I’ve been playing with the Compaq LTE 5400 for the last 24 hours, and it’s a really brilliant device. I’m still fuzzy on a lot of hardware aspects, but I’ll be working on ironing those out.
Specifications: 150Mhz Processor, 80mb RAM, 2.2GB Toshiba IDE Hard Drive, 12.1” SVGA display, Floppy Drive.
I’ve got an old 16-bit PCMCIA ethernet card or two, currently using a 3Com 589 series card, I believe the driver is 3c589_cs. I’ll also be using a Netgear MA401 for wireless later on in the project, after I have consistent wired connectivity. Currently, there seems to be an issue with a 16-bit PCMCIA slot and the cardmgr services for Debian. Still, once cardmgr is started, networking works very well, and a quick round of browsing on links2 demonstrated that text internet is very nice on the machine.
I’m using Debian Etch, and installing the system properly was tricky. I had to use etch because I could not find appropriate floppy images for Lenny, although if they were made available I would seriously consider a format and reinstall. The installation consisted of using four floppy disks: Boot, Root, Network Drivers 1 & 2.
Between those four disks, I had enough to properly set up a network based install of the core system. I was unsure about package selection at first, but so far I’ve only had success with the laptop and core package sets. Those left me with about 1.2GB of free space, and got most things working well.
I’ve installed ALSA, but I don’t think there is actually any sound card. I definitely heard sounds from Windows98SE, but I think they might be using the PC speaker or something. I’ll investigate after I get the core system more stable.
The biggest issue was getting PCMCIA services started and network connectivity *after* the install. For some reason the PCMCIA suite in Etch is terrible, and doesn’t play nicely with 16-bit cards. I’m sure that there is a more elegant workaround for this, but at the moment, I have to manually start the cardmgr daemon to establish a connection with PCMCIA devices and get the network working. Everything else I tried didn’t work, but just starting cardmgr once the drivers had been appropriately loaded into /etc/modules resulted in the card activating and connecting to the wired network. I haven’t tried hot plugging a new card yet, that will be an experiment for a later date.
Xorg worked far far better than I had anticipated. The text seems to be limited to a smaller rectangle in the center of the display when in CLI mode, as it did when DOS was loading for Win98SE. Completely removing my Xorg.conf file from /etc/X11/ resulted in this being fixed on startx, so I now have a beautiful Fullscreen X server. JWM actually worked terribly, but I had much more success with DWM and Openbox. I’m not sure at all which window manager I’ll stick with in the end, but it’s clear that the system can handle a graphical load, slowly, but not so much that it’s annoying. It’s just powerful enough to surf comfortably with Dillo. I’ll be terribly interested to see uzbl running on this machine, although flash will never be happening ever. Still, it was nice to be able to surf around, find some wallpaper, grab it with wget, and set it with hsetroot in my .xinitrc.
Still, from a CLI environment, the system is fantastic. Apt works appropriately and things load as they should. I need to see about framebuffer settings so that the CLI uses the fullscreen a la X, but after that I think I’ll definitely have the cozy old school system that I was looking for when I picked up the computer.
In terms of battery rebuilds, there are several companies offering replacement batteries for the LTE 5400 that are marked as “New”, ranging from $55 to $100, so I might pick one up when the system becomes more stable. I relish the thought of lugging this heavy thick laptop to a Kiva Han coffee shop and confusing all the macbook owners.
Notably: The input system on the laptop is fantastic! It uses an early trackpoint-esque device that is really a breeze to use after my extensive experience with the Thinkpad X61. Between that and the reasonably snappy X interface, the system really performs like a laptop should.
Still left to do: I’ve got to get networking solidly built, and set up tools for compiling so I can build programs not included in the etch repositories. I’ve also got to flash the firmware on the MA401 and hope that I can get WPA without bricking it. I think I’ll be bringing a bunch of different network cards home over the break. Finally, I’ve got to work on audio and see how I can get basic sound working, and turn off that damnable system beep.
My next post will have specifics on how I solve networking and sound issues, and general setup tips for getting a functional Debian desktop on a lovely old Compaq. I’ll also post some screenshots so you can see firsthand how good this thing looks, and see if I can get some configuration files posted as well.