Thursday, July 28, 2016

Gigastrand FAIL and what we know now

Failure at Gigastrand is always an option. To fail is acceptable as long as there is a lesson in it.

Many months ago, Gigastrand set out to do something impossible: piggyback a 64-bit architecture onto a 32 bit system. In Linux there was a slim possibility that this could work with multiarch support built into Debian. We postulated that by installing the architecture, as long as the hardware was there to support it, we could run 64 bit programs on a 32 bit system. We have done the reverse of this in Gigastrand OS 3.x (32 bit architecture on 64 bit system) with great success.

Why in the world would we want to do this? For a lot of reasons. 

  1. It would extend the viability of Gigastrand OS 2.x

  2. It would force compatibility with 64-bit software like Chrome with a 32 bit OS

  3. It will maintain compatibility with older hardware while allowing advancements to the OS

We came close – really close – to making it work. In the end, the one program we really wanted to work, Chrome, just would not even install.

We still believe that it is hypothetically possible, but beyond our capabilities.

So, we began going around to our customers and upgrading their systems to 3.0 so they can still use Chrome. We fixed the version of Chrome in place in version 2.4.

Then we come to fail number 2.

We were upgrading a machine from 2.2 to 3.2 when we noticed the system would boot very slow, error out with a “no microcode for this processor” then fail when trying to start X – the user interface (UI) for Linux. We tried all the usual troubleshooting (replacing discs, trying different drives, etc.) but all gave the same result. Without being able to boot into X, installing the OS will be nearly impossible.

So, we booted back into this customer’s original OS and checked to see if the microcode was installed. It wasn’t.

Then we opened a terminal window and did an lspci command (you can also look at Go>System>Kinfocenter for a graphical depiction and a few more tools). Via chipset, Via graphics, Via processor.

Our best guess is that the processor microcode that is installed in 3.x – specifically the Intel microcode – is mis-identifying the processor and activating. As there is nothing we can do about it once the install image is created, we simply went back to the original build and created a new image without any of the microcode.

If it works, we will release that image with the 3.4 update. If it doesn’t. We will let you know.

Gigastrand FAIL and what we know now

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Gigastrand OS Boot Issues

There are a few BIOS settings that could affect the ability of a PC to boot the Gigastrand OS. Below are a few of the more common solutions to these issues.

Legacy Boot: This is a setting in most BIOS that, if not turned on, will not allow the Gigastrand OS DVD or USB drive to startup. This is required to boot Gigastrand OS. Gigastrand PCs enable this by default. Accessing the BIOS settings is always accessed with a keypress before the computer boots the operating system.Consult your PCs manual to find out how to access your BIOS settings. Common keys to access the BIOS settings are: Del, F2, F10, or F12.

Boot Order: If the computer is set to startup to the hard drive first, you might not be able to run the installation media. You could change the boot order in the BIOS however, most PCs also have a boot menu that will allow you to select the drive you want to use. Make sure your media is loaded or plugged in before you try to access this menu or your drive might not be listed. This menu is also accessed by a keypress before the computer boots. Common keys are: F12, F9, or F2

Advanced Host Controller Interface (AHCI) mode: This mode is a property of the SATA controller that allows advanced features like hot-swapping drives and other advanced features. How you know you should check for this solution is after install, you reboot and get a GRUB error: 

error: file '/grub/i386-pc/normal.mod' not found.
grub rescue>

This is a strong indication that you need to change the SATA controller settings in the BIOS from AHCI to IDE or ATA. Gigastrand OS does support AHCI, but not on all hardware. When you reboot, the hard drive should boot fine. If not, reinstall the Gigastrand OS and it should start fine.

Gigastrand OS Boot Issues