I have a vintage 2001 laptop (Vaio R505) which is very hardware limited. Fortunately there is much that works, but I can't figure how to make it work better. The two biggest constraints are 256MB RAM and no floppy or CD and it cannot boot from a USB drive because the BIOS is ancient.

It does have enough disk for a shrunken WinXP partition, an Ubuntu Lucid partition, swap, and 60MB unallocated. Even stripped down Xubuntu installation with a custom built minimal kernel is a little too heavyweight for the small core and ultra-slow swap.

I'd like to install Damn Small Linux because it is designed for machines of this vintage and specs but I can't figure out how to get it loaded. To get Xubuntu on, I started WUBI in windows which is designed to then install Unbuntu. My bootloader is now GRUB2 and happily boots Linux or XP (which I keep around for no good reason).

I'm almost certain that putting the right materials on my free partition and telling GRUB about the DSL installation is possible, I just don't know what the right materials are.

As this is a pretty odd circumstance and I am capable of rolling a custom kernel, I'm mostly looking for pointers to information to demystify the boot process and what update-grub needs to see to add DSL to the boot-list.

  • 2
    I'm depressed that 2001 is vintage Commented Sep 18, 2010 at 20:52
  • I can't help wondering how you installed XP. Did it come bundled?
    – phunehehe
    Commented Sep 19, 2010 at 0:54
  • XP was bundled, and it had a floppy/cd-rom sub-unit originally that got left behind somewhere in my travels as it doubles the size and mass of the box.
    – msw
    Commented Sep 19, 2010 at 9:38

5 Answers 5


Since you already have grub installed the hard part is already done. To proceed:

  1. create a partition in your 60 MB unallocated space, create filesystem
  2. Boot into ubuntu
  3. loop-back mount the iso
  4. cp the contents to your new filesystem
  5. add a grub entry
  6. boot ...

1) For example via mkfs.ext3

3)4) see the frugal_liste.sh script available at the dsl mirrors - something along these lines:

mount /mnt/$SOURCE/current.iso /mnt/iso -t iso9660 -o loop=/dev/loop0
cp -r /mnt/iso/KNOPPIX /mnt/$TARGET
cp -r /mnt/iso/boot /mnt/$TARGET

5) Check out this howto

You have adapt these lines:

title           Damn Small Linux
root            (hd0,0)
kernel         /boot/isolinux/linux24 root=/dev/sda1 ro lang=us toram noeject frugal
initrd          /boot/isolinux/minirt24.gz

That means you have to adapt the root line, the root= parameter and the paths according to your setup.

  • perfect, exactly the level of detail I was in need of; many thanks
    – msw
    Commented Sep 20, 2010 at 6:36
  • @msw You should probably award the bounty if this answer helped, or he'll only end up getting half (and there's a badge in it for you as well) Commented Sep 24, 2010 at 7:51
  • thanks for the tip, I thought accepting awarded, but I was wrong.
    – msw
    Commented Sep 24, 2010 at 11:34

I would crack the case, remove the hard drive, purchase something like the "SABRENT USB-2535 USB 2.0 TO IDE CABLE FOR 2.5"/3.5"/ 5.25" DRIVE" (currently $15.29 from NewEgg) and do the setup all on a modern machine. Slip the drive back in when you are done. That way, you can also dump the drive contents you already have working and avoid ending up with a brick.

  • 2
    Indeed the pragmatic solution which I may wind up using after I brick the machine ;) All useful data has already been dumped, I'm wary of getting the case back together, and I'd also like to like to learn the fiddly boot steps if possible.
    – msw
    Commented Sep 7, 2010 at 5:36

You can install Linux under a chrooted environment (from your existing Ubuntu). I cannot find a DSL guide right now but this Gentoo guide may help.

Adding the new install to the boot menu is as easy as running update-grub (there is a script that tries to probe your hard drive and adds things as it finds). If that does not work, manually adding a new entry to Grub2 is just vim /etc/grub.d/40_custom and update-grub again (this Ubuntu guide came up first from googling).

Good luck!

  • I have successfully migrated to a new install with this method in the past. Commented Sep 19, 2010 at 19:31


Yes, the question was already answered, but I just learned of UNetbootin which given just about any running Linux or Windows system with a network connection the ability to load and install a dozen or so distributions.

This useful tool can be viewed as a more generalized WUBI, taking you from what you have running now to anything from Damn Small Linux to Ubuntu.

This turns out to be really helpful when your upgrade to a new system revision reveals a regression of an ancient graphics driver and downgrades are effectively impossible.


You say, you look more for pointer on how to get information than a concrete answer. Here is such a pointer: You face the same problem as people renting a dedicated server running a distribution they don't like. They also have access to the machine over network, and have to bootstrap an other distro. Searching for "dedicated server bootstrap linux" on Google gives me plenty of hits...

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