The English teacher had a couple of old machines kicking around. They were taking up space and she wanted them replaced with something kids could use for writing.
- last used 5 years ago
- 500 MB hard drive
- 8 MB RAM
Due to a collision with a power pole, I had a bit of time on my hands or these would go direct to the junk bin. I thought there might be some hope of installing software to make them terminals. Neither would boot, so I am not close to finding out what was on the drive. One was DOA. The other would get to the BIOS and warned that the CMOS backup battery was low. I opened it up and could see no battery. It turned out to be a 3.6 V 60 mA-H NiCd battery. I ran it a bit to see if the warning would go away. It did.
Found no OS on the hard drive. Now to find a bootable floppy.
Oops. A car collided with a power pole nearby. The repairmen cut the power in the middle of this, adding to the adventure. Fortunately no one was killed. A stout brace deflected the blow, saving driver and pole. School was shut down as a precaution against kids getting involved and the power was cut off in the evening …
Tomsrtbt should give me connectivity.
pogson@xeon:~$ tar xzf tomsrtbt-2.0.103.tar.gz pogson@xeon:~$ cd tomsrtbt-2.0.103 pogson@xeon:~/tomsrtbt-2.0.103$ ls buildit.s fdflush install.s settings.s tomsrtbt.raw clone.s fdformat license.html tomsrtbt.FAQ unpack.s pogson@xeon:~/tomsrtbt-2.0.103$ less tomsrtbt.FAQ pogson@xeon:~/tomsrtbt-2.0.103$ less install.s pogson@xeon:~/tomsrtbt-2.0.103$ su Password: xeon:/home/pogson/tomsrtbt-2.0.103# ./install.s Don't forget to READ the FAQ. Insert a blank writable 3.5" floppy diskette then strike ENTER. About to fdformat /dev/fd0u1722 Double-sided, 82 tracks, 21 sec/track. Total capacity 1722 kB. Formatting ... done Verifying ... Read: : I/O error Problem reading cylinder 0, expected 21504, read -1 FAILED fdformat error Enter to continue... xeon:/home/pogson/tomsrtbt-2.0.103# ./install.s Don't forget to READ the FAQ. Insert a blank writable 3.5" floppy diskette then strike ENTER. About to fdformat /dev/fd0u1722 Double-sided, 82 tracks, 21 sec/track. Total capacity 1722 kB. Formatting ... done Verifying ... done About to dd floppy image 3444+0 records in 3444+0 records out 1763328 bytes (1.8 MB) copied, 163.686 s, 10.8 kB/s About to verify floppy image Succeeded!
Well, it took two tries to find a floppy good enough, but the old box can now be connected using only the floppy drive and the NIC.
I mounted the hard drive and found Lose ’95. It lost.
dd if=/dev/zero of=/dev/hda bs=1024k fdisk /dev/hda mkswap /dev/hda1 mke2fs -j /dev/hda2
I then went to Rom-o-matic.net and downloaded a floppy image which would run almost any NIC (even these ISA things) and run a script to boot two files from my server:
#!gpxe kernel http://192.168.0.29/DSL/linux24 initrd=minirt24.gz rw root=hda2 vga=788 initrd http://192.168.0.29/DSL/initrd.bz2 boot
Unfortunately the NIC could not be seen. I added a NIC and it could not be seen. Going back to Tomsrtbt, I found it could see the hard drive and the CD but not the PCI bus nor the ISA bus. I tried DSL boot floppy but it could not see the CD. I then used Tomsrtbt to copy the contents of the DSL CD to /dev/hda2 and tried the DSL floppy again.
dsl install fromhd=/dev/hda2
Now it is grinding away with a blue screen showing an “X” in the centre which I can move around with the old serial mouse. We shall see whether DSL sees the NICs or whether this will be networked via floppy…
Eureka! DSL runs. So far I have the worst display I have ever seen and the hard drive is still chugging after 15 minutes. The resolution is so bad I cannot read the menu items easily. I clicked on “X setup” and a window opened eventually but nothing is visible. Finally, I killed X and configured it manually using xsetup.sh to 800×600 and 16 bits. startx then gave a very nice display.
Then, Dillo kept trying to be helpful but I had to kill it. There are instructions on how to suppress this nonsense but the slowness of the system makes it difficult to do anything. All this time the CPU was pegged at 80%. I suspect the system monitor function was using most of that. I edited .xinitrc in /home/dsl to prevent running the greeting thing.
While it is amazing that DSL fits, it runs too slowly to use the GUI and I cannot get the network interfaces to work, so I will junk these three boxes. Unless I can get 100 megabits/s and connect to the terminal server it will not be useful. I might save the NICs in case I ever see another ISA slot and screws and fans and such. After 15 years, it is time to scrap these boxes. 486DX2 used to be fun… About the only way to work around this problem would be to find a driver and compile it but I doubt it is worth the trouble.
This little adventure has been interesting. It reminds me how far the hardware has come. I will now be able to chuck this stuff with a clean conscience that nothing is wasted. Very few of the parts are reusable. It has also filled a down day with some hands-on work, one of my favourite things.
UPDATE: I finally got it to work. The problem floppy drive was replaced with a unit from another machine and so was the NIC. Apparently the NIC was faulty. The system now works as a terminal at 10 megabits/s and 800×600 quite nicely. I can type 40 words per minute and it keeps up. Redrawing a screen is painful, a couple of seconds, but that only has to be done when opening a window or scrolling around. For the few pages of essay that students write, it is usable. The last obstacle is the mouse. It is a serial mouse with a “wand” and a tiny ball at the tip. It just is not easy to use on a horizontal surface. Perhaps I can find parts for one of the serial mice missing balls. I will be able to use a better monitor with this gadget, too.
Was it worth the time? No. But I had fun, and that’s what’s important when you are any age at all. I am six (decades) old.
Specs: 486 PC from 1994, 16 MB RAM, RedHat 4.2 running X -query terminalserver to give adequate service in 2010. It certainly is no worse than Lose ’95 and much more secure.