How can I boot Linux from a flash drive on an old Dell Optiplex?

Joseph Videtto February 2, 2013
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Our school has really, really, really, old Dell Optiplex 260s, 270s, and 280s – some have only 256K ram. I think we can still salvage and use them, at least for internet access and the older programs that have lower memory requirements.

Unfortunately, Windows XP runs very slow on these machines, often because they’ve been in use for years, people installed too much software on them, and they have not been optimized (though I’ve been looking for a quick easy way to do this, short of imaging, cleaning them up seems to take forever. they sometimes take many minutes to open a directory or Office file from Windows explorer – any ideas on this front ?)

After reading a variety of MUO articles (I love, love this site – better technical training than a university could provide!) I thought the easiest, least time-consuming way to make these old machines usable for our teachers and students would be to create a ‘bootable Linux USB flash drive’ with the smallest footprint that is guaranteed to work on our school’s old Dell Optiplex 260s.

I’m not sure even that the BIOS on these old PC’s can boot from a USB flash drive, but some of them do have working CD Roms. Maybe this would work.

Can anyone share some high level steps on whether this is a good idea, and how I might go about it. I’m pretty proficient with Windows, but not Linux, and I’m very concerned of running into unforeseen obstacles with no support people available to help (which is the case for any Linux install in our school – only Windows is supported)


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