Week 18 – Repurposing an Old Laptop

Thanks to the quarantine, many of us have a lot more free time to find projects as well as unearth ancient relics such as old electronic devices out of boredom. One category of such electronic devices is laptop computers. Thanks to their compact size and relatively low power draw, a laptop computer can be easily and effectively turned into your very own server, whether it be for Plex, Minecraft, a webserver, or anything else you can think of. The process is simple. I recommend installing Ubuntu, a popular distribution of Linux which is great for many tasks, one of which being the act of running various types of servers. To do this you will need an old laptop or desktop computer which is still functional, a USB flash drive of at least 4GB, and another computer from which you will download Ubuntu. First, you’ll want to head to the download page on Ubuntu’s official website.

Clicking the green button under “Ubuntu Desktop” labeled with the latest version of Ubuntu will begin a download which we will later use to create a bootable flash drive.

The file is rather large, so it may take a few minutes depending on the speed of your internet service. The next thing you’ll want to download is a free, open-source piece of software called Balena Etcher. Simply download and install the version appropriate for your OS, and start it up.

Balena Etcher’s sleek UI is simple and easy to use.

Next, you’ll want to insert your flash drive into an open USB port on the computer you used to download Ubuntu. Click on “Select image” and choose the Ubuntu ISO file you downloaded, which should be in your Downloads folder unless you’ve changed that in your browser’s settings. Then, select the letter corresponding to the flash drive you want to use as the target and click on “Flash!”. WARNING: MAKE SURE TO BACK UP THE CONTENTS OF THE FLASH DRIVE, THIS PROCESS ERASES ALL OF ITS CONTENTS. This should take a few minutes. Once this is done, Windows may ask you to format the drive, but make sure to click cancel. Eject the drive and remove it. You can now insert the flash drive into one of the laptop’s open USB ports. Make sure the laptop is plugged in and press the power button to turn it on from a complete shut-off state. on the first screen to appear, you may notice a prompt to press a certain key to open the boot menu. This is commonly the delete key, F12, or F2. Spam whichever key it is until you arrive at the boot menu. Simply select the USB drive and it should boot into Ubuntu’s installation environment.

You should see a button to install Ubuntu. Click on that to continue. Just keep clicking on the continue button until you reach the “Installation Type” page.

You’ll want to tick the circle that says “Erase disk and install Ubuntu”, then click on the Continue button once again. Remember, if you haven’t already backed up the files on the laptop, they will be erased permanently. Chose a time zone, and then you will be able to choose a username and password. After that, the hard part is over! Make sure the laptop stays plugged in while installing Ubuntu and DO NOT TURN IT OFF during this process.

You will be greeted with this dialog. Click on “Restart Now” and if everything goes according to plan, the laptop will restart and you will be welcomed by the Ubuntu desktop.

You can now remove the flash drive which you booted from. Congratulations!

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