Atomic Linux


Two minutes to unpack, five minutes to install, three days to get almost everything working. The problem with trying to work with brand new hardware is that there is very, very little information anywhere to refer to. Still, how hard could it be?

The server in question needed a little preparation work before the board switch (EPIA-PD to Intel D945GCLF). Running Gentoo Linux with a custom, board-specific kernel meant that another would need to be built before installing the new hardware. A quick emerge gentoo-sources genkernel and genkernel all built and installed a standard, modular kernel that should be suitable for our purposes. Should be.

Swap the boards, reconnect everything, power on… All looking good so far, flickering on the Ethernet, power and HDD status lights, the fan spinning up on the northbridge… The reverberating, deafening whine of the northbridge fan as it howled like an angry wasp in a blender. Not good. Amazing, Intel design a processor that can be passively cooled and then pair it with a northbridge fan that would deafen a rock. OK, power it all back off, remove the offending fan, replace with a nice, quiet ThermalTake fan that just happens to be laying around and try again.

Much better. Power on, no ear protectors required. An Intel BIOS splash-screen, a few status codes, the Realtek PXE boot loader… Strange, putting that above the HDD in the default boot order, but no matter. Reset, enter BIOS, find that it isn’t above the HDD. Curiouser and curiouser.

Try again, same problem. No boot device found. Check cabling, reseat IDE and power cables, same error. It can see the HDD, it appears in the BIOS screens, it just won’t boot from it. On a hunch, boot from a rescue disc (PLD-Linux Rescue Disc) and double-check the HDD partitions. No partitions had a bootable flag – the exact same disk worked perfectly on the EPIA board, but not on the evidently pickier Intel kit. A quick flag toggle, and away we go again.

Better still. Finds the disk, loads GRUB, begins to boot the Gentoo modular kernel. Everything looks good – until udev starts up, a kernel oops then a total hard freeze. No response to anything except the reset switch. A second try to rule out some bizarre one-off issue… exactly the same oops. Something in the generic kernel is really upsetting this board. OK, back into the PLD Rescue disc, a quick chroot and time to build a custom kernel. Yes, that should fix all the problems…

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