Howto: Install a console-only Slitaz system

I mentioned the other night that I have Slitaz running in a console-only arrangement on my Pentium; the setup time for that is immensely shorter than my first-place favorite Crux, with all the drive swapping and compiling, swapping and compiling, swapping and compiling. Just for my own reference, and in case someone else wants to try the same trick, here’s a short step-by-step for getting it done.

The first real consideration is that, by installing a full system, you are installing and setting up the machine for more than you really want. You’ll be installing graphical packages that, while they take up little space, actually become a tiny bit of an obstruction since they’re triggered or configured, and you have to un-configure or un-trigger them.

After doing this two or three times, I decided that the base flavor is good enough to get me started. I pulled the hard drive from the Pentium, transplanted it into another machine and booted that to the base live CD. You’ll be in a text-only environment, but don’t let that scare you.

I partitioned the drive with fdisk, giving only 2Gb out of 40 total to the entire system. I read somewhere once, a long time ago, that smaller partitions mount faster, and since the Slitaz manual suggests at minimum 200Mb for a full graphical system, that would be a good compromise between mounting fast and having plenty of space for leftover stuff. I can partition the remainder and mount it manually, if I actually think of something that needs that much space on a Pentium.

Similarly, I set the filesystem on the partition to ext2; I know Slitaz mentions ext3 in the installer, but I always feel a tiny lag on ext3 machines running at very low speeds. Sure, maybe it’s my imagination, maybe not. Oh, I almost forgot: a nice big 256Mb swap partition, to complement the 16Mb of actual memory I have. :roll:

Cue the text-based installer with slitaz-installer. It will access the CD and ask you for the partition. Say no to the option to reformat, and set the hostname. Wait for the installation to finish, then install grub to the MBR, unless you have some sort of other quirky arrangement for your Pentium.

I usually go ahead and swap out the drive at this point, because I don’t have network access on that particular laptop from the base CD. In my case, I use an axnet-driven PCMCIA wired card to get online and start getting serious. In other words,

modprobe axnet-cs
pcmcia-socket-startup
udhcpc eth0

That udhcpc can be a real brain-buster, if you’re expecting dhcpcd. ;) The next step is to update against repositories, with tazpkg recharge, and tazpkg upgrade to anything that might be available. This is where I usually add linux-wireless and a couple of other kernel module packages, to flesh out an otherwise stellar Pentium experience. :roll:

Technically that’s as far as is necessary to go, if you want. There are a few things you might consider though, if you’re a little bit daring.

There are a few — not a lot, but enough to make a difference — packages in the cooking flavor (at the time of writing) that aren’t necessarily available to a base installation. Things like elinks, screen, mc and htop, all of which I consider to be mission-critical, are available if your release is set to cooking, instead of base, like it probably is at this point.

I have two solutions: First, install package by package, downloading them individually from the web site and plugging them into place. Not attractive.

The other is this: Once you have your console system more or less configured the way you want it, switch to the cooking release and install the software you’re “missing.” It’s an easy trick, just tazpkg set-release cooking, and now you have quite a few more options available to you. And quite a few more upgrades, which tazpkg will show you as soon as you finish the switch.

It’s also worth scanning through which packages are already installed, with tazpkg list. For example, this machine has neither a CDROM nor any USB ports nor a modem, so anything related to those technologies is a candidate for tossing out.

I think that just about does it. Everything after this point is going to vary according to your taste, and goodness knows there is more than enough console-based stuff out there to keep everyone happy. Don’t forget kbd, linux-sound, iftop, centerim and other stuff, according to your machine. Cheers and enjoy.

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17 Responses to “Howto: Install a console-only Slitaz system”


  1. 1 Armor Nick 2009/12/14 at 6:34 AM

    Looking good. It’s pretty cool how you can do all of this, but I think that, if I ever need a commandline-only system, I’d either go with Arch or Debian ;)

    • 2 K.Mandla 2009/12/14 at 7:52 AM

      True, to be honest, if I had my way I’d use one of those, or perhaps even something else.

      The real limiting factor for me is the 16Mb of memory and the fact that it’s an i586. Were either of those facts different, I could take a completely different tack with it. :|

      • 3 Armor Nick 2009/12/14 at 3:47 PM

        Yeah, I figured your hardware would be insufficient to run one of those two. But I don’t mean that as a bad thing; it’s what makes you awesome! :D

  2. 4 johnraff 2009/12/15 at 1:14 PM

    An old Toshiba with 16MB and a 133MHz Pentium1 is eagerly waiting to try the delights of Linux, so I hope you don’t mind a couple of questions:

    1)Is pulling the hard disk out and booting from a computer with more RAM the only way to install? Won’t work with 16MB?

    2)I didn’t catch the point in your process where the HDD goes back into the 16MB/Pentium1 box.

    3)40GB sounds awfully big for a box of that vintage – you added that? Mine’s only 1 point something GB I think.

    • 5 K.Mandla 2009/12/15 at 4:50 PM

      1. It is for me. Mine doesn’t have a CDROM, and it has no connections that would allow me to attach one. Except maybe PCMCIA, but I haven’t even seen, let alone been able to buy, a PCMCIA CDROM.

      2. In my case, right after the installation. Package upgrades are quick and painless in Slitaz, even at 120Mhz. And since the surrogate machine doesn’t have proper network access from the Slitaz base environment, it’s kind of necessary. But like I said, it’s nothing slow or painful to upgrade in the mother ship.

      3. It is big, and yes, I added it. The original machine as shipped from the factory has a 2Gb 4200rpm drive, I think. I didn’t get that when I bought it (it was driveless), but a drive that slow is of no help to an otherwise slow machine. Experiences with the other 100Mhz laptop taught me that drive speed can make a machine “feel” faster, even if it’s really bottlenecking the drive. And in some cases the drive has more cache than the machine has memory. The only caveat is, you have to use a boot partition that is small enough that it doesn’t freak out the BIOS drive size limitations. In other words, set up a complete system partition at 2Gb, like I did, or set aside 64Mb at /boot, and partition the rest of the machine as you like. Once it’s up and running. Linux doesn’t care if you have 500Gb in there, even if the BIOS can’t count that high. ;)

      Let me know how yours goes. … :D

      • 6 johnraff 2009/12/16 at 12:59 AM

        Yeah will do. The Toshiba has a CDrom drive so now I’ve got a “new” box that can burn CDs (2004 IBM desktop) an install looks quite feasable…

        • 7 johnraff 2010/02/07 at 2:01 AM

          Hmm… much delayed progress report:
          *) The Slitaz “base” iso wouldn’t boot with 16MB of RAM. It hangs at “unpacking initramfs…” (boots fine on another box with more memory).
          *) The “loram-cdrom” iso will boot to a cli (you have to login as “root”, not “tux”) but of course startx is a bad idea for a live system on 16MB…
          *) I was able to install from “slitaz-loram-cdrom” with slitaz-installer though, provided the disk was previously formatted with parted, for example. (The installer’s formatting doesn’t seem to work – the first time I tried I ended up with a linux os on a FAT16 partition. :( ) However this installs a graphic system with Slim taking you straight to Xvesa, which was pure torture. Opening any window took five minutes and another minute to close it again! For now, I’ve added “screen=text” to the kernel boot line which stops X from starting up, and disabled hal and dbus daemons in /etc/rcS.conf. Eventually I suppose all the extraneous stuff can be uninstalled to get back to something like the “base” system.
          *) Right now, however I’m stuck trying to get access to the internet. The two PCI LAN cards I’ve tried work OK in another box, but here don’t even show in lspci so I don’t really know where to go. Enabling modules yenta_socket and pcnet_cs haven’t helped, though changing a BIOS setting at least got a couple of “cardbus bridge” mentions in lspci. The final aim is to have sound as I want to use this box as a music player, but so far the sound card is undetectable. (It should be some kind of Soundblaster clone I think.)

          So getting those two PCI cards working is the wall I’m up against. (Any hints would be most appreciated of course… :) )

          • 8 K.Mandla 2010/02/07 at 8:24 AM

            The Slitaz graphical systems I had running on my Pentium, back when it only had 16Mb of RAM, were also torturous, so I don’t know if there’s going to be much in the way of improvement in that category. If you drop back to a distro that relies only on GTK1.2 and X applications it might fare better, but then you’re in the domain of things like the last DSL release, or maybe Tiny Core or Micro Core.

            I have gotten some strange network card behavior in Slitaz too. I know in a piggyback installation, I had to write in the modules for the PCMCIA subsystem and network card (one was yenta, the other pd6729) and take out a lot of the other modules and startup services. For the sound card, check the BIOS for dma and irq settings, and then apply them as flags to the modprobe command for your sound card (probably snd-sb8 or something if it’s like mine; check modprobe -l | grep sb).

            Remember that some of the old, pre-CardBus laptops used the Cirrus 6729 (I think that was it) PCMCIA stuff, so if you modprobe pd6729, the entire networking system can sometimes pop into place. If you’re using a CardBus card though, the kernel should spit out a message telling you it’s unsupported. And I’ve noticed that most of my wireless cards are useless with Slitaz until I install linux-wireless … it’s the old Catch-22: No network access until you have network access. :roll:

            Aside from that though, I don’t know if I have any hints … :|

            • 9 johnraff 2010/02/07 at 11:18 AM

              Thank you – several things there I can try. :)

              I’m not aiming for a graphic interface here: once the cards are working I’ll hack out all the X-type stuff.

              Fair play tp Microsoft: Windows 98 did work on this machine – not snappy but usable. I could reinstall that if all fails, but having to install another driver every time I get a new USB stick was a considerable drag.

              Fair play to Slitaz also: on a 260MHz Celeron/ 192MB box it’s very quick and light – boots to a nice-looking GUI using a mere 25MB of memory, urxvt and leafpad come up in a flash; quicker than my 2.8GHz/500MB/Crunchbang main box!

              • 10 johnraff 2010/02/18 at 12:50 PM

                Aah… so near yet so far…

                Well, snd_sb8 with, as it happens, the same irq and dma flags, got the sound card recognised :)

                Around the same time, a reboot with yenta_socket and pcnet_cs (not pd6729) and the network sprang into life, flashing green lights and all! Wow, so quickly tazpkg recharge, tazpkg upgrade (brought in a lot of stuff), reboot and…
                no modules. :(

                modprobe yenta_socket (and pretty much any other module) gives “no such file”. lsmod shows no modules in use, and modprobe -l returns nothing at all. It looks as if my upgrade, which included a new kernel, might have left out most of the modules, but now with no network all I can do is start all over again from the CD I suppose, or maybe try to import something with a usb stick from another box…

                Taken along with another issue of [kernel panic - forced shutdown - forced fsck] about every other boot (which I’d been hoping the upgrade would fix), I’m beginning to wonder if Slitaz (or my abilities with it) is up to a 16MB box, even CLI only. Maybe I’ll see if I have any better luck with DSL.

  3. 11 cannonfodder 2009/12/21 at 7:22 PM

    Also a Slitaz fan.

    Currently running Tiny Core 1.2 or 1.3 on a Pentium 1 166MHz laptop with 48MBs of RAM.

    Sadly, newer versions of Tiny Core have much increased requirements. Micro Core is not working out satisfactorily on test machine. Not sure if the Tiny Core concept is the best approach given my objective for this laptop anyway.

    I’m not asking for much out of this machine. I want it to act as LAMP server for my 3 PC intranet. It has to be CLI and have a static IP. I have to able to ssh into it & has to work well with NFS.

    My question is, what iso did you use for your CLI Slitaz install?

    I took a quick look at the Slitaz web site and only found stable and cooking isos.

    Did you just use one of these or did I just not find the ‘base flavor’ you refer to?

  4. 13 mentallaxative 2009/12/28 at 5:21 PM

    Oh, my goodness. Slitaz in text-only? And I thought Slitaz couldn’t get any smaller.

  5. 14 Otto 2010/02/15 at 12:25 AM

    slitaz-installer gave me this error:

    Unable to find rootfs.gz

  6. 15 steve 2010/11/11 at 9:31 PM

    Hello !

    Slitaz base unable to install in VirtualBox ! And so real install to hd and ruin system ??? And so if ruin, repeating procedure to ruin again and so reinventing procucedure again and again gaining negative experience in using Linux !!!!

    With Linux is nothing easy !!! To many problems with Linux !


  1. 1 Latest PlayStation 3 Console Auctions | Video Games Trackback on 2009/12/14 at 12:58 AM
  2. 2 Back to Debian, at 133Mhz and 32Mb « Motho ke motho ka botho Trackback on 2010/10/23 at 8:18 AM

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