Installing Linux on a Hewlett-Packard Omnibook 800.

  • What is the HP Omnibook 800 ?
  • Why install Linux ?
  • The Installation Hardware.
  • Linux Installation Time.
  • The Linux Installation Process.
  • The built-in Mouse.
  • X-Windows.
  • Peripherals.
  • Interfacing a Linux laptop to household appliances.
  • Linux Links.

What is the HP Omnibook 800 ?

The HP Omnibook 800 is a sub-laptop running with an Intel Pentium 166MHz MMx CPU with 512Kb L2 cache. It has a 10.4 inch active matrix (TFT) colour LCD screen with a resolution of up to 800 x 600 at 65,536 colours. It is fitted with an accelerated 128-bit PCI controller with 1 Mb of Video RAM (NeoMagic. 2093). It weighs 1.77 kg, and comes equipped with the following connections:

Port/Connector Configuration Gender Comments
Serial Port
standard 9-way D-plug Male 16550 UART
115,000 baud
Parallel Port
standard 25-way D-socket Female
SCSI-2 Port non-standard HP socket Female (This is unusual for either laptops or sub-laptops). The non-standard socket requires an adaptor cable which provides a standard SCSI-2 output plug.
2 x PCMCIA Cards
Cardbus ready
2 x Type II or 1 x Type III
SVGA-out port standard 15-way D-socket Female Up to 1024 x 768 x 256 colours
IRDA-2 Transmitter/receiverstandard IR TransceiverNAUp to 4 Mbps data transfer rate
3.5 inch Floppy Disk portproprietary HP socketFemale
Headphones out
Stereo out
jack socketFemale
Microphone in
Stereo out
jack socketFemale
Power connector socketjack socketFemale12 volts input supply at 3.3 Amps
Kensington security slotslotFemaleAllows tethering of the laptop for security
Hard Disk Drive connectorIDEFemaleStandard IDE Internal Hard disk drive

Why install Linux ?

There are several good reasons as to why I wanted to install Linux on the Omnibook 800, these being as follows:

  1. Being a regular user of Windows 95/98, NT, SunOS 4.1.3 and FreeBSD, I prefer it to the other options. Simple as that.
  2. I needed a portable computer for use in the field for data aqcuisition from ground based sensors, and sensor data telemetered in real time from rockets and for launch operations of rockets. Since this was going to entail programming of the parallel port in C, C++ and eventually Java, the simplest options were to use DOS or Linux. Let's face it, with that choice, how could anyone possibly fail to choose Linux ?
  3. Having Apache Web Server running on a portable is a godsend if you need to develop any cgi code on the road.
  4. Vast amount of useful tools.

The Installation Hardware.

Installing Linux on a HP Omnibook 800, was extremely straightforward. The Omnibook 800 comes with a SCSI port as standard, so I connected the SCSI HP CD-ROM drive to the Omnibook 800 SCSI port, and put a Redhat Linux 5.2 CD in it. I also connected up the external 3.5 inch floppy drive. When the Linux installation started, it picked up the SCSI CD-ROM straight away - very impressive.

I chose Redhat Linux 5.2 because I had installed earlier versions of Redhat Linux previously on other hardware, so was happy using it again. Having said that, I came close to getting SuSE and Debian implementations of Linux - I'll probably get them at some point and install them on one of my development boxes, just out of interest.

Linux Installation Time.

The installation process took me about 30-45 minutes, but that was only because I chose a custom installation. The workstation and server installations would have taken considerably less time.

The Linux Installation Process.

The 4 Gb hard disk that came with the Omnibook 800 was already partitioned into 2 x 2Gb partitions, so I left Windows-95 on the first partition, and installed Linux on the second partition. The Redhat manual recommends approximately 120 Mb for a minimal install, approximately 450 Mb of disk space for a Linux Workstation installation, and approximately 1.65 Gb of disk space for a Linux Server installation, so the 2 Gb I had was going to be ample for a server installation.

There are very few salient features of my install, since it was so simple, the only features that stand out are :

  • I set the swap size to 48 Mb, since I had 48 Mb of RAM in the Omnibook 800.
  • Since it is a laptop, I wasn't too fussy about needing lots of partitions for admin, so I just set up 3 partitions; /swap, /boot and /root, and just slung all the usual directories under the /root partition.
  • I set the screen display to a 800 x 600 LCD display (More on this in a minute).
  • I also made a floppy boot disk during the install.

At the end of the install, the laptop booted to Linux flawlessly. No problems at all.

The built-in Mouse.

The HP Omnibook 800 comes with a bizarre flip-out mouse. It takes a bit of getting used to, but works quite well on a flat surface. Sat on your lap, it's a bit of a pig to use it though.

When running the Linux installation process, the mouse should be configured as a PS/2 mouse. Following installation, I experienced no problems with the mouse. Mouse operations with X-windows on the Omnibook 800 are fine.


Problem: I started up X-windows, but it was having none of it. This was a bit of a bore, since I really needed to take advantage of X-windows for some of my development work (such as web development).

Stopgap Solution: I ran Xconfigurator (which didn't crash the machine), and dropped the screen display to a 640 x 400 LCD display in what looked like 0.5 bit colour.

X-windows then started up without a hitch - problem was, the screen display at this resolution blew chunks.

Eventual Solution: I downloaded the Precision Insight XFree86.neomagic fix (available form both the Precision Insight and the Redhat web sites). The screen display looks far, far better, now X-windows is useable.


So far, I have successfully tested the following peripherals with the HP Omnibook 800 running Redhat Linux 5.2:

External 3.5 inch floppy disk driveHPHP proprietarySuccessful - reads and writes floppy disks
External 8-speed SCSI CD-ROM driveHPSCSISuccessful - reads CD-ROMs
PCMCIA network cardD-linkPCMCIASuccessful

Interfacing a Linux laptop to household appliances.

Well, it just had to be done. Using as parallel port for just printing just seemed a bit tame. So I started thinking of other devices which could be interfaced to a Linux box.

Questions for new converts to the cause

How do I mount external devices such as floppy disk drives and CD-ROMs ?

Use the mount command. e.g.

For floppy disk drives: mount /mnt/floppy
For CD-ROMs: mount /mnt/cdrom

How do I copy files from a MS-DOS format floppy disk.

Use the mcopy command. There are a number of commands for accessing MS-DOS format floppy disks. To copy a file from the floppy disk to the directory you are currently in, type:

mcopy a:filename.extension .

To copy a file from the floppy disk to a specific directory, type:

mcopy a:filename.extension /directory

Other Linux HP800 Omnibook Websites

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(c) 1999-2000 Richard Osborne, London.