Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Windows XP on Dell L400

It's been a while since I posted anything - I'll plead the pressures of work and social life as my excuse. In the meantime I have picked up a little old Dell L400. This machine is about 1.6KG in weight and has a Pentium III processor running at 700MHz. I've had to put in a 20GB hard disk (that I had lying around) and it came with 256MB of RAM and two batteries. Not bad at all.

Initially I installed Win2k on it and was unimpressed by it's performance. I had also tried to get varies different versions of Linux running on it (more on this to follow). I eventually got SuSE 10.2 running happily on it and all was good. Somehow though... I got it into my head to install Windows XP on this machine. I checked the minimum specifications for XP and found them to be well under the spec of this laptop - something like a 300MHz processor and 128MB of RAM or something similar.

The initial install went very smoothly. It was also pleasingly fast. I was very happy. I continued to be very happy as the install stayed smooth and the system ran well. After a fair bit of time (after all it is only a 700MHz processor) the install completed. The only thing that wasn't working was the sound card. It had correctly detected it but the driver wasn't working. I had already downloaded the drivers from Dell on another machine, copied them across and away I went.

Patching this little machine took a long time. Probably longer than I'd hoped. There were 100 or so patches to be installed so I wasn't too unhappy with the time it took.

My biggest concern with this machine was RAM availability. With only 256MB I was worried I'd be swapping all the time and this would make the machine unusable. By killing all the themes, disabling many services and pruning where possible, the machine runs with a RAM footprint of 89MB! And it runs really well. I've installed the Portable Applications package from in both the lite and full forms. This gives me a stack of great software to use and I recommend you check it out. Great for a USB install or just for those lower end PCs you might have floating around. The L400 runs the portable version of OpenOffice Writer well and its very usable. I've also installed NetGear software for my WG111v2 USB wireless device. It works well and means this cheap little notebook is very versatile.

The screen is bright and clear and I find I can use it without problem for some time. The keyboard likewise, has a lovely tactile feel to it. If you're looking for a cheap, lightweight notebook for running around with the L400 is a good choice. The batteries only last about 2 hours, which is what Dell indicate it will last for. For about $200 this laptop was a great buy. I actually carry it in the same bag as my D620 and don't notice the extra weight!

I'm currently installing Ubuntu Linux on it - I'll write more about this adventure tomorrow.


  1. I have a similar config L400 and got rid of the Win2K and tried to get it to work with Fluxbuntu.

    My Hard Disk started acting up (clicking noises like a metronome) and I now am looking at a USB Boot or a Solid State Drive Hack for this little jewel of a machine.

    USB Boot is not an option on this because the BIOS did not support it.

    Any help is appreciated.

  2. Sudheendra,

    I replaced the HDD in my L400 pretty much straight away with a 40GB Western Digital drive. If you don't have the external CDROM/DVD then here's what I recommend: get a notebook disk drive, an adapter for it to IDE and stick the disk in a desktop machine or something similar. Install Fluxbuntu on it and then transplant the drive into your L400. GNU/Linux will easily accommodate the hardware difference, supply the correct drivers and away you go.

    Failing that, I'd suggest eBay to try and find an external CDROM that suits the L400. There are still a few around I believe. I've got a upgrade my for L400 just ready to go in shortly - I just need to make sure it'll support an 80 GB HDD. Good luck.