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Dell Latitude X200 Refurbish

I impulse bought a Dell Latitude X200 laptop from eBay, and you can see the full hardware specifications here: http://www.dell.com/downloads/ca/rpg/x200_spec.pdf. I decided to embark on this refurbishment project back in February 2017 when I spotted a great YouTube video about running modern software on Windows 98: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dA58zWmQfC4.

Dell Latitude X200 laptop running Xubuntu. A big DVD-RW drive is nearby

My computing background

The first computer I ever used was a beaten-up old Acorn Archimedes because my primary school had one in each classroom, but at secondary school I spent most lunchtimes in the computer room using desktops that ran Windows 2000 and (as of 2005 when they replaced them) Windows XP.

I did not have broadband access at home or a phone capable of connecting to the Internet until when I was in my late teens, so the school network and issues of "Personal Computer World" magazine were how I used to try out new ideas and learn about technology.

My nostalgia for Windows 95 and 98 mostly comes from using the ancient school library computers on those occasions when the computer room was full, and also tinkering with the second hand junkers my step-dad found for me to dismantle and put back together again when I was growing up.

I became a "Linux guy" in my late teens, but the family PC before ran Windows XP and I also continued to use that operating system on college machines when I was studing for a BTEC National Diploma. It is fair to say that nostalgia is my main motivation for this project.

Hardware upgrades

My first step was to swap out the 30GB PATA hard drive with a 120GB replacement because this is the maximum size Windows 2000 or XP supports for C:\ drive before you have to start create a separate D:\ partition. The machine also comes with 128MB RAM onboard and I have installed the maximum supported 512MB RAM into the expansion slot, giving me the maximum supported 640MB in total.

As the laptop's onboard wireless adapter only supports the wireless-b WiFi standard I have also picked up a cheap wireless-g expansion card so it can still connect to access points and take advantage of modern broadband speeds.

I noticed quickly that the laptop struggles to hold a charge, leaving battery life at a paltry 45 minutes. This is a common problem with old laptops, but I was genuinely surprised to find a Chinese manufacturer that still made modern reproduction batteries for this model at a viable price. It works a treat and the laptop now lasts around 4 or 5 hours between charges during normal operation.

Finally I was glad to see Dell opted to future-proof the X200 by dropping PS/2 ports in favour of USB, so my emergency "ye olde" peripherals weren't needed and I could make use of an old 1TB external HDD I still have to copy large downloads across.

Software experiments

XFCE desktop running on the Xubuntu installed on a Dell laptop

While I initially wanted the laptop to run Windows XP so I could play old games on it I (annoyingly) couldn't get it to contact Microsoft's activation servers, and the usual steps to bypass the check would not work after the community-supported Service Pack 4 was installed. I suspect when I try to install this again I will stop at Service Pack 3 for that very reason.

I managed to upgrade the system BIOS and the firmware for a number of devices using Dell's downloadable tools at: http://www.dell.com/support/home/us/en/04/product-support/product/latitude-x200/drivers . However when the system suddenly refused to let me login even in safe mode a week later because of the activation problem I gave up on that particular plan and decided to install Xubuntu 16.04 LTS instead.

Surprisingly it actually worked very well and the installer recognised the hardware configuration immediately. Hard drive encryption was successful and common packages like LibreOffice, Scribus, the GIMP, Inkscape, VLC and even some 2D games I tried operated correctly and were still usable and responsive while multitasking.

The only real limitation I ran into was limited web browser support. The 933MHz Pentium III processor this laptop uses does not support SSE instructions, so the only way to surf the modern web is with NetSurf or a very old version of Firefox I installed through Winetricks.

Also, since installing Linux I cannot get either the onboard WiFi chip or the Netgear WiFi expansion card to connect to any access points, so I have only been able to use ethernet for network connectivity. I think this is a driver or configuration issue because grub refuses to even load if the expansion card is inserted when I power on the machine.