Installing Ubuntu Linux on a Low-RAM machine
The other day a friend of mine having zero experience in Linux asked me if I could make his printer and modem work in Linux. At least for the modem, I thought, what the hell—I did this before. So I went there to try.
He was running Fedora 6. For some reason, it seemed to me quite old and after hacking it for a half an hour, I thought I should first try with a newer distro. FC6 didn't detect any modem, and while it did detect a printer, it said there's no available driver for it.
Because I'm a Debian user for about 4 years, I chose to go with Ubuntu. Ubuntu is a bleeding edge Debian distro. Pretty good for Linux newbies.
I went home to download and burn the latest Ubuntu distro. Back at my friend, I throw the CD in and restart. It takes 15 minutes to boot Ubuntu. That's because he has an old machine (AMD Athlon at 1GHz, which is OK, but with only 256MB RAM). He also doesn't have a swap partition—because the person that installed FC6 for him was “an expert”.
Next, I try to start the installer. I click on the "Install" icon on the desktop, then I literally wait for 10 minutes until a window appears. The CD led was blinking during this time.
The window that appears asks me in what language do I want to install. I like the default (English) so I click Forward. The CD led blinks for another 15 minutes, after which I get a window that asks me what's my keyboard layout. I just click Forward (use the default — US/105, or something). After another 20 minutes of blinking, I get the next window that asks me how do I want to install—do some express install that would use the full hard drive, or do manual partitioning? I thought it's not wise to use the express method, because I know what I'm doing, so I click on the "manual" checkbox. The CD led starts spinning again and the system looks frozen (though I know it's not). I wait for 25 minutes, then I give up and reboot. My friend should thank me because I was calm enough not to smash his computer.
Well. I wait 15 minutes again for Ubuntu to boot. It's clear that I have no patience to install it this way. It took me one hour and a half to complete 3 of the 7 questions required for the installation to start. I had one nice idea and that's what I wanted to actually write about.
After it finished booting, I throw in an USB memory stick. After I see its icon on the desktop, I press CTRL-ALT-F1 to go to a command line. I become root:
sudo su -
Then I create a 200MB file on the USB stick:
cd /media/disk # type "mount" to see where it's actually mounted dd if=/dev/zero of=swap bs=1M count=200
I turn it into a swap file:
And activate it:
Then I press ALT-F7 and click again on the install icon. It was so much faster that my friend asked me if I changed any hardware. Within the next 40 minutes, Ubuntu was installed and rocking. Within the next 10 minutes, his printer was running smoothly using a driver for HP laser printers, and the modem using the CDC_ACM kernel module (well, I needed to google for it a bit though).