How do I install Ubuntu on an old laptop with no CD drive?
August 21, 2006 4:01 PM   Subscribe

My place of employment sees a LOT of laptops come and go. Recently a PIII Dell Latitude L400 ultralight came through and was marked for surplus, but I want to use it for Ubuntu. One snag, though.

I don't have the CD-ROM drive for this sucker. It's got a 30GB hard drive and 512MB of RAM, so it's a decent power old ultralight that would be wonderful for having around the house for wireless (I have a card that works with Ubuntu already).

Where and/or how do I get a free CD drive for this thing in order to get Ubuntu on it?

Failing that, how hard is a network install option (it has an ethernet port built in)? I'm just getting my feet wet on linux installs (this will be my fourth one) and they have all been CD installs so far, so a network install would be a new beast for me. Can anyone point me to a decent FAQ on how I would go about doing that?
posted by smallerdemon to Computers & Internet (11 answers total)
Can it boot off of USB? Then THIS would be an option.
posted by hatsix at 4:06 PM on August 21, 2006 [1 favorite]

This google search seems to indicate that it's possible to do a network install of Ubuntu.
posted by chrisamiller at 4:11 PM on August 21, 2006

I had the same problem with an ultraportable compaq. In the end, I did a bit of stickybeaking and found that it was fairly easy to remove the hard disk from the machine (just one screw on the bottom, slide it out and then remove the funny little compaq connector to reveal the regular 2.5" HDD connector.)

So, I took it out of the laptop, got one of those 2.5" to 3.5" HDD adapters and plugged it into my desktop PC. Used windows XP to format it as a bootable FAT32 drive and then put the winXP CD in a folder on the hard disk. HD back in the laptop, boot it and then use good ol' DOS to run winXP install. Later I used to FAT32 -> NTFS conversion tool to make my HD NTFS again.

Although you're talking about linux, I'm sure you could do much the same without too much pain. Alternatively, once you get the hard disk out, you might be able to install Ubuntu as normal and then just bung it back into the laptop (not sure how Linux feels about this, windows hates it!)
posted by ranglin at 4:34 PM on August 21, 2006

I too am interested in this question. I have a PC which has no optical drives and I wish to remove windows from the computer and install Ubuntu 6.06. If anyone knows of a method to do this using a USB thumb drive that would be much appreciated! I also have a laptop with Windows that can serve as a "host" for a network install if anyone has advice on this.
posted by LoopyG at 4:52 PM on August 21, 2006

It's possible; I've installed 6.06 using a compact flash drive which I had booted my laptop off of. I'm not too knowledgeable in regards to Linux, but I managed to figure it out after fiddling with it for a short time.

If I remember correctly, I formatted the drive FAT32 and then extracted the contents of the 6.06 ISO onto it. Then I twiddled with the isolinux configuration from the ISO that Ubuntu uses and got it to work with syslinux, which I used (under DOS) to make the drive bootable.

Okay, that wasn't so helpful.
posted by tumult at 6:01 PM on August 21, 2006

Washington Post sort of covered this yesterday.
posted by TheRaven at 6:50 PM on August 21, 2006

The Sony CD-ROM for the 505 series machine, with the tethered PCMCIA controller, is often bootable even on non-Sony machines. They hold their value; they're usually close to a bill on eBay.
posted by baylink at 6:50 PM on August 21, 2006

It's not clear whether this machine has a 3.5" floppy drive, but if so just about any distro on the face of the earth should have an option to create a boot and install floppies (usually a pair) and from there as long as the ethernet adaper is detected it's just a matter of pointing it at a ftp site, NFS share, SMB share, etc. Find the list of mirrors for whatever distro you're using and pick one of the ftp sites.

I agree that the USB option is probably easier if it's new enough to support that, but the floppy method has worked for years and years.
posted by Rhomboid at 7:03 PM on August 21, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks to everyone. I am going to try the USB thing this weekend. It's a fairly recent machine, so I am fairly sure it will boot from USB (although that mainly is going to involve me figuring out how to make a USB key or hard drive bootable disk).
posted by smallerdemon at 2:51 PM on August 22, 2006

I used this and this last night to get Ubuntu Dapper Drake (6.06) on my Thinkpad X31 without a CDROM.
posted by furtive at 9:54 AM on August 26, 2006

Response by poster: SO, this thread has really passed by, but I will tell you how I figured this out. :)

I put the drive in another Dell laptop with a CD drive and installed linux, shut the computer down, pulled out the drive, put it back in the little latitude, poof, it worked. :)

Thanks for everyone's comments and suggestions.
posted by smallerdemon at 12:25 PM on November 19, 2006

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