Linux Laptops- Compaq Aero


The best collection of Aero links and information is at  Phil Wilk's Compaq Contura Aero Stuff
 

Specifications

CPU i486 (SX?) 8/16 MHz.
CHIPSET Compaq
BIOS Compaq
HARD DRIVE IDE - Quantum 250MB! Whoo!
CDROM N/A
VIDEO Passive Color LCD See below.
AUDIO N./A (unless you count the speaker)
PCMCIA VLSI 82C146; Intel (82365) PCIC-compatible One slot. See below.
RAM 12MB 4MB onboard + 8MB additional

 

Details

 This was the first laptop on which I installed Linux. The Aero has enough quirks to make life hell but it's small, light and usable and I had two broken ones lying around with which to make one good one (aside, this was not fun and I don't advise you to just knock it apart for the hell of it- these little beasts weren't made with consumer maintenance or upgrades in mind). The Aero has a single PCMCIA slot which is also used by it's proprietary floppy drive. Unless you start with the floppy plugged in you will not be able to use it later; swapping between network card and floppy is just not going to work which complicates everything. It's also interesting that even though it has a 16MHz CPU, it always starts in 8MHz mode unless you boot from the floppy. The successful installation of Debian is described below (the three or four abortive attempts with Slackware and RedHat will be observed by their absence here and the blaphemous swearing I made while fiddling with kernels, tarballs and rpms).

 I started by clearing everything I could from the 250MB hard drive. I then used Partition Magic to shrink the primary partition to 32 MB. I left the 2MB Compaq utility partition alone and cut the remaining space up into five ext2 partitions, one primary for \ the others logical, and one swap, also on a logical drive. On a separate PC I created a boot disk and fired up the Aero. Debian has support for the parallel port Iomega Zip drive and I wanted to avoid the PCMCIA/Floppy issues, so I created a ext2 zipdisk with the base debs and as many of my favorites as I could fit. I also created an ext2 diskette to hold the ppa.o and vfat.o modules. I included the necessary files for X-Windows but, in hindsight, this machine was never meant to run X.

 Booting from the floppy I began the installation by manually shelling out and loading the modules. I then continued using the Zip disk as my source medium. This was slow but painless and I soon had a minimal working Linux environment. I hoped to finish the install via NFS but the USR Ether/Modem wouldn't cooperate and the system hung after inserting the card. After booting to DOS and running a hybrid of Phoenix's and Intel's card managers (I snagged these from tech support websites and prefer them over the Intel version which ships from Compaq), I manually edited the /etc/config.opts to exclude all incorrect irqs and memory ranges. The rest of the install went uneventfully.

 X-Windows, however, is another story. 12MB of RAM and a 16MHz processor (at best) should have discouraged me but I wanted to see it. It was not worth the effort. I managed to get it running using the VGA16 X-server with the following Monitor entry in XF86Config:
        Section "Monitor"
            Identifier           "Generic Monitor"
            VendorName    "Unknown"
            ModelName      "Unknown"
            HorizSync         31.5-34
            VertRefresh      60-70

            Mode "640x480"
                DotClock        28.322
                HTimings        640 680 720 864
                VTimings        480 488 491 521
            EndMode
        EndSection

 I also tried building custom kernels on the Aero but, like the X-Windows experience, this subnotebook isn't cut out for that role. It finished MAKE-ing the 2.0.35 kernel and a limited set of modules in about two hours. I state about since I left for dinner and returned to find it completed.

 For what it is worth, I recently cleared the partitions to reinstall using Slink with kernel 2.0.35 and again with 2.0.36. It isn't getting any easier with practice and I may give up on the Aero.