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  1. #1

    Installing Linux on laptop from 90ties


    I've got an old laptop Toshiba Tecra 730CDT (Intel Pentium 150 MHz, 48MB RAM, 2GB HDD, Network interface PC card). It is running Windows 98 right now, but I'd like to put some poor-hardware-friendly Linux distro, and then pass this laptop to my kids for incremental destruction, in process of which, I hope, they learn some computer skills.

    There are two major questions I face:
    1) What distribution would be the best for this? Of course, I am looking for some with lean yet decent-looking X implementation. Well, I always can take one distro and other desktop environment.
    2) I find it challenging to try out or install stuff on this PC: it can boot only via floppy or HDD no CD boot, no Flash (no USB port in fact). At least I don't know if that's possible to burn distro on CD, boot the PC in DOS, and then somehow install that distro from CD. Especially, I really would prefer testing it before I get rid of the Windows on it - I want to be sure that it would actually recognise the CD drive and PC Card network interface. That would be very awkward, if I format HDD, somehow manage to install linux from CD, and then find out that it does not recognise the network.

    So, while the 1st question, I guess, is relatively easy to answer, the 2nd question is like a puzzle: you've got one floppy, one PC that boots from floppy or hdd, but it has CD drive. It also has network PC Card. Install Linux on this device. Task for the advanced ones: avoid using floppy boot (well, because in order to create a bootable floppy I will need to find a decent floppy disc and a PC that has floppy drive).

    I will be grateful for your suggestions.


  2. #2
    Join Date
    May 2004
    arch linux
    There aren't many distributions that will run on 48 MB of RAM, but you could try some of those distributions listed here:

    Mini Linux - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    Regarding having a running x-server, you might be able to pull it off running something like openbox or pekwm as your window manager. I've never installed Linux without a working CD drive so can't comment on that, but I feel certain that it's possible.

  3. #3
    I've never installed Linux without a working CD drive so can't comment on that, but I feel certain that it's possible.
    There is a working CD drive, but you can not boot from it. No such feature in BIOS. And there's no upgrade for the BIOS, at least official. I'd have to be very brave in order to try to update to unofficial BIOS, risking converting this PC in a pile of garbage.

  4. $spacer_open
  5. #4
    You will need to make a bootable floppy image using another computer with a floppy drive and a operating system using either PLOP Boot Manager or Samrt Boot Manager Floppy Disk. If you have Windows on the Tecra. And a Usb port. You can download either of the above tools to a USB stick and attempt to make a bootable floppy image with that version of Windows I guess.

    I have made both styles of bootable floppies but I used a Linux operating system to make the floppies.

    My tutorials below. By the way. I had just a little more ram than you.

    Yet Another Technology Site: Compaq Armada 1540DM running Windows 95 and Linux Puppy 2.15CE

    Yet Another Technology Site: Damn Small Linux 4.0 install on Compaq 1540DM

    Above was for Smart Bootmanager floppy making. My Plop Boot manager is just a thread at AntiX forums.

    antiX-forum • View topic - Using plop boot manager to boot antiX from pendrive

    I used Linux to make that floppy bootable image I downloaded by opening a terminal in Linux (where I had the plpbtn.img downloaded to) and with a blank formatted clean floppy disk I typed in this command as root user.

    dd if=plpbtin.img of=/dev/fd0
    But since you are dealing with Windows only. Try making a Smart Boot Manager Bootable Floppy instead. Or not. It's up to you. If you could bump up your ram to what I had in that Compaq. Then Puppy 2.15CE would run with PCMCIA Support. But Seamonkey browser ran slow on my 86 mb of ram with a P1.

    Tiny core requires 64 mb of ram to even boot before install. So Tiny Core is out unless you bump up the ram.

    Edit: my bad. So Tiny Core Would be a Option . You might have better luck with Micro Core edition of Tiny Core.

    What are the minimum requirements?

    An absolute minimum of RAM is 48mb. TC won't boot with anything less, no matter how many terabytes of swap you have.
    Microcore runs with 36mb of ram.
    The minimum cpu is i486DX (486 with a math processor).

    A recommended configuration:
    Pentium 2 or better, 128mb of ram + some swap
    Damn Small Linux will probably work for you and it has pcmcia support. I ran a 10/100 Ethernet PCMCIA Cardbus with a dongle using Damn Small Linux on that Compaq. Debian Packages work in Damn Small Linux also. Old packages though for 2.4 kernel.
    Last edited by rokytnji; 04-14-2010 at 04:18 AM.
    I refuse to let fear and fear of others rule my life. It puts my humanity at risk.
    Accepting Death is the only way to stay alive.

  6. #5
    You will need to make a bootable floppy image using another computer with a floppy drive and a operating system using either PLOP Boot Manager or Samrt Boot Manager Floppy Disk. If you have Windows on the Tecra. And a Usb port.
    No, there is no USB port on that device. But I do have a CD ROM drive. I don't know if it's PCMCIA or not, but it is hot-swappable with the floppy drive. Ie, there is a bay in the laptop where either the floppy drive or CD ROM drive can be pushed in, and there is attachable enclosure, where the other drive can be pushed in. So, I keep the CD ROM drive in the laptop's bay, but to do the installation I'd attach the enclosure with floppy.

    From what I read about Smart Boot Manager, there is hope that I would succeed. I could put the Smart Boot Manager on my hdd (well unless there's a risk to screw up the hdd), and then either boot the existing Windows (until it's replaced with well-tested linux), or Linux from CD.

    I have no chance to add more RAM, so that's not an option. From what I understand, then I am left with Tinycore or Microcore, or Damn Small Linux. The good thing is that if I succeed with Smart Boot Manager, I can test all those distros out without messing up the working Windows. And when I am done testing, replace the Windows with the most appropriate distro.

    As the final fallback, I always could host the OS on other PC, and use that old laptop as a terminal for connecting to the host via X server or VNC or other alternative.


  7. #6
    Ok, here's the update:
    I successfully installed the Smart Boot Manager, but it fails to boot from CDROM. If I select "CD-ROM" from the SBM's menu, I get "Disk error! 0xAA" (or "Disk error! 0x01" before the 0xAA error, if I say "y" to save settings). In the Type column for the CD-ROM menu item there is "NONE", so apparently SBM has no idea that CR-ROM is there.

    I see that there is config menu item "Set CD-ROM I/O Ports", but neither I know what those ports are, nor I know if that's all what's standing in SBM's way to see the CD-ROM drive.

    So I am kind of stuck now. Of course, I could now try to find some floppy image that would let me boot basic linux and then try to mount CD-ROM from there, and then boot the Damn Small Linux LiveCD. But I don't really have access to other PC with floppy drive (of course, there is that one on the laptop itself, but to burn the floppy it would take booting DOS and burning the floppy there, so that means endless restarts), and there would anyway be some research needed to connect that CD-ROM.

    Any suggestions what could I do? I have the device driver for DOS Mode and it works fine (ie, gives access to CD in DOS Mode) without any special parameters.

  8. #7
    If using a CDRW instead of CDR. Some older units won't play well with CDRW (my Compaq I had at the time wouldn't ). Just a guess as to why you get a error.

    Edit: After seeing cdrom says none. Smart Boot Manager isn't seeing CDROM. Is there anything in the Tecras Bios that might enable cdrom in the bios maybe?
    I refuse to let fear and fear of others rule my life. It puts my humanity at risk.
    Accepting Death is the only way to stay alive.

  9. #8

    Sorry about the twisted URLs in this post, the forum wouldn't let me post URLs yet. Replace columns with dots

    This is what I did:

    1) Installed the Smart Boot Manager
    This was needed to enable the boot from CD, what was impossible due to ancient BIOS.
    - I downloaded sbminst.exe and user guide from btmgr:sourceforge:net/download.html
    User guide contains all the info you need to use the tool
    - Exited from Windows to DOS, tried to run sbminst.exe (with proper parameters), and stumbled upon error: "Load error: no DPMI - Get csdpmi*"
    - Googling for "csdpmi*" I found this site: www:delorie:com/djgpp/dl/ofc/simtel/v2misc/ From there I could get all the needed files
    - All the EXE files from the above ZIP package were copied to the same location where sbminst.exe is (could as well be any other directory that is registered in path)
    - Now, when the sbminst.exe was run, all was fine and Smart Boot Manager was installed successfully

    2) Ran the Damn Small Linux
    - Downloaded and burned the DSL LiveCD ISO from one of the mirrors (syslinux version, to be safe)
    - It turned out that the CD-ROM hardware could not read CD-RW discs, so I had to run to the local store and get a bunch of CD-Rs (what a waste!).
    - Booted the PC, selected the CD-ROM from the SBM's menu, and there it was - the first Linux on this poor granny.

    The network PC Card was recognized successfully, but the sound card and modem unfortunately not. Well, but that's a matter of searching, I guess.

    I must say that the appearance of Win98 is nicer than that of DSL. But I have no idea if there is any other distro that can use the scarce RAM very effectively. I am wondering, what is that what makes it be very humble? Does that depend on kernel version? This DSL runs 2.4.31 i586. My up-to-date Kubuntu runs 2.6.31-20 i686. Would upgrading the kernel to 2.6.31-20 i686 break the system?
    Well, ok, maybe I don't need to run new kernel for new looks, maybe Xfce can run on that older version, too.

    Unfortunately, the LiveCD versions need to access CD so often that unfortunately it's not possible to judge the true performance. So perhaps I am forced to scrap the Windows now, and if I fail really liking Linux on that PC, I'll have to install the Win98 and all the essential apps again. I hope not.

  10. #9
    2.6.31-20 i686
    The i686 won't even boot on ancient gear like yours. You need i486. Be glad you got a Desktop running on such little ram. If Slitaz had a i486 version (which Ithink it does not) I would have recommended it also.

    AntiX 8.5 which I just installed yesterday also came out with a 2.6.32.i486 kernel version. Since you bought all those cdrs. You might experiment. If you got AntiX to boot on 48mb of ram. I think you would be the first. Just mentioning it is all.
    antiX-M8.5-base-486 available to test - MEPISlovers Forum

    Base comes with Fluxbox Windows Manager. Apt-get in terminal for installing packages.
    You can install synaptic also for a GUI for apt-get. Debian Squeeze for sources.list. I can't guarantee it will boot on your gear though. But ya never know till ya try. Dont try a install though till you make a swap partition.

    Be careful if you decide to change DSL windows manager after install. Windows managers eat up ram so give yourself about 128mb of swap to offset I guess. The swap on harddrive is like Virtual Memory in Windows. When ram runs out of mbs, swap takes over, but is slower than ram since it is ran off the harddrive, which in turn will slow down how stuff opens.

    Glad to hear you at least got DSL to boot. Love it when a plan comes together.

    Also you can modify DSL Windows Manager
    Damn Small Linux
    scroll down to the Icewm section. Experimenting is the spice of life.

    Just got in my DVI to VGA adapter. Off now to test my Asus Micro Desktop to see if it works or not.
    Just bought it. Slowly raised the money selling off the older Laptops I had running Linux to pay for it.

    Gaming LAN Box USED Custom PC

    Case: ASUS Micro Box
    Motherboard: ASUS (Unsure of exact model)
    Processor: AMD Athlon 64 X2 4200+ 2.2GHz
    RAM: 2GB Corsair XMS2
    HDD: ~300GB (270GB use-able with fresh Ubuntu install)
    GPU: NVIDIA GeForce 7900GS
    PSU: Antec 350W
    Optical: DVD-R/W
    OS: Ubuntu 9.10
    I refuse to let fear and fear of others rule my life. It puts my humanity at risk.
    Accepting Death is the only way to stay alive.

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