Okay, I needed a laptop for a presentation I was going to give overseas. I didn't want to bring an expensive laptop, for fear that it might be stolen, lost, or damaged during my trip. We have a number of Thinkpad 770's at work, but these are still very nice machines that I would rather not lose. But we also have a spare Thinkpad 765D (circa 1997) laptop that had been used by one of our account managers who is no longer with us.
Since I will only need this laptop to display slides, I was not too worried about lacking in power. The laptop had this configuration:
- 166MHz CPU
- 64MB memory
- 2.75GB hard disk
- CD-ROM drive
- TFT color display, at 1024x768
The battery in this Thinkpad is now dead, so it won't hold a charge. I think I may have a few spare 765D batteries, hiding in my office somewhere. I'll have to find them. Otherwise, I have to have the machine plugged into the wall in order to use it.
Also of note is that this laptop had been well-used in its past. The CD-ROM and floppy drive are supposed to be interchangeable, if you lift up the keyboard. It is not hot-swappable. However, its previous owner had lost the faceplate for the floppy drive, so now the floppy drive doesn't stay in the laptop very well. If you leave the floppy drive plugged in for any amount of time, it will pop out on its own. But we still have the faceplate firmly attached to the CD-ROM drive, and if you leave the CD-ROM drive in the laptop, everything is fine.
Effectively, this turns my Thinkpad 765D laptop into a system without a floppy drive. This also rules out the ability to boot from IBM's recovery floppy, and re-install the system from IBM's recovery CD-ROM. No, we don't have the external floppy drive, which sucks even more.
An office intern of ours had once re-installed the default Windows95 with Windows98, but something wasn't installed correctly and even Windows98 didn't run too well. Since I couldn't restore the system from IBM's recovery disks, I was stuck. And I still needed a laptop for the demo anyway, so I decided to put Linux on this one on the theory that I couldn't mess it up any worse than it already was.
The disk was completely erased, and we went with a very simple workstation partition scheme:
- 10MB /boot
- 64MB swap
- 300MB /home
- ~2.4GB /(root)
I had a boxed set of Red Hat Linux 7.0, which I installed on the system. Some notes for the install:
Since the Thinkpad 765D will not boot from the CD-ROM drive (there is no "CD-ROM" boot option in the BIOS setup), I copied the dosutils directory from the Red Hat Linux CD-ROM to the Windows98 desktop. You can use the autoboot.bat command from that directory (after you boot to DOS) to start the installer.
However, the installer will try to go into X Windows by default. This never worked for me (it was not probing my display correctly) so I had to edit the autoboot.bat file to add text to the end of the line. This is passed to the install process, and you are able to install the system using text mode.
The Red Hat installer identified everything else correctly, but I don't know if I have a Winmodem with this model of Thinkpad. Then again, I don't intend to use a modem, so I haven't had an opportunity to try it out.
The sound card was detected by the installer. Hooray! Now I can play music CD's while I work.
The video card was correctly probed by the installer, but X Windows wouldn't start. More on fixing this later.
We do not have any PCMCIA cards, so I can't judge how well this is supported under Red Hat Linux 7.0. However, others seem to have no problems with PCMCIA on the Thinkpad.
We do not have any IR devices, so I have no idea if IR support is working in Red Hat Linux 7.0 on the Thinkpad.
I don't have a network adapter installed on this laptop, so I was not able to test networking.
APM seems to work fine. I am able to do an apm --suspend to put the computer to sleep (close the laptop cover, then open it again to wake it up). And I can do apm --standby to put the laptop in "standby" mode (press any key to wake it up.) When I do an init 0 in Linux, it will turn off the machine, so that is working okay.
Red Hat's sound configuration tool correctly recognizes the chipset used by the A21e. We did not need to download the ALSA sound drivers. Support is already in the kernel.
This Thinkpad has a manual slider control, so I didn't have the volume problems that my wife and I had with her Thinkpad A21e.
The Red Hat Xconfigurator installer did not recognize something properly: either my video card or my TFT display. Actually, it correctly identified the Trident video board in the Thinkpad 765D, so I suspect the problem really was with probing the display correctly.
I thought I was sunk, until I found someone page on installing Linux on the 765L IBM Thinkpad Laptop. This really helped, as the author provided his XConfig file where he was able to get X Windows running on his display at 1024x768 resolution. Just what I needed!
However, I found that on my Thinkpad 765D, you should not use the line:
in the "Device" section. For whatever reason, this just didn't work for me. But everything else worked fine. Your mileage may vary.
Unfortunately, after a few minutes of use (I think, after the display warmed up) the display goes all wonky on me. I see lots of static, and it becomes difficult to read text on the screen. I don't blame X Windows for this .. the person who used this laptop before me (using Win95) reported the same problem, dubbing this laptop the "craptop". So I think this is just a hardware problem on this particular laptop and display.
I needed to display slides for my demonstration, so I installed Sun's StarOffice 5.2 on this laptop. It works great!
StarOffice is basically a workalike to Microsoft Office97. Version 5.2 provides a most excellent word processor that is compatible with Word97, a spreadsheet program, presentation software, and other office basics (such as email and a drawing program.)
One thing I recommend for anyone who intends to use StarOffice: do a "network" install. When you install the software, use ./setup /net to run the installer. This will put all the files you need in a central location. After that, your users will need to run setup on their own to install base sets of files (such as a dictionary, preferences, etc.) to their home directory.
This only adds about 1.5MB per user's home directory, so it is not much. And if you are managing multiple users (which I do not intend to do with this laptop, but you never know if someone else will use it after I do) there really is no better way to go!
Overall, I have been very happy with my experience in getting Red Hat Linux 7.0 to run on this IBM Thinkpad 765D. If the display actually worked for me (hardware problem) I think I would still be using this laptop for travel and demos.
However, if you are a Linux neophyte, or you just plain don't feel up to the challenge of configuring X Windows by hand, then don't get one of these. In fact, if you aren't willing to put a little work into it, you really shouldn't try to put Linux on a laptop, but then again, you wouldn't be reading this page if you weren't already thinking about Linux on a laptop!