I have an old laptop (Pentium II) that cannot boot from USB, CD, floppy, or network PXE - basically the only boot option is the internal HDD.

I currently have Ubuntu 6.06 installed, and have a network connection.

Is there any way of installing a new linux distro on the laptop? There is only 5GB of 20GB used on the drive, so I have space to repartition, dual boot, then delete the existing Ubuntu partition if possible.

Obviously the latest Ubuntu or a similar heavyweight desktop distro is out of the question, but I was thinking of trying out Slackware - unless there are any other suggestions for the best distro to use for this?

  • 3
    @Reviewers: This question has hit the review queue (primarily opinion-based), maybe due to "suggestions for the best distro" but the main question "Is there any way of installing a new linux distro on the laptop?" is obviously not opinion-related so no reason to close this. – Hauke Laging Mar 30 '18 at 15:47
  • Another way would be to take out the internal HDD, connect it to a more modern PC, and then use this PC to install a distro. – dirkt Mar 30 '18 at 16:31
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    Possible duplicate of Install Linux from Linux – GAD3R Mar 30 '18 at 16:56

As a lightweight modern distribution I'll suggest to try lUbuntu.

It's possible to install a new operating system from a single hard disk. Please backup everything fist and proceed at your own risk. In the following method you've to remove the hard disk once from current PC and have to attach it to another PC.

Say you've only one partition /dev/sda1 mounted in /. Now the primary problem is shrinking the / partition as Ubuntu 6 will not allow online shrinking of / partition. Remove the hard disk and attach it to another Linux PC. Use Gparted to shrink the existing / partition as much as possible. Create two new partition. Keep ~800Mb and use the remaining space for 2nd partition and create a 800 Mb 3rd partition. Say you've now /dev/sda2 of ~13Gb and /dev/sda3 of ~800Mb.

Now download lUbuntu or any other lightweight OS. Use dd to burn it in /dev/sda3 as follows

dd if=path_to_image of=/dev/sda3

Select an OS with smaller than 800Mb or increase /dev/sda3 accordingly.

Now, the hard disk has a bootloader and active operating system at /dev/sda1, a free space of ~13Gb s /dev/sda2 and an OS installer at /dev/sda3.

Press c at grub menu to enter in grub command line. Write something as follows and boot the installer.

set root=(hd0,msdos3)
chainloader= +1 or path_to_installation_media_grub

Use Tab to find proper paths.

If everything goes right lUbuntu installer will start. Use manual partition and install lUbuntu in /dev/sda2.

Once the new OS is working fine you can delete the old OS and installer partition.

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  • This is pretty much the route I've ended up going down. I took the drive out, shrunk the partition, and added 2 new partitions. I extracted the USB boot image from the Slackware DVD to one partition and was able to boot it from grub. I then mounted sda1, found the DVD image, mounted it, and proceeded with the installer. However, I've not been able to install, as the installer isn't writing files to the target partition. Hopefully I can get that working and I'll write up the full process. – colincameron Apr 4 '18 at 8:36

Since almost any Linux can create and write to partitions and live isos don't much care what device they reside on you can get this to work with enough finesse.

But there is a much more simple approach. If it has Ubuntu 6.06 installed then it also has GRUB installed (specifically grub 0.97-1ubuntu9) therefor you can boot off what ever you want if you know how to use the GRUB console.

Lets take a look at the manual:


Plug in a legacy boot USB with MBT partition table. Turn on computer. Press C when the grub menu appears.

> rootnoverify (hd0,0)
> makeactive
> chainloader +1
> boot

Adjust hd0 to be your usb drive.

Now you can boot live usbs or what ever you want.

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Any distribution will "work" - you just want to avoid a heavy desktop environment.

Once you have a distribution installed, consider using one of the small light window managers like blackbox, openbox, fluxbox, etc. Perhaps Enlightenment. Just avoid Gnome, KDE, Mate, Cinnamon, etc. ;)

So... installing from within another distro. Debian (and derivatives) should be able to by using a preseed file and chroot-ing, although you may be hampered by having an older kernel running on the host. And you'll need unpartitioned space to do it in.

You could install a distro on a flash drive or other portable media (external hard drive, etc) on a different machine, plug it in, and set up the bootloader to have it as an option. This could be an installer image for Debian or Ubuntu (netinstall) ....

You could even get crazy - uninstall the desktop GUI, install a lightweight one as mentioned previously (you'll need to point your apt sources to the historical Ubuntu archives I think), and apt-get dist-upgrade progressively through the LTS releases. It would probably even work.

If all else fails, pull the hard drive, put it on a drive->usb connector, install on another machine (just be sure to write the bootloader to the proper spot!) and put the drive back in.

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