The Dell Inspiron 2600 is a pretty old laptop, but can still be a useful computer if there's a decent OS installed. I had been running Ubuntu on this machine, but I started getting random freezes starting with Ubuntu Hardy. As a result, I was running Hardy with an older kernel from Gutsy. There were also difficulties with getting the video settings properly configured. I decided it was time to go in search of a new distro to run on this old laptop.
I gave MacPup Opera a try. It seemed to run well. There were no video issues and I didn't experience any random lockups, but I had trouble getting my wireless card properly configured. I'm sure I could have gotten it working with some work, but after an hour of mucking around I figured it was time to move on.
Due to Intel dropping support for the Intel i830 video hardware from the latest drivers included in the Linux kernel, I figured that maybe I should be looking for a distro that ran an older kernel. This is where CentOS came in. My system is now running kernel version 2.6.18. This is by no means an ancient kernel, but it's nowhere near bleeding edge either.
The first thing I did was download the CentOS 5.4 LiveCD and give it a try. Everything worked well. Video was properly recognized and configured as well as my Atheros based D-Link DWL-G650 wireless card. It was time to jump in and go for the full install.
Unlike Ubuntu, you can't install CentOS from the LiveCD, so I proceeded to download the full 6 CD set of ISO's for the CentOS installation. If your computer has a DVD drive there is also a single DVD that you can download. I decided to only burn the first CD to try the installation. One really cool thing about the installation process is that you can go through and select what packages you want to install and the installer will then tell you which of the 6 CD's you will need to complete the installation. You can then cancel the installation, or just leave the message up for a few minutes while you burn the CD's on another computer. My installation only required CD's 1 and 2, so it was nice not to have to burn the other 4. The total installation took about a half hour.
Like many Linux distributions, CentOS does not include codecs for proprietary media formats. Luckily the CentOS Wiki includes instructions for enabling the RPMForge repository. Installing multimedia codecs is then a pretty straight forward process using Yum.
Another package you will likely want to install is pam_keyring. This package allows you to stop the Gnome Keyring prompt from coming up every time you want to connect to your wireless network. You need to edit /etc/pam.d/gdm to get this to work. (Thanks to Paul's Digital World for the instructions.) I edited the file to look like this:
#%PAM-1.0 auth required pam_env.so auth optional pam_keyring.so try_first_pass auth include system-auth account required pam_nologin.so account include system-auth password include system-auth session optional pam_keyinit.so force revoke session include system-auth session required pam_loginuid.so session optional pam_console.so session optional pam_keyring.so
The lines in bold are what I had to add.
I haven't gotten suspend or hibernate to work yet, but that's not too big of a deal for me on this old laptop. CentOS may not be the ideal desktop Linux distro for you. It's not quite as easy to get everything working as it is in Ubuntu, but if you've been unfortunate enough to have some hardware difficulties with other Linux distro's then it may be worth giving CentOS a try. I'm certainly happy to have a stable OS running again on my laptop.