Toshiba Satellite A200 without Vista

Over the last 6 weeks I spent more time than I want to think about trying to get a new Satellite (Model A200, or A200-03V, specifically PSAE3C-03V08C) to run an alternative OS to its pre-installed Windows Vista. The laptop was attractively priced, perhaps because it was pre-loaded with Vista, as much as the fact that it was being cleared out for newer models. I think these models were engineered for XP and thrown on to the market with Vista drivers when Microsoft terminated its OEM licencing for XP installations, forcing computer manufactures to pre-install Vista.
Given the resources of the system – processor and memory – it falls short of what it seems to take to run Vista, and running Vista has other drawbacks.I wasn’t sure about changing to XP although that is the route I took in the end. One problem, for me and many users is having to buy XP off the shelf. There is a cost factor, and even if I had owned a valid working copy of XP, I needed to get working drivers for the hardware in the Satellite to complement the install set and complete the installation. Another potential problem is losing the recovery functions that Toshiba builds in with its HDD Recovery Utility.

My first move was to run the HDD Utility “make Toshiba Recovery Discs” from Vista. The recovery files – a complete disc image of the hard disc, with Vista, out of the box, are on the hard drive. This allows restoration after many kinds of screw-ups and failures, but but not useful for hard drive failures and partition errors. So I burned the recovery discs and I made sure not to touch the hidden partition at the beginning of the drive.
I tried out a few things in Vista, enough to convince me that it started slow and that its security advantage seems to consist of asking the user to manually reapprove things the user has already started. Configfee (a Toshiba program for networking) ran slowly under Vista (I decided later this extra did not add to Windows networking anyway).
I installed Ubuntu Linux at Gutsy Gibbon (7.10). This required me to give up an existing primary partition and resize partitions. I was able to give up the partition that had held the Toshiba restore image and installation files (NB – the image I had burned to DVD, not the hidden partitions that have the restore system). I upgraded Ubuntu to Hardy a couple weeks later.
I discovered that Ubuntu (or any other Linux) has problems with some devices, and some good solutions. The Satellite has built in Wireless card that uses Atheros 5007EG. The Atheros hardware drivers down run this card under Linux. There are two Linux work arounds, ndiswrapper and MadWifi. I used the latter. That seemed to work, although between the Gnome network utility and MadWifi, the graphic display didn’t give the signal strength for detected WiFi signals accurately. The network connections were good. The Gnome Network manager displayed information about wired or wireless connections and supported changing connections from wired to wireless or back. Samba supported reading Windows shared files over a network.
I had problems with getting all the things necessary to make the browser and browser plugins work – finding the right packages for standard addons like Acrobat Flash, Acrobat Reader, and multimedia streaming audio and video. I was able to find and install all the packages and get the right settings. I think the Linux world is keeping up, but there are gaps between the introduction of a new codec or player in the market and getting these changes into Linux. This part is handled well by Mozilla in the brower, but it depends on some of the media too and MPlayer, Totem and the rest are not handling all the Real Time and WMP streams.
However, the lack of device drivers is major limitation on Linux. The hardware manufacturers don’t have them. So, in a situation in which I might connect to a network with a printer, could I print? Would I need to get Internet access to find a package, if any, with more printer drivers?
My reservations about Linux were reinforced when I tried to get updates and found that the update manager and the synaptic package manager were dependent on gksu which appeared to have problems with some hardware. At that point I gave up. I don’t want to have to install a few dozen new packages a week, and I don’t want to keep having to engineer routes around problems that Windows users don’t have.
I ran into immediate problems when I removed the Linux GRUB bootloader. I was able to get around this by running the Toshiba Recovery disc. Time consuming but it got me back to square one. I probably could have fixed the boot manager another way and then run a partition utility but I didn’t try that.
My next move was to install XP in a dual boot situation. This introduced me to the problems of an XP installation on a Vista system. The first basic problem is that the XP installation disc does not recognize a hard drive on a Satellite A200. The XP installation disc needs to load a driver. The missing driver for this Toshiba model and series is the Intel Matrix driver. There are two ways of supplying the driver. One is to download it to a floppy. This means having, borrowing or buying a USB floppy, and having it plugged into a USB port on the Satellite on boot, hitting F6 when prompted, and then loading the driver from the floppy during the XP installation. This is the method I used. I found the driver on the Canadian Toshiba downloads site. It is available on Toshiba’s Euro site too. The other method (also see here) involves slipstreaming the driver into a custom XP install disc using NLite to assemble an image and burning a custom install disc. Interesting, but this involved learning to build the image and use it properly.
After that, things went smoothly. I followed some good advice from the Web about naming the drives and installing a Vista dual boot manager. I also followed advice about getting XP drivers and the XP version of Toshiba utilities from Toshiba, and running them in a particular order. One issue noted in a few forums is that the sound driver should be loaded at the end. It all worked. I made a point, having downloaded and decompressed all the files, of burning them to a CD in case of problems.
Things moved sideways when I was preparing to save a new backup image. I was going to defrag the C: drive (Vista) after removing a ton of junk (60 day trial MS Office). The system appeared to go to sleep during the defrag and I powered it off. I had lost data in the master boot record and the C: drive.
I reconsidered my plans. The dual boot system involved an extra step on start up, slowing down the XP start. I wasn’t planning to use Vista that much – and I had the ultimate option of restoring it from DVD if I ever wanted to “upgrade”. And, as I had discovered, this configuration was vulnerable to various changes.
I formatted over the Vista and XP partitions. I installed XP to the C: drive, using the USB floppy to supply the missing driver. I got XP running, then loaded all the Toshiba XP drivers. I had a new problem. I couldn’t get the Ethernet card (it is a motherboard or internal Realtek card) to run. XP device manager reported I had installed the driver, but the LED wasn’t lighting and XP Network connections said the device was not plugged to a network. I fixed that after installing the Toshiba hardware controls (Toshiba Hardware Settings changes device settings. I ran it and made sure the setting for internal Ethernet card was “on”, rebooted, reinstalled the Ethernet card driver, and it was all good.
After that I had wired and wireless networking, video, sound etc. Toshiba doesn’t supply the free Nero burning utility, like other manufacturers. It has its own Disc Creator which appears to have a good interface and to run well.
It seems that Toshiba Canada and Europe are providing resources that supporting the move to XP for these systems. Toshiba isn’t completely friendly to XP conversions. There are some utilities or programs available only in Vista for the Windows Media Center. Since there was no DVD player for XP I downloaded the Toshiba “Vista only” DVD player – which seems to run under XP.
Toshiba has a Bios upgrade for this model running for XP. I haven’t run that yet.


One response to “Toshiba Satellite A200 without Vista”

  1. SteveG Avatar

    That’s a lot of work! Linux is iffy on new hardware, but tends to run well on hardware at least a year old… gives the Linux development community a chance to develop the required drivers. You may have had better luck with Ubuntu 8.0 (Hardy Heron?), which is now available… I haven’t tried it on a laptop yet.
    I share your Vista pain. We have one laptop with Vista at home, but I don’t use it. At work, we order all new machines with XP Pro. We’re trying to skip Vista and wait for the next version of Windows.
    I wish we could skip Office 2007, too.