FreeBSD 7.2 on a Dell I1100

I have an old tank of a laptop. It's a Dell Inspiron I1100. I've put it through some rough travel, lots of time on the couch writing thousands of lines of code, and even played a few 3D games on it. I've upgraded the memory to 640MB, and have never had a hardware issue with it. Well, one of the rubber feet fell off, and I can't find it.

I usually have it set up for dual boot between Windows XP, and some form of FreeBSD or another. The last time I updated the Unix side, I installed PC-BSD 6.3ish. Most things ran well, if slow. But, I tend to boot into Windows XP when I want it to start quickly and just get going.

It seems since SP3 came out, this laptop takes forever to boot Windows. Using some fancy boot tools, I have found that Windows Explorer (explore.exe) takes over three minutes to load. I have no clue why, but it's clearly a case where Windows needed to be scrapped. Plus, since the battery is gone, and I don't feel like dropping $50 on a battery for a 7 year-old laptop, I need the laptop to boot quickly.

I started looking around, and decided to try a new setup. The idea is going to be to run FreeBSD 7.2 (the latest release as of 9/15/2009) and XFce. PC-BSD, which uses KDE, is awesome, and only takes a little tweaking to get the touch pad and video working properly. However, KDE is huge. And, by huge, I mean it makes my old laptop chug just to draw a window. Forget Firefox.

On a side note, I should point out, that I'm not really using this laptop for anything critical. Installing a FreeBSD desktop is more of a hobby in the same way a mechanic likes to tinker with his car to get a few more horsepower out of it. I use FreeBSD on all my servers and routers, where getting a working, secure system takes less than an hour (even on really old hardware). One of the big barriers to getting it rolling on a desktop is the sheer investment of time.

For the next few entries here, I hope to discuss some of the blood, sweat, and tears it takes to install FreeBSD in a visual, desktop configuration on an old laptop. Compared to the last time I tried to get a FreeBSD desktop running without using PC-BSD, it is, indeed, challenging.