Sam Trenholme's webpage

Running Linux on an IBM 365XD laptop

Update May 21, 2006:

The IBM Thinkpad 365 XD is a Linux laptop that I had from 1997 until 2001. It was a Pentium 100 with 8mb of built in ram that could be expanded to 40 megs; my system had 24 megs. The system could run pre-Gnome/KDE GUIs for Linux without problem; it ran a GUI called FVWM. It could not run the early versions of Mozilla that existed in 2001 and reports on the net are that you need at least 64 megs of memory to run Firefox. It was able to run Netscape 4 without problem. These pages have a discussion about this machine being unable to run newer versions of X; however, these issues seem to be resolved. The version of X that RedHat 6.2 came with ran fine.

These laptops were not as solid as later Thinkpads; the 600x has a far more solid construction than this Thinkpad. The current price for these units is a little over $100 on Ebay. These units could barely decode mp3s in real-time. You may be better off with a Thinkpad 600X, which are available on Ebay for a little over $200.

People interested in getting X to run on this machine will wish to read the directions here.

My latest roadstop in the quest for the perfect affordable portable computer stops with the IBM ThinkPad 365XD notebook. Hawked from Egghead for only $1000 [This article was written in 1997. People are picking them up for only $300 or $400 these days (April 2000)] [2002 update: Looks like they are being sold on EBay for under $200] , and with successful reports of sticking X on this thing form the 'net, I proceeded to install Linux on this beast. The install was one of the most difficult Linux installs I have ever had, with a number of problems:

  • Booting directly in to the RedHat install from the CD-ROM, the install could not see the CD-ROM.

    The CD-ROM in a ThinkPad 365xd is a standard IDE CD-ROM. For unknown reasons this CD-ROM was invisible when I booted into the install directly from the CD-ROM. Making a RedHat install boot disk and booting from that resolved the concern. The CD-ROM was visible, and I was able to install normally.

  • RedHat crashed in the middle of the install.

    RedHat seems to do that sometimes, for very mysterious reasons. [I later found the cause] On the first install, RedHat crashed. I had to go back to square one and completely reinstall. The second install of RedHat 4.2 went without incident, resulting in a functional RedHat system.

  • After installing LILO, the ThinkPad refuses to boot from the hard disk.

    After mutch futzing, I discovered that the BIOS refused to boot from the hard disk if it saw more than one primary partition. I configured fdisk by making one primary partition the Linux partition, then made the swap partition the extended partition. I did this as follows:

    1. I deleted all pre-existing partitions
    2. I added the main partition, making sure enough space was set aside for swap. I used 'n' to create the new partition, and 'p' to indicate that it was a primary partition.
    3. I then added an extended partition, having the extended partition take up the rest of the hard disk--my swap space.
    4. I then added a logical partition, which was the swap space.
    5. I marked the primary partition as a Linux Native partition, and the extended partition as an extended partition.
    6. I made the primary Linux partition bootable with the 'a' option.
    7. Finally, I wrote the partition table to disk.
    My fdisk session went like this:
    Command (m for help): n
    Command action
       e   extended
       p   primary partition (1-4)
    Partition number (1-4): 1
    First cylinder (1-789): 1
    Last cylinder or +size or +sizeM or +sizeK ([1]-789): 741
    Command (m for help): n
    Command action
       e   extended
       p   primary partition (1-4)
    Partition number (1-4): 2
    First cylinder (742-789): 742
    Last cylinder or +size or +sizeM or +sizeK ([742]-789): 789
    Command (m for help): n
    Command action
       l   logical (5 or over)
       p   primary partition (1-4)
    First cylinder (742-789): 742
    Last cylinder or +size or +sizeM or +sizeK ([742]-789): 789
    Command (m for help): t
    Partition number (1-5): 1
    Hex code (type L to list codes): 83
    Command (m for help): t
    Partition number (1-5): 5
    Hex code (type L to list codes): 82
    Changed system type of partition 5 to 82 (Linux swap)
    Command (m for help): a
    Partition number (1-5): 1
    Command (m for help): p
    Disk /dev/hda: 32 heads, 63 sectors, 789 cylinders
    Units = cylinders of 2016 * 512 bytes
       Device Boot   Begin    Start      End   Blocks   Id  System
    /dev/hda1   *        1        1      741   746896+  83  Linux native
    /dev/hda2          742      742      789    48384    5  Extended
    /dev/hda5          742      742      789    48352+  82  Linux swap
    Command (m for help): w

    [It wrote the information to the hard disk, then exited.]

    When I installed LILO, I placed LILO on the boot sector of the first (bootable) partition (/dev/hda1) instead of the master boot record (/dev/hda).

  • After installing X, as per the XF86 configurations on the Linux ThinkPad survey, I was unable to start X. X would just cause the screen to become blank.

    X has to be "Kicked in", so to speak, by hand. After X starts, hit Fn+F7 (the Fn and the F7 keys at te same time) to get the X display to function. [I found and solved more problems with running X on the 365XD when I reinstalled months after writing this article]

  • After starting X, one can not exit X and return to a normal text display.

    One can not leave X after entering it on the ThinkPad. The best workaround this problem is to edit /etc/inittab to make the default runlevel 5. This enables a mode where you can log in and log out without leaving X, using a program known as xdm.

    In order to make the default runlevel 5, look for a line like this in /etc/inittab:


    Change the line to look like this:


    Note the number '5' instead of '3'.

    You may also wish to disable most of the virtual terminals in runlevel 5, since you won't be using them [1]. There are a series of lines that look like this in /etc/inittab:

    1:12345:respawn:/sbin/mingetty tty1
    2:2345:respawn:/sbin/mingetty tty2
    3:2345:respawn:/sbin/mingetty tty3
    4:2345:respawn:/sbin/mingetty tty4
    5:2345:respawn:/sbin/mingetty tty5
    6:2345:respawn:/sbin/mingetty tty6

    Change the lines to look like this:

    1:12345:respawn:/sbin/mingetty tty1
    2:234:respawn:/sbin/mingetty tty2
    3:234:respawn:/sbin/mingetty tty3
    4:234:respawn:/sbin/mingetty tty4
    5:234:respawn:/sbin/mingetty tty5
    6:234:respawn:/sbin/mingetty tty6

    Note that most of the above lines no longer have a '5' in them. For various reasons, it's a good idea to have an emergency virtual terminal. Linux does (or, at least, used to do) funny things without at least one virtual terminal.

  • I was unable to have the kernel see a parallel port zip drive

    The I/O base of the paralell port is at 0x3bc instead of 0x378. To have Linux see a parallel zip drive on the ThinkPad 365xd:

    insmod ppa.o ppa_base=0x3bc

    instead of simply:

    insmod ppa.o

    Note that the I/O base of the parallel port was determined with the MSD program on a MS-DOS boot disk.

  • After entering 'suspend mode' on the ThinkPad (Fn+F4), the system would crash when I tired to exit from suspend mode.

    The kernel needs to be recompiled with APM support on the ThinkPad 365xd. To do this, make sure the kernel source is installed on your system.

    You can install the kernel source from the RedHat CD, as in the following example Linux session:

    [root@localhost /]# mount /mnt/cdrom
    [root@localhost /]# cd /mnt/cdrom/RedHat/RPMS/
    [root@localhost RPMS]# rpm --install kernel-source-2.0.30-2.i386.rpm 

    If you do not have a RedHat CD, do the procedure most appropriate for your RedHat system to install the above RPM package.

    I then went to the directory /usr/src/linux, ran 'make menuconfig' and went to 'Character Devices --->', then enabled 'Advanced Power Management BIOS support' without enabling any of the other features ('Ignore USER SUSPEND', etc.).

    I then made a kernel image with 'make zImage' (and waited a while, hitting the space bar every 5-10 minutes so the machine would not crash), and copied the kernel image (located in the directory '/usr/src/linux-2.0.30/arch/i386/boot' as the file 'zImage') over to /boot.

    I then edited my /etc/lilo.conf so that the boot line which looked like this:


    looked like this:

    image=/boot/zImage and re-ran Lilo thusly:


    Be very careful with changing Lilo. Doing things incrrectly can make it difficult to re-enter Linux

    Once I did all this, I had a functional Linux system on my ThinkPad 365xd, which I am currently using to type this in (on the streets of Santa Cruz, no less)

    Speaking of being on the streets, I find the DTSN display almost unreadable in direct sunlight, and only somewhat readable in the shade on a sunny day (fortunatly, the Pacific coast fog is strong tonight). I hear that TFT displays are a lot better in this regard, and my old monochrome display had no problems with the sun. Sigh, sigh.

    - Sam (July 21 1997, Santa Cruz California)

    [1] The virtual terminals is something you can use to multitask in text mode with Linux. To change virtual terminals, simply hit alt and a function key between F1 and F6.

    More information on a 365XD and Linux.
    Even more information about a 365XD and Linux.