Reviving Vintage Laptops: A Tale of Linux Mint and Broadcom Woes

A week ago, I met Gary at the local library; who was having trouble with his aging Dell laptop that he had purchased from a refurbisher. Troubleshooting revealed that the laptop was fine but needed an operating system. Gary chose to let me install Linux Mint Cinnamon on his computer.

A few days ago Gary emailed me to ask if I could help him with another laptop he’d purchased from a refurbisher. Similar models are currently selling for $45 online. I started the laptop with a USB with Linux Mint 21.2 Cinnamon edition and used ‘inxi‘ from the command line to determine what the processor, RAM, and wireless card were. This one Dell Latitude D630, which is vintage 2007, had an Intel Core 2 Duo T7500 processor with 4 gigabytes of RAM and a Broadcom 4311 wireless card.

I quickly decided that Linux Mint XFCE was a better OS choice than Cinnamon due to the processor and RAM. Fortunately for us, we were in the public library, and I had no trouble downloading Linux Mint 21.2 XFCE. I wrote the image to the USB drive and began the installation process on D630. The computer started up well and loaded Mint XFCE very well. I chose to install it, and after twenty minutes, we had a laptop with Mint XFCE adequately installed.

However, this D630 had Broadcom wireless, so the wireless card wasn’t recognized out of the fresh install. I have encountered this issue before with Dell laptops and knew immediately what to do. An internet search led me to Ubuntu’s excellent documentation of how to install Broadcom wireless drivers. I followed the command sequence below to update the drivers easily and restarted the Latitude D630.

sudo apt update
sudo apt install firmware-b43-installer
sudo apt install linux-firmware
sudo reboot

Once the computer was restarted, the tiny wireless indicator light began to glow as it should. I knew we were in business and could finish the update process and add additional software to this vintage Dell laptop. Gary had a big grin and once again thanked me for rescuing another old laptop from the landfill.