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

Cliff posted more than 10 years ago | from the how-would-you-do-it dept.

Data Storage 396

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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Me love you long time (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9626540)

Stick USB dongle up vaginer five dolla!
FP fo fee

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I would not use MemoryStick (5, Informative)

YankeeInExile (577704) | more than 10 years ago | (#9626558)

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.

Re:I would not use MemoryStick (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9626668)

You could try using a Windows Boot CD...

Re:I would not use MemoryStick (1, Insightful)

Amiga Lover (708890) | more than 10 years ago | (#9626702)

I have a solution that's faster, relatively quiet, standard, works with many operating systems, is easy to find and not a difficult process to implement.

I'd replace the dead HD for about $15.

Re:I would not use MemoryStick (3, Informative)

hoggoth (414195) | more than 10 years ago | (#9626775)

> I'd replace the dead HD for about $15

Reading, not your strong point.
From the article:
"I won't have to buy a hard drive which at the best deal I can find is about $130 US"

Re:I would not use MemoryStick (0, Offtopic)

Dav3K (618318) | more than 10 years ago | (#9626808)

If ever I saw a post worthy of mod-points, yours was it.

Re:I would not use MemoryStick (4, Informative)

stevenbdjr (539653) | more than 10 years ago | (#9626809)

Searching for a deal, not the posters strong point.

I just recently bought a new 20GB laptop drive, 5400rpm, for $80. If you look on eBay, you can find them in the 2 - 4GB range for around $15 - $30.

Re:I would not use MemoryStick (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9626824)

Yes, but this is a pretty old laptop. Perhaps compatable hard drives are hard to find for it.

Re:I would not use MemoryStick (3, Informative)

Richard_at_work (517087) | more than 10 years ago | (#9626822)

Depends how much space he wants, i have a spare 2GB (or 4GB, cant remember) 2.5" hard disk going spare atm. Yes, new ones are going to set you back $130 (for 30GB i bet) but since hes looking at much lower capacities in his 'alternative' method of operation, why would he turn his nose up at 2gb second hand.

Re:I would not use MemoryStick (2, Insightful)

Amiga Lover (708890) | more than 10 years ago | (#9626844)

> I'd replace the dead HD for about $15

Reading, not your strong point.
From the article:
"I won't have to buy a hard drive which at the best deal I can find is about $130 US"

The article submitter's laziness in finding cheap HDs does not mean I cannot find them

Thus my original solution is still the same, and is one I implemented barely a year ago myself.

Re:I would not use MemoryStick (3, Informative)

Smallpond (221300) | more than 10 years ago | (#9626704)

Look into a flash file system [axis.com] to minimize writes to flash and to deal with inevitable bad blocks.

Re:I would not use MemoryStick (1)

AndroidCat (229562) | more than 10 years ago | (#9626730)

If he's going for strangest boot, how about using an iPod to hold the FS?

Re:I would not use MemoryStick (2, Interesting)

DunbarTheInept (764) | more than 10 years ago | (#9626766)

Or a digital camera with a USB interface.

Re:I would not use MemoryStick (3, Funny)

SquadBoy (167263) | more than 10 years ago | (#9626799)

I hate to admit cause it makes me look like a dork but I've installed Debian off of my CoolPix. :)

Re:I would not use MemoryStick (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9626743)

CF cards have limited numbers of erase/write cycles (usually about 300,000), so using it with swap files and other frequently written applications would be inadvisable, unless the user is planning on boosting the amount of RAM and/or turning off swap.

Card services and Hard Drives. (2, Insightful)

twitter (104583) | more than 10 years ago | (#9626826)

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. For what it's worth, my 90MHz P1 Thinkpad is jealous of your memory and processor but happy with it's five gig hard drive and Woody. Save the HD caddy, if the yours has one! They are easy to work with, but hard to find.

Probably Knoppix (4, Insightful)

mj01nir (153067) | more than 10 years ago | (#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 (2, Interesting)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 10 years ago | (#9626740)

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 (1)

rjamestaylor (117847) | more than 10 years ago | (#9626828)

assuming you have a CD-ROM.

Don't assume -- I think the omission of a CD-ROM was intentional, unless the poor guy had not heard of a Live CD yet... But it is hard to imagine a PII with a USB but no CD-ROM.

So, assuming the poor guy doesn't have a CD-ROM I'd suggest getting a USB Hard Drive. Don't tell me that speed is an issue; this is a floppy-based PII 266 laptop...Or, at least, a parallel port CD-ROM.

Put the USB key fob in the other USB port.

I LOVE GOOGLE. (5, Informative)

sekzscripting (687192) | more than 10 years ago | (#9626563)

http://www.toms.net/rb/

Re:I LOVE GOOGLE. (2, Informative)

Edward Teach (11577) | more than 10 years ago | (#9626630)

Too bad you don't know enough about HTML to make a link... www.toms.net/rb/ [toms.net]

Re:I LOVE GOOGLE. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9626803)

edward teach... the gentleman pirate. hah.

Small Linux (5, Informative)

homeobocks (744469) | more than 10 years ago | (#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!

good point (1)

grahagre (459342) | more than 10 years ago | (#9626569)

that would be reletively easy to set up a linux system like that, i'd think the hardest thing would be to (or pain in the ass) would be to configure a dos boot disk to execute the loadlin.exe at startup in autoexec.bat. does anyone know of any bios that lets you boot off a usb storage device?

Re:good point (4, Informative)

josepha48 (13953) | more than 10 years ago | (#9626616)

I'd actually do a Linux boot disk, there are several Linux 1 floppy distros around, and even howto's on the subject, at tldp.org.

In most cases it is easier to do if you already have a linux box to work with.

A really good place to start with would be http://www.8ung.at/spblinux/

Apparently this guy is using XDirectFB and a couple of floppies and you can have a full X running to surf the web. He has a USB versino somewhere on the site. In fact check out his usbboot setup.

Re:good point (1)

BACbKA (534028) | more than 10 years ago | (#9626663)

All modern BIOSes do. Some vendors allow you BIOS firmware upgrades to modern versions, which would help you to boot directly off the USB drive.

Why Bother? (1, Insightful)

Virtucon (127420) | more than 10 years ago | (#9626570)

266MHZ? The time it would take you to get it
on the USB, dowload the software, configure it it would be a waste of time and money.

Figure labor as your biggest cost. Nobody's time is free. You can get a decent Laptop for less money. Put the laptop on the driveway and drive over it.

I've had three laptops in the past four years, the last two I owned aren't even good enough for my kids anymore.

Re:Why Bother? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9626659)

266 MHz isn't good enough for word processing and a few kid's games? What do you do with your laptop exactly? Are you doing DNA alignments on whole genomes? Solving deep astrophysics problems? Modeling global climate change?

Sheesh, it must be nice to have such high standards.

'Nobody's time is free.' (-1, Troll)

oliverthered (187439) | more than 10 years ago | (#9626662)

Yeh, that right, your time isn't free. Instead of wasting you time with your stupid laptop, spend a few more hours sat infront of the T.V. being pumped full of exection properganda and getting fat on natchos like a good boy.

Re:'Nobody's time is free.' (1)

oliverthered (187439) | more than 10 years ago | (#9626779)

Somebody doesn't get sarcasum.... Now that's atroll.

Re:Why Bother? (4, Informative)

hdw (564237) | more than 10 years ago | (#9626682)

I've got some 233MHz laptops that works just like wonder.
One is dead silent, always on, network monitor (running tkined/scotty).
Another is my SMS/Voice gateway.
A third (which is actually a P90) is my wireless Mud client.

So don't say that slow old laptops are useless, just because you can't play the lastest games on 'em.
//hdw

Re:Why Bother? (5, Insightful)

BACbKA (534028) | more than 10 years ago | (#9626693)

Put the laptop on the driveway and drive over it.
This is a strange suggestion in a post that advocates cost-saving measures, isn't it? The same laptop can easily be used as a diskless machine booted off the home network, mounting all it needs off the NFS.

Re:Why Bother? (2, Insightful)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 10 years ago | (#9626696)

For something like longhorn or XP or a full linux distro, I would agree with you, but I do have a stripped Mandrake on a 266 with 128 MHz. I would not run an action game on it, but for simple DE, it is not bad.

To be honest, I would rather use it for none graphical applications (web server, dns, etc).

Re:Why Bother? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9626723)

The Thinkpad he mentions is a workhorse. I have one, with the HD working of course. I runs Linux well. Whatever time he invests is worth it. Now if it was an old Pentium I, or 486, I might agree with you. Linux runs well on PII's.

Win98 (4, Interesting)

mekkab (133181) | more than 10 years ago | (#9626736)

I've got win98 on a p166 (runs: VPN software, Office 2k, Exceed X station stuff, Photoshop) and win98 on a p233 super-slim laptop (same apps).

Everything runs fine and I'm not even using a stripped down linux (which I'm sure would smoke!).

Give me your old hardware.

Re:Why Bother? (2, Interesting)

kfg (145172) | more than 10 years ago | (#9626773)

Nobody's time is free.

You don't know me very well, do you?

You can get a decent Laptop for less money. Put the laptop on the driveway and drive over it.

Assuming you spend that time at some job being recompensed, yeah, I guess. If you spend it at home watching Farscape reruns. . .ummmmmmm, no.

I've had three laptops in the past four years, the last two I owned aren't even good enough for my kids anymore.

Ahhhhh, a dream cusotmer, step right this way sir, the web is waiting, and I don't mean the "World Wide."

My ten year old 486 laptop still does serious work, often booting off of a single floppy Linux distro, Mu Linux, which this gentleman could also use, install on his HD and rebuild a system from there, all while watching TV at no out of pocket expense.

Time may not be free, but a good deal of it goes unpaid anyway, unless you care to recompense me for taking out my own trash and watching Farscape?

KFG

Re:Why Bother? (4, Insightful)

Fizzl (209397) | more than 10 years ago | (#9626833)

I've been using a DOS boot disk and a program called Mel to do my word processing.

And you suggest trashing his adequate-for-the-purpose machine and buying a top-of-the-line power hog would be saving in some sense.

On the topic of what time costs. I consider my free time absolutely worthless. I waste it on drinking, reading slashdot or watching cartoons anyway. I would find a nice hardware hacking project much more better value for my time than my usual activities.

I made Linux 2.2 (with some basic software) run on 25mhz 486dx with 8 megs of memory just for the challenge of it. Learned hell of a lot of how Linux works in the process too. I say, to the original author: Go for it!
#linux on IRCNet is very helpfull if you show atleast moderate experience so they can actually instruct you without teaching how to use an editor first.

I wonder what this post cost me. Took many minutes to proof read it, and actually check the specs of the old beast in the closet.

quit being a cheap bastard (5, Insightful)

kmcmartin (248018) | more than 10 years ago | (#9626571)

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.

Re:quit being a cheap bastard (1)

Cecil (37810) | more than 10 years ago | (#9626670)

perhaps he already has a USB drive.

Besides, people like you who aren't interested in doing something geeky simply because it's possible really need not bother commenting on stories like this. It would make everyone's life a little more pleasant.

Re:quit being a cheap bastard (1)

Jeff DeMaagd (2015) | more than 10 years ago | (#9626699)

The USB on it is probably the 12mbps one too. That is dirt slow, to say nothing of the "thumb" drive speed.

IIRC, Compact Flash cards are pretty slow too. I suspect that for less than the price of a 1GB or 2GB CF card one can buy a replacement laptop drive cheaply on eBay.

Re:quit being a cheap bastard (1)

91degrees (207121) | more than 10 years ago | (#9626837)

The USB on it is probably the 12mbps one too. That is dirt slow, to say nothing of the "thumb" drive speed.

Depends what you want it for though. It could be fast enough if you don't have a lot o fstuff to load.

Re:quit being a cheap bastard (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9626747)

maybe he already has a thumbdrive lined up

Re:quit being a cheap bastard (3, Interesting)

Kjella (173770) | more than 10 years ago | (#9626795)

a) Maybe he has one
b) Maybe he'd like to use that Linux/USB combo elsewhere
c) Maybe he just likes to try a geeky project

I'd be kinda cool if you could have your system everywhere with a floppy and an USB key (much more typical than USB boot, at least).

Kjella

Re:quit being a cheap bastard (2, Insightful)

kmcmartin (248018) | more than 10 years ago | (#9626849)

funny. knoppix does just that, and doesn't rely on crappy floppy drives.

Boot Everywhere Linux? (2, Interesting)

ResidntGeek (772730) | more than 10 years ago | (#9626574)

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 (2, Informative)

l33t m4st3r (672779) | more than 10 years ago | (#9626576)

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.

Re:damn (1)

w1r3sp33d (593084) | more than 10 years ago | (#9626685)

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!

Why boot from floppy? (5, Insightful)

john.mull (790526) | more than 10 years ago | (#9626577)

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.

Re:Why boot from floppy? (4, Funny)

vinit79 (740464) | more than 10 years ago | (#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 ????

Re:Why boot from floppy? (3, Informative)

john.mull (790526) | more than 10 years ago | (#9626745)

IBM is pretty good about keeping their BIOS updates uptodate. It would definitely be worth a try.

Re:Why boot from floppy? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9626777)

it's old enough that it probably won't boot from the usb, plus a cf card will die quickly b/c of excess read/write cycles caused by swap.

Replace The Hard Drive (2, Insightful)

SiMac (409541) | more than 10 years ago | (#9626581)

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.

Use a bootable USB flash drive... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9626585)

They're cheap. Get lotsa ram.

That's all sweet and molly... (-1, Redundant)

chris_eineke (634570) | more than 10 years ago | (#9626591)

but does it run Gentoo GNU/Linux?

(I do!)

Puppy Linux allows you to boot off of a usb card (5, Informative)

jomas1 (696853) | more than 10 years ago | (#9626592)

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.

Sorry, I have no idea if you can... (1)

slasher999 (513533) | more than 10 years ago | (#9626593)

...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.

ebay. (1)

compwizrd (166184) | more than 10 years ago | (#9626594)

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.

Ignorant Stab...but a stab nonetheless... (2, Interesting)

Eberlin (570874) | more than 10 years ago | (#9626595)

Sounds like something those mandrakemove memory sticks are good for. But that's a knee-jerk reaction without any research whatsoever.

Re:Ignorant Stab...but a stab nonetheless... (1)

Eberlin (570874) | more than 10 years ago | (#9626718)

Ok, that WAS an incredibly ignorant stab. The mandrakemove version comes with a bootable CD -- the memory stick is there to save personal files with. Not exactly what you're looking for, I suppose.

There is a more practical solution (4, Informative)

exp(pi*sqrt(163)) (613870) | more than 10 years ago | (#9626598)

Solutions for pennies [ebay.com] .

Limited lifespan (5, Informative)

PCM2 (4486) | more than 10 years ago | (#9626599)

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.

Re:Limited lifespan (1)

BACbKA (534028) | more than 10 years ago | (#9626733)

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 (1)

gnu-sucks (561404) | more than 10 years ago | (#9626762)

He has 128 megs of physical ram. Given the likely low memory usage of this installation, operating without a swap partition should be fine.

Re:Limited lifespan (1)

jweage (472545) | more than 10 years ago | (#9626776)

According to this [linuxjournal.com] article, the lifespan is about 10,000 writes.

They also suggest using the noatime mount option for flash ram, which is a good suggestion.

Josh

Unless the IDE interface is broken (1)

AC-x (735297) | more than 10 years ago | (#9626604)

You may as well just buy a new hard disk, you can probably get a 2nd hand 2.5" drive in eBay for very little.

Of course, if your BIOS supports booting from a USB cd-rom you could use a linux boot disk

linux laptop without a hard drive (-1, Troll)

DragonTHC (208439) | more than 10 years ago | (#9626607)

you should buy a new laptop you cheapskate

Flash hard drive (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9626609)

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!

Just Buy A Hard Drive (2)

blackmonday (607916) | more than 10 years ago | (#9626619)

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.

For $130 you could get a new laptop (3)

Mustang Matt (133426) | more than 10 years ago | (#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 (2, Informative)

Apreche (239272) | more than 10 years ago | (#9626628)

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 (2, Insightful)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 10 years ago | (#9626832)

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 (3, Informative)

Open_Matrix42 (611721) | more than 10 years ago | (#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]

Re:What about ZipSlack (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9626678)

What the fuck does a FAT linux system have to do with anything? God damn, you're an idiot.

One option (1)

eeg3 (785382) | more than 10 years ago | (#9626632)

One option would be to continue using a floppy disk to boot your linux system. Rolling a floppy distro isn't too hard, plenty of tutorials on google. However, apart from how a normal floppy would do it, add the memory stick to the fstab and mount it as /usr or /home, etc.

I'm sure there are better ways to do it, but that idea popped up to me.

All you need... (5, Interesting)

gnu-sucks (561404) | more than 10 years ago | (#9626642)

...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.

I use a CF adapter in my notebook. (5, Informative)

Cybersonic (7113) | more than 10 years ago | (#9626647)

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... :)

Cost is about $55 for this... (2)

Cybersonic (7113) | more than 10 years ago | (#9626789)

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... Of course, this is expected with a system with so little resources.

it's possible (5, Informative)

Da_Slayer (37022) | more than 10 years ago | (#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

Have a CD drive? Way to much for a lappy drive. (1)

Unholy_Kingfish (614606) | more than 10 years ago | (#9626669)

Why nor use a Linux boot CD like Knoppix [knopper.net] or SuSe [suse.com] ? If you don't have a CD-ROM, a hard drive isn't that expensive. [newegg.com] I understand the power savings part, but you might only be able to do so much with a non bootable USB port.

Look at the different Linux Thin Clients (3, Informative)

woobieman29 (593880) | more than 10 years ago | (#9626674)

Google is your friend. Check out The Linux Bootable USB Key HOWTO [berlios.de] . Particularly the piece about the Flonix Knoppix variant.

Just think... (1, Funny)

kraksmokr (216277) | more than 10 years ago | (#9626676)

Can you imagine a Beowulf cluster of these things?

She's dead jim (1)

chrispl (189217) | more than 10 years ago | (#9626679)

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 cheap notebook or palmtop. An old HP jornada off ebay can be formatted to run linux off a 256mb CF card. Maybe that would be something to replace it with on the cheap?

Re:She's dead jim (1)

gl4ss (559668) | more than 10 years ago | (#9626768)

or.. just replace the now dead hd with something, be it some ata flash thingy or a new hd.

No. Use PCMCIA. (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9626681)

USB is the most retarded solution possible. Especially in a 266Mhz laptop, where the USB will be 1.1 and absolutely dismal to load an OS off of.

Instead, use the fucking PCMCIA slot for it's intended purpose. Find a flash PC card or CF adaptor and go to town. It'll be infinitely faster, and you won't have a stupid USB drive hanging off the side of your computer, Linux desperately sucking at it like trying to breathe through a Hi-C straw.

look harder? (3, Informative)

Loie (603717) | more than 10 years ago | (#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 (3, Informative)

whowho (706277) | more than 10 years ago | (#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.

Power Consumption (1)

Senator_B (605588) | more than 10 years ago | (#9626691)

If you choose to just use a USB stick in place of your hard disk, you will also increase your battery life significantly due to the fact that you don't have to spin up a hard disk.

I'd use the quick and easy option. (0, Troll)

kiwioddBall (646813) | more than 10 years ago | (#9626705)

I'd buy a new hard disk.

I do this... occasionally (3, Informative)

kunudo (773239) | more than 10 years ago | (#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.

Answer: maybe (1)

Erwos (553607) | more than 10 years ago | (#9626715)

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 parameters, I think.

That said, everyone else is right, and you should just spring for a new hard drive or laptop. Memory sticks are slow, and they're not designed for the kind of heavy usage your primary drive is.

-Erwos

Re:Answer: maybe (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9626796)

That said, I think you need to stop saying "that said", you cock sucking fag ass with no life.

RUNT! (2, Informative)

Kyosuke77 (783293) | more than 10 years ago | (#9626719)

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 (basically anything ZipSlack has). If you want to customize, you can just trade off some of the packages in RUNT for the ones you want, or you can get ZipSlack and go from scratch. Using RUNT would be easier, though, since it's already properly configured for using the USB key.

Knoppix from USB--been done (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9626758)

It should be simple enough. Here's a FAQ on it even: link [knoppix.net]

informative Cockcock (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9626753)

cultur3 0f abuse [goat.cx]

Regarding running Linux off Memory Cards (4, Informative)

eyefish (324893) | more than 10 years ago | (#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.

The real reason to not want the hard drive (4, Informative)

btempleton (149110) | more than 10 years ago | (#9626798)

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.

Knoppix + Boot Floppy (5, Insightful)

nuxx (10153) | more than 10 years ago | (#9626802)

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.

A delimma faced many times (3, Informative)

psyburn (790106) | more than 10 years ago | (#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.

USB 1.1... (1)

B4RSK (626870) | more than 10 years ago | (#9626829)

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.
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