Breathing Life Into Older Computers

Aron Schatz
November 22, 2005
Breathing Life Into Older Computers
Many people in the information technology world collect computers like I do. Taking a quick inventory of computers I have I noticed that there are rather older computers that aren't being utilized for anything. Linux can easily breathe life into that old hunk of junk collecting dust in your closet. Find out how...
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Page 1: Intro, Problems, Testing, Preparation


<center>Laptop My Components</center>

Many of the readers who visit here surely have an older computer that has been tossed away in a closet. Take a look at »my systems. The oldest computer I have is a Pentium 266 MMX laptop with 64MB of RAM. Most people would just consider this to be garbage and junk it, and if you brought this in for service where I work, I would agree with you. While this laptop might seem old and out-of-date now, it is small and light. I needed something I could easily carry around, so I figured I would see what I could salvage out of this dinosaur. Windows would have a hard time running on this low-spec laptop, but there are many distributions of Linux that will work exceptionally well. The one we'll be using today is Damn Small Linux.


<center>USB Only


When you have older technology, you need to cope with multiple problems. These days, almost all PC software is installed off of CD-ROM. What if you don't have a CD drive? (Such is the case on this laptop.) Or, what if you have a CD drive, but your computer doesn't boot from it? I did some research to find a solution to my problem. For Damn Small Linux, you can get around these issues very easily. My laptop has a floppy drive and a USB port. I'm set for installation. If you have a floppy and a CD drive, but the CD doesn't boot, you are fine as well.

<b>Damn Small Linux</b>:

<center>DSL</center> You'll want to <a href="">choose the version</a> that fits your needs. If you have a computer that boots off of a CD drive, you can choose the dsl-1.5.iso or dsl-1.5-syslinux.iso. The syslinux is for older computer that need floppy emulation. Most newer computers support EL Torrito standard of CD boot ( (pdf)). Selecting the syslinux version is the safest bet. If you have a CD drive but cannot boot off of it, download the dsl-1.5.iso and download the bootfloppy.img. If you have nothing but a USB port and a floppy drive, download the dsl-1.5.iso and the bootfloppy-usb.img. All of these files are in the current directory. Once you have the files, you need to put them onto a CD and a floppy. Winimage works for the IMG file for the floppy. Use a burning program for the ISO file. If you only have a USB port, you'll need a flash drive and exact the files from the ISO onto the flash drive.


To see if DSL will work correctly, you can just run it from the floppy/cd/usb combo and let it boot. It goes into the Live CD mode (it is based on Knoppix after all). If you are satisfied with the results and want a more permanent solution, you can install it to the hard drive with a frugal installation. This type of install takes a boot partition of 50-80MB and any extra space on the hard drive can be used for data, such as swap space and personal backup.

<center>Kernel Panic</center>

You may get a kernel panic error like I did. This error was caused because the system couldn't find the Knoppix boot image anywhere even though I had the USB flash drive plugged in. A restart fixed this problem.


My laptop has a 4.3GB drive so I needed to partition it to give an 80MB partition that is bootable (ext2) located in /dev/hda1, a 150MB swap space (type 82! Make sure you select the correct type) located at /dev/hda2 and the rest of the space for my data and backup located at /dev/hda3. These hdxy locations are important to note, since you'll need to mke2fs them in a second. To get to this point, reboot the computer and at the prompt type "dsl 2". The runlevel 2 means text mode. If you had trouble running the Live CD because the resolution is too high (the default is 1024x768) you can prepend "fb800x600" to the prompt to force the resolution to 800x600. The total prompt would be "fb800x600 dsl 2". Here is a picture of cfdisk. All console images have been inversed to make it easier to read.


Once you have wrote the partition tables to the disk, you need to run four commands to setup the partitions.

mke2fs /dev/hda1
mke2fs /dev/hda3
mkswap /dev/hda2
swapon /dev/hda2


What? Well, mke2fs ( makes an ext2/ext3 file system. Slower systems should be using ext2. If you have a speedier system, ext3 with journaling will give you an updated filesystem. mkswap ( makes a swap area. swapon ( start swapping. You don't need to have a swap space, but it helps.

At this point restart the system. Theoretically, you don't need to restart. Do this just to be safe. Remember back when everyone and his grandma used DOS? Fdisk anyone?


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