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Let's say I have an IBM PC with a usable hard disk but no RAM, and I want to copy data from a floppy to another.
Is there any OS that would allow me to do this?

Requirements:

  • Runs even if no RAM is present
  • Command line interface that allows to copy data from a disk to another
  • Bonus for allowing me to browse the FAT filesystem of the floppies, to copy a particular file to a particular place
  • Any price/license, but ideally open source

USB sticks OK, if that can help.

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    I guess it might be possible to just use the on-CPU cache (which is larger than original PCs that just ran DOS), but I doubt any PC architectures (and firmware) will work like that in practice. This is not a problem that can be solved by choosing an OS. – Neil Slater Sep 8 '14 at 10:39
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    Related: superuser.com/q/805340 – Tymric Sep 8 '14 at 12:35
  • What vintage IBM PC are we talking about here? If it's an actual "IBM PC" (5150) or "IBM PC XT" (5160), there should be enough RAM onboard for such an operation (assuming multiple floppy drives, so it's a transfer from one device to another - disk swapping will stretch your RAM requirements past the 64/128/640k onboard). If it's x86 (rather than 8088) then you're off to ebay (or equivalent) for 72pin dimms, I'm afraid. – Shaun Sep 11 '14 at 23:34
  • Can we cheat - and use a USB stick? You might, for instance, be able to boot Linux, or other o/s, from CD and have it use the USB stick for RAM. In fact, some Linuces are designed to be used as a guest, leaving no trace on a PC which you borrow. Maybe you can find one of those which will use part of its own USB stick as RAM (exclusively; not accessing the host's RAM at all). I would reckoned looking for forensic software distros & am reasonably confident that you can find one. Btw, I am unsure why this is "too broad" and would vote to reopen if I could. Maybe you can reword it & get it open? – Mawg says reinstate Monica Mar 15 '17 at 8:49
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    @Mawg: Do you have a particular forensic distro to recommend that for sure will not need any RAM to even be present? – Nicolas Raoul Mar 15 '17 at 10:20
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What you want isn't possible. The PC architecture assumes the presence of some amount of RAM - it's not a choice of OS issue, it's a hardware architecture issue. There are all sorts of things that simply CAN'T work without some RAM in the system. I'd bet you can't get very far in the BIOS in any normal PC without some RAM present.

It IS entirely possible to build a computer that doesn't need RAM beyond whatever registers the CPU has (though it might well be...limited...in application), but the PC is NOT such an architecture.

Given that you don't want to do much with it, you don't need a lot of RAM, and for what you want you can simply use FreeDOS once you put a minimal amount of RAM in the PC.

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