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Linux Installation Report NEC PC-9821Lt2/3A Laptop

The NEC PC98 series seems to have been famous in Japan. For a machine history, model series (laptops and desktops) see the Neko Project II.

"Okay, I guess I ought to let you all know how my PC98 install went. The machine is a PC-9821Lt2/3A with 35 MB of memory and a 344 MB HD. Not impressive, but hey it works.

I got a working set of floppies from Debian (JP) .

There are two flavours, pe and ce, but they only differ as to the kind of network cards they support. As I didn't have a network card (apart from PCMCIA, but see below) either should work. I used the pc9800pe floppies to boot and did not use any boot parameters. Just pressed enter and off I went. Oh, by the way, these boot floppies are completely in Japanese.

I partitioned the hard disk to allow for a 35 MB swap partition and use the rest for /. Not much use splitting that further up with that little space. I put the swap partition at the beginning just in case the HD uses ZBR in which case that should give slightly better performance. Oh, by the way again, I did this from within the shell that the installer provides on the second virtual terminal. You can switch with GRPH-f2 (there is no ALT key).

Initialized swap and the Linux partition (dropped pre-2.2 support) and mounted it as /. Installed kernel and drivers from floppy. I tried configuration of the PCMCIA card, but that hung badly. Still have to look into it, but it meant installing the base system from floppy, ouch! Oh well, that wasn't the first time. Masochistic, me?

Skipped the configuration of device drivers, set a host name and was busy changing floppies for a while to install the base system. Then set the time zone, before I tried to install the boot loader on the HD. Too bad, that's not supported so you'll need to create a boot floppy. Rebooted from that, enabled MD5 and shadow passwords, set a root password, didn't zap PCMCIA, didn't use PPP, left the APT config for what it was (no sources 'cause I'm not connected), trudged through the dselect stuff and was done.

Note, after the reboot you'll see a bunch of messages from debconf; it complains about not being able to initialize the slang front-end and falls back on the dialog one. No big deal, just a bit annoying.

Booting from floppy is all nice and dandy, but being able to boot without is a lot nicer. Tried lilo first. Cobbled together a config that should work, installed it and reboot. No go, bummer! Oh well, now I have an excuse to get familiar with grub98. Read the docs, gave it a spin and ... no go. It has probloms finding things in the /boot directory. I tried the interactive interface and via tab-completion noticed that it thinks there is an extra character appended to the dir name. Saw the same for some other names.

Then I pulled down grub-0.5-pc9800-20011112.tar.gz from here (on another machine of course!) copied the stage1 and stage2 boot loaders via floppy to /boot/grub/ on the PC-98, made a simple menu.lst and installed that.

For reference, you can copy the bootloaders to floppy with

  $ dd if=bin/stage1 of=/dev/fd0
  $ dd if=bin/stage2 of=/dev/fd0 seek=1

from the top level grub source directory and you can peel them back off again with

  $ dd if=/dev/fd0 of=/boot/grub/stage1 bs=1 count=512
  $ dd if=/dev/fd0 of=/boot/grub/stage2 bs=1 count=33764 seek=1

Adjust the count to the size of the stage[12] files if necessary. Booting from this floppy I installed grub with my menu.lst on /dev/hda with / on /dev/hda2 by

  grub> install=(hd0,1)/boot/grub/stage1 (hd0)
(hd0,1)/boot/grub/stage2 0x8000 p /boot/grub/menu.lst

The menu.lst is very simple:

  timeout = 10
  title   = Debian GNU/Linux
  root    = (hd0,1)
  kernel  = (hd0,1)/boot/vmlinuz-2.2.16-pc9800pe root=/dev/hda2

Having done that I can now boot directly from the hard disk. Since the lilo and grub98 from the base system are of no use, I purged them. There's a couple of other packages I purged 'cause of the small amount of disk space and plans to upgrade to woody (yes, without a network connection) and I also ripped out non-essential files like message catalogs (a la purge-locale or whatever that package is called).

Anyways, further fun experiences will have to wait a little till I get the relevant .debs transferred."

Addition from WH: For X-Server see the XFree86 Japanese PC98 Video Card and X server list [archived link].

Other Resources

This report is a courtesy of Olaf Meeuwissen and taken from <debian-laptop_at_lists.debian.org>, see archiv.

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© Werner Heuser 1997-2015 · http://tuxmobil.org/nec_pc98_laptop.html · last change Mon Nov 12 2007