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Another Laptop Project

Inspired by the EOMA68 Crowd Supply campaign's ideas to reduce e-waste and shake up laptop design, I dug out my old Samsung V20 laptop to see if I could put it to work doing something useful.

Laptop Legacy

I bought the laptop at the end of 2002 when I was “between jobs,” as people like to say. I wasn't terribly happy with the quality of the sound output – it's not much fun listening to music with the headphones on when scrolling a window produces a faint high pitched whine – and neither the retailer (now defunct, unsurprisingly) nor Samsung's customer support company in Europe were very helpful or sympathetic. The laptop paid many visits to the support company over the years, where they failed to diagnose problems with it, accidentally left a test hard drive in it, and helpfully sent a new power supply to me when they presumably thought they'd mislaid mine. When I told them about the hard drive, the guy on the phone told me to stick an address label on it and post it back to them!

It's a peculiar beast. Produced in 2002, it has a 2 GHz Pentium 4 CPU, which some might argue was a bit of a strange choice for a laptop CPU, though I suppose it could be a Pentium 4-M. One unfortunate consequence of this is that you have a CPU that can run quite hot in an enclosed space. As a result, the designers decided to put in some impressive plumbing and two fans. One is clearly not enough!

From memory, the graphics chipset is an Intel 82845GV, which became supported under Linux after a while. One of the annoying things was that the internal modem was a so-called “winmodem”, which meant that there was initially no software to drive it under Linux. In the end, an individual who worked at the modem vendor released their own kernel module, which I seem to remember was something you built from source — how things have changed since then. Now, you might feel lucky to get the source code to a vendor's kernel module.

Rebooting the Laptop

The first thing I had to do was to unlock the BIOS. I had protected it with a password many years ago and forgotten what it was. Fortunately, I remembered finding a solution online and went looking for it again. The discussion I found may not have been the one I was looking for, but the suggestion about removing the battery connection to the CMOS RAM worked. Readers with long memories might find it interesting to see who it was that made the suggestion.

As with another old machine I have lying around, I decided to replace the hard drive with more modern removeable media. Ideally, I would have used an IDE-SD card solution, but I didn't find any that would fit a laptop 2.5" hard drive bay from vendors I'd be happy to send money to. That might sound harsh, but one of the downsides of online commerce these days is the slew of “bargains” from price aggregators, auction sites and e-commerce marketplaces that fill search engine results. I'd like to be able to trace the original manufacturer of the part I'm using, if at all possible, and I'd like to have some confidence that I'm the first person who gets to use it in the wild.

I already have an IDE-SD adapter that I use in place of a desktop 3.5" hard drive, but it seems that only adapter cables for using 2.5" hard drives in 3.5" bays are being made. Disappointed, I ended up buying a 2.5" IDE-CompactFlash adapter and a fairly cheap CompactFlash card with a reasonable capacity. The adapter has a nice case that is about the same size as a 2.5" hard drive, though it doesn't fit as snugly as a real hard drive in the laptop's drive caddy, so it wouldn't fit in the case.

It was clearly time to open up the laptop again – a task which became increasingly necessary while I was using it as my main workstation, and one which I never looked forward to. This is where the design of the laptop in the EOMA68 campaign has the advantage over those of traditional laptops. Opening up my old laptop was the usual ordeal of prising apart snappy, sharp plastic pieces with screwdrivers and fingernails while trying to avoid having them pinch any nearby skin. Once open, I pulled the whole motherboard out so that I could access all the ports and connectors. I don't think I'll be putting it back into its case.

The CompactFlash card now sits in its adapter, attached to the IDE interface. Unfortunately, while it recognises that the card is there, the laptop's BIOS won't boot from it. This may be something to do with the way the card declares itself — apparently, they can be “removeable” or “fixed”, and this one is removeable. Rather unhelpfully, the vendors of CF cards have been less than transparent about which of their cards fall into each category, and SanDisk no longer provides a utility to reprogram removeable cards to maked them fixed ones. I doubt I'd have been able to run it on Debian, anyway.

While investigating this issue I found that I could perform the initial boot from a USB SD card adapter and switch to the CF card during initialisation. This is how I'll manage for the time being. If I pick up a suitable CF card in the future, I'll start using that. I may dedicate a low capacity SD card to the task of holding kernels I want to boot.

What Next?

As I mentioned, I'd like to have a choice of kernels to boot from. I used to run Linux on this laptop, but now I think it's time for it to experience something different. Once I've set up the first system I want to try out, I'll write something about my experiences. Hopefully, that won't take too long.


After looking in the laptop's manual, I found that the chipset used was the Intel 82845GV not 82845GL. These are listed in the relevant article on Wikipedia. For reference, the CPU used in one of those in Wikipedia's list of Pentium 4 processors.

Category: Free Software

Copyright © 2016 David Boddie
Published: 2016-08-07 13:21:41 UTC
Last updated: 2016-10-14 11:14:08 UTC

This document is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International license.