Recently a friend came into possession of an HP Compaq 6730b laptop: a 6+ year old relic running pre-SP1 Windows XP. After quickly determining that it wouldn’t support Windows 8.1, I decided to load it up with Linux Mint. Here’s how to do that:
- Download the Cinnamon 64-bit (assuming you have a 64-bit CPU) ISO here. Ignore the other builds: a general rule of thumb with Linux is the more exotic you get, the more problems you run into. Keep it simple.
- Download Win32 Disk Imager.
- In Windows 8.1, open the folder containing the ISO file.
- In the View tab, check File name extensions.
- Change the .iso in the ISO filename to .img.
- Plug a USB flash drive of capacity 2 GB or greater into your PC.
- Run Win32 Disk Imager.
- Click the file icon in the Image File section.
- Navigate to the renamed .img file in Step 5.
- Click Open.
- In the Device menu, select the name of the drive in Step 6.
- Click Write.
- When that’s done, remove the USB flash drive from your PC and insert it into the PC onto which Mint is to be installed.
- Reboot the install PC.
- Set the USB drive as the boot device (how to do this varies from PC to PC). Mint should fire up from there and give you the option of installing it to the hard drive, which you should then do.
If your Wi-Fi doesn’t work after installation, try resetting the PC’s BIOS to factory default settings. That worked for me.
- It’s fast. The old laptop boots to a usable desktop faster than my Core i7-3770 powered Dell XPS 8500.
- Very low RAM usage.
- Excellent legacy hardware support.
- It’s free.
- It installs quickly.
- Peripherals (assuming they’re recognized by the OS) install and configure rapidly.
- You can get up and running with word processing, email, web browsing, etc. in no time.
- Easy to nonexistent learning curve for basic functionality.
- Read NTFS storage out of the box.
- No annoying, unmovable dock (unlike Ubuntu).
- No need to worry about security software.* Unfortunately, this pro is nearly nullified by a con below.
- Since most of the ways to hose the system involve command line use, you can hand it over to less experienced users without worrying about them borking it.
- Very familiar to Windows users.
- Aero Snap is better than it is in Windows.
- Can play DVDs out of the box. (Ironically, Windows lost this feature in Windows 8+.)
- Documentation is thin to nonexistent for anything more advanced that email, productivity, and web browsing.
- Limited default software support compared to Ubuntu, positively woeful compared to Windows. While LibreOffice worked, I couldn’t get OpenOffice to install, for example.
- As with many distros, solutions posted online often lack important details.
- Samba just doesn’t work.
- Doing anything more than the basics still requires using the terminal or manually editing config files (I’m a GUI guy).
- Although there are no antivirus worries, there’s also no way to check for and/or automatically install updates; it has to be done manually. This produces a significant security risk, especially if you’re passing the machine on to non-technical users who’re unlikely to check for updates themselves.
- The menu for adding/removing users doesn’t update immediately, so deleted user accounts show up until you close and reopen the menu. Confusing and annoying.
- Dated UI that looks like a reimagined Windows XP.
- (For Firefox Nightly users) Nightly builds are few and far between compared to Windows.
- Little annoying things. For example, while Aero Snap Windows key combos work amazingly well, some basic Windows key combos with obvious analogs in Mint don’t work.
I’ll be honest: I grew up on Windows, and the way it does things just makes more sense to me. It’s not that Linux Mint is bad, it’s just that it would have to offer some significant advantage over Windows in daily use for me to switch. Unfortunately, it doesn’t, except in the following cases:
- You absolutely need Linux for something that can’t be done on Windows.
- You have older hardware that doesn’t meet Windows 8.1’s system requirements AND don’t want to buy a new PC. Seriously, if you can stand the cost of a new machine, just go that route instead and eBay the old one.
That said, it’s the best Linux desktop experience I’ve come across yet, and my friend seems pretty happy with it.
*This is mostly because there isn’t much Linux security software out there, not because Linux malware doesn’t exist.