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Notes on installing Linux on a Gateway Nomad 425DXL

The Gateway Nomad 425DXL is a 1992 vintage laptop computer, and as such does not have sufficient resources to run recent Microsoft Windows software. The hardware is quite reliable, and thus it seemed reasonable to use it as a Linux system. Linux has the advantage of taking advantage of the full 32-bit capabilities of such a small system, without requiring large amounts of disk space or memory.

The Nomad to be converted had the following resources:

Intel 425DXL processor
8 MB memory
127 MB hard drive
Monochrome VGA LCD display
15-pin external monitor output
1.44 MB floppy disk
PS/2 mouse port
9-pin serial port
25-pin printer port

Note that there is neither a cdrom nor any network capability provided. Thus the Linux system would have to be installed from the floppy drive. After that, it is possible to transfer files into the Nomad over the serial port.

In discussing the task with the Linux Users of Northern Alabama (LUNA) list, it was suggested that the best solution for loading Linux from floppy disks would be the latest version of Slackware Linux. Slackware 7.1 was available, and was chosen for the job.

The following is needed:

Slackware 7.1 Linux disk 1
Red Hat 6.0 Linux install disk
23 1.44 MB floppy disks

The first real problem with installing Linux on the Nomad is that the 8 MB of memory is just barely enough to install current versions of Linux. It can be done, but not by following the instructions in the Slackware kit. Some preparation is required first, in order to maximize the available memory and to enable the virtual memory system to use a swap partition to run the Slackware setup program. That is what the Red Hat 6.0 software is for. (You could most certainly use another rescue disk pair to do this, but this is what I had in my possession when the need arose).

First, make a rescue disk pair using the Red Hat 6.0 cdrom and two floppy disks. In the install disk in the /boot directory are two images which must be written to two floppy disks. Write out boot.img and rescue.img using either rawrite (under dos) or dd (under Linux).

Next, make a bootdisk and rootdisk using the Slackware 7.1 cdrom and two floppy disks. Write the bareapm.i file from the /bootdsks.144 directory to the bootdisk floppy. Write the color.gz file from the /rootdsks directory to the rootdisk floppy. Use either rawrite (under dos) or dd (under Linux).

Next, write out the sixteen (!) floppy disks of the A series of files from the Slakware 7.1 cdrom. The contents of the 16 disks are found in /slakware/a1 through /slakware/a16 inclusive. Slak expects these disks to be dos formatted, and the easiest way to do the copying is probably to use the dos copy command, as suggested in the Slak documentation.

Next, write out to a floppy disk the /sbin/mk* files from a working linux system.

Insert the Red Hat boot disk in the Nomad floppy disk drive. Start the Nomad and use ctl-alt-esc to run the setup utility. Turn off the shadow rom option on the first page (Linux needs that ram for installation) hit escape and then F4 to save that configuration. Let the system reboot and shortly you will see the Red Hat installation start page. Type in "rescue" and hit return. After a while, the screen will say to insert the rescue disk and hit return. Do so. After a wait, you will be greeted with a single user mode prompt.

Run fdisk, and set up a swap partition as hda1 and a linux partition as hda2. 16 MB should be plenty for swap space. Make the linux partition active. Before you write the data to the disk, write down the block sizes of the partitions, as you will need them in the next step. Write out the partition data.

Mount the floppy with the /sbin/mk* files, and then run the following:

/mnt/floppy/mkswap -c /dev/hda1 abcdef (Where abcdef is the swap partition block size)

/mnt/floppy/mke2fs -c /dev/hda2 ghijkl (Where ghijkl is the linux partition block size)

Unmount the floppy.

Type exit to halt the Nomad.

Insert the Slackware bootdisk in the Nomad floppy disk drive. Hit ctl-alt-del to reboot from the floppy drive, and you should see LILO start, and after a bit the boot screen will come up. Hit return and wait... and wait... and wait for the system to tell you to insert the rootdisk. Do so, hit return, and wait some more. You will be greeted with an information screen and a login prompt. Before you can run setup, two things must happen. First you must tell the system that you have a monochrome screen. Next is to start the swap system so that you have enough memory to run setup. Login as root, and then do the following:

TERM=vt100

mkswap /dev/hda1

swapon /dev/hda1

setup

Setup will present you with a menu screen. Whatever you do, do NOT run addswap since it will corrupt the already running swap system, and the setup program will crash after an indeterminate time. Select target and it will lead you through the rest of the installation. When it comes to the source media screen, select install from floppy. When it comes to the package series selection screen, pick A (Base Linux system) only.

The rest of the install is just as shown in the Slackware installation instructions.

Once the installation is complete, restart the Nomad. Log in as root. Edit /etc/fstab to add the swap partition. The following added line should work:

/dev/hda1 swap swap defaults 0 0

then run the following:

swapon /dev/hda1

If you look at /proc/meminfo it should now show the swap memory as active. This one says:

MemTotal: 6488 kB

MemFree: 1692 kB

MemShared: 4228 kB

Buffers: 500 kB

Cached: 1604 kB

SwapTotal: 24628 kB

SwapFree: 24324 kB

That’s it. The Nomad should run Linux just fine set up this way.

Update
Diehl Martin passed away in October 2007. If you need to contact someone, please contact Monica Martin.
 
Last Change: 4 July 2006
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