Installing Debian on a ThinkPad 750P

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Revision as of 03:53, 7 December 2007 by Whizkid (Talk | contribs) (Trying to upgrade again.)

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I got out my 750P again and installed Debian, just because I can. These instructions are for Debian 3.0, or Woody. That version actually works. While 3.1 (Sarge) says you can use ThinkPads, it won't work on this machine. You can upgrade to a later Debian, or perhaps Ubuntu. You will need 6 floppy diskettes (and a 7th if you make a boot floppy), a supported 16-bit PCMCIA wired network card and Internet access. Fortunately, most such cards are supported.

The installation steps here should work on any 750-series ThinkPad. This guide does not cover partitioning or booting multiple operating systems.

Executive summary for Debian experts: Just follow the normal instructions adding floppy=thinkpad as a boot parameter and it works just as you'd expect.

My 750P is loaded with 36MB RAM and a 5.1GB hard disk.


Download the Debian Woody floppy images: rescue, root and the four for drivers. Make diskettes. On another Linux machine, I used this command:

sudo dd if=rescue.bin of=/dev/floppy

Since diskettes are notoriously unreliable, I read each one back like this:

sudo dd if=/dev/floppy of=test.bin

Then run md5sum * to see if it matches the correct image. If not, try again, or use another diskette.


These are general instructions. If you try these steps and they are unclear, feel free to expand them or leave comments in the discussion. Some steps may or may not apply to you, depending on your goals and desired partitioning scheme. --Whizkid 01:33, 24 November 2007 (UTC) - Insert your network card and the rescue diskette and boot the machine. - At the boot: prompt, enter this command:

ramdisk floppy=thinkpad
  • Configure the keyboard
  • Partition your disk if necessary
  • Initialize and activate swap
  • Initialize and activate the root partition
  • Initialize and activate any other partitions
  • Install Kernel and Driver Modules from floppies
  • Configure device driver modules. Choose Exit immediately.
  • Special step: Configure PCMCIA support. Select i82365 controller and leave all other options blank.
  • Configure the network, choosing a hostname and setting network parameters
  • Alternate step: Edit Kernel Boot Parameters to include floppy=thinkpad just as before
  • Install the Base System using network as a source. You can use or another mirror that hosts Woody (Debian 3.0).

At this point, the installer will begin to download and verify packages. If you lose connectivity and have to restart this step, it will not download any packages it has already retrieved. This can take some time.

  • Make system bootable, choosing /dev/hda if you wish to have LILO take over booting
  • Make a boot floppy if you like
  • Reboot the system

Kernel and driver installation is complete, but you are not done.

First Boot

Upon first booting the new installation, Debian System Configuration runs. You can also run it at any time. Its path is /usr/sbin/base-config. Your network card should be recognized and configured at boot time. As one data point, I switched to another console and ran df to find that the installation had so far taken about 73.5MB of disk space.

  • Specify GMT or Local time. If you are using only Linux or UNIX-like OS's (on any machine), I suggest you use GMT. If you sometimes boot into a popular proprietary OS made in Redmond, Washington, you may wish to keep the system clock in local time.
  • Set your time zone
  • Specify whether to use MD5 passwords
  • Specify use of shadow passwords
  • Set the password for the root account
  • Set up a normal user account
  • Answer No when asked to set up PPP if you've gotten this far

At this point, Debian will attempt to install the rest of the base system. I specified several different mirrors and always ran out of room. See the Notes section below. You can bypass this step by selecting Cancel.

  • For Apt Configuration, select http or ftp
  • Specify whether or not to use non-US software
  • Specify whether or not to use non-free software
  • Select a mirror location
  • Select a specific mirror
  • You can run tasksel if you like
  • You can run dselect if you like
  • Configure your mail system, choosing 4 for a stand-alone system

Congratulations! You have a working, if outdated Debian installation.


After installation, some devices work and some don't. Please help update this page as you get devices to work.

Things that Work

  • Keyboard
  • Hard disk
  • Floppy drive
  • Display
  • PCMCIA 16-bit slots

Function Keys

  • Fn+F3 turns display off
  • Fn+F5 volume down
  • Fn+F6 volume up
  • Fn+F7 cycles displays (LCD, CRT, both)
  • Fn+F8 inverts LCD characters (750, 750P only)
  • Fn+F9 toggles character brightness (750, 750P only?)

Things that Might Work

If I were to test these things, they might already be working.

  • Serial port
  • Parallel port
  • Fn+F11 power mode (how to verify...)

Things that Don't Work

  • TrackPoint
  • Audio
  • Pen

Function Keys

  • Fn+F2 display battery information
  • Fn+F4 suspend to RAM
  • Fn+F12 suspend to disk


Upon first boot apt-setup runs. This is the error message I get when I try to get that to run:

Failed to access the Debian archive
When I tried to access the debian archive using the information you
provided, apt gave the following error. I will run through the
questions again, try to correct the error.
E: Dynamic MMap ran out of room E: Error occured while processing wsjt
(NewVersion1) E: Problem with MergeList
86_Packages E: The package lists or status file could not be parsed or

Just cancel, and edit /etc/apt/sources.list to include these lines:

deb woody main contrib
deb woody/updates main contrib

You can then run apt-get update && apt-get upgrade to get the latest code.

Tips on getting apt-setup to run are welcome. --Whizkid 09:19, 26 November 2007 (UTC)



Follow the sarge release notes to upgrade to sarge (Debian 3.1). That basically consists of these steps if you've only done what's listed here:

  • apt-get install aptitude
  • dpkg --audit (should print nothing)
  • Change /etc/apt/sources.list to point to a Sarge source instead of Woody
  • apt-get update
  • aptitude install aptitude
  • aptitude -f --with-recommends dist-upgrade

This is where the fun ends, folks. That eventually worked for me, but I still have to upgrade the kernel, but ran out of disk space. 227MB is not enough to upgrade. I'll try again and update this page. --Whizkid 15:54, 2 December 2007 (UTC)

I'm trying with a different partition scheme in order to complete this upgrade, load Ubuntu (minimal) and re-size the partitions afterward. --Whizkid 02:53, 7 December 2007 (UTC)