CentOS 5.4 On The Dell Inspiron 2600

March 7, 2010 by
Filed under: Distro Review, linux 

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.

Affiliate Link

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:

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.


6 Responses to “CentOS 5.4 On The Dell Inspiron 2600”

  1. Wanted to let you know Ubuntu 10.04.02 LTS works on these machines. It took a bit of tweeking and I guess that's why I kept ending up here. We would normally default to Linux Mint/LXDE when it seems a machine is too old to take Ubuntu 10.04 - in fact I'm writing this to you on an iMac made in 1999 running MintPPC. Your info on this particular Dell laptop helped me immeasurably. I'm currently setting up 4 Dell Inspiron 2600s with Ubuntu 10.04

    I must say, I didn't like using Windoze for the 5-10 minutes it took to download the "I2600A08" [ftp://ftp.dell.com/bios/I2600A08.exe] to load onto a floppy disk(!) to change the bios. And the Lucid Lucy Alternate CD install starts out a little scary when the white diagonal bars take over the screen. But once I figured out what to put in the xorg.conf file (I think I did pretty well, but please let me know if there is something I do or don't need in here) these machines run pretty well.

    Section "ServerLayout"
    Identifier "Layout 1"
    Screen "Default Screen"
    Option "BlankTime" "0"
    Option "StandbyTime" "0"
    Option "SuspendTime" "0"
    Option "OffTime" "0"

    Section "Device"
    Identifier "Configured Video Device"
    Driver "intel"
    Option "SWCursor" "True"
    Option "HWCursor" "False"
    Option "monitor-LVDS" "Configured Monitor"

    Section "Monitor"
    Identifier "Configured Monitor"
    Option "PreferredMode" "1024x768"
    Option "DPMS"

    Section "Screen"
    Identifier "Default Screen"
    Monitor "Configured Monitor"
    Device "Configured Video Device"

    Thanks again!
    God Bless,

    • I may have replied too soon. The first Dell Inspiron 2600 is running well with 256 MB RAM. However, the 2nd 2600 (of 4) is still running in low-graphics mode even after the above xorg.conf was saved. This is likely due to this 2600 only having 128 MB RAM (what was I thinking?), but I thought I'd mention it before I take a shot at #3.

      • Linerd says:

        Good luck with your 2600's. I've since passed mine on to my nephew. Mine had 384 MB of RAM. I upgraded the easily accessible chip. The machine can be maxed out at 512, but you have to take it apart to access the 2nd chip.

        • Thanks for the luck. Turned out I'd messed up the install on the 2600 #2 (blurry-eyed, middle of the night, still used expert install and apparently made some bad choices) and rather than hunt down individual problems, I actually reinstalled this morning. Still used the xorg.conf above and again it works. It's slow of course, but no errors. I'll have to install more RAM before giving it away with the other 3 - and as you did, I will likely just add a stick in the easy-to-get-to slot. Thanks again for your info on this machine - and point your nephew to this in case he'd like to check into Ubuntu.

  2. tetris11 says:

    The reason Hardy kept freezing was because of the ACPI.
    Booting up with acpi = off, solves most of these issues - unfortunately it disables the laptops ability to go into sleep or hibernate.

    I suspect CentOS couldn't configure your acpi, so just set it to acpi=off on boot, which is why suspend and hibernate don't work properly.

    • Linerd says:

      Thanks for the tip. I haven't used this old machine in a while, but it would be nice to get it all configured and running well to pass on to my nephew. I'm thinking of trying the latest version of Puppy Linux, which is of course based on Ubuntu now.

      Are you still running Hardy on your 2600? I think the support for Hardy ends this April, correct?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>