Installing Ubuntu on a Dell Inspiron 1300

I was recently given an old Dell Inspiron 1300 that had been replaced with one of Dell’s shiny new laptops. The battery life is of course nearly non-existent but functionally it is still in great shape. I figure all it needs is a little love and I will find it a new home.
Installing Ubuntu is so painless that I was very surprised to find that when I was booting the machine from a usb stick (made with usb-creator and a 12.04 iso) it would hang while displaying the loading screen. A quick googling turned up an answer by the ever-helpful Jorge Castro on Ask Ubuntu. His advice; press F6 and add this to grub’s boot parameters:

b43.blacklist=yes

The trouble is the Broadcom wireless BCM4318 LAN card used in this model. The linuxwireless site describes this situation like this:

The Broadcom wireless chip needs proprietary software (called “firmware”) that runs on the wireless chip itself to work properly. This firmware is copyrighted by Broadcom and must be extracted from Broadcom’s proprietary drivers. To get such firmware on your system, you must download the driver from a legal distribution point, extract it, and install it.

So while blacklisting the b43 driver will get the system to boot to the USB stick and get to the installer, it doesn’t solve the problem. I plugged in an ethernet cable and made my way through the rest of the install process as normal. I needed to repeat Jorge Castro’s trick again to boot the laptop after the install. Once it was running and connected to the internet via my ethernet cable I was able to install the firmware by installing the package mentioned on the linuxwireless site:

sudo apt-get install firmware-b43-installer

After that I rebooted again and was thrilled to see that it came up without a fuss. Thinking it was now solved I looked at the network menu only to find yet another headscratcher. The message there: “wireless is disabled by hardware switch”. WTF?
It didn’t take long to figure out was actually going on; FN+F2 had been pressed at some point disabling the wireless entirely. FN+F2 one more time and suddenly wireless was working.

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11 thoughts on “Installing Ubuntu on a Dell Inspiron 1300”

  1. Brilliant – thanks Mike. Installed Ubuntu last night and got as far as installing the firmware using that linuxwireless line. Now I have that final missing piece to make it work (FN+F2) :)

    1. alas, still no joy. even re-installed ubuntu. the fn+f2 combination doesn’t do anything on this 1300 anymore. It does now say ‘enable wireless’ in menu but it is greyed out and via network it won’t let me slide the switch to ‘on’ for wireless… hmm…

  2. How is 12.04 working for you for most your everyday tasks on your inspiron 1300? I recently installed 10.04 and am thinking about the move up to 12.04.

  3. I gave the computer away after that but 12.04 seemed to be working really nicely. If its the Unity interface you are actually asking about: It’s great. Canonical gets tonnes of flak for Unity but they have done excellent work. It takes a few months to get comfortable but soon you will find it frustrating to work on other operatings systems. Perhaps something I’ll post about soon…

  4. started with easy peasy, brought it up to 12.04 and, thanks to Mike, got the silly wifi going, we’ll see down the log how it fares

  5. I have “0” experience with ubuntu, just installed 14.04 on the inspiron 1300 and had trouble with the Wlan.
    “sudo apt-get install firmware-b43-installer” was the solution for me, plus checking the bios settings and giving the control to the software not to the command switch “Fn+F2” thanks a lot! Very helpful!

  6. Sadly, the b-43 archive doesn’t seem to exist any more, “failed to fetch…” 404 not found from this b43 link :-( this is at January 30th 2017.

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