Help me install Ubuntu Linux 10.04 on an old laptop that's long in the tooth but generally functional. Some challenges within.
November 28, 2010 10:17 PM   Subscribe

Help me install Ubuntu Linux 10.04 on an old laptop that's long in the tooth but generally functional. Some challenges within.

I have an old IBM ThinkPad T30 laptop that I'm trying to extend the life of. The hard drive in it died, so I bought a new hard drive with the intention of installing Ubuntu on it. However, while I've done about a dozen basic Linux installs over the past 15 years or so, I seem to have met my match with this hardware.

Here are the challenges:
- machine will not boot from USB, although it seems to be able to read from the drive if booted via some other method
- machine will not boot from CDR, although it seems to be able to read from the drive if booted via some other method
- machine will boot from floppy drive

I've already spent plenty of time messing with the laptop's BIOS settings trying to get it to boot from USB or CD. I did try booting from a floppy (SBM) and then telling it to boot from USB or CD; that didn't work either. It just ain't happening via direct boot of the USB or CD install media.

This laptop has a drive bay that can either have a floppy drive or have a CD drive in it; I have both modules, I just can't have both in the machine at once. I also have (on loan) a USB-connected CD drive, so it's possible for me to boot from floppy then mount and read the CD.

I do have the Ubuntu Linux 10.04.1 ISO image on both a USB drive and a CDROM disc.

I happen to have an old set of Debian install discs (2.2 from 2000) and, for kicks, tried doing an install of that to the hard drive. It looked like it was working, but it hit a snag when one of the early discs was unreadable. Anyway, I got through the HDD partitioning step so I know the new HDD is just fine, not that I suspected any problems there. But I do have a bootable Debian 2.2 rescue disc if that's of some use here.

So, I think what I need is to A) boot with a single-floppy form of Linux, then B) mount the USB drive or CD disc, and then C) tell it to execute the installation using that mount.

By the way, I'm installing 10.04 because it's the LTS release, and this is basically a test run for a new desktop that I'll be setting up in a month or two.

I suppose I could post this on, but it's been a long time since I posted a question here on AskMeFi so I thought I'd mix it up a little :)
posted by intermod to Computers & Internet (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I'll check in later on Monday and answer any followup questions. Thanks in advance!
posted by intermod at 10:17 PM on November 28, 2010

If you have another computer handy, you could do a netboot install, if the laptop supports booting from the network. I can't comment further on that since I haven't installed Linux that way in five years, but Googling suggests this was possible at least with older versions of Ubuntu.

But it seems odd that you can't boot from the CD. I'm assuming you've checked the BIOS to make sure the CD-ROM is listed as a boot device??
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 10:26 PM on November 28, 2010

Make/find a DOS boot disk. Make sure it has the proper CD-ROM drivers for your laptop on it.

Copy the grub4dos executables onto the floppy.

Boot into DOS, and load GRUB (by typing 'grub' at the command prompt)

From the GRUB prompt, I think these commands should boot your CD for you:
cdrom --init
chainloader (cd0)
(more info here)
posted by schmod at 10:28 PM on November 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Have you checked ThinkWiki? I see there's a bunch of installation pages for the T30, you may find something useful there.
posted by Dr Dracator at 11:19 PM on November 28, 2010

You can netboot to an install of Debian, and then do the "upgrade" to Ubuntu from that. This info should give you Google terms :)
posted by swimming naked when the tide goes out at 11:22 PM on November 28, 2010

Put the HD in a different machine, install Ubuntu and then put the HD back into the Thinkpad.
posted by uandt at 3:40 AM on November 29, 2010

Best answer: Hmm. Normally you'd use SBM off floppy, and boot via CD that way - but you've tried that. I don't think SBM works with external CDROM drives, so that's probably why it doesn't work given your drive swapping setup. (It probably wouldn't work with a USB floppy drive and internal CD-ROM, given the lack of USB booting either)

You could try PLOP instead of SMB with the boot floppy approach; details here.

Option C, use a boot floppy with a cut down version of UBCD - you need to swap out the cdrom driver manually in order to read DVDs, but if you're using the standard Ubuntu CD install route, you can skip that step.

Option D, assuming you have another windows PC you can use as a TFTP server, you can do a netboot install. You will need network boot, i.e. PXE support on the T30 though.

Option E, temporarily install the drive in another laptop/PC as the sole drive, install ubuntu, and swap it into your laptop. Ubuntu is way more forgiving of hardware changes than windows, but you might need to fix grub, which is going to be problematic with no rescue cd method...

Option F, use the floppy drive to do an install of windows xp via boot floppy, then do a wubi install of ubuntu from within windows. Not ideal, as you still need XP on there to get to ubuntu.
posted by ArkhanJG at 5:42 AM on November 29, 2010

One last thought - have you tried updating the BIOS to the latest* version, 1IET71WW, to see if that fixes CD/USB boot?

* given it's from 2006, calling it the latest seems a little... odd
posted by ArkhanJG at 5:47 AM on November 29, 2010

It might be worth finding out whether the laptop can boot from a Windows 98SE setup CD-ROM. I know for sure that this CD boots via floppy emulation, and it may just be that your present BIOS understands that CD boot method but not the no-emulation boot sequence used by most modern discs. If that's the case, a BIOS update might well be the cure.
posted by flabdablet at 5:55 AM on November 29, 2010

Something else to consider: as a long time Ubuntu user and booster, I just can't get enthusiastic about 10.04. It strikes me as Linux for Marketroids, not Linux for Human Beings.

I'm currently using Debian Testing (currently aka Squeeze) with the XFCE desktop environment on a Dell laptop I bought new in 2001, and I've been liking it even more than I used to like Ubuntu Hardy. Scarcely any bloat, does just what I want

You can install it from the network after booting from floppies.

Having done an absolutely minimal (i.e. command-line only) Debian installation, you can make it into an XFCE desktop installation with

aptitude install xfce4 gdm

or if you prefer a more stripped-back graphical login prompt than gdm,

aptitude install xfce4 slim
posted by flabdablet at 6:54 AM on November 29, 2010

I managed to get Xubuntu installed on an old laptop last year. Consider yourself lucky, I didn't even have a floppy drive (and it refused to boot from a USB floppy). But I did get the install running using a network install (and a Windows-based bootloader, as the system had Win2K on it when I started). Network install might be your best option, so long as your machine has an ethernet card. No need for physical media! And definitely, if you're going for Ubuntu skip Gnome and throw the xfce desktop on instead. Much smoother on older systems.
posted by caution live frogs at 7:23 AM on November 29, 2010

PS - you want the alternate/text-based installer, not the full install image. HTH.
posted by caution live frogs at 7:24 AM on November 29, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for all the tips so far! I'll plow into this again later this week, maybe tonight.
posted by intermod at 12:49 PM on November 29, 2010

Response by poster: Followup:

I never could get the CD drive to boot, no matter what.

The SMB floppy wouldn't work, but PLOP did! I was able to use PLOP to boot from the USB drive's Ubuntu image, and was able to install Ubuntu on the hard drive. Now I have a useful laptop!
posted by intermod at 9:22 PM on January 9, 2011

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