HomeBlogInstalling Ubuntu Linux on a Low-RAM machine

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:

mkswap swap

And activate it:

swapon swap

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).


  • By: AguirreJul 18 (14:28) 2007RE: Installing Ubuntu Linux on a Low-RAM machine §

    Thank you - I also got stuck trying to install Ubuntu in a laptop (P4 - 2.6 GHz - only 256 RAM) and with your trick it installed like a charm !

    • By: array.hunterApr 07 (13:15) 2010RE[2]: Installing Ubuntu Linux on a Low-RAM machine §

      im tryin to install ubuntu on my toshiba tecra laptop.only 2.0 processor and 256 rams..im using external cd drives,,and it takes a very long time..is there any way that i can install ubuntu on my hdd with less time than re-boot from c d?from usb flash disk perhaps?

  • By: Seriously NEWBBBBEDAug 28 (00:45) 2007RE: Installing Ubuntu Linux on a Low-RAM machine §

    I cannot thank you enough.  New to Linux, wanted to make the plunge, and was about to give up on the whole thing because I ran into the same problem.  It's amazing the difference a little virtual memory... er... SWAP space can make!


  • By: deiseachAug 28 (10:11) 2007RE: Installing Ubuntu Linux on a Low-RAM machine §

    Dude, you're a legend. I'm typing this from Ubuntu right now. The process even helped me understand a bit more about how Linux works more than the blockbuster book I bought years ago! Many thanks.

  • By: guyNov 06 (00:51) 2007RE: Installing Ubuntu Linux on a Low-RAM machine §

    it was and is a most helpful article and a life saver for me, a first time user of Linux in general and Ubuntu (7.10) in particular.
    a few remarks that might come in handy to novices to Linux and might save some google time when trying to implement the very helpfull method :
    the short cut to command line is "ctrl+alt+f1" and to return to the installation, "ctrl+alt+f7" and not as described above.
    it should be made more clear as to what to type in the command line and what are helpful hints and advice so novices to command line and to any linux commands might find this easier to use.

    other then that this article solved my problems in attempting to install linux for the first time in my life on an old p3 whith 128mb of ram, problems i was trying to resolve for over a week.
    thank you very much.


    • By: georgeFeb 14 (17:11) 2008RE[2]: Installing Ubuntu Linux on a Low-RAM machine §

      i am a newbi and i am installing ubuntu 7.1 on old pc ( 2ghz 256meg amd .  it hangs during instaull and i think i need to make a usb swapdisk but the command above do not seem to work ( any help

  • By: MattiasFeb 17 (20:02) 2008RE: Installing Ubuntu Linux on a Low-RAM machine §

    Thanks, this really helped me out. I just installed gutsy on my old laptop with the commands you gave and it works fine. Before I even tried with the alternate CD without success. I think this should be added on the ubuntu.com forum (if it is not already there.

  • By: turbopidarApr 22 (23:42) 2008RE: Installing Ubuntu Linux on a Low-RAM machine §

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  • By: Tech ManMay 17 (19:51) 2008RE: Installing Ubuntu Linux on a Low-RAM machine §

    There is a new version of ubuntu, take a look at the installation guide:

  • By: PERCYDec 05 (12:58) 2008RE[2]: Installing Ubuntu Linux on a Low-RAM machine §

    You're right dude, this is trully Xplosiv, I had the same problem as you,but thanks to this Legend.

  • By: PanchoApr 15 (11:06) 2009RE: Installing Ubuntu Linux on a Low-RAM machine §

    it worked perfectly! Thank you very much!

  • By: JulianBJun 23 (21:27) 2009RE: Installing Ubuntu Linux on a Low-RAM machine §

    Hopefully, Ubuntu will soon know how to create a swap space on the hard drive by default on machines with low RAM. My two attempts at installing Ubuntu failed (no error message, the screen just froze) until I manually created a swap partition using the Ubuntu installer - this is on another 1Ghz laptop with 256M ram. Like you, I had to wait for a very long time to get through the pre-installation questions too. Makes me almost wish I was running a mobile phone operating system on this old computer, instead of having WinXP and Ubuntu Desktop 9.04!

    • By: realdudeSep 01 (11:27) 2011RE[2]: Installing Ubuntu Linux on a Low-RAM machine §

      And you all saying that Ubuntu is for newbies???LOL
      Even this guy is lazy enough not to explain what his commands do.
      With such attitude linux will never become popular enough to threaten the monopol of Micro$oft.
      Here is the truth.Windows works faster on old machines.An example from life - 486 machine with 256 ram ubuntu ,xubuntu takes a couple of seconds to respond on mouse clicks in the GUI.And it has swap.Manual install.
      No problem with windows XP on the same machine - it runs well.
      Do not get me wrong.I love the idea of the free software, but i get pissed off because it does not work the way it is supposed to.And those who really understand linux are lazy to write good examples with explanations.

Page info
2007/05/23 18:27
2008/02/18 13:06
Mihai Bazon
linux, ubuntu
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