installing an OS to a computer with no CD or disk drive
February 6, 2005 10:15 AM   Subscribe

What's the best way to get an OS onto a machine with no CD or disk drive?

I bought a bunch of cheap-ass little terminals off a guy on the local php mailing list... and now I'm trying to get them to do something. I'm not sure what. Just booting into an OS would be nice...

I tried setting up a usb fob drive thingy as a bootable drive, and while my other machines can boot into damn small linux off it, these little terminals can't handle the rock.

Inside, they're capable of accepting laptop hard disk -- one of them actually has an old 6 gig drive in there and boots into some ancient version of windows. I have no idea what to do with that... I want to install linux on there.

I have a bunch of other computers I can use... but I'm not sure what do.
posted by ph00dz to Computers & Internet (9 answers total)
Chain the hard drive as a slave into an already-working machine and using Ghost or some other similar utility, mirror the primary onto the slave.

Alternatively, put the terminal's hard drive into a machine that has a working CD-ROM drive, boot from that CD-ROM and install whatever OS you choose onto the terminal's drive. Remove and reinstall in the terminal.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 10:24 AM on February 6, 2005

Can you get the drive out and install it in a real PC / laptop, then drop a bootable OS install package onto it?

Also, check the ports on those terminals. Lots of times they have some kind of ancient SCSI or something for hooking up an external drive.
posted by scarabic at 10:26 AM on February 6, 2005

will it boot off the 'net? i have an ibm x31 ("ultralight" laptop w/out cd or floppy) and installed linux by booting across the net. my notes are here (you want the tftp bit).
posted by andrew cooke at 10:26 AM on February 6, 2005

Can you take the drives out, pop them in another computer, load the image on them and put them back in?
posted by jacquilynne at 10:28 AM on February 6, 2005

That's kinda what I was thinking... that I would pop out the laptop drive, plug it into my laptop, and install from a CD that way. (I've gotta run to Fry's to pick up the proper tools to perform that experiment, though.)

Does anyone have any experience booting from a compact flash card or something similar?
posted by ph00dz at 10:39 AM on February 6, 2005

Depending on the Linux distribution, I wouldn't install on a completely different computer, then move the hard drive over. Who knows what kind of stuff would be autodetected during install, then disappear when you move it to the less capable machine. Something more flexible, like Debian, would probably do fine, though. What I'd do instead: If these things have IDE controllers, why not just use an extra CDROM drive set as slave and just have it sit on or hang out the computer while you're installing your OS of choice? If the IDE cables aren't long enough to do this, you can buy longer ones. When you're done, just unhook the drive and close the terminal back up.

To answer the compactflash question: If you put a CF card into a CF to IDE adapter it behaves exactly as a hard drive. So if it's bootable, your computer can boot from it just as it would boot from any other hard drive.
posted by zsazsa at 11:33 AM on February 6, 2005

I'm not sure you can just install an OS on the hard drive on another computer and then move the drive to your terminal. I know with Windows, the installation is hardware dependent (and I'm not referring to their hardware-keyed registration). Might be different for Linux though; I haven't tried it with that OS. I'd try to copy a (USB key or CD) bootable installation onto the hard drive and see if that works.

Also, could it be that the terminals use some weird hardware that isn't supported? Maybe that's why the USB key didn't work.
posted by EatenByAGrue at 11:35 AM on February 6, 2005

Ooo! Do they have serial ports?

I am probably off on this (check the dos manual!), but, get DOS (or 9X windows) on the drive and do this:

mode com2: 112500 8 N 1
copy com2 loadlin.exe
copy com2 vmlinuz
copy com2 somedisk.img
edit loadlin.ini
loadlin vmlinuz

From there, hopefully you should be able to set up enough networking (maybe with a USB network adapter) to get some linux action installed (over the network, of course).

As I said, it's been a LOOOOONG time since I did something like that.

Of course, you'll need to be sending the files on the other machine over a null modem cable. I recall this procedure from the PC DOS 6.1 manual, but that's buried under YEARS of junk and I won't recall at this moment EXACTLY the procedure, but that should be close.
posted by shepd at 11:57 AM on February 6, 2005

I got the OS to my tablet by using a usb external cd drive. works like a charm, if you have usb ports.
posted by nile_red at 7:44 PM on February 6, 2005

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