Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Puppy Linux on a A20m Thinkpad

I purchased a refurbished R32 IBM Thinkpad the summer before my senior year of undergraduate studies at BYU. I do not recommend going that route. I put the laptop through the paces for the first month, and then a week after the warranty finished it started to die. I tried various things, but two months later it was completely unusable and I had a $1000 paperweight.

Fast forward a few years. I decided to get a cheap laptop for web, email, and text editing on the move. I purchased a used T23 IBM Thinkpad. It seemed to be the best deal I could find on craigslist at the time. That laptop ended up being a workhorse, lasting me the rest of my graduate degree. When my new job provided me a new laptop, I passed this old on on to my sister-in-law.

Unfortunately, no laptop lives forever. The T23 died a few weeks ago. My sister-in-law brought it over to see if I could fix it. After taking it apart and mucking with things for an evening, I made sure it would not ever work again (it's a free service I provide). I kept the machine and yanked the hard drive.

I borrowed my parent's A20m IBM Thinkpad. They had to dig it out of the back of a closet where it had wallowed for a number of years. I switched out the hard drives and used an old version of Knoppix to move the data onto a USB stick and then onto my computer (which is backed up online using Carbonite). Data saved, but sister-in-law still down a computer.

I asked my parents and, since they were obviously not using the A20m, they agreed to let my sister-in-law have it. That was great, except that the A20m has a 700 MHz processor with only 128 MB of RAM. A service-pack bloated version of XP wasn't going to cut it, so I turned to Linux. Puppy Linux.

Unfortunately, Puppy Linux did not work out of the box. The first big problem was that it did not recognize the hard drive. I could not find it to mount or anything. Luckily, some googling revealed a couple (1, 2) discussion threads that addressed the problem. The solution I used was to halt the initial boot up from the CD and then run puppy acpi=force at the boot prompt. I then had to install and permanently setup the boot to do that.

The next problem is that the machine's ethernet port did not have a card attached to it. I had pulled off a "permanent" cover when trying to save the data. Why put a port in there to just cover it up and make it useless? Exactly. I did have a couple of PCMCIA cards available. I could not get the one my sister-in-law had previously been using, a Linksys PCMCIA WPC11 ver 3.0, to work. I believe that had to do with a firmware update I had done previously to support WEP. Luckily, my parents had a SpeedStream SS1021 which worked fine with the Puppy wizards.

Now I am just playing around with the package managers and trying to get most of the useful packages installed. It has been kind of a pain, but it looks like it is only a couple more hours work. I haven't installed Linux in years, so it was kind of fun to muck around with it.


  1. Thank you for the article. I am trying to install Puppy on Thinkpad a20m too. Everything is great. easy frugal install and all. However, when connecting to Internet through the router D-Link WBR 2310, I can get online only for about 10 minutes. Then, DHCP cannot get the address. Any idea? I have spent a couple of week looking around for another Linux OS that will work on this laptop with 128mb RAM. Want to come back to Puppy. But...without Internet up and running, it won't do for me. Thank you!

  2. Sorry, but I can't help you. I installed it for my sister-in-law, but then it wouldn't connect to her wireless router. So I ended up just installing XP for her. It now takes 20 minutes to boot!

  3. #!(crunch bang)linux will run on a20m with no internet issues so far. main draw back is soundcard is unsupported by the newer linux kernels.