I’ll give you the good news first: Yes, I do have a Linux installation in place and running on my new toy. The bad news is, it’s not Ubuntu.
Not that it matters, of course. It would be nice if a vanilla command-line Ubuntu installation was the winner this time, just for kicks, but as the machine is now, I’m afraid that’s not an option.
See, 16Mb just isn’t enough for Ubuntu’s kernel. It reaches a kernel panic within seconds of starting up, with an “Out of memory, no killable processes” message, and that’s the end of the show. Every Web page I found while searching for an answer said either add more memory, or make a smaller kernel.
I plan on adding memory at some point (I believe this takes EDO DRAM, a single stick of up to 32Mb) but for now I’m curious to see how much I can get done with only 16Mb.
Next stop was the obvious DSL, and as a matter of preference I dropped back to the 3.1.x version (I forget exactly), because I had worked with that in the past. I think I installed it right, but for some reason this time the Grub menu for a frugal installation was just showing the word “Grub” … and then nothing. Lockup and hard restart. Perhaps I should have picked a newer version.
Well, if DSL wasn’t the answer, and more memory is still a little way into the future, and the only other option is a custom kernel … I went for the trifecta: I grabbed the i586 version of Crux and built a clean 2.4 system.
And after a few false starts, I have a console Crux system squeaking by on only 16Mb of RAM, but working. Actually it drops a few processes during startup — hotplug, most notably — because there’s just no more space to work with, and it hasn’t mounted a swap partition yet (odd, I wonder why?). Once it’s up and booted, it’s golden.
(Mind you, all these installations are being done by transplanting a spare hard drive into my Inspiron, and redirecting the installation sequences to the secondary drive. It’s a bit of a pain, but without an optical drive, there’s not much of another option. And chances are this little monster won’t run any live environment anyway. So that’s all there is.)
Of course anything I do with it causes it to page out. I am recompiling a kernel now (mostly to see how long it takes) with everything stripped out, and the drive light is just on. Not flickering at all — just on. What’s that tell you?
Oh, and by the way, for all you Gnome-heads out there running full Ubuntu desktops on Pentium 4 machines, this thing goes from Grub to the login in under 43 seconds. That’s a 100Mhz machine, too. So dump the desktop, friends. CLI or die.
A few other points worth mentioning:
The Xircom Realport card I often use on laptops for a wired connection won’t work on this machine because of the way the PCMCIA ports are made. It’s hard to explain, but the card is a Type III card, which means it’s a double-height card, but it tapers at the connection end to the height of a Type II card.
The problem is that the card mount has a divider between the two sets of pins, and it blocks that tapered edge. It’s the dumbest thing in the world to have to admit defeat to, but what else can you do? Grab the Corega FEther II PCC-TXD off the shelf, and try to find the module that makes that work, I guess.
Another point: The hard drive I’m using right now is a leftover 40Gb Samsung drive that’s nice and quiet, and has lots of space. Of course, this computer was made when a big hard drive was about 1Gb, and the original drive is only 810Mb.
Problem being that my first attempts at Ubuntu didn’t get past Grub because the BIOS couldn’t deal with the size of the partition, and spat out an Error 18. In other words, the default Ubuntu partitions on a drive this size were confusing to the BIOS, and as a result Grub quit.
Solution, of course, is to set up a boot partition that keeps the BIOS happy, because once the kernel is in memory, it doesn’t care if you’re working with 800Mb or 800Gb. That’s the beautiful thing about Linux; I can remember trying to dodge BIOS drive size limits in Windows, and it was a huge pain.
Anyway, if you’re setting up your old computer with an oversize drive, take note that so long as the boot partition is under the limit of the BIOS drive check, the rest of the drive is immaterial.
That’s about it. I’m going to see if my new kernel can boot without chipping away at itself in the process, and after that, I’ll consider a few other additions to my new toy. Stay tuned.