After downloading and burning the install CD ISO image, I had moment of doubt so I tried the 'live' version which runs Ubuntu without installing. After listening to the CD drive grind away for ten minutes, I landed on the Ubuntu gnomish desktop. Hmm. Not bad at all.
So now I am in midst of actually installing Ubuntu. The hard drive was wiped a few minutes ago so all I can do is cross my fingers and half-smile nervously.
3 hours after installation
Install took a long time, very long time, long enough for me to watch House of Flying Daggers. This surprised me and made me suspect that XP might not have been the culprit behind the sudden slow problem. My suspicion was confirmed when I ran some programs after the movie/installation. Dog slow. I mean dead dog slow.
When I first ran into the sudden slow down problem, I ran every damn diagnostic program I could find and every one of them said the laptop hardware was just fine. And that made sense because the laptop worked perfectly, as perfectly as paint drying on LCD screen. So I figured it was the butler that did it but I may have resurfaced over an innocent butler.
By googlish luck, I ran across this item in Bay Wolf's Inspiron BIOS FAQ when I went hunting for some clues.
Q: When performing any task that uses a lot of processor power, the fan kicks on. Then the entire system slows to a crawl. Restarting doesn't help. When I turn off the computer, wait a minute and then turn it back on, the system is back to normal. What is causing this?
A: Press Fn+Z together. If the cpu speed returns and the fans turn off or cycle, then it is a BIOS cpu temp reading routine failure. First try resetting the BIOS to factory defaults – Press F9 or Alt+F in the BIOS. If that doesn't stop it, then you will need to upgrade your BIOS. This is especially true for the I8000 and I8100 notebooks. If there is not an updated version of the BIOS, then you will need to downgrade your BIOS to a previous one until a version of the BIOS is released that corrects this problem.
If the problem really is a BIOS cpu temp reading routine failure, you can trigger the problem in the offending BIOS by either suspend or hibernate the notebook, then return. The fans will come on and cpu usage goes to 100% – things run VERY slow.
So I pressed Fn+Z. Just like that, the laptop was back to it's old self. I wasn't sure if I should be jumping with joy or rushing outside in search of some Dell engineers to strangle. Oh, well. It's a long mad dash to Texas anyway and, without this CPU temperature reading bug in the BIOS, I wouldn't have had the chance to blow away a hard drive full of expensive software nailed to the machine and wouldn't have tried Ubuntu. Small blessings.
To make the long story shorter and save you the story about the unreadable mountain of diskettes, I installed the latest BIOS and now Ubuntu is ready to inspire more whining and pining in the near future.