Trials and tribulations encountered while installing Debian Squeeze on a new Intel D525MW motherboard. Probably a must-read for any Linux users interested in this motherboard.My original plan for installing MisterHouse involved using a spare Soekris 4801, a low-power pentium-class embedded machine. It soon became apparent, however, that the kind of things I wanted my home automation server to do were simply too taxing for that lowly box. Don’t get me wrong – the Net4801 is a nice little workhorse, and would perform admirably for a basic MisterHouse installation; however, I’m a sucker for pretty charts and graphs, and a simple cacti installation made the poor little thing nearly grind to a halt.
I considered using an idle EPIA-M motherboard I had never gotten around to playing with but decided to check out the current crop of Mini ITX boards. The Intel D525MW immediately caught my eye – dual-core Atom at 1.8Ghz, sound onboard, up to eight USB ports, two serial ports, onboard NIC, dual SATA, and more, all for 78 bucks at Amazon. Interestingly enough, Amazon has the dual-core D525MW selling for the same price as the single-core D510MO. Seemed a no-brainer. I also noticed that the board had support for the Intel Z-U130 USB SSD; a bit of poking around led to a retailer selling a 4GB model for $29. They also carry an awesome industrial case by Morex, the 5689B, a solid little VESA mountable unit with a 60W DC-DC power supply.
All of the parts arrived Friday afternoon, thought I’d spend an hour at most assembling and installing Debian.
I was wrong.
First, the good news – the Morex case is very nice, no sharp edges, very solid. Not a lot of room in there though – the power supply cables alone make for an interesting routing problem, and Intel didn’t help out much by supplying 14″ SSD cables. But it all fit. Buttoned up the case, powered on and…. it locked up at the BIOS splash screen.
Ugh. At this point I am reminded of precisely why I switched from PC to the Mac, I had conveniently forgotten how much of an adventure DIY builds could be. So I started removing devices, until finally I narrowed it down to the Z-U130; the machine simply won’t boot with it installed. Could be defective, I’m honestly not sure.
Finally got to the BIOS setup screen, pretty generic stuff – other than disabling PXE booting, I accepted the defaults. Used my handy Microsoft XBox 360 HD-DVD drive as an external USB DVD device and installed Squeeze on to a new OWC 128 GB SSD. The installation went smoothly. However, restart at the end of the install hung… back to Google. Need a BIOS flash to fix the reboot issue. The motherboard has the ability to flash from a USB drive, but it locked up every time I tried with my 2GB SanDisk thumbdrive. Finally resorted to trying an old 64MB CF card in a USB-CF reader, that seemed to do the trick.
Post-flash, booted up using my new Squeeze installation, and Grub hung at phase 2: Nothing on the screen except “GRUB”. Grr. Thinking that maybe this had something to do with the old BIOS, re-installed. Better this time – restarted at end of install, booted up cleanly. Tried a ‘shutdown -r now’, worked just fine, booted back up without a hitch. Feeling cocky at this point, tried a ‘shutdown -h now’; powered down just as expected. So far so good! Pushed the power button and was rewarded with the all-too-familiar “GRUB”. It hung again at stage 2.
It’s shit like this, Intel. WTF? Seriously?
Tested the SSD. It’s fine. Re-seated the RAM, looked for loose screws, miscellaneous shorts, etc. Nothing seemed out of place. After a few aborted attempts with the same results, I tried an install with a plain old laptop drive. Lo and behold, it worked fine.
It appears that even the latest BIOS (as of this article, that would be 0074, released 12/17/2010) contains a few bugs that interfere with booting from SATA SSDs. C’est la vie.
Update… machine’s been running for a couple of days now with no real issues. Still using the Toshiba laptop drive, working just fine.
Built a custom kernel for this board with optimal settings for my environment and sped up boot time considerably… Leave a comment if you’re interested and I’ll post the config.