Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Linux on a Panasonic Toughbook CF-27

Having been given a Toughbook CF-27, I decided to see if I could run Linux on it. As you can see from the specs below, it's quite low powered but it's very solidly built and also splash proof. It's also completely silent due to the lack of any fans and has a very nice, bright, screen. I was hoping it would be the touchscreen version, but alas it isn't.


Panasonic Toughbook CF-27 (Mark 2)
Model no. CF-27 EJ6K3EE
CPU: 300Mhz Mobile Pentium II
RAM: 128MB 100Mhz SODIMM
Hard drive: Toshiba MK8113MAT 6.4GB (now 30GB)
Floppy (Interchangable)
Screen: 12.1 inches (None-touchscreen version)
Connectivity: Connexant 56k modem,
2x PCMCIA slots
1x USB port.
Sound: Yamaha YMF-744B
Graphics: Neomagic MagicGraph 256AV

OS Installation and Customisation

As the Bios has a password on it, it won't boot from anything but the hard drive, so I had to take the hard drive out and use another PC to install the OS. I chose Debian Lenny as it's well supported and a little more lightweight than the latest versions of the *buntu family. But first I had to take the hard drive out of it's metal caddy, which was easier than I thought. An access plate on the bottom of the laptop is only held in with two latches, and the caddy comes out quite easily. Removing the drive was easier than other Toughbook models.

Notice the sim-card slot, it also has an extendible flexible antenna. (click for larger images)

I then attached the hard drive to a mini-IDE to IDE adaptor and installed it temporarily in my test box (AMD socket A/Via board, 1.6Ghz). I installed the XFCE and Gnome desktops (type desktop=xfce at the boot prompt for an XFCE-only system), build-essential, lm-sensors, fusesmb and a few other bits. Once finished, I shutdown, removed the drive and reinstalled it back in the Toughbook. I'm pretty sure Windows would have had a fit at this point but Debian booted quite happily, despite the big difference in hardware. I downloaded Google Chrome to replace Epiphany and Iceweasel (aka Firefox 3.0.6). I haven't always got along with Chrome but it's quite handy for low spec PCs since it's fairly lightweight and I like the built-in browser sync for bookmarks and themes using your Google account. Of course there's always the other option of Midori. Due to the lack of an ethernet port or wireless (which was an option), I'm using an Edimax PCMCIA wireless card, which worked once I downloaded the Ralink firmware. I installed the deb package with 'dpkg -i firmware-ralink_0.14+lenny2_all.deb' as root, as the Gdebi tool isn't installed by default.

As I don't plan on storing much on this laptop, I decided to keep the original 6.4GB hard drive but I've seen some with 30GB or 40GB drives. I may upgrade it later. My next job is getting the onboard sound working. I've had trouble before with Yamaha sound cards on Toshiba laptops. I'll update this post once i get it sorted!


Fixed the sound problem thanks to this bug report, that includes the solution. Debian doesn't include the alsa-firmware package anymore so I had to download it from here and compile it ("./configure" and "make" in the alsa-firmware directory once you've extracted it) and copy the firmware files (.fw) to /lib/firmware/yamaha (need to create it). Rebooted and now it works!

Update 2
Added the Debian backports repository and installed the later version of Pidgin so I can now chat on MSN on it.

Update 3
I've now upgraded the RAM to 192MB and using the Gnome desktop as i had problems with disappearing panels in XFCE, plus I generally prefer it.

Update 4
I've just upgraded the hard drive to a 30GB Toshiba drive (often cited as the maximum this can take which is wrong, the maximum is 120GB, limited by the age of the controller) that came from an old defunct laptop and also served in my Compaq N400C at one time. It already had Debian installed, booted straight away and bizarrely has no problems with the onboard sound.

Update 5
I have recently upgraded to Debian Squeeze without any problems, although it did take awhile!
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