Laptop turned on to show Ubuntu Desktop

For one of my rainy weekend projects, I converted my old Windows laptop to Ubuntu! It was a fairly simple process, and it runs great on old specs. Converting to Ubuntu is a lot easier than it sounds. You don’t even have to wipe your current operating system to run it. If you have an old computer lying around, a fresh install can give it some new life.

Why Switch to Ubuntu?

Ubuntu (and Linux in general) has several advantages:

  • Open-source
    Not only is open-source software free to use, it has the benefit of many developers reviewing and contributing to it. From security to bleeding-edge features, open-source guarantees reliable software and accessibility.

    I wouldn’t have been able to use Ubuntu if it wasn’t so accessible. And this is very important for the next point…

  • Unix-like OS for simpler web development
    If you’ve tried using a Ruby gem or a Javascript task runner on Windows, you’ve likely come across countless errors when attempting to install them. Problems I ran into include Rails refusing to install, Middleman failing to build, and Gulp or Grunt halting because of an unsupported dependency, just to name a few. They all point to the same issue: Windows is not a *nix operating system.

    There are a few fixes for the aformentioned problems, however Windows support is vastly overshadowed by the ease of use that Unix-like systems provide for web development tools. Macbooks can be considered to be the industry standard for development, and for good reason: Apple uses a Unix system with the most user-friendly interface I’ve personally used. Installing tools is as easy as a few lines in Terminal. No errors, no roadblocks.

    But Apple is also very expensive. Say, you’re a student with not much to spare or simply a beginner who’s not quite ready to shell out about a grand for a Macbook. Fortunately, Apple isn’t your only option. Linux is also Unix-like and can run these tools with no problems. And it’s free! :D It’s a completely viable option if you’d like to dip your toes in web development.

  • Easy customization
    Read my blog long enough, and you’ll know I’m all about personalizing my gadgets. Ubuntu has icon packs and custom launchers. I’m so here for this!

The Hardware

Acer Aspire Laptop closed

Here’s my baby, my four-year-old Acer Aspire 5552G-7641. I’ve had it since 2011. Mike got it for me refurbished because I didn’t have my own gaming laptop at the time. I used to play World of Warcraft on my old white Macbook. I had 3 FPS on 25-man raids. 8D

I hold this thing dear to me, not only because it was one of Mike’s first presents for me, but also because I simply have so many fond memories with it. I played Skyrim, Mass Effect, Dragon Age, Fallout, and so many other games for the first time on this thing.

Two years in, however, it started showing its age despite a memory upgrade. Average framerates would decline with each new game, ultimately culminating on my laptop shutting off due to overheating because it didn’t have the capacity to run Saints Row 4. It was around that time that I decided to save up for a proper gaming computer.

With a better gaming rig and later on an acquisition of a Macbook Air for webdev projects (refurb though :’D), my Acer sat in my backpack for a year before it dawned on me that I had no other use for it. Yet I didn’t want to get rid of it.

And then I realized that I’ve never owned an Ubuntu device before. I’ve used it at a previous job, but I’ve yet to have it for myself. This was the perfect chance for me to try it out. Of course, I had to do it. I needed to keep my baby alive.

So here’s how I did it! Do check out the relevant guides listed with each step. They’re the ones I followed myself.

Step 1: Back Up Current Drive

Samsung External HDD placed next to laptop

First off, if you’re planning on wiping your current drive and placing a fresh Ubuntu install, you have to ensure that you back up all of your files. I still have a few game saves that I haven’t transferred over to my gaming computer, as well as original sizes of pictures taken over the years. Not to mention music! So grab an external hard drive and don’t lose anything you’ll miss later on.

Step 2: Download Ubuntu Desktop

Get thee to Ubuntu.com and download the latest stable release. You should get an ISO file. Save this somewhere you can find easily, because we’ll be burning it shortly.

Step 3: Create Bootable Drive

Open USB flash drive

Guide: How to create a bootable USB stick on Windows

You can either burn the ISO into a CD or a USB drive. Either way, you’ll need a bootable drive to be able to install Ubuntu. I went the USB route since I had an empty flash drive lying around. To create a bootable USB drive, you’ll need a flash drive of at least 8GB of space. Back up whatever you have in it and format the disk.

Once your flash drive is ready, download Pen Drive Linux’s USB Installer and simply follow the instructions on the dialog window. When that’s done, your bootable drive will be ready! Plug that baby in and go to the next step.

Step 4: Configure BIOS Settings

Boot up your computer and open Setup. You should get something like “Press F2 to go to setup” or something similar when you get the initial startup screen. Some cases, it’s Del or F10. Every computer is different, so be sure to press the right button. This will take you to your computer’s BIOS settings. Don’t be scared if this is your first time (that’s what she said) on BIOS. It’s just like accessing any other settings page.

BIOS Settings - SATA Mode

I only had to check for two settings. The first is the SATA Mode, which must be set to AHCI Mode.

BIOS Setting - Boot Order

The second one — and this is important — you have to configure the startup boot order. Take note of your computer’s initial boot order, and then place your USB on the very top of the list. This basically tells your computer to check for your flash drive and load its contents before going through your computer’s internal hard drive. This is important for installation.

If you’re using a CD, you’ll want to place USB CD/DVD ROM on top. Same deal.

Save your settings and restart your device.

Step 5: Install

Ubuntu Setup Screen

Guide: Installing Ubuntu Desktop

If all goes well, you’ll see this screen upon restart. :D You now have the option to try Ubuntu without installation, or place it right in your drive. If you choose “Install Ubuntu,” you’ll be able to install it alongside your current OS, or wipe your drive and put in a clean install. The choice is yours! XD

Once you’ve taken your pick, the installation guide will pop up. It’s pretty easy to follow. The guide I linked above has screenshots and more details on how it goes. Simple, right? :D

At one point, your computer will restart to complete installation.

⚠️ There is an important step here that you shouldn’t skip. Open Setup again and go to the Boot Order screen. Do you remember the initial order? Put that sucker back the way it was and continue start up. Otherwise, it’ll go right back to loading your bootable drive and asking you to install again.

Step 6: Enjoy!

Ubuntu Desktop Settings

If you do everything right, you’ll have a brand new operating system ready to roll! Ubuntu has plenty of things to offer, so play around and customize it to your liking. Ubuntu Software Center has plenty of apps available.

⚠️ If you chose to encrypt your disk, you might encounter a blank screen during startup. Alt + Tab to reveal the passcode prompt and enter it. I’m not sure if that’s the case for every device, but that’s how it works on mine.

Software I’m Using

As I mentioned earlier, Ubuntu has plenty of customization options! With the Unity Tweak Tool, I was able to install icon packs for my launcher. I’m currently using Numix Circle. If you’re not crazy about Ubuntu’s default Unity launcher, you can even install other Linux desktop environments! I’m currently sticking with Unity to keep my install as vanilla as possible.

I was also able to find open-source alternatives for many of my usual software. Here are a few I’m using myself:

  • Photoshop CC isn’t available on Linux, but GIMP is. :D I’ve use GIMP on and off for funsies, so I’m familiar with how to work it. It’s more than enough for photo editing. It even has VSCO-like presets!
  • For illustration, there’s Inkscape which I’ve also used before.
  • F.lux is a little rough on Linux, but Redshift does a great job of providing a warm filter for your screen at night.
  • Chrome add-ons are also a little buggy, so I’ve switched to Firefox. For my favorite Chrome tab add-on, Momentum, there is the Firefox alternative, TabTrekker! Just as pretty and equally useful. :D

For coding, I use Sublime Text. I’ve also managed to install Rails with RVM, and it was a much smoother endeavor compared to installing it on Windows. All my other usual web development tools are working out swimmingly as well.

Of course, I could install Wine which would allow me to run Windows software, but as I said, I’m trying to go as vanilla as I can right now. That’s definitely an option for those who need Windows programs though! Maybe get a few Steam games running? XD

Acer Laptop and Macbook Air side by side

So here are my two laptop devices. An Ubuntu Acer and a Macbook Air. Not to mention my dual monitor Windows desktop! How’s that for tech agnosticism? :P

How about you? What’s your favorite operating system? Everyone’s got different needs and preferences. Let me know what you like!

Comments

  1. That is so awesome. :D It’s great that you can take an older computer and be able to give it fresh new life so that it does have a really good purpose.

    The idea of doing something like that myself is scary. Mainly because I still remember the days of trying to fix computers running 95 or XP, when there was some kind of registry error. It was such a nightmare. I can remember once spending a whole week trying to get one working. xD
    Kya recently posted…Christmas Exchange 2015My Profile

    1. I’m still debating whether I should upgrade to Windows 10 or not. It’s for a silly reason too. I don’t wanna lose my Sims 2 save! XD

  2. This is so cool, Raisa! It’s a great way to “recycle” your gadgets! I know how it feels to not throw away something you’re attached to, so kudos to you for installing Ubuntu on the laptop!

    I think I tried using Linux once on my old netbook on a thumbdrive. It was neat, but I never got around to really learn how to use it. I may try this on my netbook! Linux would be a better OS on the slow netbook from what I understand :3

    My favourite OS so far is Chrome OS because it’s so simple and light and not complicated LOL. But I use Windows more because it’s what I use on my desktop PC :3
    Tara recently posted…Symphonic Selections: Little Fugue in G MinorMy Profile

    1. If you ever do try it on your netbook, I’d love to hear how it went for you! Ubuntu isn’t for everyone, but it has a lot to offer. :D

  3. The awesome thing about Ubuntu is that it doesn’t demand that much resources to operate. I love how powerful it is, especially with some of the distros from Linux. It’s a developer’s playground for sure! And it’s awesome because it’s a “free MBP” of some sort. The only thing I don’t like about Ubuntu are the apps limitation. Instead of being able to use Photoshop, you have to use an alternative.

    It’s great to have different devices for different tasks. I usually carry around my MBP to do the lighter work and use my desktop at home for the heavy duty work or gaming.

    My favorite OS is OS X. So much more secure than Windows at the moment. People always complain how expensive Mac’s are but I see it worth the cost because of the benefits you gain.

    BUT whatever you do, don’t command line rm -rf / into terminal ;).
    Nancy recently posted…Craft & Cheese TastingMy Profile

  4. I like how you have all three now! I strongly believe: Mac = designers, Ubuntu = programmers, Windows = gamers. HAHAHA. I definitely prefer Mac because I’m mostly a designer and developer so I never needed the Ubuntu specs that were required when I took this computer programming class in high school. But that was ages ago so I’m sure it’s improved much more nowadays! I miss my Windows PC for gaming though, so maybe my goal in a few years is to have all 3 handy as well!
    Liv recently posted…#thatsnotloveMy Profile

    1. Yes, I believe that too! Macs are so great for design. They make everything work smoothly. I’d use Macs exclusively if it weren’t for the games. :’D Having a gaming PC is awesome! Hope that you can get one someday!

  5. Raisa, I spit out my mocha when I read 3FPS… hahaha I was like, did she mean 30FPS? OMG, It’s 3FPS.

    I have an old laptop and Macbook sitting around, but they’re both in techno-heaven right now. I need to revive them, replace batteries, motherboard, etc. Maybe I’ll convert the Windows laptop to Ubuntu. I actually had it running on Linux Mint after the Windows OS gave me the BSOD. But, I couldn’t totally save it because the insides of that laptop were already dying hahaha.
    Shayne recently posted…Cussing and Other Things I Should Stop DoingMy Profile

    1. HAHA IF ONLY. 30 FPS was a good day on my old Macbook. I think it never went above 15 FPS. :’D

      I’m not sure how much longer my laptop has, to be honest! It’s always has heating issues and while Ubuntu helped it some, it’s still there. :(

  6. We installed Ubuntu to our own laptops for a subject in college. I had to dual boot my laptop because it was only required in one subject and eventually after I passed, I immediately uninstalled it because I needed more space! LOL.
    Rej recently posted…The Monday Grace Vol. 09My Profile

    1. Ahaha one of my old jobs had strictly Ubuntu on their computers! My workplace was affiliated with the tech school next door. My co-workers were intimidated, but the students picked it up really quickly. :D

  7. I did this with a laptop of my own a couple of years back, though I used Linux Mint instead of Ubuntu. It’s a fairly simple process though it was a bit confusing for me as someone who had never used Linux before. I think you did a good job of explaining the process in an easy to follow manner.
    Tim recently posted…On HoldMy Profile

    1. I might install Linux Mint one day. I don’t have any files I want to keep on my laptop yet. It’s strictly a tinkering device at this point. I’m glad the guide was easy to understand! I always strive to document my experiments clearly.

  8. I remember my early college days. We had this Linux-centered subject where we had to learn how to install Ubuntu on our school computers and also how to navigate around it. But that was a long time ago and I no longer remember much from that subject. XD

    I’m always too scared to mess around with computers. XD That’s why I don’t regret switching majors by the end of my freshman year. Now, every time I would need to do something about my OS, I’d get my schoolmates to do it. hahahaha
    Kaela recently posted…Timeless Thoughts: Back To The FutureMy Profile

  9. I would recommend Linux Mint or Kubuntu to people that are new to Linux because they will be presented with an environment that is more Windows-like. That being said if they are used to using a Mac then they should probably try Ubuntu instead.
    Michael Arida recently posted…Linux Commands With ExamplesMy Profile

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