The hard drive in my Dell Inspiron 1501 recently overheated and died. I’ve had it for around 6 years (since partway through my 1st year of uni) so I reckon I’ve had my money’s worth out of it. I left it for a few weeks as I’ve only used it a small amount on and off for several years as the battery stopped working and I got a Macbook Pro in 2010. Today I figured I would use a spare hard drive I had and rebuild it. Me and my partner have been sharing the Macbook Pro for a while now which sometimes leaves me without a machine to use.
I decided I would this opportunity to rebuild it with Ubuntu Desktop 12.10 as I would like more day to day experience with Linux. I have been using Ubuntu for years but mostly only the server flavours. As the Inspiron 1501 has been out for a while I figured that I wouldn’t have a problem with hardware such as wireless like I did with Ubuntu 6.04 and an IBM Thinkpad R50e many moons ago. I downloaded the 12.10 iso and used my Macbook Pro to load it onto a boot-able 4GB USB pen-drive then booted into the installer. The new hard drive wasn’t getting picked up so I had to switch to “Try Ubuntu” and use GParted to add a partition table and file system to the new drive before the installer could pick it up. I then plugged in a network cable and proceeded to install Ubuntu 12.10.
On first boot things look fine. Graphics worked, sound worked and most of the Fn keys worked. Wireless didn’t work. After a bit of messing about I worked out that it was a firmware issue. The Dell Inspiron 1501 uses a Broadcom 1390 wireless controller which doesn’t have any native drivers. Luckily there is some B43 firmware available which addresses this issue. The instructions below show you how to install it and get WiFi working perfectly:
These instructions also work with 12.04 and I believe (although I haven’t tested) with 11.10 and 11.04. Earlier versions I have no idea.
- Make sure you are connected to the internet with an Ethernet cable.
- Run the following commands in the terminal:
sudo apt-get update sudo apt-get purge bcmwl-kernel-source broadcom-sta-common broadcom-sta-source sudo apt-get install b43-fwcutter firmware-b43-installer
- After the commands have completed unplug the network cable and restart your laptop.
- On first login press Fn + F2, the WiFi light should come on near the power button and the option for WiFi and connecting to WiFi networks should appear in the network connections applet near the clock.
This got me up and running and the next thing I did was move from Unity to XFCE. The 1501 can run Unity 3D just fine but I found that the interface was too laggy for my liking, which I put down to the age of the machine rather than Unity itself. XFCE runs much faster and it’s interface stays out of your way allowing you more screen real estate for activities like programming and browsing.
This was how to enable wireless in Ubuntu 12.10 on a Dell Inspiron 1501