I recently re-discovered a laptop left for dead a few years ago. Originally I couldn’t figure out the problem and it sat on my shelf for a few years. With my knee surgery leaving it painful to sit in a chair for very long I decided now would be a great time to get that old laptop working so I can use it while laying down.
After booting it up for the first time in years, the problem was apparent. The hard drive was on it’s way out, and also sounded strangely in need of an exorcism. Immediately when the drive began to spin up I heard a horrible combination of ripping, screeching along to a series of clicks and clacks not quite like anything I’ve heard before. Removing the drive to save my ears from the beast, I decided an Ubuntu LiveCD would be the best environment until I could get a new drive for the machine. I was using an extra USB key I have as a holding point for any storage I may need. At some point I rebooted the computer, forgetting to remove the USB key. Sure enough, the laptop gave me disk errors as it tried to boot off of USB. This set the wheels in my head in gear.
Knowing that I could boot off of USB, I needed to find some form of storage to use for such a purpose. The original USB key would be off limits, I didn’t feel 512mb would be enough for an ArchLinux install with Xorg and Fluxbox installed. Looking through my closet of parts, I came across an unopened 2GB MicroSD card. It was almost as if it was waiting for this moment. Coupled with a USB adapter, I booted into the Arch LiveCD and saw it picked up as /dev/sda. I was good to go!
Starting up the install process I went through like normal, setting the time and so on. Once I got to the disk setup stage I attempted to create only a 32MB /boot partition and the remaining space for /, root. I decided to go against swap space just because it seems highly unpractical for such a minimal system. Once I attempted to write the partitions, cfdisk error’ed out saying something along the lines of the drive didn’t exist. Doing a bit of Googling, I couldn’t turn out a definite answer, so I attempted to manually create the partitions in fdisk. I was successful in creating them via fdisk, and re-entered setup to finish things up.
This time cfdisk actually opened up with no problem, I’m going to assume the MicroSD may have had some sort of weird partition that caused cfdisk to choke until I formatted the drive myself. Having the disks set up, I selected my packages and let the install begin. The install finished in maybe twenty minutes, so I was about to begin configuring the system when out of nowhere the laptop died.
Oh that’s right, I had forgot to leave it plugged in and during my lengthy install the battery must have died. Luckily by this time I had worked out all the kinks and just did a quick re-install followed by the configuration and and initial boot-up. Following is the standard ArchLinux install process. Adding users, updating pacman, etc. I did spend a bit of trouble tracking down the right firmware version for the wireless card, a Broadcom of some sort using the b43 driver.
That all finished, I installed Xorg, the open-source ATI drivers, Flubox and Chromium. Not one hiccup has been felt since. After checking the disk space, it looks like the whole thing fits into 1.6GB of space. Not bad at all, I’m actually very impressed by the fact that I have my entire system contained on a MicroSD card. The access speed seems to be a little slow, and Chromium runs out of memory if I get too crazy on the tabs, but it works. Amazing what can be done with technology these days.