How do I install a new OS on a laptop with no bootable media besides the internal drive?
March 12, 2004 11:44 AM   Subscribe

I need to put a new OS (hopefully linux) on a laptop with XP and no bootable media other than the HD that's already in it.

I've got this old Toshiba portege3010 currently running XP. Installing XP was a
big mistake. It simply does not have the horsepower to do anything useful in XP. So, what I'd like to do is somehow get linux or win98 installed.

Here's the problem: the only place this computer looks at boot time is it's own internal HD. It used to have a floppy drive, but I lost that 2 years ago. And it can't boot off of a bootable CDROM because it needs drivers to see the CDROM (PCMCIA). What I originally tried was booting linux on it with loadlin, but loadlin doesn't appear to work under XP - and with XP I can't find any way to get to a REAL dos prompt. A prompt running in a window doesn't work.

I have one solution that I know will work but it is a major time sink and pain in the ass. I will outline it so that nobody else bothers: I take the HD out of the laptop and plug it into this miniHD to USB adapter that I have. Then I install win98 (gotta be OSR2 for USB support) onto another machine. THen I plug the USB-HD into the win98 machine. Drop to DOS. Sys the USB disk (so that it will boot to DOS) and copy the win98 install tree over to it. THen I put the hard drive back in the laptop and install win98 on the laptop from it's own HD.

'Course, now I'm wondering which will take longer - y'all coming up with an answer (most likely NO) or me just doing it the hard way.
posted by jaded to Computers & Internet (12 answers total)
i installed linux on a ibm x31 with only a hd. the details are here - to do it this way you need another linux box as a server and then boot off that (assuming the laptop will do a network boot).
posted by andrew cooke at 11:59 AM on March 12, 2004

Response by poster: Thanks andrew - I'll check again - but I don't believe this thing will do a network boot. Furthermore - I've just moved across the country, so I have no idea where my USB HD converter is.
posted by jaded at 12:07 PM on March 12, 2004

Can the laptop boot off of a USB floppy drive?
posted by cmonkey at 12:12 PM on March 12, 2004

If you have another computer and a network you could net boot Netbsd (or linux but I haven't done this). There's a HOWTO tthat will get you started. This is pretty painful to set up, especially if your other computer isn't running some linux or unix variant. The advantage of this approach is that you can run netbsd without touching your previous setup.

You could try out cooperative linux. I haven't actually tried it but I've read that it's pretty beta and you only get a linux that is running as a windows process. If your goal is to dump XP, then this doesn't get you all the way there.
posted by rdr at 12:14 PM on March 12, 2004

Response by poster: I doubt it, cmonkey. The floppy drive that it used to have is some wierd proprietary toshiba thing. I wish I could find that damned thing. It would solve all of my problems.

When I say that it will only boot off of it's own internal HD, I'm pretty sure that I mean it.

posted by jaded at 12:15 PM on March 12, 2004

Whoops. I've to start typing faster and reading other people's comments in preview....
posted by rdr at 12:16 PM on March 12, 2004

Response by poster: And the reason it can't do a network boot is because the network card isn't integrated it's a PCMCIA card - hence, the BIOS knows not what to do with it. That's the problem with these (older) super thin laptops - no room for anything.
posted by jaded at 12:21 PM on March 12, 2004

ah. ok. bummer. :o)
posted by andrew cooke at 12:28 PM on March 12, 2004

this seems to confirm your suspicions -

i'm surprised there's no way to do it, though (as that article says, it seems like it should be possible).
posted by andrew cooke at 12:47 PM on March 12, 2004

You need a real IDE 2.5" -> 3.5" connector, not a USB version. Then you will be able to sys the disk properly from another computer, and copy the windows 98 CD to the hard drive.

Then you can install from DOS, and you're golden. Apart from drivers. Good luck!
posted by shepd at 3:47 PM on March 12, 2004

I don't know much about winxp, but if it'll let you do scary things to the hard drive, maybe you can find some software netboot code that'll work with whatever pcmcia ethernet card you have, and write it to the MBR of your hard drive. Try googling for etherboot, nilo, maybe "software pxe".. I think there are even patches to grub to get it doing netboot-type things.

Me, i'd drop 5 bux for a laptop ide -> desktop ide adapter, and put the drive in a desktop.
posted by duckstab at 3:58 PM on March 12, 2004

Response by poster: thanks for the help folks. It looks like I'll need to get myself a laptop ide->desktop ide adapter as there doesn't appear to be a purely software based work around that winxp will put up with.

Lots of good ideas. Thanks.
posted by jaded at 5:07 PM on March 12, 2004

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