28 Jun 2018

Linux on a 20th century laptop

Starting with a 20th century computer that struggled to run Windows95.

Figure 1. Compaq Armada 4131T
I didn't want to let such a neat little piece of tech go to waste, but in order to make it usable radical changes were needed.

First was recovering the old take. Even with the hard drive of only 1.4 GB transfer out all the files floppy by floppy was going to take far too long, before even considering the 100-120 kbps write speed, which would have worked out roughly at ~21 hours of write time not to mention removing it walking to the other computer, reading to another computer, walking back, reinserting and writing again about 800 times (using a 1.4 MB floppy disk, and that the disk was 1.15GB full).
Figure 2. dd image making of the HDD
First thing, of course, was to make a clone of the drive as there were still valuable files and information on there. While shifting through various bits an pieces in my loft, I came across an old laptop 44-pin IDE to USB adapter. I was in luck! despite being only 1.4GB it was still an unsurprisingly slow process.

Next thing was to boot up the latest Damn Small Linux (at the time v4.4.10)with the hard drive attached to a qemu virtual machine with the parameters set as close as necessary to that of the laptop, in this case 86MB ram and an Intel Pentium CPU.

qemu-system-x86_64 -m 86M -cpu pentium drive file=/dev/sdc,fomat=raw cdrom dsl4.4.10.iso -boot d
The purpose of the -boot d parameter is to tell the virtual system to make the cdrom the primary boot device, no point in booting into windows 95 with a DSL cd mounted.

Figure 3. 44-pin IDE to USB in use
After reformatting the hard drive and adding 128MB of swap space to the drive I was ready to install the OS to the hard drive. To do this I simply used the dsl-hdinstall tool which exists within the ISO. The first time round I went for the more lightweight LILO bootloader but in every instance on booting from the hard drive I would get the error “storing in het besturingssysteem” (as it is a dutch hard drive and laptop) meaning there is a problem with the operating system. However after following the same progress again inside the virtual machine but choosing GRUB instead of LILO as the bootloader it worked beautifully,

A video of it running can be seen here: https://youtu.be/coNsmKViung

This is a guest post by Alexander van Teijlingen, English language reviewed and edited by Angelica Di Palo


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