Running my laptop without a hard drive?

Ok. [Insert long, bizarre story here.] Ants ate the hard drive to my laptop! It no longer works. As the laptop has some problems with it, I don’t want to put any money in it. I would still however like to use it for light word processing/note taking when I’m on the road.

The floppy drive still works. The DVD player still works. It’s a Pentium 2 with 128MB of memory. It also has a LAN card and I have a desktop I can network it to.

Is there any way I can get it to work without a hard drive? Is there an operating system I can run just off of the CD? Maybe I can set up a portion of the RAM as a RAMdisk. Is there a simple DOS-based shareware/freeware word processor that I could run? I need to be able to produce files I can export to MS Word later.

I sincerely appreciate any advise anyone can give me.

Thanks in advance.

uhh… How the hell did ants eat your hard drive?

You cannot even start a computer without a hard drive… you are sOL until you get a new harddrive…

Format a: /s

transfers the DOS system to a bootable floppy and it starts.

That’s how pc’s started before HD’s were cheap and commonplace.

There’s no reason you can’t run your laptop without a hard drive. The original PC’s shipped without them – just a floppy drive or two. But don’t expect much in the way of bells and whistles if you boot from a floppy!

If it’s possible to set up the laptop so that it boots from the DVD at startup, or can be diverted by the floppy to do so, you’d have to get access to a CD burner and install your OS to a CD. I’ve never done it, but I don’t know why you couldn’t.

Some 'puters can also be set up to boot from a LAN via a network card, but you’d need a dedicated server someplace.

A ramdisk is also possible, but I wouldn’t bother for two reasons. (1) It would seriously cripple the laptop by occupying most of the available RAM, and (2) you’d have to go through most of the stuff above anyway, since you’d have to load your OS from scratch every time you boot.

Were I in your shoes, I’d scrounge around on the 'net and find myself a good used HDD. I recently bought a NEW 12 GB drive for around $75. Just make sure that what you order will fit in your machine. Almost all laptops use 2.5" HDD’s, but the thickness varies quite a bit – from 9.5 mm to 25 mm. Most are either 9.5 or 12.5, but laptops don’t allow for error!

Oh… a new laptop HDD is that cheap? I didn’t know that. I will have to look around. Thanks!

I’d still appreciate comments as to perhaps how I could run the OS off of the CD player. My desktop has a burner so that’s no problem.

Then from DOS just type “EDIT.” That’ll give you a real cheap word procesor, that can be saved to disk as a *.txt file which coulb be opened in MS word.

Well, you could use a working Windows 9x PC to create a floppy disk with CD-ROM drivers on it. Then you could create a bootable CD-ROM with the disk image on it (so it will boot) as well as any other programs you want. EDIT is located in C:\Windows\Command and is a text editor for DOS. You could boot off the CD, work in EDIT and save your docs to a floppy.

If you’re feeling adventurous, you can create a bootable CD that contains working (GUI) versions of Linux, BeOS or QNX. You can also create a CD-ROM that contains a bootable image of Win9x, but it’s a long, laborious process that might or might not work. Look at: for more info. Rather than spend all day working on putting 9x on a CD, I’d just bit the bullet and buy a new HDD, but that’s just me.

These guys can probably fix you up.

Thanks for the link! Hey… two more questions:

  1. Is it possible to hook up a new HD through a USB port? Could I use a full size desktop model then? I’m not too sure how long this laptop is going to last–it would be great if I could use it for my desktop later.

  2. Can I do anything with the DVD player? Any way to play DVD’s off of it directly without using Windows?

Thanks again.

  1. USB Drive: maybe, but I’m not sure if you can boot off of it. You might need to boot off a floppy\bootable CD and load the DOS USB drivers, then launch Windows\Linux off the floppy.

  2. No. AFAIK, you need some kind of GUI OS to play DVDs. IIRC, you can’t play DVDs (or even MPEG movies) under DOS.

Take a look here – scroll down to “Hard Drives and Accessories” – and you’ll see a conversion kit that’ll allow you to easily install a laptop drive in a desktop PC. I’ve used one, and it’s a snap. If you can stand the whopping pricetag (< $5, plus S&H:eek: ), this might be a better way to go.

Go into your BIOS and, if you haven’t already done so, set your boot order to Diskette first. Google “mini os” and find an “os on a diskette”. Some of them will let you check your mail and stuff. Forget any graphic based capabilities.

I have heard there is a way to boot directly from USB, but as far as I undertood it was extremely complicated and not entirely risk free. However, there are boot-disks available that will let you get to your usb drive fairly quickly. There are also very (physically) small usb drives with very large storage.

      • Somebody recently figured out how to run Windows off the CD-ROM and RAM, no HD required. You had to burn a special CD that would put the registry into RAM instead of onto the HD. It was for 98 or 2K, I think, and rather complicated. Check Slashdot.
  • As far as I’ve ever heard, USB devices require 32-bit drivers and DOS is only 16-bit–so you cannot boot a PC off a USB device. I dunno much about XP tho’…

Knoppix is a Linux distribution that runs straight from CD, no HD required

If the laptop’s BIOS has the ability to boot from a PCMCIA slot, you can get a larllge CompactFlash card (256MB is about $60 at the moment) and a $10 CF->PCMCIA adapter, and install an OS on the CF card. I’ve successfully done this on a ThinkPad before, but my Toshiba refuses to boot from a PCMCIA slot. It works well for increasing runtime (less power used) and decreasing noise.

also, sometimes I say “larllge” instead of “large”.

Thanks Reverend for the Knoppix link. That looks interesting. I think I’ll try it until I can get a new hard drive.

Dude, you’ve gotta explain to us about the ants… :eek:


Life in the tropics; cheap rented house not sealed well; vicious, fast, and hungry red ants. Sometimes you get swarms that appear out of nowhere. Look out on your porch or in your bathroom and there’ll be thousands of them. An hour later they are gone.

The laptop was hooked up to the desktop, up and running. (Note: When at home I use an external monitor, keyboard, and mouse, so it’s not like it was sitting on my lap.) I was doing some work on it then went away for a couple hours. I came back, hit a key, and all it did was click-click-click. Ctrl-alt-del didn’t work, so I had to use the power switch to reboot. I opened it up, and there were tons of ants! I took out the battery–only a few in that compartment, but on the other side with the hard drive, dozens and dozens. I could tell that it was gone.

I had to use bug spray on it to kill them all. I stuck it in a spare room, and when I checked on it the next day, they were still coming out! I sprayed again. After I got it cleaned up I tried again. The HD still went click-click-click. Eventually I booted with a floppy, and everything else seems o.k., but the HD is gone.

I thank God that I had just gotten the desktop and backed-up (very nearly) everything with its CD burner, otherwise there would have been some serious weeping and wailing.

To this day I wonder what it was that was so tasty about the hard disk.

Just for shits & giggles, I’d open the drive if it were mine, and take a look-see. I doubt if you’ll find a single ant, alive or dead. Hard drives are essentially sealed to the atmosphere; cracking one would be a mighty tough proposition for even the fiestiest ant.

Considering the age of your laptop, it’s more likely that the drive just died. Although remarkably robust and reliable, especially considering their relatively low cost these days, hard drives fail. Yours very likely just reached the end of its service life. Mobile drives, in my experience, tend to fail more regularly and more quickly than their bigger desktop cousins, perhaps due to their smaller size/decreased tolerances.

On the other hand, it makes a great story!