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Journal RevMike's Journal: Followup - Linux for a 3.5 yr old 3

A while ago I asked for opinions about building a Linux laptop for my son. This is a follow up to that, some notes for my future reference.

After looking around, I decided to go with the Edubuntu, an education related distribution of Ubuntu. Ubuntu had just released their 6.10 "Edgy Eft" release. Ubunutu has a great reputation for usability as a desktop OS. The Edubuntu release has lots of the games and tools that I would like for my son pre-installed.

I downloaded and burned the Edubuntu install CD, and used it to perform an initial install on the laptop I had chosen for this project - an IBM ThinkPad 600E. Thinkpads are so durable, they make great computers for kids. The install went fairly smooth. My PCMCIA ethernet card was identified properly, the video configured itself reasonably, and the system was very functional. The software included Tux Paint, Potato Guy, and a host of other games and activities that should appeal to a youngster. My one complaint was that the sound did not configure itself properly.

Apparently configuring the sound on the Thinkpad 600E is well known as a tricky operation. I tried a bunch of remedies. I disabled fastboot in the bios. (The bios is entered by pressing F1 during the boot process.) I added the kernel parameters pnpbios=off and acpi=off to the grub configuration. Nothing seemed to work.

After futzing around for a while, I decided to start from scratch. I rebuilt the machine with fastboot disabled and the pnpbios=off and acpi=off parameters during the install process, hoping that this would allow the install to discover the sound settings. It still didn't work.

After further poking around, I discovered that IBM provides a config utility called PS2 which can be used to, among other things, view and alter the configuration of the sound card. The utility only runs under DOS. The hibernate function of the Thinkpad 600E also requires a FAT16 partition to host the hibernate file. I decided to build a small DOS utility partition to host the hibernate file and the PS2 utility.

My CD burner software - CDBurnerXP Pro 3 - contains a utility to make a bootable cd. The boot process actually loads a minimal DR-DOS environment and maps it as "A:", and the contents of the CD are available as "D:". Not being certain that the IBM PS2 facility would run under DR-DOS, I found a Win98 boot diskette image and made its contents available on the CD as well as the IBM utilities.

Once I booted with the CD, I used the Win98 fdisk utility to create a 500 MB bootable DOS partition at the start of the drive. Then I formated it and transfered the Win98 system files, the PS2 utility, and some other drivers needed to mount the CD rom, etc. I attempted to reboot, but couldn't because the MBR still had grub on it.

I rebooted with the CD, then used the DR-DOS fdisk to overwrite the MBR. I rebooted without the CD and everything came up fine. I attempted to make a hibernate file with the PS2 utility, but that failed. The Win98 tools had built for me a FAT12 partition. I needed a FAT16.

I rebooted with the DR-DOS disk, partitioned and formated with the DR-DOS FDISK and FORMAT utilities, then loaded the Win98 system files and copied everything else over there. I removed the CD, rebooted, and was able to use the PS2 utility to create the hibernate file and check the parameters for the audio subsystem.

Now, I rebooted with the Edubuntu install disk and reinstalled on the remaining 5.5 GB. The grub config did locate the DOS partiton and correctly made an entyr for it. Sound still did not work. A little searching led me to this page. That successfully fixed my sound issues.

The default kernel was an i386 build, backward compatible to lots of older processors. The other "flavor" available to me was the i686 flavor, which can be used with Pentium II or better. I used the Synaptic Package Manager to de-select the linux-386 package and select the linux-686 package.

Finally, some of the web sites my son might want to visit use flash. I found these directions, which worked pretty much perfectly.

Finally, I created a user account for my son, and moved some links to things he might want onto his desktop.

Still to do, I want to reduce the number of services running. No need to run bluetooth, for instance.

One last thing. Like lots of older laptops, the battery was shot. I was able to trade the battery for a replacement at They take aged battery packs and replace the LiIon cells. The control circuitry is usually fine, even though the cells have failed due to age. The refurbished battery for a Thinkpad 600 series is $35 with a trade in of a non-working battery.

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Followup - Linux for a 3.5 yr old

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