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GNU/Linux Desktop Survival Guide
by Graham Williams

Dell Optiplex GX270 (Athene)

Athene was first a desktop development machine with 1GB of memory, a 120GB SATA hard disk, and a Sound Blaster Live! (Dell) sound card. After three years of service, including supporting a web server and mail server, it was retired in November 2007, to become an Internet desktop running Ubuntu.

An install using the beta4 Debian Installer, booting from CD-ROM, was performed (19 May 2004). Attempt to install a 2.6 kernel (linux26) failed to find the SATA drives. So the standard 2.4 kernel was used. This does support SATA but it identified the drive as an IDE, hence it became /dev/hda. On upgrading to kernel 2.6.6, which the identifies it as a SCSI, fails to boot since it can't find the /dev/hda. This required, after installing kernel-image-2.6.6-1-686-smp, telling grub that for this kernel the root file system is now root=/dev/sda by editting /boot/grub/menu.lst. Also, edit /etc/fstab to mount /dev/sda as /.

Alternatively, the Dell oriented Debian Installer can be used (from http://wiki.osuosl.org/display/LNX/Debian+on+Dell+Servers) to install a 2.4 kernel which identifies the SATA as SCSI. This was then the installation that remained with Athene.

A further problem was that the BIOS (A03) did not report the right amount of VideoRam (even after setting it to 8MB in the BIOS setup). Consequently X11 could not get a decent resolution. A service call to Dell resulted in a gx270sea.exe BIOS update which fixed the problem. An alternative fix was the 865patch Debian package which provides a software fix to the problem without having to fiddle with the BIOS.

An official BIOS A04 was released and installed, and video memory fix was apparent as was DRI now working. It is also worth noting that Dell have released a project called biosdisk:

  $ wget http://linux.dell.com/biosdisk/biosdisk-0.4.tar.gz
  $ tar zxvf biosdisk-0.4.tar.gz
  $ cd biosdisk-0.4
  $ sudo sh install.sh
  $ cd ../
    Place a floppy disk in the drive
  $ sudo biosdisk GX270A04.EXE
    Then reboot your system from the floppy

You can also add a Grub menu item to boot from hard disk, loading the BIOS update!

On upgrading to Kernel 2.6.6 the DVD/CD was not being recognised. The old ide-scsi is now deprecated for cd burning. Needed to add ide-generic and ide-cd to /etc/modules, which can also be done manually with modprobe:

  # modprobe ide-generic
  # modprobe ide-cd

The DVD/CD is then identified as /dev/hdc. To allow general CDROM access the group of this device was changed to cdrom (from disk):

  # chgrp cdrom /dev/hdc

The CD can then be mounted, perhaps by an appropriate link:

  # ln -s /dev/hdc /dev/cdrom

Use cdrecord to check for the SCSI view of the device:

  $ cdrecord -dev=ATA -scanbus

Tools like gnomebaker should also find the appropriate device. Using the common cdrecord the device is specified as in:

  $ cdrecord dev=ATA:1,0,0 -data file.iso

After 18 months of usage the hard drive started failing. From /var/log/syslog the following messages were regularly being reported, and whilst these were being reported the computer froze:

...: ata1: status=0x51 { DriveReady SeekComplete Error }
...: ata1: error=0x40 { UncorrectableError }
...: ata1: status=0x51 { DriveReady SeekComplete Error }
...: ata1: error=0x40 { UncorrectableError }
...: ata1: status=0x51 { DriveReady SeekComplete Error }
...: ata1: error=0x40 { UncorrectableError }
...: ata1: status=0x51 { DriveReady SeekComplete Error }
...: ata1: error=0x40 { UncorrectableError }
...: ata1: status=0x51 { DriveReady SeekComplete Error }
...: ata1: error=0x40 { UncorrectableError }
...: sd 0:0:0:0: SCSI error: return code = 0x8000002
...: sda: Current: sense key: Medium Error
...:     Additional sense: Unrecovered read error - auto reallocate failed
...: end_request: I/O error, dev sda, sector 193611904

Luckily, the original order included 3 years gold service. After making contact with Dell they immediately couriered a replacement hard drive, a Western Digital WD1600JS. No SATA cable though so had to buy one while I had both drives in the machine. The old drive was duplicated on the new drive as described in Section 26.5.

In January 2006 the mouse died. Could still move it about but button clicks seemed to send extra stuff? Replacing with an older USB mouse and all was okay after a reboot, but replace with hte broken mouse and it failed. Once again, Dell were very quick to courier a replacement mouse.

In December 2007 Ubuntu was installed and the machine became an internet desktop.

In December 2009 after an upgrade in Ubuntu (to 9.10) the user account lost access to sound and no auto started applications auto started. It turned out that through gdm the failsafe Gnome option had been triggered and resetting this to Gnome instead restored a fully operational login.


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