Installing Linux on an ancient Mitac 5033

29 05 2007

Mitac 5033Tuxmobil.orgThe Mitac 5033 was a popular OEM laptop some 10 years ago, also sold as Schneider 5033 (equivalent to the Mitac 5033L edition) and as Fujitsu-Siemens 5033 (equivalent to the slightly older Mitac 5033K edition).

I always try to put old hardware to good use, so I decided to install Linux to a 1996 built Mitac 5033 laptop computer. Back then, in the late 1990s, this machine already worked well with Linux, thus, my expectations were high.


  • AMD K6-2 400MHz CPU
  • 12″ 800×600 LCD
  • 192MB RAM (I think it used to be only 64MB)
  • 4GB Harddisk

To establish network connectivity, I equipped my Mitac with a Netgear WG511 WiFi PCMCIA card (prism54 chipset).

You have to create the partitions with a Linux rescue system, as the installers will most likely require more memory than available in the Mitac’s RAM, they’ll mount a pre-existing swap partition. I reserved 512MB for swapping.

For the installation you will need time – endless time. It’s very obvious that this CPU is a relic of a different era.

First try: Kubuntu 7.04 😦 partial bummer!

The installation worked fine including the graphical display. But due to a bug in the prism54pci kernel module supplied with Ubuntu/Kubuntu I couldn’t use the Wifi adaptor, thus, rendering this installation completely useless.

Second try: OpenSuSE 10.2 😦 total bummer!

This was a total mess. OpenSuSE installed the first CD but upon reboot failed to start the installer. I got a segmentation fault. Logging in as root was impossible despite a console login prompt. So OpenSuSE had to go, too.

Third try: Damn small Linux

Although DSL installed well on this machine, it quickly became clear that it was not going to fulfill my needs. Thus, I moved on.

DebianFourth try: Debian 4.0

I downloaded the “netinst” flavor of Debian and ran it without further ado using the “kde-desktop, standard” option.

Of course the proprietary nature of the Wifi adaptor’s firmware required some brief intervention. As soon as the installer asks for a Wifi ESSID, connect a USB memory stick to the Mitac that includes the proprietary driver. Press Alt-F2, start a console (i.e. press ENTER) and mount that memory stick containing the missing isl3890 file. Copy the file isl3890 to /usr/lib/hotplug/firmware. You might have to create the directory first. Switch back to Alt-F1 and continue the installation.

The first problem I ran into was the xorg.conf. The default produced a screen that was simply not usable (and probably not really healthy for the LCD, either). It took me some time to figure out the correct settings for this display, but fortunately I found an old XF86Config that gave me a hint on a valid modeline. So here is the result: xorg.conf

Surprisingly the soundcard gave me a hard time under Debian. alsaconf worked fine, but after a reboot the sound was gone. In all fairness, configuring devices under Debian is really unnerving if you are used to YaST under OpenSuSE. Anyway, I ended up adding the line “modprobe snd-es18xx” to the /etc/init.d/alsa-utils right below the start section. It did the trick, though I realize it will fail with the next update. Suggestions on how to fix this permanently are very welcome.

TuxAll is well that ends well

It took me three days to finally get this historic laptop back up on its feet again. Was it worth it? Well, it seems to work at a tolerable speed as long as you don’t try anything too bold. So if you got one, install Linux and use it yourself or find someone who would appreciate it.

[Update] It turned out there is another problem with the Netgear WG511v2 Prims54-based PCMCIA WiFi adaptor. To this date it is still unable to handle WPA2 encryption. I even switched to the ndiswrapper (thus, actually using the current Windows driver for this card) since people had reported that this was the only way to get WPA encryption working. This doesn’t apply to WPA2, though. So I am either going to wait until the wpa_supplicant’s prism54 module gets fixed or find a cheap Atheros-based PCMCIA WiFi adaptor on Ebay.




One response

19 12 2007
daily fun

Got a little bit confused while reading :S

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