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Linux on a VIA ME6000 and external hard disk real howto

My goal was pretty simple: install a Linux distribution on a VIA ME6000 Mini-ITX PC without internal disk to be able to remove the case pan (ME6000 card has no pan) in order to get a 0 db Linux Box. Actually, it toke me near than two months to achieve it despite the little help from various howtos (knoppix howto on VIA for example) and forums. Some of the problems I get came from the CPU and some others from the fact I booted from an external usb disk.

Distribution choice

I've choosen Mandrake 10.1 that work perfectly on my box despite the fact I prefered Suse. I tried:

  • Suse 9.2: simple, it can't work (since suse 8.2 apparently) because it uses a i586 cmov instruction that is not supported by the Samuel 2 VIA CPU. It freezes during install.

  • Debian Sarge : Boot but installer (text mode) is unreadable, it must have to deal with the video card I guess... I gave up.

  • Knoppix 3.7 : works perfectly as Live CD. Awesome. Nevertheless, when I installed it on my disk (sda3), it booted the kernel (I never figured out how it could be possible, read next chapter) but when mounting devices, I got a kernel panic due to a "devfs type not found" problem with kernel 2.4 or 2.6. This problem appeared with knoppix 3.5 apparently and we got none support from knoppix forum. A friend of mine told me that we have to install devfs package to solve this but I have no time to try again, tell me if it works.

  • DSL (Damn Small Linux) : I managed to install it on a USB pendrive with a lot of pain (read carefully partitioning howto from DSL howtos). The USB pendrive partition must be FAT16 type, have the bootable flag, have a number of head/track=32 and number of cylinders must be less or equal to 1024. However, I gave up to use it : it looks to be a nice dist but is too light for my daily needs.

  • Mandrake 10.1 : works and provides all the functionalities you can expect from this kind of dist. I kept it.

How to boot from an external USB hard disk real howto

First of all, current bios makes very hard to boot from USB hard drives. It is near impossible to make it work, especially if you won't re-partitionate your disk. I tried about one month, reading tons of forums threads, howto, dist docs... I gave up to boot from USB hard disk but I managed to create a Boot CD. It is very simple indeed under Mandrake (when you know the right command):

  • Install your Mandrake on the disk (/dev/sda1 or any other partition, use use /dev/sda3).

  • Insert you MDK disk 1, type F1.

  • Enter in rescue mode (type "rescue").

  • Select "Go to console".

  • Chroot to your disk : mkdir /sda1; mount /dev/sda1 /sda1; chroot /sda1

  • Launch mkrescue --iso to create a proper boot image matching current kernel, root...

  • Burn this image (rescue.iso file) with cdrecord under Linux (cdrecord --scanbus; cdrecord -dev=<your device like 1,0,0> -speed=1 rescue.iso) or any Burning utility from Windows.

  • Boot from CD (change Bios settings if needed), choose default option (Linux), it should boot your disk.