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I happened to have a old PC setup as follows:

  • Intel CPU Prescott LGA775
  • A Gigabyte mainboard with PCI-E port, but no graphics card
  • 3 GB DDR2 RAM
  • 20-pin ATX power supply
  • A SATA HDD, blank.
  • No monitor.

Since I don't have a graphics card for this system (and its power supply is only a 20-pin ATX which probably cannot power up a PCI-E card), I wonder if there is a way to make this system boot and then install an OS on it.

Currently I can turn on the system, and hear a long beep and 2 short beeps. According to Gigabyte's beep code, this means graphics card error. This makes sense since no graphics card is installed on the system. I guess it still can proceed.

Suppose that I have an Ethernet cable and an existing Windows laptop. Will network boot work in this case? If yes, any hints on how to set it up?

  • Beeps are a halt codes, it will not continue. – Moab May 1 '16 at 15:56
  • This is not true. I test it by installing Linux Mint with Grub 2 to a thumb drive, and configure Grub to make a beep when it is loaded. See here: help.ubuntu.com/community/Grub2/Setup When the system starts, after the long beep and 2 short beeps, I heard another beep made by Grub. This proves that the system actually works and does not halt. I just don't have a graphics card and a display to see what actually happens after Grub loads. – songuke May 8 '16 at 3:12
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I wonder if there is anyway I can make this system boot.

Easy. Turn on power. Done. The system should start, run its firmware (probably BIOS given the age of the system) and try to load the bootloader from whichever target is configured in the BIOS.

Now, without graphics this is where it get tricky. Most BIOS implementations on consumer motherboards need an attached monitor to help you configure them. So you probably want some graphics card just to set which device to boot as well to check what it will do on an 'error'. Some firmware consider missing keyboards or missing graphics out an error and have an option to either halt with an error message on the screen, or to continue regardless.

If this is the case with your setup thaen it gets interesting.

If not, simply put in a harddisk and a USB pendrive or a CDROM and try to install. If you have the another computer you could use that to look up which keys to press at which time. (VMs come in really handy here).

Alternatively, you can install an OS on a different computer and then just move the harddisk to the old PC. If your install BSD or Linux or similar, that should just work. If you want to install windows you might want to read up on the many posts here on SuperUser which mention sysprep.

Suppose that I have an Ethernet cable and an existing Windows laptop. Will network boot work in this case?

It can. PXE booting is quite common and in theory nothing stop you from installing a PXE server on the laptop and trying to boot off that. In practice this might be a bit harder than just using a CD because you also need to configure a second system to serve the bootimage. And PXE booting might need to be enabled in the old computers BIOS. Technically though nothing is stopping you from doing that.

Still, the easiest way is to just install the OS on the SATA drive from a system with working graphics. E.g. connect it to your laptops eSATA port (assuming it has one) and do a windows install. Or a Linux install, or ...

  • Thanks Hennes. As you said, perhaps some Linux live iso with default SSH server is a good way to boot up the system. – songuke May 1 '16 at 10:17
  • Should you install Linux then you can use a serial port as console. As long as you have a second host with a serial port (or a cheap USB to serial adaptor on the laptop) then you can actually see during installation. – Hennes May 1 '16 at 13:04

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