I recently got hold of a laptop, a Toshiba Tecra 550CDT. It came with windows 95 preinstalled, which also meant that out of the 4 GB hard disk only 2 GB was partitioned. Furthermore, it sported 96 MB of RAM and a p266mmx processor. Visions of watching VCDs on the train flashed before my eyes. The time had come to install a real OS. At first I was naive enough to think I could get Linux running without using that hated medium, the floppy disk. Using the no-floppy approach I tried to install Debian 2.1, BeOS professional 5, FreeBSD 4.0 and Slackware 7.1. Only the Debian and BeOS disks booted correctly, and not one of them came past the first boot screen. In desperation I installed Mandrake 7.0-2, which installed correctly, autodetected the graphic card and the network card and ran X without any extra persuasion. Unfortunately, the dist in itself was very buggy, missing several important files which could not be added easily. It was time to find a new way of doing things.

Descent

This time around I read the Linux on Laptops FAQ pretty thoroughly. It claimed that Debian was the best distribution around for laptops. I decided to trust it, for now. The ancient floppy disk drive was brought forth and Debian 2.2r2 boot disks made. This time it installed like a charm, although the network adapter didn't autodetect, and the graphics needed to be set up in XF86Config(the program that won the Sjoerd award for requiring the most obscure hardware information ever). It still gives me that nostalgic 1994 feeling when I need to specify the monitor sync ranges, especially since most distros carefully hide such insanely impractical things from their users. Careful questioning of people on IRC revealed that they considered Mandrake and Red Hat to be the best at autodetecting hardware. With this in mind I pulled down Mandrake 7.2 and installed it(crashed 3-4 times until I used the PCMCIA boot disk despite installing from IDE CD-ROM and even when successful did not autodetect networking). It also incorrectly detected my s3 ViRGE/MX as a Trident card, but such mere trifles no longer hindered me. And suddenly, something unexpected happened.

Revelation

From a wholly unexpected direction I received a brand new 6,5 GB disk, which I threw into the laptop, reinstalled Mandrake on, and lo and behold, the networking worked! Well, of course it didn't work after reboots unless I pulled the card and pushed it in again, but at least it almost worked. Now the only thing left to conquer(except for the obligatory act of telling X that I most certainly didn't have a Trident card) was to get sound working. It was supposedly a breeze... but I made the mistake of reading the Linux sound howto(wholly irrelevant, sndconfig seems to have been around forever and Mandrake supports every sound card in existence as modules) and it was not until asking on IRC that I realized that the much needed sndconfig and awesfx were to be found on Mandrake cd 2 which I had saved considerable amounts of time by not downloading. Luckily they were available online.

Aftermath

After this epic struggle(actually it only took a day and a half or so), did I get anything out of it? Well... everything works now, theoretically, but VCD plays at ~10 fps, not exactly what I had hoped. A friend at school adamantly claims that the fact that Windows does better is due in no small part to DirectX, but I think it's got something to do with the fact that the people writing graphic card drivers for Windows are the same people who built them. If you should feel brave/stupid/foolhardy enough to give Linux a try on your laptop, then go right ahead. Installation is pretty much the worst part, actually using Linux is straightforward in comparison. But remember, kids, don't try this at home. Unless you really want to. No, I mean really. Go ahead then, if you must. It pays off.

Having just finished successfully installing Linux on a Toshiba Tecra 550CDT, using the almightly Slackware 8.1 distro, I have some information to share with any of you who want to get it going on such.

First of all, the floppy is not needed if you're using a Slackware install CD, or a bootable CD from another distro.

BIOS SETUP: To get into setup on a 550CDT, or most other Toshiba laptops, hold the ESC key while turning on or rebooting the system. You should be rewarded with a rather loud and obnoxious beep and a "Check system. Then press F1 Key." message. Pressing F1 will enter the setup utility. The first thing you want to do here is change the boot order so that your CDROM will be checked before the first hard disk drive.
Other things you may want to set:
1. CardBus/PCMCIA mode: I've found everything works ok with it set to "CardBus/16 bit". If you have trouble with pcmcia or cardbus cards, try setting Auto-selected. Note: If you're also running Windows on this system, changing this setting will make Windows want to reinstall the Cardbus controller drivers... so have your Winhoze disc handy.
2. LCD Display Stretch: Unless you like that little postage-stamp size screen mode, enable this!
Now, for the second page of setup... page down gets you to this.
I think the only thing that really needs to be set manually here is the sound parameters - defaults should be fine, but write them down! You'll need these values later. On mine, after it was used with Windows, all of the configuration options were set to "Not Used" so Windows could handle them via Plug 'N' Pray. Anyway... with all this set, you can get around to installing.

Insert the install CD, exit setup with the End key, and you should be booting up into your distro's installer.

Partitioning: The swap partiton should be 2.5 times the amount of RAM in the machine, generally. On mine, with 64 megs, this is 192 megs, give or take a bit. Note that placing the swap partition closer to the beginning of the drive will increase performance, due to the drive using zoned-bit recording.

Once you get everything installed and have rebooted into your new system, there will be a couple things missing. The first of these is the modem - I have yet to figure out just how to get this working, so I'm just using a USRobotics PC Card V.90 modem. The modem is rather odd in this machine; you can manually set it to a certain COM port in the BIOS setup, however, it is a winmodem and won't work without proper support.
The second thing you won't have just yet is sound; here's how to get that working. Edit /etc/rc.d/rc.modules and add these lines to the sound section:
(this example assumes an io address of 0x530, set in the BIOS; see /usr/src/linux/Documentation/sound/CS4232 for more info)
modprobe sound
insmod ad1848
insmod uart401
insmod cs4232 io=0x534 irq=5 dma=1 dma2=0
insmod opl3 io=0x388

Now, if you want to configure XFree86 (you probably do), run xf86config. The pointer stick is a standard PS/2 mouse... enable the ChordMiddle option, since there's no third button. Videocard is an S3 VIRGE/MX, with 4096K video RAM. The screen works for me as "Super VGA 1024x768 @ 56 hz". I have only the 1024x768 modes enabled, since that's the display's native resolution. I think that about covers the quirks of the X configuration.

After getting everything else set up, I went on to compile a custom kernel (the one Slackware installs by default is an i386 kernel, so it may not be as fast or small as possible). The CPU in the 550CDT is a Pentium-MMX class. I don't know if it benefits from MTRR support, but enabling APM and Toshiba Laptop Support definitely sound like good ideas.

While on the subject of power management... note that your keyboard has a little faucet key (Fn + F2). This cycles through the machine's power modes in this order: High, Low, User Define. You can set the specific parameters for User Define in the BIOS setup... I have mine set with the LCD panel on semi-bright, CPU sleep on, cooling mode performance, cpu speed low, and can get over 3 hours battery life this way.

If you have any questions about installing on a 550CDT, feel free to /msg me, and I'll either answer your question or forward it to my technical support department (staffed entirely by guppies).

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