Trying to run Debian from USB on old Dell

Posted on

Problem :

I’ve been wanting to install a nix flavor for a while, and realized I might be able to try it out on a (quite old) Dell Dimension 9150 I have lying around. The hard drive is dead and gone, but I figured I could boot off of a flash drive just to test things out. I used my macbook to produce a bootable USB stick with Debian on it using the debian torrent and the nix dd command (or at least in theory it’s bootable–can’t test on the mb). It has the iso, readme, etc on it. I tried setting the Dell’s BIOS to boot from USB, but whenever I try to go to the boot screen with F12 I just get a black screen and nothing happens. There error lights on the front don’t tell me much..they seem to vary a bit, but usually I get the first three, which I’m guessing is because the hard drive is out (although I did disable all the SATA and PATA drives in the BIOS in the hopes that it would help). I’m guessing the computer is just too old… though the functional bios menu gives me pause. Perhaps there are just hardware compatibility issues with debian, or the computer is refusing to do anything because there’s no hard drive. I know that makes no sense, but that’s why I’m here….

Solution :

Dells are the pickiest computers I have ever encountered. The first thing I would try is burn a cd of the os and set the first boot device to be the cd rom drive. I would also change the button battery on the motherboard. it will be a 2032 battery cell i can buy a sheet of 8 at the dollar store for 3 bucks or walgreens or the shack. and also try sticking a hdd back into it.

I use a Dell Dimension 8300 from 2003 with Ubuntu 12.04 LTS (desktop). It’s not fast of course, but it works as server and backup and is usable for simple desktop work like browsing and libreoffice. With a home-server, I always install the desktop version of the OS, even if it’s only a server. It makes it much more accessible especially with keyboard, mouse and monitor attached.

To make it work, get a harddrive. Maybe you can borrow one from a friend for testing. The video card might be problematic. It may need more RAM.

When you really want a server, you can also try one at It might be cheaper than buying a harddisk. For $20 a month you can do whatever you want. They bill per calendar month. So if you start at april 15, you get billed for half a month. If you kill it before the end of the month, it’s only about $10. This will give you a server without desktop.

hey i just got my old 8300 to boot from usb not too hard but not much info online to show you how. If you go to bios and drive sequence have usb as #1 then drive configure and turn off all drives and BOOM THERE YOU GO…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.