I thought it might be fun to try to get the twelve-year-old Dell Latitude X1 laptop up and running. My expectations were not high, but when I looked over the hardware specs I found the out-of-date hardware surprisingly within reason to run current software.
The computer came with Windows XP, which is long out of service. The previous owner of this laptop switched to running Ubuntu 11. Since that’s far out of date as well and I had no login information anyway, a clean wipe is in order.
I thought I’d jump straight to the latest Ubuntu 17.10, but was unable to find a 32-bit installer. The lack of a 32-bit installer turns out to be an intentional omission, part of Ubuntu’s plans to phase out 32-bit support. So I installed an older version (16.04 LTS) which did have a 32-bit installer, and upgraded from there. The resulting system was quite sluggish. After using it a bit, I decided part of the problem was the spinning-platter hard drive but there’s also the old graphics chip struggling to handle the visual effects of a modern OS.
To isolate the latter, I installed Ubuntu MATE, a variant of Ubuntu with the MATE desktop. MATE is a simpler alternative which is supposed to run better on lower-end hardware. That part was true – after installing Ubuntu MATE, the Latitude X1 didn’t spend as much chugging through graphical transitions. But the overall experience was still slow – the spinning platter hard drive remains a significant influence on performance.
Switching to MATE would have made a larger difference if I had a larger screen (or multiple monitors) running multiple windows. But since the Latitude X1 screen was so small, I only have one window at a time running full-screen, reducing the influence of the desktop environment.
The Latitude X1’s performance on modern software is held back by the spinning-platter hard drive. Which led to the next idea: can we upgrade the hard drive to a SSD? I have a few old SSDs available for such a project.
Dell always publishes excellent manuals for working with their machines. They also keep them online and available, even for twelve-year old machines. So getting to the hard drive was no problem. As soon as the hard drive was visible, though, I knew I was in trouble. The drive is much smaller than the standard laptop hard drive.
Even if the SSD could physically fit, it did not have the correct data interface. The interface connector is unlike anything I’ve seen in a laptop hard drive. The closest thing I can recall is a CompactFlash connector.
The label on the drive proclaims itself to be a Toshiba MK3006GAL. Sadly, unlike Dell, Toshiba does not keep documentation online for old hardware. I remain ignorant of the details and industry specification for this specific hard drive interface and form factor. Maybe it is rare enough that there would be no SSD upgrade possible at all. Since I was not planning to spend money on this project, though, the details are irrelevant. This old computer will stick with its old spinning platter hard drive.
If I had to make a prediction 12 years ago about how well the Latitude X1 would hold up to the years, I probably would have predicted the CPU speed as the largest bottleneck, followed by the quantity of RAM. I would not have guessed that the growth of cheap tablets would demand that operating systems continue to run on a 1 gigahertz processor and within 1 gigabyte of RAM.
I also would not have guessed that solid state drives would have dropped in price and become such a cost-effective boost to overall system performance. The hard drive turned out to be the most significant sign of age in this twelve-year-old laptop.
4 thoughts on “Dell Latitude X1: A 2005 Laptop Tries To Fit In 2017”
I recently got my hands on a Latitude X1, I’ve wanted one for a while. The hard drive used in this laptop is actually a standardised form factor – it’s a 1.8″ drive on the IDE connector. The most common encounter with these drives would be inside Apple’s older iPods.
It’s possible to adapt to a CF card, the pinout is very similar however I don’t believe they are interchangeable. There are no logic chips on adapter boards suggesting that CF cards are natively supported as storage mediums, however the pins are in the wrong place.
As far as I can tell the pins on these drives are mechanically compatible with a CF card: I was able to plug in an ancient CF card I had on hand. However, I didn’t have the courage to turn the computer on to see what would happen. And there wasn’t much point even if it worked, as my old CF card was too small (4 megabytes) to install an operating system anyway.
I’ve had this recycle rescued Toshiba 840 Pro SSD laying around, and thought I’d see if it’s guts fit with the case removed. Not only does it fit, it actually does so with almost half the space to spare! I suppose all that’s left now is to find, or make a mini ide to sata adapter that will fit that remaining space.
Building such an adapter sounds like a very ambitious project, and is definitely beyond my personal skill level today. If you manage to make it work I would love to know more about it!
On a related note, it would be wise to keep expectations modest. I upgraded a netbook with similar specs to a SSD, and its performance did not improve as much as I had hoped. https://newscrewdriver.com/2020/03/15/hp-mini-110-1134cl-ubuntu-mate-and-chrome-os-slow-even-with-ssd/