How to Install Minimal Ubuntu on Your Old PC

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What happens when an older PC with limited hardware is unsupported by Windows and can’t be upgraded? Users can turn to Linux for help, and in this case Ubuntu.

Ubuntu is a free open-source operating system that enables users to either break away from using Windows completely or have the option of dual booting to give more choice. It is easy to install, quick and will make your old PC more secure. In this tutorial we will show you how to install a minimal and lightweight version of Ubuntu on your old PC.

First, you will need to obtain a copy of the Ubuntu minimal ISO image file. This can be found by going to the Ubuntu website and selecting the appropriate image.

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If you are using an older PC, then chances are you might need the 32-bit PC (i386, x86) image file. These are generally PCs that have less than 4GB of RAM and a much slower, older processor. They are also likely to work on slightly newer systems, as 64-bit processors can run 32-bit systems.

Click on your chosen image and save it to somewhere convenient, such as the Downloads or Desktop folder. Note the small size – this is because the ISO file is just the bare bones of what Ubuntu needs to boot. It will pull all the information and packages from the Ubuntu repositories as it installs.

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Note: there are two versions of the Ubuntu install media. The minimal one, as shown above, and the full installer that can be obtained from the Ubuntu website.

The main difference is that while you can perform a minimal install within the “full version” of Ubuntu, some older hardware may not be able to display the full graphical installer. Therefore, depending on your machine specifications, it is better to select this minimal installer as it is more likely to work on all machines.

As an optional step, you can verify the ISO file to ensure its integrity against the MD5SUM. An MD5SUM is a calculation (hash value) of the ISO file to ensure no files have been changed or altered. Details of how to check this can be found at the Ubuntu help pages.

Once you have the image saved, you will need to burn it onto either a CD or USB stick. Depending on how old the machine is, and if it has a CD/DVD drive, will determine which of these is better-suited to your hardware. Generally, all machines should be able to boot from the CD drive, whereas some older BIOS will not have the USB boot capability.

Ubuntu has provided a useful guide on burning the image to a CD on a variety of systems and also creating USB media. For creating a bootable USB drive, we highly recommend Etcher, as it is easy to use and cross-platform compatible.

With everything verified and your media created, you are now ready to install. Insert your CD or USB stick into the PC and switch it on. You may need to press F12 or F10 or F2 to access your BIOS menu to enable booting from your newly created media. (Please check with your manufacturer on how to do this.)

Once it boots up, you will be presented with the following menu screen.

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Press Enter to start the install.

You will encounter a number of screens as Ubuntu guides you through the setup. Below are some of the screenshots to set Language, Keyboard, Hostname and Mirror. Take your time and read the instructions carefully. If you make a mistake, you can always use the Tab button and select “Go Back” to correct the problem.

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Once you have selected the local mirror, which will make the download faster, Ubuntu will proceed to call all the packages and elements it needs to install itself on your PC. This may take a while depending on your connection, but just be patient.

With the download completed, you’ll be asked to set up a username and password.

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You can pick anything you like as long as it is memorable. As an illustration, I picked the distro name which is “ubuntu.”

Choose a password – for this demo I selected “root.” For your own system, pick something strong and not easily guessed. The system will flag a password if it considers it weak as shown:

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After this the system will set up the clock and time zone.

The system will then ask you to select how you want to partition your disk. If you want to use encryption, select the third option to allow guided setup. I would personally advocate encryption as a matter of course to keep your data secure, but the choice is yours. The installer will then run through some additional options, such as setting up passphrases for your encrypted disk.

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If you have elected to not use encryption, you will immediately arrive at the following screenshot.

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The system will select the amount of space automatically; however, you can follow the hint and use the word “max” to specify the maximum size available. There will be one last check of the partitioning you have selected, and then the system will start installing.

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Just as with downloading the packages from the mirror, the install may take some time. Be patient.

Eventually the system will finish and ask you if you want to install updates automatically, so select the option that works for you.

The next screen will ask you to select what packages you want to install. Most people will want to select “Ubuntu desktop,” as this will give you the base desktop for you to fully boot into Ubuntu. In this case, Ubuntu desktop refers to GNOME 3 Desktop Manager, which is similar to the desktop in the full version. If you want a lighter weight version of Ubuntu, you can select “Lubuntu desktop” or “Ubuntu Mate.”

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Finally, the system will ask to set up GRUB, which is the bootloader. GRUB stands for Grand Unified Bootloader. It is the small program that enables the kernel to load, which in turn starts the system loading.

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Congratulations, your Ubuntu system is installed and ready to boot.

Image credit: A System76 laptop displays the Ubuntu Edgy login screen.

3 comments

  1. Why limit yourself to an emasculated version of Ubuntu when there are dozens of full distros that can be run on the same hardware?

  2. This article is slightly misleading in that it describes how to install an Ubuntu system that calls itself Minimal but does not necessarily produce a minimal installation. On the contrary, it could be used to select even more features and packages at install-time than even the largest and most resource-hungry full Ubuntu variant installs per default. To really install a minimal Ubuntu, a bit more detailed information about all the diifferent options of “software to install” would be necessary. But that, of course, would be the hard part of writing such a text.

  3. Not useful for two version of Intel cpu’s for small computers that have 32-bit EUFI files and are otherwise Win10 64-bit software. There are ways to install and have working Wifi, HDMI, and sound, but this guide walks right into those problems and offers no alternative. Not a good Maketecheasier example. (Needs to add a bit on respinning to avoid known probs.)

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