.  I hope you enjoy Switching to Linux.

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