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Linux Laptop w/ 3.5" Disk, USB, and No Hard Drive? 396

Posted by Cliff
from the how-would-you-do-it dept.
ryewell asks: "I have an IBM Thinkpad 390 Laptop, PII 266Mhz, 128 MB RAM, with USB 1.0 port and a 3.5 floppy drive being the most important stats I would assume for this question. So my hard drive died, and I've been using a DOS boot disk and a program called Mel to do my word processing.Would it be possible to boot the laptop in Linux using a 3.5 disk, then using drivers access the USB memory stick that had an adequate Linux system on it?" With USB thumb drives getting to be as large as 512 megs, memory sticks weighing in at 1 gig, and Compact Flash cards getting into the 2 gig range, this might not be such a bad idea. There's the Linux Mobile System that looks to implement something like this, but are there other distributions or similar projects that might be of interest? If you were going to put together a custom system for something like this, how would you do it?
"If Linux can be configured this way, I would need no hard drive, and the created docs/info could be saved on the USB drive memory stick. This way, no hard drive means no moving parts, which means better battery life, and I won't have to buy a hard drive which at the best deal I can find is about $130 US after taxes, shipping, etc. And how cool would it be to run a laptop off of a memory stick! Unfortunately, I know nothing about Linux, but this might be a cool problem to solve for those smart and knowledgeable enough to figure it out. Thanks for any help you can provide!"
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Linux Laptop w/ 3.5" Disk, USB, and No Hard Drive?

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  • by YankeeInExile (577704) * on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @06:10PM (#9626558) Homepage Journal

    I would use a CF card and ATA adapter.

    I would also keep in mind that write times for CF devices can be ...g...l...a...c...i...a...l compared to disk.

    • by Smallpond (221300) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @06:22PM (#9626704) Homepage Journal
      Look into a flash file system [axis.com] to minimize writes to flash and to deal with inevitable bad blocks.
    • If you can get card services up with your boot floppy, and you should, it should not be hard to mount the CF as a disk there. Access time is faster than most CF devices and PC card adaptors do not require you to open the laptop.

      I'd just get another hard drive. If the system does not have a CD, do the install on another machine, move it and tweak it as required. Mepis [mepis.org] and other Knoppix based distributions should work without much or any modification. Moreover, they should work very well on that hardware

    • microdrives etc (Score:4, Informative)

      by EvilAlien (133134) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @07:46PM (#9627375) Journal
      How about this? Faster than glacial, at least.

      MPIO HS100 1.5GB HDD Portable Storage [mpio.com]

      Plug and play! Carry large data wherever you go. HS100 is a moderately priced mobile digital audio and video consumer product from Digitalway. HS100 is a 1.5 GB portable USB Mass Storage installed with 1-inch HDD. It is a combination of huge capacity HDD and small flash memory storage device. It is capable of fast data transmission by using the USB 2.0 Interface.
    • If you are going to use CF cards you have to make sure that you _DO NOT_ swap to it, CF, SD and company only have a finite number of writes to them. If it is an old laptop it will be swapping alot and your CF card will fry in a matter of weeks

      I know of disasterous results where people have decided to swap to a memory card

    • Well...

      Since CF Cards are pin compatible with IDE hard drives, and CF cards are currently the most durable (and cheapest) flash memory (even below USB Memory) I would put a CF card in the hard drive slot of the laptop...

      The only problem is that flash memory is no good at writing (very slow) and so turn off swap and try to minimize writes to the disk (ie, don't run too many cron's etc..)

      I think it is a waste of time and money to try to boot off floppy, and then load a system off a USB flash drive or CF ca
  • Probably Knoppix (Score:4, Insightful)

    by mj01nir (153067) * on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @06:10PM (#9626560)
    I run my hacked IA-1 appliance from 16MB Compact Flash using Midori Linux. Sadly, I think the distro is dead now.

    Your best bet is to try Knoppix, assuming you have a CD-ROM.
    • Re:Probably Knoppix (Score:3, Interesting)

      by drinkypoo (153816)
      There's another distribution for iOpener that i keep meaning to try called jailbait linux. I am also using Midori (actually, M4I) but I think it sucks for my purposes. ssh 1, crappy old version of the X server, et cetera.

      My plan is to come up with a boot image that will spit out only busybox, the stuff I absolutely need, do DHCP configuration (probably in the kernel) and contact an X server via XDMCP. But then, I don't want to use it for a computer, just an X terminal.

      • Re:Probably Knoppix (Score:3, Informative)

        by prockcore (543967)
        There's another distribution for iOpener that i keep meaning to try called jailbait linux.

        I helped put together Jailbait. It's a nice distro, although a little out-dated (uses a test 2.4 kernel). I still have it installed on one of my iOpeners.

        It has netscape 4, apache, ssh and mp321. It uses blackbox for WM and busybox for the apps.

        It would definitely work as a test distro, and it will fit on even the smallest thumbdrives (it weighs in at 16 megs).
  • I LOVE GOOGLE. (Score:5, Informative)

    by sekzscripting (687192) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @06:11PM (#9626563) Homepage
    http://www.toms.net/rb/
  • Small Linux (Score:5, Informative)

    by homeobocks (744469) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @06:11PM (#9626568)
    Small Linux [superant.com] should have everything you need, on two floppies, to mount a USB filesystem. If not, it is simply the matter of compiling a kernel and sticking it on one of the floppies. Good luck with your project!
  • by kmcmartin (248018) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @06:11PM (#9626571) Homepage
    and buy a new bloody hard disk. it would be far cheaper to buy a new laptop hard disk, than a 512M of usb storage. christ.
  • You could make a boot/root disk, and store kernel modules on the stick to save space. chroot into the memory stick and run from there.
  • damn (Score:2, Informative)

    by l33t m4st3r (672779)
    damn small linux. there is a way to boot it off of a usb memory pen. there is a how-to on the page i think. i have done it before and it was the best thing ever.
    • Hell yeah! I have been running this on several boxes as HD installs, it's great on older boxes. It runs fast on this old box next to me, P200mmx, 64megs of RAM, 2 gig HD. I put Firefox on it and use it for surfing the web. I am building a VMware session for it on my main laptop's XP partition tonight. Good luck, cheers all!
  • by john.mull (790526) <john DOT mull AT gmail DOT com> on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @06:12PM (#9626577) Journal
    If your BIOS will support it, why not remove the floppy from the equation and boot directly from the memory card/key/stick/whatever? A 1 GB key would allow for a Knoppix install and a good bit of data, and then you're word processing with Open Office.
    • by vinit79 (740464) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @06:15PM (#9626615)
      If your BIOS will support it, why not remove the floppy from the equation and boot directly from the memory card/key/stick/whatever? A 1 GB key would allow for a Knoppix install and a good bit of data, and then you're word processing with Open Office.

      Its a IBM Thinkpad 390 Laptop, PII 266Mhz, 128 MB RAM, with USB 1.0 port and a 3.5 floppy drive.
      And u think the bios will support booting of a usb memory stick ????
  • by SiMac (409541)
    On PriceWatch, a good 20GB drive will cost less than a 512MB USB memory key.

    It's really not worth the amount of effort you'd have to put into this machine. I realize it's old and you don't want to waste more money on it, but spending hours of research to save $65 isn't worth it, especially considering even after all that research your computer will be slower and more of a pain in the ass than if you just spent the money.
  • by jomas1 (696853) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @06:13PM (#9626592) Homepage
    PUPPY Linux http://www.goosee.com/puppy/flash-puppy.htm
    allows you to boot off a usb card and does not require a hard drive. Damn small linux and dynebolic are two other distros that work well with underpowered hardware and don't require harddrives but they both require cd drives.
  • ...but it's a great idea. Imagine people everywhere could carry a USB jump drive of whatever you want to call them with everything they need on them - it's the ultimate in "mobile office". Still need the floppy I expect though, but it's a huge step in the right direction. Hey, just put an self extracting image of the floppy on the USB thing and extract it to a new floppy from a machine (with an installed OS) before booting with your USB thing.
  • cost you maybe 25-30 bucks for a 2 gig hard drive, and if you actually looked, you could probably get an 8 for about that much.
  • Sounds like something those mandrakemove memory sticks are good for. But that's a knee-jerk reaction without any research whatsoever.
  • by exp(pi*sqrt(163)) (613870) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @06:13PM (#9626598) Journal
    Solutions for pennies [ebay.com].
  • Limited lifespan (Score:5, Informative)

    by PCM2 (4486) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @06:13PM (#9626599) Homepage
    As other people are constantly pointing out whenever somebody posts an idea like this, "non-volatile" memory like MemorySticks and CompactFlash has a limited lifespan. It wears out after a certain number of erase/write cycles. That actual number is probably in the hundreds of thousands, but if you've got a Linux swap partition on there you'll be pounding the silicon pretty hard. Add to that a floppy disc as your boot partition, and ... well ... this sounds like one of the more head-scratchingly silly ideas I've heard in a while.
    • I'd suggest that anything like /tmp /var be put into a tiny ramdisk (eat, say, 64-96MB off your 256) in this setup, and swap be abandoned. Mount everything ro except for /home. Use a journaling file system on /home. This will minimize the wear described in the parent post.
    • Re:Limited lifespan (Score:5, Informative)

      by Alan Hicks (660661) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @06:42PM (#9626889) Homepage
      As other people are constantly pointing out whenever somebody posts an idea like this, "non-volatile" memory like MemorySticks and CompactFlash has a limited lifespan.

      Correct, and that is the main limitation of such devices. Just off the top of my head here, I can come up with an idea that just might work, but the OP had better be damn well prepared to use a very lightweight distro.

      Step 1: Partition that USB drive. You're going to need a very small / partition, and a much larger /usr partition. These are not to be messed with. You'll also need a /home-flash partition large enough for your personal use, and of course, a backup plan for when that drive fails.
      Step 2: Build your kernel. This can be tricky. Building a kernel that accesses the USB drive can't be that difficult, but you'll also need initrd support. Why? Well, because you've got 128 MB of RAM, and you certainly don't want to write to that flash drive all the time. Make a small, perhaps 32 MB initrd and mount it at /var. You can modify your init scripts to populate this directory safely. Symlink /tmp to /var/tmp, and now you've cut down a lot of your writes to your flash device.
      Step 3: Make yourself another 32MB initrd and mount it a /home. Again, your init scripts can safely populate this with all your dot-files. Anything you definately want to save must be manually copied to the /home-flash partition. Optionally you can take a look at the scripts included with Slax [slax.org]. One script (IIRC configsave) will make a tar.gz of all those pertinant files and save them to a partition on a USB flash drive.

      It should be noted that I don't know if the linux kernel can make and support multiple RAM drives at once. If not, just make one RAM drive, mount it a /var, and make /home a symlink to /var/home.

  • Flash hard drive (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Why bother with a USB memory stick when you get can CF card->IDE adaptors? Here's one outfit [acscontrol.com] that sells an adaptor that works for desktop computers.

    I'm sure adaptors for laptop drives exist. If not, one could easily be built--it's a simple matter of changing the connector type, because CF cards have a built in IDE compatible interface!

  • by blackmonday (607916) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @06:15PM (#9626619) Homepage
    It would really simplify your life to buy a new hard drive. Those thumb drives / memory sticks aren't very fast compared to a hard disk. Plus for the price of a thumb drive of that size, you could just get a new or used notebook HD and save some cash.

  • by Mustang Matt (133426) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @06:15PM (#9626620)
    Seriously I bet you could find some deals on ebay and get a new laptop with a hard drive faster than what you've got. Maybe I'm wrong. I got a vpr matrix 175b4 for $375 missing ac adapter and battery.

    It would be nice if you could do what you're trying to do though. Then you could take your OS with you and use any modern computer with your OS and your settings in theory.

    I'm just wondering how slowly linux would load up off of usb 1.1?
  • Cake (Score:3, Informative)

    by Apreche (239272) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @06:16PM (#9626628) Homepage Journal
    It's a piece of cake. I've got a board at work running Linux (not uClinux, real linux) with the entire file system in flash. It has no moving parts and works great. Just build a kernel with support for the USB drive. In your fstab mount this drive as /. Follow the linux from scratch instructions to build the smallest system possible. You'll probably want to use busybox to the maximum.

    Also when building the kernel try to minimize the number of modules you build. Build things into the bzimage if you have the option. But at the same time only include the bare minimum things necessary.

    Lastly when you are building things with gcc be sure to use Os to optimize for size.

    Since its an x86 system if the USB drive is supported by the kernel this shouldn't be difficult at all.
    • Re:Cake (Score:3, Insightful)

      by drinkypoo (153816)
      And in case you're wondering, you can download all those files for linuxfromscratch from them directly, but you will not be able to download them all from their actual home sites.

      Also note, you need to not have a swap partition :D

  • What about ZipSlack (Score:3, Informative)

    by Open_Matrix42 (611721) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @06:16PM (#9626629)
    Being a big slackware fan I have to mention ZipSlack. I'm not sure what it would take to get that to boot from a usb memory stick but I can't imagine it being very hard. Link [slackware.com]
  • All you need... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by gnu-sucks (561404) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @06:17PM (#9626642) Journal
    ...is a Debian boot floopy. Custom-compile a kernel that supports your USB or Memory Stick/Compact Flash/Whatever devices, put it on the floppy. Format the external media so that linux can read it (and it may already be able to, so the choice to format may come down to performance).

    Make a short script to mount the external media on boot up, and install everything you need from there.

    Obviously, having another computer running a BSD or Linux distro will greatly help you achieve this.

    Don't be surprised if the fruits of your labor yield a very fast graphical linux box.
  • by Cybersonic (7113) <ralph@ralph.cx> on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @06:17PM (#9626647) Homepage
    I have an older 400mhz Dell notebook. I am currently using a CF to IDE adapter in it.

    http://store.ituner.com/ituner/emstcfl.html [ituner.com]

    It works great, i am using a 256 meg sandisk compact flash card and feather linux.

    http://featherlinux.berlios.de/ [berlios.de]

    Overall the performance is not too bad. Battery life is MUCH better without the hard drive. Write speed is not too great, but since I usually ssh into my server and leech from there, i dont need to worry about that much... :)
    • Continued:

      $20 for the CF to IDE adapter and $35 for the 256 meg compact flash drive.

      Featherlinux is basically a stripped down Knoppix. Perfect for this project, IMHO. I installed Firefox and the iCandy theme [foood.net].

      I looked at the other distros out there, but I could not find one that used Fluxbox, and had the selection of apps that Feather linux had. My system has 128 megs of ram in it, and the only time I have issues is when I have over 10 or so tabs open in Firefox. Without swap, firefox is not happy...
  • it's possible (Score:5, Informative)

    by Da_Slayer (37022) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @06:18PM (#9626652)
    There have been many projects over the years to run Linux on just one floppy disc and within other very tight space/memory requirements.

    Some examples of Linux distros that do this are:
    http://sourceforge.net/projects/byld
    http:/ /www.fdlinux.com/

    But I really think you are looking for this:
    http://linuxmobile.sourceforge.net/

    Linux Mobile System (LMS) is a full Linux system whose support is the new USB Flash Memory Drives. The intention is to boot any PC with USB support with our system and therefore we will have every administration and analysis applications that we have selected, so we will not need install it. This way, always we will be able to get our Linux system ready to use in our pocket.

    Now if you cannot boot the laptop with the USB connection I am sure you can use a mini/micro distrobution to boot the system with USB support and then have it read and run off the USB drive.

    I hope this information is helpful in your quest. =P
  • by woobieman29 (593880) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @06:20PM (#9626674)
    Google is your friend. Check out The Linux Bootable USB Key HOWTO [berlios.de]. Particularly the piece about the Flonix Knoppix variant.
  • I have been keeping an old compaq laptop alive with Knoppix [knoppix.org] 3.4 for a while. Of course its saving grace is a CD drive to boot it from... I would say get a cheap USB CD drive but: a. USB 1.0 at 1.1mbps will not be fun to run an OS from. b. I don't think the chances are too great of such an old device's BIOS of being capable of supporting booting from USB. c. No storage space other than floppy. Unless you run the CD and a USB key on a USB hub, which sounds just nasty performance wise. Time to pick up a
  • look harder? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Loie (603717) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @06:21PM (#9626684)
    from a little Googling, it looks like your IBM Thinkpad 390 will accept a standard issue 4200RPM hard drive, which I'm finding for much less than $130 USD. Newegg.com has a 20GB Toshiba drive for less than $80 USD. Also, it looks like 512MB flash drives run for about $70... running linux w/o a hard drive has a 'cool' factor, sure, but i'd rather have about 40 times the storage space for a few dollars more.
  • not worth it (Score:3, Informative)

    by whowho (706277) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @06:21PM (#9626690)
    unless you are going in for the science value of it.

    consider:
    - your time
    - the cost of USB/CF sticks
    - the usability of the setup (slow)

    all of it would add up to more than the $130 or whatever for the HD.

    it would be just a case of hacking up your own custom kernel and mounting the USB stick.
  • by kunudo (773239) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @06:22PM (#9626708)
    I have a ton of computers, like alot of others here, I suppose. Now, my newest Athlon XP system is really noisy, but an old pentiumIII I have is really silent. So I boot Feather Linux [berlios.de] on it from my 128meg twinmos pendrive. It can't boot from USB though, but there's a bootdisk on the Feather Linux website that enables this. It's nice for that size(60 MB I think), and has 2 word processors(!)(why), a web browser, pdf support, nmap, and lots more. And it's real easy to add modules to too. Give it a try.
  • The biggest problem for this trick is going to be storage. A single floppy disk isn't really large enough to hold the Linux kernel anymore (in these days of 2.6.x). The most important part is going to be shoving the USB drivers straight in the kernel (or the initrd?) so that your memory stick as is picked up in time for your kernel to finish booting off it.

    That said, there should really be no reason why you couldn't boot from a floppy and tell it to use the USB mem stick as /. Just a couple kernel paramete
  • RUNT! (Score:2, Informative)

    by Kyosuke77 (783293)

    I saw this and I immediately thought of RUNT! [ncsu.edu]

    It's an adaptation of ZipSlack designed to run off a USB memory key. Usually it needs the aid of a boot floppy to get things rolling, but theoretically it can be booted off the memory key alone on systems that support it. Few systems support USB booting properly, though, so I think you'll find you need the floppy.

    Admittedly, it is designed for testing a machine's network connection more than anything, but it still has a fairly complete set of packages (b

  • by eyefish (324893) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @06:27PM (#9626756)
    A couple of things to keep in mind with Memory Cards:

    1. Memory Cards usually have a "number of write times" which is sometimes around 100,000 writes. This is much more than enough when you're using the card for saving photos, and a card could probably last you a lifetime for this purpose. However, when you put an operating system with a swap filesystem on it, which reads/writes tons of times constantly, 100,000 becomes very restrictive and you could easily damage the card in a month or so depending on ussage. NOTE however that not all cards are created equal, so do some research on this. Try searching for MTBF (mean time between failures) along with the type of card you're planning on using on google.

    2. Although it is true many flash cards are slow compared to hard drives, some can be as fast or faster (depending on your system). For example, the SanDisk Ultra II CF cards have a *minimum* sustained write speed of 9 MB/s (that's MegaBytes per second, or aprox. 72 Megabits per second) which is VERY fast (however I do not know its MTBF specs). You can get such a 1GB card for about US$220. However, nowdays it is still MUCH cheaper to buy a hard drive.
  • by btempleton (149110) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @06:31PM (#9626798) Homepage
    Is to create totally silent linux boxes out of old laptops for applications where you want this silence. Media servers, living room web browsing station etc.

    There are linux distros that will boot and run from CD-rom, but of course they access the noisy cd-rom all the time.

    There are network based distros but they go so overboard, they want to get everything from the LAN, which is not so fast and slow to boot up.

    In fact, in many cases the hard drive in the laptop is still there, it's just not perfectly silent.

    I would like a distro which booted from hard drive (or CD-rom, or floppy) and after loading what it wanted, and mounting network filesystems, shut down the noisy boot device for good, or at least until some unusual activity called for it.
    • Hi, Brad - A couple of people have mentioned small distributions, including Puppy Linux [goosee.com], Feather Linux, Peanut Linux, etc. that can fit on a USB, in most cases a now-obsolete 64KB USB. That should let you boot quickly (better with USB2.0, of course) and have the main applications as well as your LAN going.

      Puppy is designed to load itself into RAMdisk and not need to run from the boot media - I don't know for sure if that lets the hard drives or CDROM shut down, but you can probably tweak the Power Manage

  • by nuxx (10153) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @06:32PM (#9626802) Homepage
    I don't know why noone has said this yet, but why not stick a copy of Knoppix in one partition on a large USB keychain device and boot it using a floppy with a boot manager on it? Then use the other partition on the keychain device for data storage.

    Booting Knoppix will eliminate the need for massive amounts of read/write, and you'd still have a bit of space to store whatever it is you are working on.
  • by psyburn (790106) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @06:35PM (#9626823)
    Oh dear. You don't say that it has a CD-ROM so MandrakeMove [mandrakelinux.com], Knoppix [knoppix.org], and PHLAK [phlak.org] are all out of the question. *sigh*
    And they are so easy to use too... :'(
    Oh well.....A USB-CDROM boot option in the BIOS looks promising.
  • Don't forget that your old laptop is going to be USB 1.1 only. Maximum transfer rate of 11Mbps or about 1.4MBps. Painful at best, agonizing most of the time.

    A CF card adapter using your notebook's IDE interface would be better, but still slow.

    By the time you buy an ATA/CF adapter and a 512MB CF card it will be cheaper to just buy another hard disk. The hard disk will also be considerably faster and last a lot longer.
  • by Flower (31351) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @06:39PM (#9626866) Homepage
    Even if it cost you a $130. You've said it yourself. You know nothing about linux but you essentially want to tackle turning your laptop into an embedded device. You're also trying to poll /. to find/create a solution for you. If you screw up the patitioning on your cf card do we get a new Ask Slashdot article?

    Buy the drive, learn a thing or two about linux and then research this down the road. Honestly, this is the best advice I can give you.

  • by Cloud K (125581) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @06:45PM (#9626923)
    Use ROX-Session and ROX-Filer (rox.sourceforge.net), and maybe an older but reasonable distribution such as RedHat 7.3. I've had that combination working great on some old Celeron-300/32MB machines I'm refurbishing for a non-profit, and it's quite an intuitive interface for experienced users and newbies alike.

    GNOME and a recent distro simply with unnecessary software / services removed might not even be too bad on a 128MB machine (just don't try KDE!)
  • by davidsyes (765062) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @06:46PM (#9626935) Homepage Journal
    Is anyone building one of these things as a Proof of Concept? I understand that memory uses more battery juice than the HDD itself.

    I think my ideas below and my question above come from my curiosity of how long the portable/hand-held DVD players last. I also wonder how long MP3 device batteries last. Days? Aside from the LCD and CPU chewing up maybe 60% of the battery life, at LEAST the storage and boot and system file devices could be on CF/Smart Media. Maybe someone might want to take the LSB to a new level: Optimizing the installation and locating of system files based on the type of medium to which the OS and user files are being written during install. And, suspend-to-disk, ACPI, and APM problems could be made to go away to a good extent, probably because the disk spinning is eliminated. i am not sure about communicating devices (modems and NICs), tho.

    Imagine this:

    -- Multi-slot CF/Smart-Media bay
    -- O/S Memory sticks/ in each CF/SM bay
    -- Energy-efficient/Solar or ambient-light-powered LCD
    -- Ability to swap O/S on the fly
    -- IR or compatible/comparable input device with own power supply (like the battery-powered Logitech mice...)

    Can't laptops go Solid State now? I imagine much of the laptop industry is sustained by momentum to keep cranking out mechanical disks. If an efficient CF/SM platter or storage surface can be optically read by something that is not having to spin at some 7,000 or 10,000 RPM, a lot of other savings might be made.

    Also, it seems laptop boards have fewer and fewer soldered components. Further reductions should lead to greater opportunity to bring solid-state laptops to consumer hands. If the OS could be on one the disk, and be swappable, the data on another swappable, disk, then when will a light switch on to make solid-state laptops that hold VMWare or Win4Lin in a Linux environment? VMWare and NeTraverse could then reduce their costs of product just by jumping to distribution/deployment of millions vice 10s of thousands. This would probably devastate ms' foothold, especially of XUL or XML or other code and W3C standards were followed better.
  • *BSD (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Predius (560344) <josh.coombs@TWAINgmail.com minus author> on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @06:49PM (#9626951)
    I've netbooted an iPaq IA1 using a similar setup, CF to load the kernel (replace with floppy in this scenario) and a USB nic to netboot over. Just using a USB HD also works. As long as you can compile support for the device into the kernel, you should be able to use it as a root file system. Load the kernel, and it'll handle the rest.
  • Related question... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by strags (209606) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @07:30PM (#9627262)

    I have an ancient laptop with a broken keyboard. The HD/FD are both fine, as are the PCMCIA slots. No CDROM.

    What I would like to do is boot a single-diskette that contains enough code to fire up the PCMCIA networking, and either ENBD [uc3m.es] or something like it.

    That way, I could mount the HD in the laptop as a remote block device, and copy an OS across.

    Any ideas?
  • by realmolo (574068) * on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @07:33PM (#9627297)
    See, I've got this old Chevy Nova. It runs fine and everything, but it's out of gas. Does anyone know of a way I could hook it up to my wood-burning stove?

    This way I would save on gas money. Have you seen how much gas is?

    /sarcasm

    Buy a new hard drive, you cheap motherfucker.
  • by Gldm (600518) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @08:03PM (#9627501)
    I'm just wondering if this laptop is used in a portable, carry around with me manner, or if it's one of those laptops that says plugged into AC 99% of the time doing word processing.

    If it's the latter, do you have a network and at least one other machine? If so, how about a TFTP and network boot? I'm not sure if you have a boot rom in your laptop but it's possible or maybe you could find a cheap network card for it with one. Once the laptop's booted up it should be fine as long as it stays attatched to whatever network FS it needs to read files off of.

    I assume your bios does not allow boot from usb, so that's kinda out... Again, if it's a "static" laptop, one option might be a 44->40 pin IDE adapter, run the wire out of the case, and hook it to a standard 3.5" HD and use an old AT powersupply to keep it spinning. I'm just trying to think up ways to fix this thing with the typical "junk" around the average geek's house. I know there's usually half a ton of old cables, drives, cpus, cards etc in mine. If you're working on the premise that $130 is too much to spend I'd suspect that digging for junk or getting it from a friend may be an option in your case.
  • by nmoog (701216) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @08:27PM (#9627644) Homepage Journal
    I hope you recheck this posts to get this, because wow what a shit response you got from slashdotters! I have been trying to do the same thing for the last week or so and have found some good resources. Wierd that all the slashdotters say is "get hard drive". Yeah, thanks for that one!

    One of the best resources I've found so far is over at damnsmalllinux.org (in the forum, here [damnsmalllinux.org] they have a pretty good how-to on this. I also found a really good discussion of it in the Gentoo forums somewhere, but I forgot to sync my firefox bookmarks today, so I don't have it.

    For the project Im working on I can't use a hard drive, but Ive got heaps of memory - so Im just going to use ramdisk for swap space and stuff. That gets around the trashing your key thing. Probably not an option for an old lappy though! Good luck!
  • by brundlefly (189430) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @08:29PM (#9627670)

    from the i-r-teh-cheapest-mutha-fucka-evah dept.

    The power cord on my laptop just went fashizzle and I was wondering if anyone here could give me some advice how to run MacOS X on the digital clock on my Google shwag pen. I am hoping to spend no more than $.10 on parts for this. Oh, and I'd like to boot it remotely from my wireless MP3 server. Thanks in advance!

  • This is asinine (Score:3, Insightful)

    by thedillybar (677116) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @08:47PM (#9627780)
    If you value your time at anything more than about $0.50/hr, you'll find that the least expensive route is to buy a new harddrive.

    You're going to have cost for materials anyway, maybe not quite as much, but still a substantial cost.

  • by Mostly a lurker (634878) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @08:59PM (#9627875)
    Lots have commented on the slow write performance of the memory stick. An even more pertinent issue is that all I/O through USB 1.0 (presumably this is USB 1.1) will be slow.

    Like others, I think a key question is whether there is an operational CD drive. If so, it would seem sensible to boot Knoppix from that and only use a memory stick for backup purposes.

  • Damn Small Linux... (Score:5, Informative)

    by smurfnsanta (787693) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @09:32PM (#9628107)
    DSL has been doing this since at least 0.6.x. See: DSL USB + Floppy ~ 50 Mg [damnsmalllinux.org] and change the /dev/hda3 entries to /dev/sdaX, whatever your USB block device is recognized as. From damnsmalllinux.org, see the save settings to HD, and again use the USB instead. Rather amazing what they include on just 50 megs, and all apps are light weight enough you may actually get some work done.
  • RUNT Linux (Score:3, Informative)

    by kg4eyf (232264) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @10:54PM (#9628575) Homepage
    This is just the sort of thing RUNT Linux is great for. I don't think you can boot directly from USB, so you can boot the RUNT floppy, and it will run Linux off of the USB drive. RUNT is based on the umsdos filesystem, which is great if you want to use the pen drive for other tasks, but if you want to use it just for linux, you can reformat it with ext3 and copy all the files in. RUNT doesn't come with any graphical environments, but you can easily install the appropriate slackware packages to make it complete to your liking. Check it out!

    Joel Ebel
    http://www.ncsu.edu/resnet/runt
  • by Remlik (654872) on Wednesday July 07, 2004 @08:54AM (#9630845) Homepage
    How abou you just give me a mailing address and I send you one of the two old HDD's I have collecting dust beside me?

    I have a Seagate 1.4gig and A Fujitsu 1.6gig. Both work. Hell I'll send both in case one fails in a year.

    Sorry it doesn't solve your battery problem but at least you won't have to be screwing around with boot floppies and killing flash drives.

    Geeze, for 130 bucks on Ebay you could probably buy and entire laptop which contains a 2-4gig HDD and just throw the rest away.

    Work smarter not harder.
  • by Wakko Warner (324) * on Wednesday July 07, 2004 @12:50PM (#9633202) Homepage Journal
    This may or may not be of help to you.

    In my spare time, for the past fifteen months, I've been writing my own low-level logic, which can be blown onto an EEPROM chip. The EEPROM chip is then soldered to a project board (Radio Shack P/N 26-117B) along with the necessary connectors and solid-state circuitry to allow you to use the spare (32k) memory in the popular "Speak N Spell" series of educational toys as a CompactFlash device!

    With the addition of a CompactFlash-to-USB adapter, one can use this setup just like a regular USB storage device! Think of the Linuxing you can do with that!

    - A.P.

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