I've had a Lenovo T60 laptop that's been running Windows XP for the last few years, and it's slowly gone downhill. I finally decided to do a clean linux install when I found the \Windows folder in the recycle bin with no way of removing it (I had previously messed up the PATH environment variable, and have had constant empty message boxes popping up from "Lenovo Recovery"). So this posts will chronicle the task of bringing my laptop up to speed as a working machine with Linux (specifically Ubuntu).
1) Install Ubuntu
This step one would think would be easy, but unfortunately, the Radeon X1400 card I had in the laoptop doesn't play nice with the Ubuntu installer. Turns out you have to force it into a basic mode, and later you can install an open-source driver for it. Otherwise it leaves the computer with a black screen after you start the install, and ends up going nowhere. To get around this when installing, modify the install line before the "-" to look like;
... noquiet nosplash radeon.modeset=0 ...
The specific details are on this mailinglist.
This also means that I had to install the open source Radeon drivers after boot. You can also install the fglx proprietary drivers from AMD, but that seemed to be more involved than this fix. To get the open source drivers couldn't be easier - just go to the Ubuntu Software center and search for "Radeon". The result that reads "ATI binary X.Org driver" is the one you want.
2) Prevent Overheating
This required tweaks in a few different areas. The first is telling Ubuntu that it can use the power saving features of the motherboard. This is done by editing the grub startup file (note, if you motherboard / bios is too horribly old, it may not support this feature. Unlikely, but possible). I followed the instructions below this video, which also exist elsewhere (but I lost the link).
Second, I installed a lightweight power manager (see here for instructions). This is similar to the power scheme manager that often comes OEM with laptops. Called Jupiter, it allows for different power settings - I found "Performance -> Power on demand" suited my needs well . It also enables me to turn on/off bluetooth/wifi/trackpad and the external display. Bluetooth can be a real power eater, and I find having the external display off really keeps the laptop cool.
Finally... I cleaned out the fan. I didn't think I needed to, but I noticed that there wasn't much air blowing out of it. A few spurts of the compressed air can later the fan was going full-tilt and doing a nice job of keeping the laptop cool.
3) Dropbox & Office Install
Despite their attempts to make life much easier for you, I found the dropbox installer to be one of the hariest parts of this entire process. It wouldn't install from the Ubuntu Software Center, nor would it install from the command line. Either route would end up with a 99% downloaded.... message until my patience ran out. The solution was to grab the .deb installer from their website. Install that with dpkg, and then once it started configuring, cancel out and install the dropbox daemon and restart. The specific commands can be found on post #8 here.
Okay, so I'm not always a fan of Microsoft, but I do think the got Office 90% right. OpenOffice.org is a great alternative, but is ~60% of the way to being a great Word / PowerPoint replacement in my book, so I (unfortunately) had to install Office. Thankfully my school offers copies for school/work, so I was able to get one from them. Using Play on Linux (PoL) - which is a great wrapper program for Wine (a collection of windows libraries that allow windows programs to play on linux) - I downloaded the installer and ran the PoL install script. The only hang-up was that the windows installer was a .exe file, and the PoL install script wanted a CD. As it turns out, that installer wasn't actually a binary executable, but an archive renamed to a .exe. Archive manager was able to open it up, and after extracting it to a folder, PoL was quite happy to install it.
My university offers a download of office for students. The only minor change I had to make was renaming the installer extension to either .iso or .exe (it was something else obscure), then the PoL installer was able to recognize it and install it for me.
4) Install other services
No other programs gave me much trouble (ssh, svn, eclipse, matlab, etc.). Network printing with the ubuntu server was a breeze as well.
And there you have it, a snappy 'new' laptop.
How about you all? Brought an old machine back to life with a linux distribution? Which one did you choose? Have any trouble?