Stuck trying to install linux on old PC

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Stuck trying to install linux on old PC

Postby guy13 » Thu Apr 03, 2014 9:01 am

Hi all,

This may be a silly question but I'm stuck trying to install something linuxy on my sister's PC (with expee getting the axe next week, it seemed like the right time to lure her away from the dark side). It's an old thing (ca 2006) with a Celeron 3.06 GHz cpu and 80 GB hdd.

I first tried a couple of live distros from the LXF DVD's but could never get past the first selection screen: can't make the selection bar move away from the preselected first option, nor can I choose that option by hitting enter. My next attempt was to download openSuse 13.1, burn it to a DVD and go from there. Alas, with little luck. There's one improvement though: the preselected option there is "boot from hard disk" with a small timer. The timer at least runs - though very slowly - so that after a while the machine resumes from it's hdd and I don't have to pull the plug.

Is there a way to navigate through this start up screen? Up and down arrows don't work, tab doesn't work and there's no visible pointer so no mouse activity either. Or are these modern distros just probably too advanced for the architecture I'm trying to install them on? Maybe I should try something older and upgrade afterwards? In that case how far back should I go?

Thanks in advance.
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Postby nelz » Thu Apr 03, 2014 9:09 am

This has nothing to do with the distros, or Linux at all for that matter, you are stuck at the bootloader screen with an unresponsive keyboard. Go into the BIOS settings and turn on the Legacy USB mode (that is the term that is usually used) to enable the BIOS to recognise the keyboard (I am assuming you have a USB keyboard). This setting doesn't affect use of the keyboard within an OS, only makes it available at the early boot screens.

You may have spotted a potential flaw in this suggestion, how you you enter the BIOS setting s menu when yur keyboard is not working? The answer is that you may have to use a PS/2 keyboard for this task, either an old keyboard you can lay your hands on or one of those USB to PS/2 adaptors that used to come with USB keyboards. Once again, this is only so you can enable the keyboard for the bootloader, then you can switch back to your normal setup.
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Postby guy13 » Thu Apr 03, 2014 9:32 am

Thanks for the speedy reply.

Went to have a look and found the following under "Integrated Peripherals":

USB Keyboard Support [Disabled]
USB Mouse Support [Disabled]
...
Legacy USB Storage Detect [Enabled]

Guess it won't hurt to enable USB Keyboard and Mouse Support seeing that Legacy USB already is enabled?
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Postby nelz » Thu Apr 03, 2014 10:36 am

Yes, you want USB Keyboard Support. Legacy USB Storage is for booting from USB devices.
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Postby guy13 » Fri Apr 04, 2014 7:55 am

Got the keyboard working but not (most of) the live DVD's. Mageia and openSUSE go sluggishly slow and don't really get past displaying a desktop background. I got Zorin sort of working but with a flickering screen and responding to clicks and selections after about two minutes. The only one that really seemed to work was Puppy.

My hunch is that the architecture really is too old for most of this. I did however succeed in installing Zorin (hoping that the installed version would work as requested). Unfortunately I get the same flickering screen (as soon as I open any program and move the pointer around most of what is displayed disappears and all you see is some select buttons and parts of screens, sometimes also from stuff that I already closed again - in brief: utterly unusable). Is there any chance of fixing this (maybe by fiddling with the monitor's setup)? If not I'll give Puppy a try.
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Postby nelz » Fri Apr 04, 2014 8:03 am

What graphics card do you have? It may be that you need to install drivers.
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Postby guy13 » Fri Apr 04, 2014 8:40 am

This is the result of
Code: Select all
lspci | grep "VGA compatible controller

VIA Technology, Inc. CN700/P4M800 Pro/P4M800 CE/VN800 Graphics [S3 UniChrome Pro] (rev 01)
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Postby nelz » Fri Apr 04, 2014 9:40 am

Which driver is it using, you can get this with

Code: Select all
lspci -k


I had one of these in a Mini-ITX box I used as a MythTV front end and it was not pleasant. ISTR there was a proprietary driver that gave better performance, but that was a while ago and it may be in the kernel now.
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Postby guy13 » Fri Apr 04, 2014 9:58 am

Among the results of
Code: Select all
lspci -k
under the graphics card I find:
Kernel driver in use: agpgart-via.


Also tried
Code: Select all
glxinfo | grep -i opengl
which gives:
OpenGL renderer string : Gallium 0.4 on llvmpipe (LLVM 0x300)
OpenGL version string: 2.1 Mesa 8.0.4
Thought that had something to do with the driver as well.

Would it make sense to disable compiz? Feels like this machine shouldn't be able to handle loads of special effects.
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Postby nelz » Fri Apr 04, 2014 10:52 am

guy13 wrote:Would it make sense to disable compiz? Feels like this machine shouldn't be able to handle loads of special effects.


On a Unichrome you should not only disable it but banish it forever!
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Postby guy13 » Fri Apr 04, 2014 11:00 am

Glad my hunches are bang on the money now and then... 8)

Is it enough to
Code: Select all
killall compiz
or do I need to activate something else instead?
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SOLVED: Stuck trying to install linux on old PC

Postby guy13 » Sat Apr 05, 2014 6:06 pm

Have been vaguely succesful.

First I uninstalled compiz. Then I've added metacity to the list of stuff to start at startup:
Code: Select all
metacity --replace


Everything seemed to work fine though a tad slow. Unfortunately after importing mails it all ground to an annoying slow pace, the worst being that every time I open LibreOffice the software center spontaneously comes to life as well. The first time I assumed it was my fault (clicking some icon that needn't be clicked or so) but it happens every time. I may turn to Puppy Linux after all and consider this a learning experience.

Thanks again for all the help.
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Postby heiowge » Sat Apr 05, 2014 8:37 pm

I've not read all of the replies, so I hope this hasn't been covered before, but I had the same problem with an old Dell a couple of months back. No keyboard on bootup.

Solution? Swap around the USB leads.

It seems that some computers keep one USB active for keyboards and only load up the rest of them afterwards.

So, if you've had issues, try the keyboard in a different USB slot. :D
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Postby nelz » Sat Apr 05, 2014 9:30 pm

The slowness could be a lack of memory as much as the CPU. I would try a lighter desktop, like LXDE or Razor-QT, leaving more RAM for applications.
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Postby wyliecoyoteuk » Mon Apr 07, 2014 7:17 pm

I'd try Lubuntu, it is the one I've had best results on old kit with.
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