HP Omnibook 800 Linux Installation

Installing Linux on a Hewlett-Packard Omnibook 800.

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:

Table 1: HP Omnibook 800 I/O Specifications
Port/Connector Configuration Gender Comments
Serial Port, RS-232 Protocol standard 9-way D-plug Male 16550 UART, 115,000 baud
Parallel Port, ECP and EPP 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 Male
SVGA-out port standard 15-way D-socket Female Up to 1024 x 768 x 256 colours
IRDA-2 Transmitter/receiver standard IR Transceiver NA Up to 4 Mbps data transfer rate
3.5 inch Floppy Disk port proprietary HP socket Female
Headphones out / Stereo out jack socket Female
Microphone in / Stereo in jack socket Female
Power connector socket jack socket Female 12 volts input supply at 3.3 Amps
Kensington security slot slot Female Allows tethering of the laptop for security
Hard Disk Drive connector IDE Female Standard 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 :

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:

Table 2: HP Omnibook 800 peripherals
Peripheral Manufacturer Port Results
External 3.5 inch floppy disk drive HP HP proprietary Successful - reads and writes floppy disks
External 8-speed SCSI CD-ROM drive HP SCSI Successful - reads CD-ROMs
PCMCIA network card D-link PCMCIA Successful


May 2001

Essentially, the Omnibook 800 has been given a new lease of life as a Linux headless server for mobile operations, and it works beautifully. In its new role, the Omnibook headless server is equipped with the following software:

April 2001

Well, the Omnibook 800 has undergone what may be described as a radical transformation. Thanks to a technical collaboration with my friendly Linux guru, James Macfarlane at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, the screen was completely removed, and the hard disk was swapped out for a much larger 10Gb hard disk drive.

March 2001

I am currently looking in to fitting a 2 line or 4 line LCD display and downloading LCDproc, to run on the Omnibook 800, this way, I would be able to keep an eye on how the server is behaving.

February 2001

OK, solar panels with a decent amount of power generation are definitely available. A UK company called Solar Century supplies some ideal solar panels. The question now, is how little power does an Omnibook 800 without an LCD screen and running Linux use ? HP claim 5 to 12 Watts in typical use. There is a solar panel that provides 10 Watts, but I don't yet know if the Omnibook 800 could run on that without a screen. If it can, then the fun can begin.

January 2001

Brainwave! With the amount of database interfacing I am doing in relation to my professional web based work, it would be incredibly useful to use the Omnibook 800 as a server with a database on it, and a full web development environment. If the screen is removed completely, the power requirements should drop considerably, and I may even be able to run it off solar power in the field.

Yes, a solar powered mobile web server and database server would be way cool.

October 2000

I took the Sony Vaio out to use at a rocket launch in the Black Rock Desert, Nevada, U.S.A. It worked great, but the Omnibook 800 always had a longer battery life. I will have to look into powering laptops off solar power. Sat in the middle of the desert, mains power is surprisingly thin on the ground, which is a bit of a problem when you are trying to find a rocket with a GPS hooked up to your laptop with a moving map, and the power dies.

October 1999

I needed a working laptop for work, so given that the Omnibook 800 is currently out of action, I bought a Sony Vaio 505 in a moment of madness. The Vaio is gorgeous, but this does not mean the end of the road for the Omnibook 800 - I just have to find a use for it with the broken screen.

September 1999

The Omnibook 800 has been "ahem" damaged. I tried to fit all the peripherals on top of it in a hard case, and it cracked the screen very badly. End result, the screen is ruined. I connected it to a 14 inch monitor, however, and with the exception of the broken screen, everything else is fine and still working. The cost for a replacement screeen was quoted as being more than the cost of the Omnibook itself, so I am going to have to think of a new use for the Omnibook 800.


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.


A couple of questions based on my experiences.

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