Installation on ThinkPads without CD-ROM drive

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Some ThinkPads like i.e. the whole X series come without a CD-ROM drive by default. Even though there are options to buy a solution like the UltraBase, a full dock or simply an external CD-ROM drive, this is not the cheapest option and might not always be neccessary. Also, with some external CD-ROMs the problem might arise that the ThinkPad is not able to boot from them.

So the question arises how to get your system of choice onto that precious piece of hardware. This page should tell you about the possible solutions.

Since in most cases the installation base packages come on CD, you'll need a second computer, equipped with a CD-ROM drive, for all of those solutions.

Installation from USB drive

This is probably the most eaysy approach.

  • Connect the USB drive to the host and format it.
  • Get a bootable system and all needed installation files onto the USB drive, i.e. by copying the complete filesystem from your installation CD-ROM to the USB drive. Of course if your USB drive is not big enough for that you'll have to make more sofisticated choices about what to copy and what to leave behind.
  • Insert the USB drive into the USB port of your ThinkPad.
  • Power on the ThinkPad an press F12 to get to the boot menu.
  • Select the USB drive as boot media and boot.
  • Follow the installation process.

Installation via network boot

Thinkpads support PXE to boot off another system that is connected via Ethernet. In this case the ThinkPad acts as a network boot client, the other system as server. The idea is to boot a system on the server that the ThinkPad can boot into then by loading all required data directly from that server.

For this to work you will have to either have both the server and the ThinkPad connected in the same subnet of your LAN, or have them connected directly via a crossed Ethernet cable.

using Knoppix on the server side

  • Insert the Knoppix CD into the server and boot it up.
  • Make sure to boot with the 2.6 kernel by giving the kernel26 boot option.
  • Once your KDE desktop is loaded, look in the K-Menu hierarchy for the link to the terminal server setup.
  • Launch the Terminal Server and make it use the appropriate network device.
  • Power on your ThinkPad and press F12 to get to the boot menu.
  • Select the ThinkPads network adapter as the boot media.
  • The ThinkPad should now boot from the Knoppix Terminal Server directly.

Installation from the internal harddrive

The idea here is to have all required files allready on the internal harddrive when you power up your ThinkPad for installation, including of course a minimal system to boot up and start the installation process.

Convinient, but how do you get the files there?

  • One option is to copy them via network boot (see above).
  • Another one is to remove the harddrive from the ThinkPad and connect it to the other machine. Again, this can be achieved in several ways:
    • putting the harddrive into an UltraBay secondary HDD adapter of a second ThinkPad
    • putting the harddrive into an external casing and connect it to the second machine via USB, PCMCIA or whatever
    • connecting the harddrive via a 2.5" (laptop) to 3.5" (desktop) harddrive adapter

Follow one of the following instructions.

Installing Windows 2000 or XP

  • Attach the harddrive to the host computer and install a minimal bootable DOS system i.e. by booting a Win98 Emergency Boot Disk and performing the command "SYS X:" (where X = the laptop's harddrive).
  • Copy FDISK.EXE to the laptop harddrive.
  • Return the harddrive to the laptop and boot to DOS. (If you have Win98 installed by default, you can skip the first two steps and simply reboot in Windows to DOS.)
  • Run FDISK and set up your new Windows system partition on this laptop. (If you do not do this on the laptop, after reboot you will receive the infamous "NTLDR IS MISSING" error.)
  • Then return the drive to the host and format the drive as FAT32. (DO NOT format as NTFS.)
  • Repeat the "SYS X:" step to make the new partition bootable.
  • Get SMARTDRV.EXE from the internet and copy it to your Thinkpads harddrive.
  • Also, from the Win2K or WinXP CD, copy the I386 folder to the harddrive.
  • Return the laptop's harddrive to the Thinkpad one final time and boot to DOS.
  • Run SMARTDRV.EXE first, then change directories to I386 and run WINNT.EXE, this will allow the installation to begin.
  • During installation, choose NOT to format the destination partition, since it contains the installation files. If you want that filesystem to be NTFS you can convert it after installation from within Windows.

External Information