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Repurpose an Old Laptop for Linux

repurpose an old laptop

Recently, I decided to repurpose an old laptop to run Linux, mainly to experiment with SDRconnect. Here is how that went.

So, I am a Windows guy who has dabbled in Linux over the years, mostly running Ubuntu in a Virtual Machine. So, I installed SDRconnect in an Ubuntu VM, but for some reason performance was terrible. Lots of noise was added to the signal. I suspect the VM was not processing the USB data cleanly.

Then, I tried a different approach.

Most of us probably have an old computer lying around unused. I discovered, in my wine room of all places, an old Toshiba laptop with Windows 10. This wonderful Toshiba Satellite M300 was sold to me (cheaply) by my oldest son in 2013. My M300 came out in 2008 featuring an Intel Core2 Duo T5800 running at 2 GHz. That should be good enough, I thought.

So, I did a dual-boot Linux Mint installation with my legacy BIOS providing support. Linux Mint is basically Ubuntu with a decent GUI on top. Dual-boot installation is relatively painless as long as you have less than four partitions in use on a legacy BIOS.

If you can repurpose an old laptop for Linux, I suggest you give it a try, but with a word of caution.

Repurpose an Old Laptop for Linux – But Check Your CPU

My M300 Linux Mint installation works great for normal “office” type software. But, to my chagrin, I found that the old Intel T5800 CPU did not have enough horsepower to run SDRconnect smoothly.

On my regular PC’s using i5 or i7 of various vintages, SDRconnect consumes 8% to 10% CPU performance, which is fine for very smooth operation. But on the old Toshiba laptop, CPU consumption jumped to 77% to 82%! SDRconnect ran, but hiccupped often. This was true in both Linux Mint and Windows 10.

I think the days of repurposing machines with less than i5 or equivalent has passed for heavy duty processing.


  1. N1AI says:

    I think a 15 year old computer is still workable for a lot of linux radio stuff as long as it isn’t very graphically intense.
    I was using a similar computer to run ‘quisk’, ‘wsjtx’ and ‘cqrlog’ with a Hermes Lite 2 SDR for a long time and everything went fine. ‘quisk’ is the SDR app, but it isn’t very graphically intense, neither IMO is ‘wsjtx’. However when I ran the ‘linhpsdr’ SDR appliction, which is more graphically intense, it was similar to what you report, high cpu usage with some stuttering. I found bypassing ‘pulseaudio’ in favor of ALSA got rid of enough overhead to make performance acceptable, but I realized I had no remaining headroom.
    Another thing to keep in mind is graphics card vendors work really hard to optimize their drivers on Windows, but less so on Linux. This can make a major difference for graphically intense workloads.
    I replaced that computer with a 2-3 year old used ThinkCentre small form factor PC, and is performs quite well with ‘linhpsdr’. These computers have more cores and a faster memory subsystem than the old Core PCs had. They also have serial ports, which is still a useful thing for many hams.

  2. chris says:

    Very interesting web page Tnx. I agree with your thoughts . I too have good results with Quisk on older HW . However it cannot be said clear enough . GNU/Linux is no Steroids treatment for old HW and if that is what you expect , you can only be disappointed-
    BTW , what did that laptop do in your wine cellar in the first place 😉

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