Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Two "bash"ed keyboards later...

Linux, you either love it or you hate it. For a while now, I've been lovin' it, and to great effect! The CSU-CHILL radar site now runs on about 60% Linux, some of it is Solaris, some VMS (eek!). Lately I've had some real bad luck with getting Linux running on some old hardware we wanted to resurrect.

First, I tried to put Fedora 4 on a K6-233 with 384 MB of RAM. Seemed easy enough, pulled out the old CD drive, plugged in a DVD unit, popped in the Fedora CD, started the install. Smooth sailing until I got to copying files off the DVD. It got to about the 4th file (glibc) and then froze. Mouse pointer frozen, keyboard LEDs unresponsive. Great... so I try again, this time in text mode. Now it installs glibc just fine. I thought my worries are over and go back to my regular work. 10 minutes later, it's frozen again, at some different spot. This time, I *can* switch virtual consoles, and one has a trace dump. Ugh. I suspected the media, even though one of my colleagues installed Fedora from the same DVD onto one of our servers. So I did a media check, there were no errors. So I try again, but it crashed at a different point, but this time the screen background turned red with gibberish characters all over. I tried doing a netboot and install from FTP, that didn't help either (same sort of error). Oddly, Knoppix works just fine on the same comp. Gave up on this one pretty soon, coz it's a ratty comp anyway.

Next, we got a pair of old dual Athlon-MP machines, with a gigabyte of RAM each, on a Tyan Tiger-MP (S2460) mobo from a dismantled Beowulf cluster. The Athlon-MPs weren't the fastest on the block - 1600+ - but were more than enough for our eventual application. I tried to install it on the first box, this time I started right away in text mode. Locked up about 75% of the way through the install... rats! After fiddling with several kernel arguments and disabling all optional packages (X, Gnome, etc), I finally got the blessed thing to come up. Satisfied, I moved the comp off the desk and turned to the next one. This time, Fedora Core threw up a kernel panic almost immediately. Ugh... but then this comp's BIOS was detecting only half of the 1 GB RAM we stuffed in there. memtest86 told me that all RAM after 512 MB was bad, so I removed one DIMM. This time, Fedora installed flawlessly in graphics mode. The system came up fine, I set up the three NICs we put in there (it's gonna be a router) and everything was good. Tux seemed to be beaming down on me! The next day we got a KVM switch and some extra fans to cool the cases. I can finally boot both of the Athlon-MP comps and test out the router config etc. Or so I thought... the first comp refused to boot! AARGH! First, it just sat there after power on. No BIOS, no POST beeps, no nothing. After reseating the RAM and NICs, I tried again. It came up, and booted FC4. I did a "yum -y update" and left it for a while. After downloading 24 of 115 files, it locked up. Bummer. It rebooted once more into Linux, then hung again. After this, no amount of coaxing could get it to do anything but sit there dumbly, a whirring mass of fans. Tried removing the CPUs one at a time, no joy. Swapped RAM modules to no avail. Did everything except wave a dead chicken (we were fresh out, you see...) Finally, Dave thought it'd be best if we just buy a new mobo and CPU.

Today I started off on using Linux on a little ARM embedded control board I'm using for a project. This is fun, a tiny little chip on a board, with two DRAM chips and some Flash can run Linux! I can telnet to it, tinker around... fun! See the Technologic website for info on the TS-7250.

Considering converting my laptop to use Linux too. I use it for FPGA programming, and was therefore reluctant to switch. Now that Xilinx released ISE 8.1 for Linux with a *sane* user interface, I no longer have a need for Windows at all!

Guess what, I wear my Tux baseball hat every day!

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