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So I'll presume that if you're using downloaded mandrake, you actually did check the md5sum ??? to confirm that the download(s) weren't corrupted.
Plus, have you tried during the install procedure, to manually select the packages that you want and just go for the basics ??
Say, something like the base system, KDE, some office stuff and internet? i.e. a very basic graphic install. I'm thinking on the lines that if you could do that, you can then install the other stuff that you might want a package or the ones that needed for certain facilities seperately. Then you should be able to narrow down what seems to be causing the problem.
Sorry if you've already tried that, I know it's a bit of a crappy reply but it's all I can think of right now i.e. the obvious things.
9.1 fine. If it works OK also fine, but only 700mb? are you sure???
The 9.3 version thats on my desk (and in my system) is about 5 or 6 cd's. I understand that with the advent of 9.3, they've dropped the standard and pro versions, it's just pro now, which logically would be larger.
The last time I got a standard version of mandrake, it was 3 cd's.
Anyhow, I don't know if you can, but maybe if the base install of SuSE 9.1 has worked OK, then you should really find out about getting a cheap version of 9.3 - theres lots of stuff that you'd have to update otherwise (personally, the 9.3 seems excellent too me).
As for the size of distros', they're not all the same. You only need to look at DSL (Damn Small Linux) to see that. though I don't think it comes with stuff like KDE or Gnome. Only the "light weight" window managers.
Well done my friend and good luck now you're up and running.