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  Linux Letter 16

The Linux Letter for December 6, 1999

Hello again! Yes, it's been a long hiatus for the 'Letter, but the wait has been worth it. In the midst of testing new hardware and software, working through bugs and still managing to attend a class or two, it's been a three ring circus here!

Here's the latest scoop on what's happening in my little chaotic corner of the world!

The nameserver for several domains that The NOSPIN Group controls, ns1.fluidlight.com, has a new RAID 1 controller keeping critical data mirrored to another drive. The controller, provided by Arco Computer Products, is part of a long term test to compare the efficiency of IDE and SCSI RAID arrays under Linux.

Another long term test that's just about to get underway is with Abit's BP6 motherboard. This board supports dual Celeron CPUs and, with its two controllers, up to eight IDE devices. We're already using one for ns1.fluidlight.com, and the new board that just arrived will provide us with a long-term test platform to experiment with overclocking and system reliability.

The mail server, mail.nospin.org, which many of you use for your email is now a little bit more reliable with a replacement motherboard, CPU and memory. The system now has a Tekram P6-ProA5 motherboard and PII-300 processor, replacing the failing Intel motherboard and Celeron 333. Also, it's been beefed up with more hard drive space and a tape backup system.

That's enough news. Let's get to this week's business!

Several people have written to me asking a pretty common question. They've got old PCs that have small hard drives, not too much memory and Windows 3.1. They want to know how to convert the system to Linux. These systems, usually with 486 or slow Pentium processors are all over the place now. They don't have enough "oomph" for Windows 95 or 98 and the components usually aren't worth scavenging, but it seems a shame to just throw them away.

Fortunately, these systems are great candidates for Linux. And installing Linux is easy! First, of course, you need to get a copy of Linux. You can usually find them at your local computer store, in one of those really thick books on Linux (such as Que's Using Linux: Special Edition), by downloading it from one of the popular sites on the Internet, such as cdrom.com, or by mail (like The NOSPIN Group's RedHat Linux 6.1 PowerKit…yes, a shameless plug).

Once you've got your copy, you'll need to make a boot disk. Although most of the Linux distributions will boot from a CD-ROM, you'll probably find that an older computer won't support this function. Different distributions have different methods of making boot disks. Usually there is a text file on the CD that describes exactly what to do.

The biggest problem that you'll face is deciding what to install. If you're limited by a hard drive that's well under a gigabyte in size, you aren't going to be able to install everything. Fortunately, most new Linux distributions have several "default" configurations to choose from. For instance, with RedHat 6.1, there is at least one workstation configuration that will install just those files to support a system with limited resources. You'll find things like the kernel sources, development libraries and complex graphic support won't be installed, and that's all right, because you aren't going to be doing that kind of work on an old computer.

A few hints will help you to a trouble-free installation. Before you do anything, make sure that you know exactly what is in your computer. Write down the model of video card and the amount of memory that it has. Note what kind of hard drive controller you're using. If it's a SCSI controller, be sure that you know exactly what kind it is. If the system has a network card installed, write down the name. Know what kind of monitor you have, and, if possible, what the maximum resolution and refresh rates are. Make a note of where your mouse is connected. If it's a serial mouse, you may need to tell Linux what port it's using…and under Linux, the serial ports are numbered starting with zero, not one, so COM1 under DOS is actually TTYs0 under Linux. If you have a modem, know what serial port and IRQ it uses.

Linux is great at probing hardware and detecting what is installed in your system, but the probing functions seem to work better on newer hardware than on older, so a list prepared ahead of time will save you trouble in the long run.

The Linux HOWTOs are an invaluable resource to help you install and configure your system. You can find them in HTML format at The NOSPIN Group's public service web site, listed below.

Arco Computer Products: http://www.arcoide.com

Abit: http://www.abit.com.tw

Intel: http://www.intel.com

Tekram: http://www.tekram.com

Que: http://www.mcp.com/publishers/que

NSG PowerKit: http://www.nospin.com/linux/linux_promo.html

cdrom.com: ftp://ftp.cdrom.com

Linux HOWTOs: http://www.nospin.org/linux/HOWTO


Hot Tip of the Week

Networking is hot! Prices are dropping like crazy on network interface cards, hubs and other accessories that you can use to connect your computers together. But if you don't want to drop the money to buy all that stuff, there's a cheaper way to do it…and the software is already on your system!

What you need: a null modem cable and a serial port (one port for each computer), two computers running Linux.  Here's what you do: Connect the cable to both computers. Type this command on each computer:

/sbin/slattach -p cslip -s <speed> <serial port> & /sbin/ifconfig sl0 <your IP> pointopoint <other system's IP> up

It's a handful to type…watch your spelling. The speed parameter is any valid speed that your serial ports support…they should be the same on each computer. The serial port is the port that the cable is connected to…and remember, the serial port number scheme under Linux is different than Windows. COM1 is ttyS0 with Linux.

That's it, your systems are now networked. No, it's not as fast as Ethernet, but it'll get the job done on the cheap!

Thanks to Dimitris Economou and the gang at tuneup.linux.com!


Happy computing!

Drew Dunn


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The Power


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