I want to give a second life to my old computer. It has:

  • EP-8NPAJ motherboard
  • 320 Gb HDD
  • 2Gb of RAM
  • Connection to my LAN with Ethernet cable

It is fully functional, except - it has no video card. So, is it possible to install Linux or FreeBSD on this machine? I'm not new to Linux, so any Linux distribution is suitable.

  • I would suggest making the HDD an external USB drive intermediately (or putting it into another PC while unplugging its HDDs) and then install your distro there. Make sure to then set up your ssh-server and put it back into your old PC. Alternatively: if you know that the PC will boot from USB first, you can do the same procedure, but install the system on a flash drive first, then install it on the PC.
    – FelixJN
    Feb 22, 2016 at 14:23
  • 1
    There's an answer to that over here serverfault.com/questions/21255/headless-linux-install (the unix.stackexchange.com question above doesn't have an accepted answer and seems light on detail). Feb 22, 2016 at 14:23
  • 1
    wiki.debian.org/DebianInstaller/Remote. Try googling "installing debian over ssh". This was the first hit. Feb 22, 2016 at 14:37
  • 3
    Though if I was in your place, I'd just buy a video card. A basic video card is not very expensive, and will make the process much easier. Well worth it, unless your time is of no value. Feb 22, 2016 at 14:46

3 Answers 3


As far as I know, installing on a headless computer is something which can be done using a variety of tricks. The first of the following suggestions uses accessibility features to compensate for the lack of screen. The second one is the easy way to pretend you know the exact sequence of keys to press. The third and fourth are one of many possibilities for installing over a remote connection.

  • Debian has accessibility features directly in the installer, and it beeps when the installer is ready. After that beep, you simply have to press s and Enter to get speech synthesis, which you can use if your old machine has an audio jack. See https://wiki.debian.org/accessibility#Debian_installer_accessibility for more details.

  • Install in a virtual machine at the same time as on your old machine, and be sure to press the exact same keys.

  • Install via SSH, as noted by @FaheemMitha in the comments. If you're willing to try out something new, NixOs is pretty easy to install over SSH from an existing system. It then is just a matter of booting off a Live USB where you have already configured ssh (add your public key to the ~/.ssh/authorized_keys, with chmod 700 for the folder and 600 for the file), and log in from another computer. Don't forget to set up SSH in the freshly installed system, before rebooting :) .

  • If you have a (couple of) USB to serial dongles, you can always try to pretend you found a time machine, and run the installer over serial (Debian supports that, I think, as well as a lot of other distributions).

Finally, you can install the operating system on another computer, as Fiximan suggested. An easy way to do this without removing the hard disk drive is to install in a virtual machine (QEMU comes to mind) using a raw disk image, and then simply dd that disk image onto the harddisk (which can easily be done by blindly typing the command on the headless computer from a live USB: press Ctrl+Alt+F1, log-in (check the username and password beforehand), and type zcat /path/to/img.gz | dd of=/dev/sda. And hope that /dev/sda hasn't been mapped to your harddisk and not to the USB key :) .

  • A good overview of the options. Feb 22, 2016 at 16:18

Why nobody mentioned Kickstart?

You can allow an installation to run unattended by using Kickstart. A Kickstart file specifies settings for an installation. Once the installation system boots, it can read a Kickstart file and carry out the installation process without any further input from a user.



Another option would be to use a USB display adapter. In the future, it might be possible to use a raspberrypi for this. For now, any supported DisplayLink adapter should do the trick. This is effectively a very low-cost USB graphics card.

The main issue with most of these options is that they rely on your computer booting on the removable media by default, which it might not. So you need to configure the BIOS, and usually need some video output for this. Some BIOSes will outright refuse booting, or pause the boot sequence if they can't find a video adapter.

Here, the BIOS won't recognize a USB adapter as a display either. Some can be configured with a serial port, but I am not sure how generalized this feature is.

Usually if a BIOS doesn't complain about booting headless, and it refuses to boot on external media, the safest option is to perform the installation to the harddisk using a separate machine, making sure that the ramdisk is the fallback image (as it contains more drivers and can thus accommodate for different hardware), and putting the disk back.

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