DSL on the 460CDT

After a long leave of absence, I picked up the old Toshiba 460CDT again, determined as ever to get a working GNU/Linux system working on it. Just so you know what I’m dealing with, here‘s a link to the full system specs.

This time I am happy to report some success, with DSL. DSL (the acronym stands for a somewhat unsavory title) is an old but solid little distro built loosely on Debian and Knoppix. After a hiatus of some years, it appears that the devs are back at work on it, and the latest DSL release (4.4.10) was made available in August 2012.

Because it is partly Debian based it has a lot of similarity with it in regards to how the system is laid out and configured (as opposed to, say Tiny Core). It installs and runs from a computer’s internal HDD, and the base system (on my machine) with no programs running uses a whopping 9 MB of RAM.

All in all, it’s truly a remarkably light and yet functional little system. It comes bundled with many useful applications such as a terminal, emelfm (file manager), and various GUI config tools. Even has a nice selection of games. 😉 I’m really enjoying using DSL, and am glad development has resumed on it.
I have tried countless distros on this machine, and I have thus far only had any luck with three:

  • Slitaz base install (no GUI)
  • Tiny Core
  • DSL

As the most recent attempt at a Slitaz base install failed, and as a Slitaz base install is somewhat useless, my only other option for this computer besides DSL was Tiny Core. Tiny Core is a more up-to-date distro that has (as I’ve noted elsewhere) a strong development team and a helpful and active forums. The trouble I have with TC, however is-

  • Poor/nonexistent PCMCIA support
  • Too much RAM usage

Of course the very nature of TC is that it loads itself into RAM at boot (thereby helping it run very fast on old machines) but with only 64 MB it was too much. The base system with wireless firmware modules used up 57 MB alone, leaving very little extra for any other programs.
But I gave it a try. By trimming down packages loaded at boot, trimming excess kernel modules, and configuring a swap partition, I had the base system down to about 22 MB.
This was satisfactory, but my next goal- get a working network connection going- failed. PCMCIA support seemed lacking, and I kept running into dead ends. Furthermore, my attempts to run some of TC’s SCM (self-contained programs) failed as some packages are too new (based on i686, not =<i586).

So I went back to DSL. I scavenged a replacement HDD for the machine, and boosted my internal storage from 2 GB to 30 GB. DSL is using up about 1 GB and still runs in less than 10 MB of RAM. By dint of a lot of research and some better PCMCIA support in DSL, I even managed to get my (donated by a fellow enthusiast) Linksys NP100 ethernet adapter card working, and the machine is now online and running great.

DSL was an easy installation. It requires pre-made partitions (the installer script wisely avoids any attempt to partition) but it installs quickly and smoothly. The default JWM desktop is very easy to use and very responsive, and I’m eager to try my hand at JWM configuration.

For the benefit of anyone else with a similar machine and/or network adapter, I will be documenting my full experiences getting the ethernet adapter to work in another post.

Oh, and finally, a screenshot. 🙂

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