Over the Labor Day weekend I decided to upgrade my HP Mini 110 netbook to Linux Mint 17. The Mini 110 can handle Windows 7, but Linux Mint doesn’t cost any money and I figure a Linux box is more useful to me than yet another Windows box. There are some things I do that are easier to accomplish in Linux than in Windows. Plus, I’m curious how my two young sons will react to Linux.
Linux Mint, if you’re not familiar with it, is a Ubuntu derivative that includes a lot of consumer-friendly features, like including drivers and codecs and other common software that aren’t completely open source. It’s not a Linux distribution for the Free Software purist, but having options is one of the nice things about Linux in 2014.
Linux Mint includes a lot of useful software, so once you get it installed, you’re up and running with a useful computer with minimal effort.
Step 1: Download Linux Mint 17 XFCE from a nearby mirror from the following link:
I went with 32-bit since the Mini 110 is only expandable to 2 GB of RAM. Without 4 GB, there’s limited benefit in going 64 bit. XFCE is a very lightweight desktop environment, ideal for a limited machine like a first-generation Atom. While the ISO was downloading I copied my data off to another machine.
Step 2: Write the ISO to a USB flash drive using the Universal USB Installer.
Step 3: Boot off USB.
Getting HP machines to boot off USB isn’t always straightforward as it could be, and the Mini 110 is no exception. Plug in your USB drive, reboot, mash on the F9 key until the blue boot menu comes up, then select your USB drive with the arrow keys and hit <Enter>.
Step 4: Install. The distribution boots to a functional live environment. It’s a little sluggish on the 110 and the proprietary wireless drivers aren’t there, but it gives you an opportunity to explore at least.
If you want to keep Windows XP on the machine and dual-boot, run GParted to shrink your Windows partition. Click the “LM” button on the lower left, then “System,” then “GParted.” Resize /dev/sda1 to make room for Linux Mint. I left about 4 GB free on the old Windows partition and left the rest free for Linux.
Double-click the icon that says “Install Linux Mint” to install it to your internal hard drive or SSD. Then just follow the prompts. It’s no harder than installing Windows. The installer will detect your Windows installation and set up dual booting for you.
Step 5: Configure. Log in. Plug the USB drive you used to install if you unplugged it previously. To get the drivers functional, click the “LM” button on the lower left, select “System,” then select “Driver Manager.” Click the radio button next to bcmwl-kernel-source underneath the Broadcom wireless adapter, then click “Apply Changes.” Wait a few seconds for the driver to install, and then you’ll be notified there are wireless networks available. That’s all you have to do; as far as I can tell all of the other hardware just works. Linux Mint even found my network printer automatically when I clicked on “LM” and navigated to “System,” then “Printers.”
Then I saw an application called “Simple Scan,” so I decided to get mean. I fired it up, plugged in my wife’s Canon scanner and hit “Scan.” It just worked. Sometimes Linux Mint can be more plug and play than Windows.
Linux Mint impresses me. It won’t turn a first-generation Atom into a Celeron, but it provides secure, low-effort computing on low-end hardware like my HP Mini 110. It’s no harder to use than Windows and in some ways it’s probably easier.