Adventures in Computing – Dell Latitude D600

July 22, 2020 by Martin Jansen

Back in 2003 the Dell D600 was top of the line.  Here’s a promotional pitch from Dell: “The Latitude D600 is designed for users who require maximum performance in a mainstream notebook. Even with its thin & light design, the D600 doesn’t skimp on performance offering the ideal blend of power and efficiency using the Intel® Pentium® M processors and the ATI® Mobility Radeon 9000 video chipset. The D600 offers Intel Centrino Mobile Technology featuring the Pentium M processor, the 855 chipset and Intel® PRO Wireless MiniPCI card.”

By today’s standards, however, the D600 is an insignificant machine.  Humana (my employer at the time) bought the machines with 512 megabytes of ram, the Radeon graphics processor fixed at 32 megabytes and the hard drive, 80 gigabytes.  The machine ran Windows XP without problems, but needed special drivers to support the various components.  When the machines reached end of life at Humana, they were sold or auctioned off to employees.  That’s how I acquired the Dell D600.  I owned newer machines at the time, so I sold it (for practically nothing) to a friend of the family.

Time marches on, Microsoft no longer supported Windows XP as of 2014, the friend of the family became older and no longer wanted to own a computer, so he just packed it up and gave it back to me.  Less thrifty (Okay–less cheap) people would have disassembled the components of the D600 and recycled the rest, but not me.  I enjoy a challenge.

Microsoft, of course, has moved on to Windows 10 and its requirements far outstrip the capabilities of the D600.  That left the many variants of Linux as a possibility to run on the D600.  But, which one?  It now seems that Linux, too, is moving on from older machines.  Ubuntu as of the 20.04 version is now 64-bit, not the 32-bit required of the D600.  In addition, Pentium M processors do not list support of PAE or physical address extensions as in more modern processors.  Therefore, when trying to install modern operating systems the install will stop with a kernel panic or ask you to install on a PAE supported processor.  Forcing PAE in the startup line of the install might work, but modern OSes with demanding desktop environments would run like crap.

No, I needed a very lightweight OS that supported (or ignored) non-PAE processors.  I found Slackware 14.1, more specifically Puppy Linux ‘Slacko.’  I had tried Puppy Linux many years before and very much liked that it could be run anywhere and on most hardware.  The Slacko ISO – which supports UEFI by the way – downloads quickly and costs a measly 220 megabytes of space. A bootable one gigabyte USB stick can run Slacko on most computers without even installing on a hard drive.  Although running Slacko from USB is easy, installing on a hard drive does require a few extra steps.  Here’s an image of the desktop after installation:

Bottom line:  Puppy Linux Slacko brought new life to a 17 year old Dell Latitude D600 laptop.

Using Slacko made me curious about Slackware (on which Slacko is based) which is currently at release 14.2.  That will be my next computer adventure.