Sunday, May 27, 2012

Installing Debian 6 onto a VIA Epia 5000-L and IDE HDD

First boot with GUI
LXDE + Debian 6.0.5 on 10-year-old Epia 5000-L motherboard
I have a 10-year-old mini-ITX motherboard that I'm cobbling with a few parts into a useful system.

In this post, I discussed testing the old motherboard, and getting it to boot.

Since it arrived without any storage attached, in this post I discussed the hurdles getting it to boot Debian 6 from a USB drive. That wasn't easy, since the motherboard predated most forms of USB-boot, and the BIOS didn't support USB-HDD, the current standard for bootable USB.

Next, in this post, I discussed the adventure of using that USB boot to bootstrap a Debian install into an IDE-connected SD card. This didn't work out - one bootable IDE connector was defective, and a second worked...but wasn't bootable. I may return to this, since 3.5-inch HDDs are enormous - almost as big as the motherboard!

So I finally broke down and spent a few dollars on a 40GB HDD. This has the big advantage that the HDD can be partitioned for experimentation. Installing to the HDD is essentially the same process as installing to the SD card.

Lessons Learned

Hooked up:
Left: PS/2 Mouse, PS/2 Keyboard, VGA Monitor,
           USB Wireless-g dongle
Bottom: Power button
Right: Power to HDD, Power from wall, IDE to HDD
1) The -i486 architecture is important. This motherboard is too old to support cmov, cx8, and pae. All three of those are in the latest Ubuntu kernels. cmov and cx8 are part of the i686 instruction set, so specifying a i486 kernel gets rid of them. pae is a new default since Debian 6.0. So a Debian 6.0 kernel compiled for x486 will be useful on the motherboard...until I get better at compiling my own kernels.

2) Debootstrap does not include the wireless-tools package, so a bootstrapped system won't have wireless access. Adding wireless-tools is trivial if you remember to do it: During the chroot session when installing the kernel and grub and configuring the accounts and fstab and hostname, install wireless-tools and configure /etc/network/interfaces too.

For the first HDD experiment, I installed Debian 6 + LXDE onto a partition of the HDD.

Startup test: 45 Seconds from power-on to text-login prompt, 95 seconds to power-on to GDM login prompt.

Next tests: I want to try Debian Live for running the whole system in RAM. And I want to try modding the latest Ubuntu kernel to remove those three features and try Unity on it.

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