Arch Linux on a 150Mhz Pentium MMX

I have about three posts stacked up in a line, waiting for one in particular that needs published, and so here it is: I found another Pentium machine, and I have a feeling this one is a real keeper.

This is a Sharp Mebius MN-340-001, which the Sharp pages (still!) suggest dates back to February 1998.

For a Pentium MMX machine, this is rather satisfying all-around. CPU is clocked at 150Mhz, standard memory at 32Mb EDO and an 800×600 LCD. Floppy drive right up front, touchpad for those who cannot bear to abandon the mouse, and even a CDROM this time — which is a huge blessing after working with this machine for so long.

Even better, this actually has a single USB1.1 port at the back, and to be honest, that was the reason I snapped it up at the recycling shop.

But best of all — and this might be hard to believe — the battery holds a charge for almost two hours. I know what you’re thinking, because I was thinking the same things after I brought it home. But honest-to-goodness, I can charge the battery in about an hour, and it will discharge completely after about two hours disconnected. It’s mind-boggling.

I was a little worried because the video card is Trident-based, and machines from that generation with Trident hardware have given me difficulty in the past. Fortunately though, this one seems to be strong enough (2Mb VRAM … wow!) to handle the standard Linux tridentfb module without an issue.

The geek rundown is as follows:

  • Pentium MMX processor clocked at 153.4Mhz, according to /proc/cpuinfo. It also says CPU family 5, model 4, stepping 3.
  • Intel 430TX chipset. Kernel 2.6.34 uses the piix and ata_piix modules, if I remember right.
  • 32Mb PC66. 32Mb is more than enough for my day-to-day use, and unless I want to run a live CD or something from memory, I can’t think of any situation that requires more than that. I have a spare 64Mb stick of PC100, but while the slot matched, it was to tall for the bay. πŸ™„
  • 2Gb Hitachi MK2104MA hard drive. Slow, small and noisy. Like all hard drives from that era. It whines to no end, thereby annoying me to no end.
  • Trident 9660 video card, if lspci is to be believed.
  • One USB1.1 port, rear. If it didn’t have this USB port, it would probably still be sitting on a shelf in the recycling shop. I know I can be finicky when it comes to computers, but anything in the Pentium generation that has a USB port on it is suddenly a must-have for me.
  • Matsushita UJDA110 20X CDROM. Oh good grief, I forgot how slow 20X was. But it’s a working, error-free CD drive, which is a thousand times better than no CD drive at all. The BIOS allows it to boot from CD too, even if booting from USB is a no-no. And this time, PLoP doesn’t seem to help. 😦
  • ESS ES1869 sound card, I think. I usually leave sound to last for configuring, and take my time with it. A looong time.
  • PCMCIA CardBus support, in the way of an O2 Micro-based bridge. This is the first time I’ve worked with anything other than yenta or pd6729, and so I didn’t know a 2.6.34 kernel would require embedded support to get to the yenta-O2 option. Who would’ve thought a 12-year-old Pentium would require “embedded” software support. …

I think that’s about it. It has a few other amenities that would have made it a real Cadillac in its time, like a serial port and a floppy drive, and things like that still come in handy for people like me.

The chassis is in excellent shape and the screen is in good condition. It seems to have some speckling effects here and there when the screen colors are bright, but it’s certainly not in any way damaged or unreadable. And there’s one scuff on the lid at the top right, which I might be able to buff out.

But other than those minor points, I really, really like it. It has all the little finishing touches that I wish were on this machine, and it’s in excellent shape to boot. And that working battery is still just … unbelievable.

That’s all for now; I’ll have some more war stories over the next couple of days. I’ll leave you with one final kick though: The screenshots you see there are of Arch Linux. 😯

20 thoughts on “Arch Linux on a 150Mhz Pentium MMX

  1. gullars

    Congrats with the new working horse πŸ™‚ I`m really looking forward to see your experiences with this one πŸ™‚ When I get home, and no longer have the need for skype and the ajaxy goodness of gmail chat to keep in contact with family and girlfriend, I`ll try to do an x-less machine. And thanks to your experiences before I`ll get a cheap slower machine to replace the one that I have now, that has a broken fan. So I just thought that it was fitting to say thanks πŸ˜€

  2. poss

    MMX! looks like a right piece of… i mean bundle of joy. What are you using to connect it to the network? how does i586 compare to i686 in terms of support, updates etc?

    1. K.Mandla Post author

      In that picture, I used a USB-to-gigabit connector, just because it was convenient. I will probably use a PCMCIA network card on a regular basis

  3. JP Senior

    Wow – Retro!
    I remember those old laptops with the swishy LCD screens and single viewing angles. I only owned one of them, and it ran Win 3.11.. Battery time couldn’t have been more than a half hour. No CD-Rom – just a floppy drive. I managed to install some TCP/IP stuff and run a small ircd on it for kicks πŸ™‚

  4. poss

    I find it a bit perplexing actually, I would usually think usb & a cd drive are the bells & whistles of a pent 2 or 3 machine, but obviously not. So you sorta got the direct opposite of what in motoring terms would be called a ‘sleeper’.

    1. K.Mandla Post author

      Very true. I saw this as a bit of a rarity really, since most of the laptops that I see that are pre-Pentium II are usually lacking either a CDROM, USB or both. To get one with everything on it — and with everything working — was a huge coup.

  5. Zoev

    how do you find recylcing centers with this sort of stuff? I’m dying to find an old laptop I can tune up.

    1. K.Mandla Post author

      This one in particular came from a local recycling shop, which really just buys and resells laptops if they’re in good condition. Not to overgeneralize, but for what I’ve seen the Japanese consumer seems keen to buy new and clean things, and not old, secondhand ones. So the market is strong with generally flawless machines with only one previous owner, at very low prices. Antiques like this are virtually unwanted, and therefore dirt cheap. But I may be off the mark in my observations.

      I don’t know where you live Zoev, but perhaps someone can suggest a source for you, depending on your geography. πŸ˜‰

  6. jared

    I’m attempting to install Arch on a PI 133 Mhz with 80 mb RAM, but arch complains about the kernel type at boot. I’m guessing it’s due to the fact the Arch image is i686 and not i586. How do you get Arch installed on a i586? If you can point me in the right direction I’d really appreciate it. Thanks.

  7. DePingus

    Great find! Your blog always inspires me to slim things down around my home. So today I woot’ed a Seagate FreeAgent DockStar. Which is basically a little usb hub with a 1.2ghz ARM cpu, 128mb ram, a gigabit connection, and very very low power consumption (like the SheevaPlug and TonidoPlug with less ram).

    I know, that sounds like a beast next to your new toy. But the reason I bought it is because it can run PlugBox Linux, which is based on good old ArchLinux! I plan for this take take the place of the 2 servers I have now. I was a little worried about the 128mb of ram (for rtorrent), but then I remembered your blog and your little rtorrent server.

    So… thanks for these experiments!

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