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Author Topic: TC on an old "ultrabook" Sony VAIO VGN-T150 - CF as HDD, USB boot?  (Read 3866 times)

Offline MX372

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Hello all,

First off, I enjoy making old things useful, and I hate to see something useful get wasted, not used, or thrown in a landfill. Having said that, here's the jist of my post: I'm looking for advice on installing TC on a 10-year-old laptop, and I have some questions about using a CF as an IDE drive and installing TC on either the CF or a USB stick. Read along for more detail, if you are interested......

I have a (circa 2005) Sony Vaio VGN-T150 "ultrabook" that I've had since new. Originally it came with XP, but as well all know it has reached end of life and wasn't necessarily a "light" OS. The specs of this tiny laptop:

Intel Pentium M ULV 733 at 1.1ghz/2MB cache/400mhz FSB, 1GB (max) RAM, 1280x768 widescreen 10.6" display, 40GB 1.8" HDD, PCMCIA type II card slot, 2xUSB 2.0 ports, 1xFireWire400 port, Intel 2200 wireless, Bluetooth, DVDRW/CDRW Superdrive, MSPro slot, and a 56k modem. Quite the little powerhouse in it's day, but it's day has long passed (it's 10 years old!). It had a 6+ hour battery life when new, but the original battery is good now for only about 45 minutes, so it needs a new ($40) battery. I also recently replaced the keyboard due to a broken F5 key ($25).

This laptop has been a great machine for me, but in about 2008 I won a Panasonic ToughBook CF-19 in a technician competition and started using it, so the Sony started collecting dust. I recently revived it and am considering selling the TB on ebay and using the Sony as my daily laptop again. Why? It has an optical drive built in (TB does not); it's battery life is much longer with a new battery (both need new batteries, and the Sony's is cheaper too); it weighs less than 3 lbs (TB is more like 5 or so); screen is a widescreen and overall better. Now, the downside is that it has less computing power, RAM, and HDD space than the TB. Currently, both are running LXLE (12.04 on the Sony; 14.04 on the TB), and I've all but ditched Windows of any flavor (I still have a desktop w/Win 7, and my work laptop from my employer uses 7). I'm slowly learning Linux, and have tested various distros on the TB: Lubuntu, Xubuntu, LXLE have been the ones I've liked so far. Have not tried TC (yet), and find it interesting.

My goal is to have a general-use laptop that I can surf the net, watch YT videos, DVD's, run some programming IDE's and such (C++, Python, Arduino, RaspberryPi, etc.), wordprocessing, spreadsheets, powerpoint (Office-type apps), and general computing tasks. If I can also do video editing, burn/rip DVD's, video capture and such then even better, but if I need to I can use my desktop for that stuff. Since the Sony is old, obviously a lightweight linux distro makes sense - and by lightweight I mean minimal resource consumption. OF course that may limit the applications that can be used. Also, I think using a lightweight distro makes the laptop run faster and be more responsive (more like a new computer that is running a not-so-lightweight OS). This is where TC comes in (I think/hope).

I have considered purchasing a 128gb SSD (50-pin CF style, as that is what the Sony takes, 1.8" FF) to gain more space and speed; cost is about $95 (and does it make sense to spend $95 on a 10-yr-old laptop with a specialty HDD?). The other options would be to use a CF card in place of the HDD (in IDE mode) as a cheap SSD; I happen to have a few laying around (512mb and 4gb), and cost = $0. Not sure if I would need to install TC as if on a USB drive if installing to the CF, or as a typical HDD install. Obviously, a CF card is flash memory, and has a limited number of write cycles, which is my concern with using it as a HDD replacement, especially if I'm giving up a lot of storage space (the tradeoff being that it will be faster than the HDD, use less power, and cost zero). I can always use a USB drive for more storage (I can easily add a 64gb micro USB drive and I'd have more storage than I do now).

The other option would be to keep the HDD and have it boot to USB, and have persistance enabled to save all my settings, apps and work to the HDD - except that the BIOS doesn't support USB boot devices. I read that there is a program called Plop that could be a work-around - anyone familiar with this, and could I use it to force a boot to a USB drive? My understanding is that TC is fast b/c it loads completely in RAM, so I'm ok with a slightly longer boot time in exchange for speed when running.

I'm pretty happy so far with LXLE, but it does experience some sluggishness sometimes if I have multiple Firefox tabs open and other apps running. I was thinking that TC would likely run faster, given it uses less RAM, leaving more of what's left for FF and the other apps. This is really about getting the most performance I can from this laptop, meeting my needs and keeping the cost down. I will have a total (after I get a new battery) of $65 into putting this laptop back in service. Another $95 for an SSD brings it to $160, and some might say a new netbook for $200 would have been a wiser investment. Of course, right now I'm at $25 for the new keyboard, and I could still sell it on ebay and at least break even on that.

I'm open to all comments and advice. Thanks for reading my long post!

Offline nitram

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Re: TC on an old "ultrabook" Sony VAIO VGN-T150 - CF as HDD, USB boot?
« Reply #1 on: February 06, 2015, 09:46:47 AM »
Quote
I have a (circa 2005) Sony Vaio VGN-T150 "ultrabook" that I've had since new. Originally it came with XP, but as well all know it has reached end of life and wasn't necessarily a "light" OS. The specs of this tiny laptop:

Intel Pentium M ULV 733 at 1.1ghz/2MB cache/400mhz FSB, 1GB (max) RAM, 1280x768 widescreen 10.6" display, 40GB 1.8" HDD, PCMCIA type II card slot, 2xUSB 2.0 ports, 1xFireWire400 port, Intel 2200 wireless, Bluetooth, DVDRW/CDRW Superdrive, MSPro slot, and a 56k modem. Quite the little powerhouse in it's day, but it's day has long passed (it's 10 years old!). It had a 6+ hour battery life when new, but the original battery is good now for only about 45 minutes, so it needs a new ($40) battery. I also recently replaced the keyboard due to a broken F5 key ($25).

Those are pretty decent specs. I'm posting this on an 800MHz desktop with 512MB RAM that runs an Ubuntu Squeeze-based OS, Puppy Linux and Tiny Core 6 quite well. It comes down to your expectations. If you expect instant response for all your applications then you might be disappointed but it won't be Tiny Core's fault, rather the dated hardware. You'll have a hard time finding anything leaner than Tiny Core.

Quote
My goal is to have a general-use laptop that I can surf the net, watch YT videos, DVD's, run some programming IDE's and such (C++, Python, Arduino, RaspberryPi, etc.), wordprocessing, spreadsheets, powerpoint (Office-type apps), and general computing tasks. If I can also do video editing, burn/rip DVD's, video capture and such then even better, but if I need to I can use my desktop for that stuff. Since the Sony is old, obviously a lightweight linux distro makes sense - and by lightweight I mean minimal resource consumption. OF course that may limit the applications that can be used. Also, I think using a lightweight distro makes the laptop run faster and be more responsive (more like a new computer that is running a not-so-lightweight OS). This is where TC comes in (I think/hope).

Tiny Core should be able to perform most of those tasks but i'm not sure about all. Take a look at the Tiny Core repositories to ensure all of the software you desire is readily available. You can create your own extensions for additional software, although this might be too much effort if you simply want an OS that provides everything you want with minimal hassle. Could be wrong but at this time i believe Tiny Core versions 4 and 5 may have more software available than version 6, which was just recently released.

More experienced and advanced Tiny Core users will be able to provide better advice.

Offline curaga

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Re: TC on an old "ultrabook" Sony VAIO VGN-T150 - CF as HDD, USB boot?
« Reply #2 on: February 06, 2015, 10:06:20 AM »
Why do you require USB boot? Installing normally to the HD should work fine (in TC speak, usb stick and hd installs are the same, both load to RAM). Replacing the disk with either CF or SSD won't affect runtime speed if you load applications to RAM, except in the few cases when operating on data there (videos, etc.). It would only affect boot speed.

On the browser being sluggish, it's usually not from a lack of RAM, but from overly heavy web pages. Disabling ads, javascript (noscript extension) should help.
The only barriers that can stop you are the ones you create yourself.

Offline Lee

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Re: TC on an old "ultrabook" Sony VAIO VGN-T150 - CF as HDD, USB boot?
« Reply #3 on: February 06, 2015, 11:18:08 AM »
Quote
First off, I enjoy making old things useful, and I hate to see something useful get wasted, not used, or thrown in a landfill. ... advice on installing TC on a 10-year-old laptop, and I have some questions about using a CF as an IDE drive and installing TC on either the CF or a USB stick.

I feel the same way about old things useful and not loading up the landfills with perfectly good computers -  unfortunately my basement is a testimony to that attitude!  Anybody want some servers that are old enough to get their own driver's licenses?

I have no experience with the Sony Vaio line so I can't comment on any compatibility issues, but the CPU/memory/storage specs sound much like a netbook that's half that age - which I use regularly with TC and it's great!.

You don't mention it, but I suppose that box has a working ethernet port? - wired internet makes the initial setup simpler.

With a single core 1GHz cpu that machine won't exactly be a screamer but it shouldn't be painfully slow for most tasks.  I suspect video editing and/or gaming would stress it a bit.

There's no real downside to booting from a USB stick if the machine supports doing so (assuming USB 2.0, not 1.x) but, unless you want to leave the HD untouched and/or it's not formatted with a suitable filesystem, there's no real downside to doing a frugal install on the HD - TC doesn't much care what boot device you use, but the tce directory (usually also on the boot device) should be on a suitable filesystem.

If the HD is working reliably, I wouldn't replace it with an ssd/cf, at least until it fails.  You -do- have current backups, I presume?  If that drive's still working after ten years, it might be good for another ten... or not.    :)


Quote
I'm pretty happy so far with LXLE, but it does experience some sluggishness sometimes if I have multiple Firefox tabs open and other apps running. I was thinking that TC would likely run faster, given it uses less RAM, leaving more of what's left for FF and the other apps. This is really about getting the most performance I can from this laptop, meeting my needs and keeping the cost down. I will have a total (after I get a new battery) of $65 into putting this laptop back in service.

Multiple browser tabs and other apps, depending on what apps and what's in those tabs and how many of them,  can load down most any system.    :(

Having already invested $25 in the keyboard, I'd probably replace the battery, then stop.  Of course it all depends on your attitude re. money and your on-hand supply of same... my "disposable income" is quite limited, so I probably would have worked around the broken F5 key and deferred replacing both the keyboard and battery.
32 bit core4.7.7, Xprogs, Xorg-7.6, wbar, jwm  |  - Testing -
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USB Flash drive, one partition, ext2, grub4dos  | Otherwise similar

Offline MX372

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Re: TC on an old "ultrabook" Sony VAIO VGN-T150 - CF as HDD, USB boot?
« Reply #4 on: February 06, 2015, 11:40:00 AM »
@ nitram - good advice regarding checking the repositories, thanks, I really hadn't thought of that (seems obvious now)!

@ curaga - I don't require USB boot, actually. What I want is to eliminate as many bottlenecks as possible, and hard drive access times on an old 1.8"/4200rpm drive are I'm sure slower than a USB 2.0 flash memory device (I could be wrong about that though), so my thought was if I booted from USB I could use the HDD for just data storage. I guess with TC it wouldn't really matter, since the entire OS and apps are loaded into RAM. On a different OS it might make a noticeable difference. As for the suggestions on disabling browser features, that's true and would speed things up I'm sure. Thanks for the advice.

@Lee - it does have an ethernet port, I didn't mention that because I assumed that it was pretty standard for that era machine (esp. one with wireless and BT). I do have backups of all my data. I really wanted to replace the HDD primarily to accomplish 2 things: speed up data access and increase storage capacity. I did work around the broken key for a while, but it started to bug me, and I found this like new one on ebay - I thought $25 was a decent price.

Thanks for the responses guys. I wonder if TC will be faster/more responsive than LXLE is, for the things I routinely do (even if I can't do some of the more advanced things like video editing, that's ok, I have my desktop for that)? I guess the only way to know is to try it out. Having said that - If I try it from a live CD (since it loads completely in RAM), will it be representative of what it will be like once installed on the hard drive? I assume it would. I know for Lubuntu/Xubuntu/LXLE there was a noticeable delay when running of a live cd. Never tried via USB (since this machine won't boot from USB), so don't know if that is different.

Offline Misalf

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Re: TC on an old "ultrabook" Sony VAIO VGN-T150 - CF as HDD, USB boot?
« Reply #5 on: February 06, 2015, 12:12:07 PM »
Before you sell the new one I'd suggest you try out TC on the old one for a couple of weeks or so and see if it fits your needs.
TC is more than basic compared to *buntu distros and the like. You have to create configs from scratch for many apps and there is less automated background stuff going on which would make life easier (but slow things down). I'm relatively new to Linux as well and I had lots of head scratching (and still have here and there) using certain apps on TC which just worked on other distros.

However, I like it that way. If stuff goes bad it's often my fault (not reading the manual) - It doesn't hurt to learn about the software I use.
I'm using TC on a netbook (1.6GHz Atom [oc ~2GHz] - 2GB RAM - bad intel 945GME GPU) every day - Browsing, YT, Movies, Music, GIMP and even some old games - and it is sluggish some times even with TinyCore (lots of tabs in Firefox etc.).
The intel driver for Linux doesn't perform very well though (as I've read) so especially 3D apps often don't work well/at all or are glitchy.
But actually, I'm using this netbook mainly to mess around with TinyCore and learn about Linux in general. TinyCore is my main OS because it is "incomplete". There is also Win7 and LMDE installed but I barely boot these (well, sometimes Windows for compatibility reasons).

I installed Puppy Linux on a few decade old family computers. No problem for just-web-browsing users. And it has more apps to offer in it's repo ; maybe everything you want.

About disabling ads in the browser (or better for the hole OS):
http://winhelp2002.mvps.org/hosts.htm
No heavy browser plugin.
Download a copy and keep it handy: Core book ;)

Offline Rich

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Re: TC on an old "ultrabook" Sony VAIO VGN-T150 - CF as HDD, USB boot?
« Reply #6 on: February 06, 2015, 12:25:23 PM »
Regarding open tabs in a browser. The problem often isn't having many open tabs, it's what's in those tabs. I normally have 12 to 14 tabs
open on the browser on an 800Mhz cpu with 512Mb RAM machine with no problems. On occasion, I have experienced sluggishness when
some tab had a page loaded that was executing who knows what in the background pushing CPU usage way up even though the page
appeared benign. Closing the offending tab solved that.

Offline MX372

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Re: TC on an old "ultrabook" Sony VAIO VGN-T150 - CF as HDD, USB boot?
« Reply #7 on: February 06, 2015, 06:39:17 PM »
@ Misalf - just to be clear, I do not have a "new" laptop; my main laptop until just recently going back to my Sony VAIO (subject of this post) is a ToughBook CF-19 Mk2 (circa 2008; Core2Duo w/3GB RAM/500GB HDD), which I won (meaning FREE) in a competition, and that's when I pretty much quit using my trusty VAIO. I recently dug it out again since every time I travel for the Army I end up taking 2 laptops - my gov-issued one I need for my duties and my TB, which is a PIA since both laptops and chargers weigh at least 12 lbs. My VAIO saves 2-3 lbs and some space as it is smaller/lighter than the TB.

With regards to your other suggestions, I agree and understand. I have been using my VAIO almost exclusively for the past 3 weeks or so, having only used the TB a few times. I should probably try TC for a while and see how it works out before switching from LXLE (which so far works well and I like - it's a pretty good distro). As for the TB, there is no need to keep it, even though it is a few years newer; I can easily sell it on ebay or craigslist for at least $350, which could get me a brand-new low-end laptop if I really wanted, and I could sell the VAIO as well, and I'm confident I could get at least $50 for it. Some people would likely just go that route. For me, I'd rather be challenged to make what I have work, and learn something along the way (computers and electronics are a hobby interest for me, sounds like for you too maybe).

I have tried Puppy before (I first started playing w/Linux back in the late 90's with distros like Mandrake, Puppy, and a few others I don't even remember), but it just didn't suit me. Also, that link you posted seems to pertain only to Windows, not Linux, or did I miss something? Thanks for your comments!

Offline core-user

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Re: TC on an old "ultrabook" Sony VAIO VGN-T150 - CF as HDD, USB boot?
« Reply #8 on: February 07, 2015, 12:56:47 AM »
If it were me, I'd go with the CF/IDE, TinyCorePlus, & new battery - use ext4 filesystem with 'noatime'.
(If you don't get on with TC, try AntiX or SliTaz, both low resources distros.)
OpenBSD (plus AntiX & TinyCore)

Offline MX372

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Re: TC on an old "ultrabook" Sony VAIO VGN-T150 - CF as HDD, USB boot?
« Reply #9 on: February 07, 2015, 05:42:52 AM »
The thing I'm not sure of is if I can just plug the CF card into the 50-pin ribbon cable that plugs into the 50-pin HDD. I have read that CF cards also have an IDE mode, but not sure if that will be automatically configured or not. I have also seen CF to IDE adapters, but since my HDD is a 50-pin "CF-style" connector, that just seems like an un-needed component.

Offline nitram

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Re: TC on an old "ultrabook" Sony VAIO VGN-T150 - CF as HDD, USB boot?
« Reply #10 on: February 07, 2015, 12:36:24 PM »
Quote
Rich wrote:
Regarding open tabs in a browser. The problem often isn't having many open tabs, it's what's in those tabs. I normally have 12 to 14 tabs
open on the browser on an 800Mhz cpu with 512Mb RAM machine with no problems.
Agreed. IMO using the NoScript add-on is the only way to run older hardware with a modern browser.

@MX372: Since everyone's still giving opinions :) Maybe i missed it in the thread but i would not spend any money on the machine, would just use AC (no new battery) and keep the old/slow hard drive until it totally dies. Some hobbyists crack open the battery pack and re-wire or solder in new individual cells to minimize expense...a project for another day perhaps!

Offline MX372

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Re: TC on an old "ultrabook" Sony VAIO VGN-T150 - CF as HDD, USB boot?
« Reply #11 on: February 07, 2015, 08:04:22 PM »
@ nitram - I understand (I think) where you are coming from with not spending any money one a 2005 laptop, but that does defeat my purpose, which is to have a small, lightweight laptop with great battery life (other than being old technology, this machine is exactly that - or was, 10 years ago). Battery life can be fixed with a new $40 battery, and extended some by going from a mechanical HDD to a solid state storage medium. There is no doubt in my mind that I could get 7-8 hours on a full charge. Can't name another laptop that I could buy new for under $400 that has that battery life. And then there is the portability - this thing weighs under 3 lbs.

So, my other option is to sell it as-is (maybe $50-60 on CL or ebay) and also sell my TB ($350 or so) and take that $400 and but a new laptop (in reality, likely a netbook), which I would promptly wipe and install Linux on. Most people would likely go that route. I think it is more challenging though to take it and optimize it (hardware and software) and make it just as useful as a new laptop, and save the money for something else. That may or may not be possible, I'm really not sure. I think it is.

I want to try TC and see how that affects current performance, which may help me make that decision. If I can plug a CF card directly in place of the HDD (unknown at this point) and see how that affects performance, then even better. I do have a 512MB (and a 4GB) CF card I can use as a test medium, and that is my plan. I'll run some benchmarks on it the way it is right now (LXLE 12.04.5), and then with TC run from a live CD (since it loads completely in RAM, it should be the same as if installed to HDD), and then with TC on the CF card (if I can), and then compare. Matter of fact, I'll post the results here for those that are interested.

Offline Rich

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Re: TC on an old "ultrabook" Sony VAIO VGN-T150 - CF as HDD, USB boot?
« Reply #12 on: February 07, 2015, 08:23:14 PM »
Hi MX372
You might consider a bootable USB flash drive like this:

It's small enough that you can leave it plugged in all the time, only protrudes about 1/4 of an inch. I found the 8Gb version at Staples
for 5 dollars.

Offline MX372

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Re: TC on an old "ultrabook" Sony VAIO VGN-T150 - CF as HDD, USB boot?
« Reply #13 on: February 08, 2015, 06:35:53 AM »
@ Rich - Thanks for the suggestion, and I've thought about that as well. I was actually considering using this: SanDisk Ultra 64GB USB 3.0 micro flash drive for $34 on Amazon. It is very similar to what you are talking about, and on a per-GB basis, very well priced. Comparison:

$34/64GB= $0.53 per GB
128GB Kingston 1.8" SSD (50 pin PATA)=$92, $92/128GB= $0.72 per GB
your suggested 8GB drive= $5/8GB= $0.63 per GB

The problem is, this machine does not support USB boot devices, at least it's not listed in the boot options of the BIOS. I've found what may be a workaround (Plop), but since TC is so small, I could literally fit it (and many applications) on a CF card, and since the IDE interface for this laptop's HDD is a 50-pin CF-card style plug, I might be able to just plug a (bootable) CF card into it and go. That is, assuming the pinout is exactly the same, which I'm not sure. I do know that CF cards have an IDE mode and will act just as any other IDE HDD. Anyone out there have any experience with this?

The SSD would be guaranteed to plug in and work. It has the highest capacity and I suspect will be the fastest as well, and will extend battery life over the current 1.8" HDD, will not consume a USB port, and will not protrude from the side of the laptop. It does, however, cost over $90 and is the most expensive option per GB as well. Which then brings into question the argument of whether a 10-year-old laptop is worth spending $92 for an SSD + $25 for a new KB (already spent) + $40 for a new battery = $157. New 12" netbook (many choices) for around $250-ish, with more RAM, comparable (or better) storage, and a new/faster processor? When you start looking at it from that perspective, the SSD might not make sense because it pushes the total cost up significantly.