Three more attempts: GRML, MiniNo, Tiny Core

A quick apology of course, for a lack of entries in the past days. My moving date is creeping up on me fast, and looking around I still see I have mounds of junk to sort. The horror, the horror. …

When I have enough time I still take the hour or so it requires to playtest a new distro on that very old Mebius which has been so accommodating over the past six months. I don’t know the total, but I am certain it has been home to something in the double-digits, for number of installs.

And I should be clear that my goal in this is not to beat down modern distros for failing to keep in step with 14-year-old equipment, and nor is it my hope that someone will invent a distro that will target them specifically.

But I do find it interesting, and educational, and somewhat revealing, to see how a current operating system holds up with out-of-date hardware. Extreme as this one may be. …

This time I have three short ones to mention, with varying degrees of success.

GALPon MiniNo seemed to run aground in the same ways as Slitaz or AntiX did: sluggish performance, dallying rollover effects and very lengthy start times.

On the other hand, it’s quite an attractive desktop, and the choice of software is very promising. I found two or three new programs here that I hadn’t known about before. (Of course, there’s a lot I don’t know.)

I want to use this on my fastest machine just for a proper chance to investigate, and because I find it amusing. That might have to wait a few weeks though.

For a lightweight desktop, this is clean and quick and attractive. At extremely low specifications though, it might not hold up so well. Your machine will be the judge.

I liked GRML a lot, and so long as I stuck to the “small” version, I had a system that didn’t demand nearly 3Gb in disk space — keeping in mind that that includes a lot of window managers, X components, etc.

The sad part of the story is that GRML — even the small version — couldn’t boot on only 32Mb of memory. I got the same error messages I saw with Ubuntu and Linux Mint Fluxbox and some other systems built on newer Debian cores.

Thirty-two megabytes just isn’t enough, and that’s the fact (if I am interpreting the error messages correctly, of course πŸ™„ ). The newest Debian systems might install in text mode with that much, but I have yet to see one boot.

I hold no grudge of course. These little experiments are wacky, and I don’t always expect grand results. GRML is something I might investigate further, just because it’s unique. (P.S.: I loved the installer. Every distro should use that.)

I’m still fighting with Tiny Core, although I mean “fighting” in a good way. I want very much for this one to work, but the most recent ISOs, when properly burnt to CD, wouldn’t boot.

And using an early 2.x-ish version was a little less than successful, being left at a boot prompt with not much more than a blinking cursor. (Yes, the same as if I used Microcore.)

Video is really where I fall flat though. That CLI fallback is happening (I suspect) because the default boot sequence sends everything to a VESA-based graphics system, and this machine is more or less incapable in that department.

On top of that, I have my doubts about network connections, since I rely mostly on PCMCIA wireless with this laptop, and that might require a little more effort (or acrobatics) on my part, to install without Tiny Core’s handy dandy application browser.

All that aside I’ve tried a couple of boots and update attempts, and I’ve also installed a few systems directly, but with more or less all the same results. Just blink, blink, blink. …

My next plan of attack (and probably what should have been my first plan of attack) is to put together a system in an emulator that has all the necessary pieces (wireless-tools, Xorg and drivers, etc.) and write it across USB.

Not elegant, but nothing about these old machines is very elegant. Usually. πŸ˜‰


8 thoughts on “Three more attempts: GRML, MiniNo, Tiny Core

  1. n2j3

    Could you document, whenever you have the time, what you mean by “put[ting] together a system in an emulator that has all the necessary pieces (wireless-tools, Xorg and drivers, etc.) and writ[ing] it across USB.” I’d be hugely indebted as it seems like an interesting and hassle-free way of toying around with slow/old computers & distro-testing.

    1. K.Mandla Post author

      Basically I use qemu (qemu-launcher is a godsend, by the way), boot the ISO, and install it like a normal system. I use a RAW image file of only 1.9Gb, so it will fit on a normal USB stick. I run the installer in the same way I would on a real system, and everything is written to the image file.

      dd that image file to the USB stick, boot the target machine on Slitaz Base, and use dd again to write it across USB1.1. Transfer times are about 45 minutes for the final write. And generally speaking it works fine. There is always an odd egg, but for the most part, I get no hassles with this method.

      I’ll go into more detail some time in the future. πŸ˜‰

  2. mrreality

    when you said
    “I don’t know the total, but I am certain it has been home to something in the double-digits, for number of installs.”
    how to you keep your hard drive healthy doing that much on a older hd?

  3. Gutterslob

    I’d love to hear more on GRML. Heard of it a few times, but never got round to trying it.

    Wonder if the ISO will install to my netbook’s hdd via a usb drive (problematic with many Debian offshot distros).

    Might give it a go if I find time. Is this the installer you were referring to, Kmandla? If so, then yes, it does look pretty impressive.

  4. Michal

    Hey, interesting blog. You’re a kin to me. I have a stash of old laptops too. The oldest being a ca.1992 386SX/4MBRam/Monochrome laptop. One day it will boot linux.
    For now I have managed to boot an Omnibook 800CL with 16MB into Microcore. And an 80MB Ram one into TinyCore w/ Xfbdev (Xvesa does not work on these). I made them into picture frame:

    An alternative to initrd (which requires more ram) is to unpack it onto the HD and use it as root. And also set up swap partition. This works miracles with small memory machines. Of course, it’s a manual process which avoids the original installer. Also, avoids problems with booting from floppy/cd/usb (which I did not have for my laptops).


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