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In the end, I went with an Windows XP-only configuration and ran Linux and Solaris as virtual machines with VMware server. Prior to that I experimented with native Linux installations in a multi-boot setup. Here are a few notes I made about the native installation attempts. There isn't much here.
The (short version of the) multi-boot setup: defragment the original XP installation from the running XP, spin up a Knoppix Live CD, use Gparted to shrink the NTFS XP partition, move the sevice partition "down", create a Solaris primary partition, create an extended partition, create a FAT32 "scratch" logical partition, create a Linux swap logical partition (shared), create two Linux partitions - one for a 32 bit install and one for a 64 bit install.
Fedora Core 7 32 bit
Downloaded the installation DVD and booted it. Selected install menu. It gets as far as"loading scsi driver, Loading ahci driver", and hangs. CTRL-ALT-DEL works, so it isn't frozen. After trying some boot options without success I went back to a straight install boot and waited. A long time. Eventually it moved along and asked me what media contained the install packages. It then prompts for a driver. WTF? That would be the same DVD that we are booting from AFAICS. Turns out that at some point it decides the CD/DVD drive doesn't exist.
This is affecting a lot of people/machines:
THis is a complete show-stopper until it gets fixed. If it gets fixed.
Fedora Core 7 64 bit
Same problem as FC7 32 bit.
Fedora Core 8 32 & 64 bit
Same problem! Presumably the installation runs in 32 bit mode for either installation, so no surprise. Just disappointment that this hasn't been corrected.
Update 2008.01.01: on further consideration, I can't say for sure that the CDROM bug above is the heart of the Fedora 7 & 8 problem. I have seen some of the symptoms described in the bug report, and the failure occurs in the same place as the described bug - but since the installer is pretty much silent at that point, it's hard to tell. I did find a way to get to install to proceed - which may imply that the above bug isn't the problem.
Going to the BIOS confguration and changing the SATA mode got me past the hang: hit F1 during boot, from the BIOS menu choose "config", then "Serial ATA (SATA)", and select "Compatibility". The problem - or one of the problems - with FC7 & 8 is AHCI mode, at least with this particular chipset.
Testing with FC7 32 bit in compatibility mode, the install moves along until it trips over the graphics hardware and reverts to text mode. At least it is possible to continue and perhaps install the evil nVidia binary drivers after the installation is complete. It may also be possible to go back to AHCI mode after the install. I haven't tried that. There's a fairly extensive write up on Fedora Core 7 vs. the T61 here that addresses these and other issues:
and another brief write-up here:
Even with the compatibility mode hack, and a text mode install, this is still quite a regression from Fedore Core 6, which could handle the drive controller and do a GUI install (presumably in VESA mode) with no real problems.
Fedora Core 6 32 bit
Regressing a little - finally an installer that works. Mostly. I used my usual install configuration: custom partition layout, a single partition "/" plus a shared swap partition, put the grub boot loader in the partition's boot sector (not in the drive's MBR, since I intended to chain load this installation), fixed IP address on my local LAN - to make ftp/ssh access easier, and custom package selection.
I made the mistake of selecting "extras" in the top package menu, hit install, and SPLAT! It failed with a "an unhandled exception has occurred" message. It turns out that this is an old, well known anaconda bug that still hasn't been fixed. Selecting "extras" and a fixed IP address trips up the install script:
(Ubuntu is looking pretty good about now....)
So retreat, reboot the DVD, make sure not to select "extras" and move on. Install finished OK and newly installed OS booted OK. Sound didn't work (and I didn't fiddle with it), graphics looked OK and were running at the correct resolution (1440x900) but the refresh rate was listed as 0Hz, which it obviously wasn't, and the desktop fonts looked nasty. As usual.
First chore, run update. Several hundred packages to update, but that went OK except for a gaim file conflict. I unchecked gaim in the update list, and update finished OK.
Next chore, try the evil nVidia driver for the Quadro NVS 140M graphics on this T61. I downloaded the (then) latest driver from the nVidia Linux driver site, and followed the instructions. It seemed to work well.
Wired networking works, wifi doesn't (didn't) - there weren't any drivers for this Intel 4965AGN chip. Intel says they now have a driver for kernel 2.6.18 and later here. I haven't tried it.
Fedora Core 6 64 bit
Hmm, I assumed that the 64 and 32 bit distributions both used a 32 bit installer. Maybe not, or maybe they do but different versions. In any event, the 64 bit graphic mode install fails with a black screen after the media check. Reboot and select a text mode install. That works. I downloaded the 64 bit nVidia driver from the above link and installed that. startx after the driver install brings up a GUI, but on reboot the OS comes up in single user text mode. Fix that by editing /etc/inittab and setting runlevel to 5.
Unfortunately, when doing the text mode install I didn't get the user add or sound configuration options that happen at first login in graphical mode - or didn't see them when they passed by... There is probably some way to run the first login configuration stuff after the fact, but I haven't dug that up yet.
I ran a full update (minus the gaim conflict above) and that went fine - but overwrote the nVidia driver with one that didn't work. That got me a black screen again. After a forced (power button) reboot, it came up and offered to configure X and eventually came up in 1440x900 resolution - running the VESA driver.
Reboot to single-user mode, reinstall the nVidia driver, reboot to runlevel 5, and all is good. At least all that I tested - which wasn't much.
I didn't actually install Ubuntu natively. I do have it running in VMware. However, as of version 6.06, the installer CD is also a live CD, so just running it as a live CD exposed some of the issues that one would encounter in a native install.
See the Ubuntu Live CD notes below.
As of this writing I have Fedora Core 6 32 & 64 bit, and Ubuntu 7 32 & 64 bit virtual machines running in VMware server under Windows XP. They all seem to run well once VMware tools are installed in each running VM. See my (skimpy) notes here.
The grandaddy of them all. Klaus Knopper really set the standard. I have tested the 5.1.1. Live CD on this T61 and it works pretty well. It struggles to find a compatible graphics mode (the screen flashes several times) and settles on a reduced resolution: 800x500 IIRC. Wired networking works, but the necessary wifi driver isnt' included in this version of Knoppix. I'm sure it will be in later versions. One could do a remaster and add it now. The nVidia driver could also be added, but targeting a Knoppix remaster to a specific host kind of distorts the intent of the Live CD - run on anything. When I boot from my USB flash drive version of Knoppix (BEEZIX) so the optical drive bay is available, I can burn CDs on the T61 with Knoppix.
All around, it is a marvelous tool for forensics, rescue, and just poking around.
Fedora Core 8 Live CD
Nope. Presumably it's the same libata driver CDROM problem that prevents the native installs from happening. Maybe someday...
Update 2008.01.01: as with the installation DVD (above) going to BIOS and setting the SATA mode to "compatibility" lets the live CD run - sort of. It chugs along until it tries to configure graphics (I think) and decides incorrectly that it can use the nv driver for the Quadro NVS 140M - and falls over. There doesn't seem to be a way to specify VESA mode operation at boot time. What I could do was hit ESC at the grub menu, the TAB to edit the boot command line and add 3 (for run-level 3) to the end of the line. This causes it to boot in single-user text mode. That works, but what's the point?
IMNSHO, none of the newer Fedoras are suitable for the T61 at this point. Bummer.
As of Ubuntu 6.02, the install CD is also a live CD available here: Get Ubuntu. Booting the 32 bit CD and selecting "Start or install" starts a grapic "working" splash, then stops with:
/bin/sh: can't access tty: job control turned off
At which point a somewhat limited shell seems to be running. Reboot and try "Start Ubuntu in safe graphics mode" gets the same thing: command line only, and a very limited shell.
The main stumbling block seems to be the T61's hard drive (and optical drive??) running in AHCI mode. Hit the F1 key on reboot to get to BIOS configuration. Then Config->Serial ATA and select Compatibility Mode. Save and reboot, select "Start or install" and Ubuntu comes up - to a blank screen with the backlight on. The system isn't dead, since CTRL-ALT-DEL causes an orderly (invisible) shutdown and CD eject. Aparently the available graphics drivers can't handle the nVidia Quadro NVS 140M. Reboting (again) and selecting "Start Ubuntu in safe graphics mode" brings the Live CD all the way up @ 800x600 resolution. Not pretty, but usable. The wired network works.
I'm not comfortable toggling BIOS settings on a regular basis (I don't know if XP tolerates the SATA mode changing between boots) so I won't be running Ubuntu Live on this machine until the SATA AHCI driver issues are sorted in a later version.
There's an extensive writeup about Ubuntu on a T61 that addresses these and other issues here:
Update 2007.12.30: A quick try of the Ubuntu 7.10 64 bit CD in (the preferred) AHCI SATA mode and selecting "Start or install" came all the way up (with a black screen while it was doing it) to a "Ubuntu is running in low-graphics mode' window that offered to let me configure higher resolution. So I tried that... In the "Screen" tab, clicking on "Model" allowed me to select "LCD Panel 1440x900" and at that point I could select 1024x768 resolution. That's a little improvement, anyway- if it works. The "Graphics Card" tab doesn't have a nVidia Quadro driver option.
Unfortunately, that gets as far as "* Running local boot scripts (/etc/rc.local) ... [OK]" and hangs in a semi-dead state. CTRL-ALT-DEL causes an orderly shutdown. Retrying, but sticking to the low-res option and not trying to confgure graphics also hangs at "Running local boot scripts...".
"Start Ubuntu in safe graphics mode" goes through the motions with a black screen, plays a choppy musical chord (in the dark), and finishes its CD gyrations with a black screen. But wait! All is not lost! Hitting the enter key reveals a beautiful Ubuntu desktop running @ 1440x900 resolution!
How very strange that configuring the graphics causes a hang, but selecting safe graphics works, and at full resolution. Hey, at least it works without fiddling the BIOS. Just remember to hit a key to wake up the screen.