I have an old HP laptop that is missing its built-in display. I use it plugged in to my TV via VGA. It runs Windows Vista fine, but it has recently started to slow down, and I decided it needed a dose of Linux.

I have installed Ubuntu on at least four computers (that I can think of), and it is usually a painless process. However, I have a serious issue trying to install it on this laptop: because the laptop still thinks it has an internal display, it refuses to show the BIOS on my TV. How could I go about installing Ubuntu?

The only idea I had was to pull the HDD, install Ubuntu with the HDD plugged into my desktop, and then put the HDD back in. Would this work?

Any suggests / help / advice appreciated!

PS. A blind walkthrough in the BIOS isn't viable for me, since I don't know anyone who has a similar laptop.

  • 2
    Which laptop is this? Maybe you're lucky and someone else has the same laptop. – kos Dec 7 '15 at 3:48
  • Perhaps: youtube.com/watch?v=xTFxwVxF_a8 – Progrock Dec 7 '15 at 14:17
  • 1
    Good question. But... have you considered trashing that laptop and getting a Raspberry Pi or BeagleBone Black to replace it? These single-board computers have gotten ridiculously cheap, and are beginning to rival older laptops performance-wise. – leftaroundabout Dec 7 '15 at 17:27
  • @Progrock Thanks for the link, could be helpful! – willem.hill Dec 8 '15 at 22:53

Yes, provided that your installer machine has the capability to connect the laptop HDD, then your approach to pull the laptop HDD, install Ubuntu onto the HDD using another machine, then put it back onto the laptop, should work, as I have also done that.

My old laptop install

I had a Lubuntu live USB and wanted to install to an old laptop that was so old it lacked Boot-from-USB support.

So I transferred the laptop HDD to a desktop computer that could support boot from USB, plugged in the Lubuntu live USB to this desktop, installed Lubuntu to the laptop HDD, then placed the laptop HDD back into the laptop and the old laptop started Lubuntu just fine.

Not sure about what hardware you have, but for me

  • laptop: 2.5" laptop HDD form factor, 2.5" IDE connector
  • desktop: 3.5" form factor, 3.5" IDE connectors

The key piece of hardware I did have was a 2.5" to 3.5 adapter

  • looks like a black rectangle with many, many pins, and one Molex connector for power
  • cost around $5 at a local computer shop
  • Plus for some reason at the time I needed, but lacked a jumper, so just improvised a jumper by cutting a small piece of an aluminum pop can and folding it over the required pins to bridge a connection.

So this adapter enabled me to borrow my desktop machine to connect with the 2.5" laptop HDD and let me install Lubuntu.

So, be sure to check if you need an adapter, as that seems to be the only possible obstacle that I can think of for your situation.

  • 2
    This adapter sounds to be for IDE. If the OP has a more recent laptop, that uses a SATA drive, then this will not be necessary as 2.5" and 3.5" have exactly the same SATA data and power connectors. – Boris the Spider Dec 7 '15 at 12:14

Yes, your idea will be fine. I have old HP Pavilion Slimline s7420n desktop PC which originally belonged to my friend, but because it started to slow down , my friend gave it away to me. All attempts to install Ubuntu onto the original 3.5 inch HDD failed. I've replaced it with 2.5 inch HDD from my old laptop with Ubuntu 14.04 LTS (32 bit), and it boots fine, without issues.

I suggest you plug in bootable USB into the PC you will use to install, unplug original hard drive but plug in the target hard drive, so that there is one and only hard drive available, and when installing, proceed as if you were doing regular install. That way you dont have to manually allocate partitions and choose drives.

The only issue you may encounter is the drivers. If your target PC has hardware that needs proprietary drivers, such as broadcom wireless, you might need to use live USB to install those later.

  • "...you might need to use live USB..." and that is the exact problem - live USB won't work in this situation, since I can't see the BIOS to select boot device. – willem.hill Dec 8 '15 at 22:50

Figure out which key brings up the boot menu in the BIOS and boot from a different drive until you catch the USB / DVD drive containing Ubuntu (you should be able to find out which key to press by reading the laptop's manual; otherwise Google will probably avail);

Do the following until you manage to boot the right drive:

  1. Turn on the laptop;
  2. Hit the key that brings up the boot menu in the BIOS;
  3. Hit a number of times equal to the number of attempts done so far and hit ENTER;

Not elegant but you should be able to boot Ubuntu without the hassle of unmounting / remounting the internal hard disk twice.


Try powering on the laptop while the lid is closed. This will work for Dell laptops with an external monitor connected to the docking station, hopefully that will work for your HP.

  • This is a good idea, but this laptop is in such bad shape that it is entirely missing it's upper half. – willem.hill Dec 8 '15 at 22:50

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