Installing Ubuntu 12.04 on an old laptop without PAE

Initially perfect for young children (portable, cheap, small keyboard), the screen resolution (1024×576) on my sons’ netbook is becoming too restrictive and, with no Flash Player, some of the main websites they use (Club Penguin, CBeebies) don’t work on the iPad.  Setting up an external monitor each time they want to use the computer is not really practical so I needed to find another option – for now that option is recycling my the laptop that my wife replaced a couple of years ago (and which has been in the loft ever since…)

The laptop in question is an IBM ThinkPad T40 – a little long in the tooth but with a 1.5GHz Pentium M and 2GB of RAM it runs OK, although hundreds of Windows XP updates have left it feeling a little sluggish. Vista and 7 are too heavyweight so I decided to install Ubuntu (although I might also give ChromeOS a shot).

Unfortunately, the Ubuntu 12.04 installer stalled, complaining about a lack of hardware support:

This kernel requires the following features not present on the CPU:

pae

Unable to boot – please use a kernel appropriate for your CPU

So much for Linux being a lightweight operating system, suitable for use on old hardware (in fairness, other distributions would have worked). As it happens, it turns out that this is a known issue and there are a few workarounds – the one that worked for me was to use the non-PAE mini.iso installer (I wasn’t prompted to select the generic Linux kernel, but I did have to select the Ubuntu Desktop option).

Once Ubuntu was installed, Joey Sneddon (@d0od) has a useful article on the OMG! Ubuntu site listing 10 things to do after installing Ubuntu 12.04 – this helped with things like installing Codecs, Adobe Flash and better Libre Office menu integration – now to see how the family gets on with a non-Windows OS… I suspect the kids will hardly notice the difference.

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