Friday, 14 September 2012

Installing Ubuntu 12.04 on a Dell XPS L502x


So after years of indecision I've finally decided to install Ubuntu on my laptop. Why? Because I identify strongly with the open source software movement and eventually hope to contribute to it. I will be documenting the installation process on my blog so that other users with the same laptop can use my experience to guide their own installation.

My installation is guided by many sources including some very linux-experienced friends. I've also found the blog of another person with the same computer who has installed ubuntu on the system. So I got some help from there as well.

Since one of the main reasons I wanted to install Ubuntu was so that I had a backup OS in case my Windows became infected with some sort of virus, I decided to go ahead and install the operating system on it's own partition.

So I have a Dell XPS L502x with the following specs:

Intel core i7 Sandy Bridge processors.
Nvidia GT540M graphics Card
Intel HD3000 integrated graphics
1080x1920 full HD screen

Before I go into the installation process let me go into the details of all the problems which could occur if you partition you drive. Now from what I've learnt from hours of browsing forums is that most of the problems that occur when partitioning are due to human error. If you windows installation dies while installing ubuntu it's usually because you misread some instructions or misclicked somewhere. So my advice for you is to DO YOUR RESEARCH. Make sure you understand exactly what is going on when you partition your drive and you'll be able to Dual Boot with windows without a single problem. I spent nearly two weeks reading up articles and tutorials on Ubuntu installation and disk partitioning before I installed it. By this time I had a really good understanding of how partitioning works and knew exactly what to do to minimize error from my part. I'll try to explain the process the best I can but make sure you read up on your own as well. Generally if you don't know the difference between a logical partition and a primary partition don't meddle with partitions.

First download the ISO image of the latest version of Ubuntu from here. Choose 64 bit or 32 bit depending on which processor you have. My laptop has 64 bit architecture and runs a 64 bit version of Windows 7 home premium. So I downloaded the 64 bit image and then verified the MD5 sums.

I then bought one of those extremely cheap 700MB "write once" CDs and burned the disc image on to the system. For doing this your best bet is to follow the instructions here. The process is incredibly straightforward on Windows 7. It took about 10 minutes for me to burn my own CD.

I put the CD into the CD drive and then restarted the computer. I pressed F12 to enter the boot menu  and chose the "Boot From CD drive" option. Once I made sure the CD was working fine, I proceeded to the installation. Several sources helped me here.

I wanted to be as safe as possible so I shrunk one of my Windows partitions from inside windows using the Windows drive partitioning utility. Just search for partition in the start menu and you'll find it. This left about 220 GB of unallocated space on my drive. (I have a 750 GB WD hard drive. So plenty of space for both operating systems.) The rest can be done when installing Ubuntu.

Every step from partitioning onwards, I followed from this website. My boot partition was 500MB, root was 20 GB, my home was ~180GB and my swap was 8GB. Here's what you need to know when you try to partition. There are two types of partitions. Primary partitions and logical partitions. A hard disk can only have a maximum of four primary partitions but it can have a lot more logical partitions. From what i understand, all the logical partitions in a disk together are called an extended partition. A hard disk can only have a maximum of four primary partitions. So if you want more partitions on your drive you should only create three primary partitions on your disk. Then make the rest of the partitions logical. I had it easy. My laptop's hard disk had only three partitions in it (One for the windows System Reserve, my C drive and my D drive). So it was easy enough for me to shrink one of my drives and leave some unallocated space for Ubuntu. However, some laptops already have four partitions on the hard disk. If that's the case you have to completely delete one of your partitions and maybe extend another before you install Ubuntu. This is a bit more complicated but there are a lot of excellent websites which tell you how to do it.

And that was pretty much it. I booted into windows, used EasyBCD to configure my boot screen as shown on the website. I booted into Ubuntu and everything just worked. No hardware issues at all except for the Nvidia graphics card. I solved this by installing the Bumblebee project and I was ready to go.

There was another hurdle in my case. Since I don't have access to a reliable WiFi network I use a 3G mobile broadband dongle to connect to the internet. To get this to work I needed to get a few updates and for that I needed an internet connection. On the third day after installation I was able to connect to the unreliable wifi network for a few minutes to perform a few critical updates. After that the modem started working ... sort of. It still seemed to have some trouble doing the modeswitch from a storage device to a modem. I found that if I booted into Windows first, then restarted (so that the power to the modem wasn't cut off) and then booted into Ubuntu, the modem would be recognized just fine. However if I just plugged in the modem after booting into Ubuntu, the network manager didn't detect it. It took me almost a week to get it fixed. It turned out that it was a problem with the USB ports. My laptop has 2 USB 3.0 ports and 1 USB 2.0/eSata port. I've always plugged my modem into one of my USB 3.0 ports. Yesterday, I tried plugging it into the USB 2.0 port and it just started working normally. Maybe I should submit a bug report to Ubuntu.

User Interface and Hardware

What impressed me most is that Ubuntu booted up for the first time and everything just seemed to work perfectly. Ubuntu's hardware support is commendable. I only to download extra drivers for my Nvidia Graphics Card. Everything else worked just perfectly with the fresh install including my webcam (Which interestingly stopped working in Windows after a driver update a few weeks before I installed Ubuntu). 

So the most obvious difference between windows and Ubuntu is the user interface. The Ubuntu user interface is just amazing! I just love the fresh clean look of my desktop.

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