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I’ve Re-built My Inspiron 8600 Laptop: Windows 7 Dual Booted With Ubuntu Linux 10.4

I thought this might be of interest to anyone else who is trying to do a similar task… 

I bought the laptop in April 2004, Windows XP Professional and a 40 GB HDD, and I’ve rebuilt it a couple of times and upgraded it with a 120 GB Hard Disk and more memory.

Recently, however, it has started getting very slow, overloaded with all manner of junk software and the hard disk is full to bursting (less than 5GB free) – there is just too much to back up.

So, I decided to add an even bigger hard disk and use it as the excuse to have a cleanup and fix some other problems.

I went to Scan (I live 15 minutes’ drive away) and picked up a nice 320GB Hard disk and a 1 year Kaspersky security suite – I’ve been intending switching from Symantec for a while and this is probably the best time.

At the same time, I had priced up an upgrade to Windows 7… and, yes, I did!  Unfortunately, the Upgrade licence is only available for Home Premium not Professional – so that had to do.

One final little twist – I occasionally “dabble” with Linux (I have even done a couple of client projects on Linux platforms) and I had allocated around 20GB of the previous HDD to a Linux installation.  I wanted to do the same with this new one and with 320GB available I could afford the space.

To make sure it all went smoothly I first Googled a few bits of information and came across the following excellent article:  Says it all, doesn’t it?  I recommend giving it a good read before you do this yourself.

The Rebuild Process

First things first, I needed to identify all the software installed on my system before the rebuild.  That was relatively easy using an application called CCleaner (  I’ve been using this recently to clean up some of my PCs.  With this I was able to export a list of all the installed software components – which I then analysed (OK, so I can’t help being a Business Analyst) to see which were part of the same application (for example iTunes installs loads of extra junk), and which I would need to re-install afterwards.

Based on the lifehacker article above I planned to install the latest Ubuntu release so I downloaded the ISO image for 10.4 and cut a bootable CD.  I booted from the disk to try it and was well impressed with how well it handled the laptop hardware.

I added a few key bits of data (Wireless security key and my “Plan” of action) to a USB drive – both OS’s read it easily enough.

Next, I waited until I could do without the PC for a couple of days – so I started on Friday evening.  Then, after one final check of my email, I removed the old Hard Disk and installed the new one – putting the old one into a Thecus YES nano N1050 external case ( ready to copy the files once the new Windows 7 installation was complete.  I had originally bought this last time I upgraded the laptop and it held the now unused old 40GB Hard Disk.

Ideally, at this point I would also have done a backup of anything precious… but I have managed to get away without it anyway (fingers crossed).

Now it was time to start building the new system.  The instructions suggested I split the Hard Disk in to 3 areas – one each for the two OSs and a huge data partition – so I chose 50GB for Windows 7, 30GB for Ubuntu Linux and the remainder as the Data drive.  I created the Linux partition, unformatted for now leaving 50GB free space before it for Windows.  I then created a “DATA” partition and formatted it as NTFS.

I rebooted with the Windows 7 installation CD and used the “Custom” option to create the 50GB partition and install windows in it.  That went smoothly enough and I was soon up and running in Windows.  I had a look for the updated drivers from Dell – apparently my laptop doesn’t support Windows 7!  Anyway, the installer had managed to find drivers for most things – only the video was obviously wrong.  In the end I found that the Windows XP version worked fine.  I ran the Windows Update a few times as recommended and that improved the driver situation even more.

Next, I attempted to activate Windows (first option – see Clean Install Windows 7 with Upgrade Media) but this failed so I tried the third, “nice” option by re-running the installer using the Update setting from within Windows.  This also failed on reboot and left me with an annoying boot option of “Setup Windows”.  The 2nd, less “nice” option worked OK.  I managed to make Windows the default boot option – right click on Computer in windows explorer, select Properties from the context menu and click Advanced system settings on the left.  Click the Settings… button under Startup and Recovery and select Windows 7 as the default.

That aside, I was able to get to know Windows 7 a little before I continued – and it’s quite nice.  Lots of things are in different places, but that’s fine once you learn where they are.  So far it is much better than Vista – although it looks very similar.  Anyway, time for all that later.

I also moved the locations of my Documents, Music, etc. folders – it’s all in the instructions I followed.

Now it was time to install Ubuntu.  I put the Ubuntu disk in the CD drive and rebooted.  This brought up a CD based OS and on the desktop there was an icon to Install it to the Hard Drive.  I clicked it – followed the simple instructions, selected the 30GB unformatted partition, no swap drive (as suggested) and it all installed happily.

It easily read all the partitions, the USB stick and my old Hard Drive in the Thecus case.  I installed the NTFS Configuration Tool and it confirmed which partitions should be mounted at startup.  I didn’t bother modifying the Document paths – I’ll do that later if I feel the need.

One issue arose when I rebooted – Linux is the default and there are lots of irrelevant choices.  A review of the GRUB 2 documentation ( helped – I renumbered the 30_os-prober in /etc/grub.d/ to 06_os-prober and removed execute permission from 20_memtest86+.  Now that’s much better when I reboot (Look, I have to do most of my work in Windows, OK?).


Finally, I went back to Windows to copy the files across from the old disk and install all my usual applications.  A few points worth noting: –

  • I’ve had problems with Visio rebuilding it’s directory cache every time I use it – this was fixed by ensuring I installed Visio before Outlook (or their respective software suites).
  • All of the Microsoft Office applications (Word, Excel, Outlook, etc.) kept displaying their EULAs every time I opened them.  This was fixed by clicking on the Word (or any other) executable in the installation directory and running it as Administrator.
  • Windows kept putting up a range of dialogs during copying from the old HDD – duplicate files where there shouldn’t be any and other oddities.  As a result, I don’t appear to have copied everything completely.  No problems so far, but I won’t be re-formatting the old HDD any time soon!
  • Sleep doesn’t work!  When I try to resume, the screen stays blank.  I fixed this by creating my own power settings (right click on the battery icon) and changing all the “Sleep” actions to “Hibernate”.  Now it works fine.
  • iTunes – the scary bit.  I have created an iTunes directory on my Data disk – so I put the old iTunes directory in this.  I edited the XML file to change all C: file paths to the new paths.  I installed iTunes, deleted the iTunes directory, and copied the top level iTunes folder in it’s place (but not all the media folders).  That appears to work fine (the iPhone Apps folder doesn’t show yet…).  – addendum.  No it doesn’t work!  Took lots of fiddling about to fix it – I might post this later.

Now the laptop is up and running with most of the necessary software reinstalled.  It is much faster and has loads of free hard disk space.  Bit by bit I am tying up any loose ends and making sure my projects are all running fine.  I still have to resolve the Setup issue – but I’ll find a tidy way to resolve that soon, I’m sure.

Now I can get on with enjoying the new features in Windows 7.

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