Linux on a Zenith Z-Lite 425L
by Eric Myers <> Last Updated: 9 April 2003

These notes describe my success in running Linux on a Zenith Z-lite 425L laptop computer. In the past I have generally used it as a portable terminal to connect back to my desktop computer when I'm out of the office, and it has also worked well for troubleshooting network connections and to sniff the network for security monitoring. More recently, I used it as part of the Vassar College Modern Physics Laboratory for data acquisition (DAQ) for an experiment to measure the lifetime of cosmic ray muons (see below).

Figure 1: Zenith Z-Lite 425L ("xena") running Linux 2.0.35 (from the Slackware 3.6 distribution). (The speaker is connected to a nearby desktop machine, not the laptop).

Because the hard drive is so small (only 150MB) I don't run X11 on it, but with gpm I still have a functioning mouse (actually a trackball), and I use the screen program to provide multiple text windows. (You can do the same thing with Linux virtual consoles, but then you have to log in to each console window separately. I actually use both.)

xena - Operating System and software
Distribution Slackware 3.6
Kernel: 2.0.35
Window system: screen and/or Linux consoles,
with gpm for mouse support. I don't run X11.
Installed Software: GNU Emacs 20.3.1, perl 5.005_02
screen 3.7.2, ssh 1.2.26, pgp 2.6.2
tripwire 1.2, mush 7.2.6 beta(4)
lynx, arpwatch, tcpdump, rdist, rsync

Linux Installation

When I first found this machine it had been abandoned for several years. It was running Windows 3.1, and as a result it was so slow that it was next to useless.

A colleague had just installed Slackware 3.4 on his home machine, and he still had the set of floppy disks he had created for that installation. So all I really had to do to install Linux was create the proper boot disk (bare.i) and root disk (pcmcia.gz). One can download the boot and root disk images from The Slackware Linux Project. After booting from the boot disk all one really has to do is read the instructions as they are presented and feed in the other disks as called for.

Figure 3: The floppy drive is in a separate external housing, which also acts as a power supply.
If you want to be sure you know what you are doing then you might want to read the READMExxx.TXT file and perhaps INSTALL.TXT (which is actually the Linux Installation HOWTO). These are included in the full Slackware distribution.

If you don't want to make a stack of 20 or 30 floppy disks to install Linux there is another way to do it. Once you have installed the A disk series (core Linux) and N disk series (Networking) then you have enough to run as an NFS client. Put the rest of the packages to install (or the whole distribution) on another machine on a filesystem that is exported to the laptop. On the laptop run the setup program and for the software source select "NFS mounted filesystem". You will have to enter some basic network info, such as the IP address of the NFS server, but once you have the disk mounted via NFS it's very easy to install anything else you need (as long as you have room).

This is the same procedure I've used to upgrade, first from Slackware 3.4 to Slackware 3.5, and more recently to Slackware 3.6 (Linux 2.0.35 kernel). The one problem I had was that I tried to NFS export to the laptop a CD-ROM containing the full Slackware distribution. Exporting the CD directly didn't work, so in the end I had to copy the whole CD to a hard drive partition and export that partition via NFS to the laptop.

Zenith Z-Lite 425L - Specifications
Processor: 80486SL (no math coprocessor)
Speed: 25 MHz
Memory: 6.4 MB
Hard Drive: 162 MB (147MB w/ formatted ext2 filesystem)
Pointer Device: Litepoint IP-100 trackball which attaches
at the front of the keyboard (see Figure 1).
The type for gpm is "-t ps2".
An external mouse can also be used.
Network Card: 3Com Etherlink III LAN+33.6 PCMCIA card.
10Base-T ethernet and 33.6 Kbps modem.
(3Com 3c562 chip - I use 3c589 driver.)
Floppy Drive: External 3.5" 1.44MB drive, which connects
via side port and also provides power connection.
CD-ROM None. (Might work with PCMCIA SCSI controller?)
Video Chip: VGA, 256K memory. (I'm not running X11!)
Display: 7 in. x 5.2 in., 640x480 monochrome
transmissive LCD (supports 64 shades of grey).
RTC battery: Toshiba Lithium Battery CR2032 (3V)
Battery Pack: Toshiba Ni-MH Battery Pack BA-1100 (8.4V, 2200mAh)
Sound: None? (It does beep, but that's it so far.)
PCMCIA: Two slots, side by side on rear bottom.
I/O ports: External PS/2 mouse connecetor.
Serial Port (RS-232C) configurable as "COM1" or "COM2".
Parallel Printer port (DB-25)
External video adapter
   (Horiz: 31.49 kHz, Vert: 57-60 or 70 Hz)

  External mouse port External video port DB-25 Parallel Port RS-232C Serial Port
Figure 2: Rear view showing PCMCIA slots and I/O ports.

Power Managment

From the BIOS one can select what happens when the power button is pressed or the lid is closed. The options are:

Power Button: Power ON/OFF
Lid Open/Closed: Rest/Resume
No Beep/Normal

It seems doubtful that there is any chance that apm can control anything on this old thing.

Serial Port

The serial port on this machine can be used to direclty read data from laboratory devices such as a Multi-Channel Analyser (MCA). In the spring of 2003 I used this machine in the Vassar College Modern Physics Laboratory for data acquisition for an experiment to measure the lifetime of cosmic ray muons. Here are detailed instruction.

The following year we also used Dell desktop computers on wheeled carts, with UPS and wifi cards, for the same purpose, though this was a bit more awkward than using an old laptop.

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© Copyright 2000,2003 by Eric Myers