Installing Ubuntu without pae

From the land of “things I might want to refer to later….”

My old Dell Inspiron works fine except for a missing ‘R’ key. Windows XP is showing more signs of age than the notebook, so time to put another OS on it.

I’ve been using Ubuntu in such situations, but my attempts at installing both 12.04> and Lubuntu (lightweight Ubuntu) have both ended with a message about the hardware not supporting the required pae extensions.

Physical Address Extension (aka pae) is an Intel technology which allows a 32-bit operating system to access more than 4 GB of RAM. (A quick read suggests it essentially hands each application a 4 GB chunk of memory, similar to how programs on the 80286 and earlier chips were able to address more than 64 KB at a time by combining a 16-bit memory address with a 16-bit segment address — and by revealing that I know about this, I’ve probably dated myself quite handily.)

Another quick search on Google turned up a relevant pair of AskUbuntu Questions describing how to install a non-PAE version.

In a nutshell:

  • Download the non-pae netboot image mini.iso. This is a bare-bones installer which downloads the selected packages during the installation process. (Obviously, this requires a broadband connection.)
  • Burn the image onto a CD* and boot the computer from that.
  • Accept the default values for most of the prompts. You’ll need to supply a userid and password. My experience is that it’s faster to select the keyboard layout from a list then to go through the prompts for “detection.” (Faster for a standard US keyboard anyhow; your mileage may vary.)
  • At the final screen, when prompted for packages to install, be certain to select a desktop (e.g. Ubuntu Desktop) unless you plan to do everything from the command line.

* The Inspiron’s CD drive is getting old and unreliable, using UNetbootin to make a bootable thumb drive worked perfectly.

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From the “So I can find it again” department…

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