My 3-year-old laptop, until yesterday, was still running the pre-installed version of Windows XP. After years of upgrades, driver changes, codec updates, and so on, it was getting somewhat crufty. I decided: enough is enough, time to reinstall! Since I was formatting everything anyway, I figured it might be time to attempt installing Ubuntu on a laptop.
It didn’t go so well.
While Ubuntu itself installed with little effort, things started going badly when I tried getting my wireless card to work. My laptop is a Dell Inspiron 4150, which at the time, was a higher-end business-class Centrino system. Due to this, my wireless is controlled through a mini-pci adapter, which I found to my dismay, carries a Broadcom BCM4301 chip. The amusing thing is that without even mentioning Linux, the BCM4301 driver petition was the first result in a Google search. Apparently, the Broadcom chipset is probably the worst supported wireless chipset in the entire Linux world. The most bleeding-edge Linux kernel, 2.6.17-rc2, carries a compatible driver, but Ubuntu Breezy is still using 2.6.12, and I don’t feel like building a release candidate kernel. What else was left? NdisWrapper is a project to run Windows-based wireless drivers under Linux, and after a little work, I got my wireless card to transmit packets… at 20K/s.
While functional and faster than a modem, 20K/s wasn’t exactly inspiring my confidence. The touchpad was also lacking in sensitivity, and I couldn’t find any utilities to change the setting; while annoying, I hear there are Synaptic utilities to fix this. The bad WiFi was a definite deal-breaker, though. So I formatted again, and put a nice, fresh copy of Windows XP back on the laptop. That said, after the usual configuration series of disabling unused services, installing AVG, Ad-Aware, Firefox, and Gaim, I was left with a nice clean system.
The whole escapade reminded me of my laptop’s true age, so I decided to squeeze a little more time from the beast. First of all, the hard drive is a rather wimpy 4200rpm Hitachi with 2MB of cache, so I ordered a Hitachi 7K100 60GB as a replacement. Twice as big, 4 times the cache, and probably triple the speed of my current hard drive. Sadly enough, my research tells me the new drive is quieter, uses less power, and produces less heat than the current drive, even though it spins almost twice as fast. Next, I searched for a good wireless card and found an Intel offering which supports 802.11 a, b, d, e, g, h, and i, along with a bevy of security and encryption settings. It has better range and more compatibility with Linux, making it a perfect replacement. Now I just need an 802.11g router, and I’ll finally be able to transfer files to and from my file server in less than a millenia.
It was a long day of installing, uninstalling, and installing again, but I may be more lucky next time. Either way, by this time next week, I’ll have a much snappier laptop.