After my Ubuntu and Gentoo flop, I was off to do more research on what Linux distro I could use on my Geode based Wyse S30 thin client. It had to be a distro that could either run fully off of a bootable USB or fit into the on board 64mb Flash Drive and it also had to be lightweight enough since I only had 128mb RAM. I knew there was a solution out there, I use Linux on my linksys router. The problem with my router though is that it runs embedded linux as opposed to a full linux distro like Ubuntu or Gentoo. I had purchased the router with the intent of running some of the applications that I will run on my thin client. The issue is that embedded linux is not always compatible with applications out of the box. This problem is what led me to seek the thin client. Also, a thin client meets the need of being low power, but with the cabality of running a full linux distro.
While researching how to fix my grub boot issue, discussed in my last blog post, I encountered this blog site, on this site he discusses installing a distro called Tinycore Linux. He also goes through a step by step method to install and configure a thin client using Tinycore Linux. Could it be the answer I was searching for? Yes, I downloaded Tinycore and made a bootable USB stick within minutes I was up and running! Although to install Tinycore Linux on my internal flash drive would require some work, my thing client boots and runs from a bootable USB.
With this new found knowledge, I am currently finishing up my install and working out the kinks. Once complete I plan on putting together a step by step. I am just happy to finally be in the position where I have this box working. There was a time last week, that I thought I was going to have to live with my energy hog server or deal with an off the shelf NAS that lacks configuration options I would like to have.
Seeing the trouble I had with the Ubuntu Installer, I switched to my long term favorite distro Gentoo. Gentoo is not only a well documented distro, but you build your install from source, there is no installer. With Gentoo pretty much everything related to setup is manual and done by you the installer. It is not a distro for the faint at heart, but it is very customizable and because you build from source it is optimized for your hardware. This optimization provides low overhead which is perfect for something like a thin client with minimal disk space and minimal ram. Remember the hardware(Wyse S30 Thin Client 64mb Flash Drive / 128mb RAM) I am using, Gentoo could be a perfect fit for this.
The Gentoo install went flawlessly, except for the 8hr kernel compile. However, the reboot after install left me hanging with a ‘grub>’ prompt. This stinks a new problem, but remember I am further than I was with Ubuntu. With Ubuntu, I could not get a grub screen at all. At this point I figure it has to be something to do with a missing kernel module or driver, I just need to know which one.
Back to researching again, this time though I refuse to emerge without a working solution! More to come in my next blog post.
Well, I finally got my thin client booting. In the process I learned more about Linux than I ever thought. The next few blog posts will be dedicated to explaining the path that I took.
Hardware: Wyse S30 Thin Client 64mb Flash Drive / 128mb RAM
First I tried Ubuntu, amazingly it would boot and run on the thin client. The problem was not until after the install. For some unknown reason the thin client would not boot off of the USB stick using Grub. Although I had Grub installed in the MBR of the USB stick, the bios in the thin client would not boot using this strategy. I found this peculiar due to the fact that I could boot the Ubuntu Installer from Usb. Investigating the issue, I found that the Wyse bios seemed to only boot from USB when using Syslinux and a Fat32 partition as opposed to Grub and an EXT2 partition. As a last ditch effort, I also tried configuring the boot partition as Fat32, but Fat32 will not support the required file options for the Linux Kernel to boot. This led me to take what I thought was a clever path and it is something I have done on other *nix systems in the past. I tried installing Grub to the MBR of the internal flash drive. Then I could set up the initrd with USB drivers that could then load my USB stick. The problem with this was that I could never seem to get Ubuntu to recognize the internal ATA drive properly. It was at this time I knew I needed to find a distro that allowed more initial configuration than the Ubuntu Installer would allow me.
These problems will lead me to Gentoo! More to come in 3-5 days.