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I have several old laptops that I'd like to get featherweight Linux distros (with GUI) onto. Here's the catch:

  1. No CD drive
  2. No ability in the BIOS to boot from USB
  3. No USB ports at all, actually
  4. No LAN port

If I pull the hard drive from the laptop, is there a way to install a distro onto the drive so that when put back in the machine it will either boot right into a functional OS, or proceed as if it's a live USB or CD? I have an ATA to USB adapter which might be useful. Tried unetbootin with that combination but that didn't work. In case you're wondering why I would bother, some people are turning old (Pentium 120, 16megs, 1 gig hard drive) laptops into digital picture frames, auxiliary displays, etc. Anyone deal with a similar problem?

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Didn't work how? –  Ignacio Vazquez-Abrams Nov 11 '10 at 7:59
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3 Answers

Yes, I think your best bet is to hook the harddrive up to another PC using that adapter. After that you can proceed with the installation as usual. If you're done all you have to do is place it back into the laptop, and everything should be fine.

The only thing I can think about is, that if you use a distro which uses an X-Server with static configuration (like Xorg with /etc/X11/xorg.conf) that you most likely will have to rebuild that one on the laptop afterwards.

Edit: Oh, and another catch will be the installed boot-loader...you need to install to the harddrive of course, and not to your local first hd.

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I did try pulling the drive and installing the OS, then returning it to the target machine, but the thing locked-up after POST. Do you know of a way to force re-detection of hardware? –  user55233 Nov 14 '10 at 19:54
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how are you going to get pictures onto it ??

pcmcia port ? -

otherwise, any distro installed to the disk directly should boot just fine when put back into the laptop.

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pcmcia with a WLAN-card would be an option, I guess. –  Bobby Nov 11 '10 at 14:56
    
One dude online was using remote desktop via WiFi to communicate with the converted laptop. That would be ideal, I think. An app that would allow dragging and dropping to the laptop picture frame would be wicked cool (turning the laptop into a proper auxiliary display.) –  user55233 Nov 14 '10 at 19:57
    
This is really a comment, not an answer. –  soandos Jul 17 '12 at 4:09
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  • Download the installation floppy images from the distribution of your choice. Of course, not every distribution provides those any more, and it never was any fun. Debian used to be able use the serial port for the main access to the apt archives, so you don't have to move every package by floppy.
  • Dismount the harddrive, plug it into a more modern machine and install to it from there. Details for doing this vary.
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I'm hoping to avoid the floppy route, especially since I need X. Wondering how to keep the kernel from freaking out after reinserting the hard drive into the target machine. –  user55233 Nov 14 '10 at 19:55
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