ALIX compact system boards

getting it working with a netboot installer

During memory test, 3 front LEDs are all lit.

I was working with an Alix.2 device. It starts out with the BIOS running at 38400 8n1. If you hit "S" during the initial memory test, it allows you to configure the BIOS. i switched the mode to 115200 8n1 (press "1" in the BIOS setup) to match my netboot environment.

I tried to get PXEboot working by just pressing "N" during the memory test, but got the message:

No boot device available, press Enter to continue.

When i switched to regular, repeatable PXE netboot ("E" in BIOS setup), and had a network cable plugged into LAN1 (the NIC nearest the power jack), i could get a reliable netboot -- at least, i could reliably get the PXE stack to pull the initial file recommended from the correct TFTP server.

I tried booting with pxegrub, but it never even got to the point of requesting the menu.lst file -- i suspect that version of grub doesn't quite know what to do when there is no graphical console, but only a serial port.

Anyway, PXELinux from syslinux worked fine. The relevant part of the config was:

SERIAL 0 115200 0
DEFAULT install
LABEL install
        kernel debian-stable/linux
        append vga=normal initrd=debian-stable/initrd.gz -- console=ttyS0,115200n8

the kernel and initrd were downloaded from the usual place, using the CMRG netboot environment preparation scripts.

One minor problem i noticed during the PXE boot process was the following line, output before the initial DHCP query:

Press <Shift-Tab> key to display network boot option menu

but that doesn't ever seem to do anything.

after installation fixup

fixing the hwclock

the hwclock was set initially to 1999 -- this causes problems when fetching new package listings, and when verifying OpenPGP signatures.

I fixed this just now with:

date 121001122007
hwclock --systohc

unfortunately, this doesn't seem to persist across power interruptions. the ALIX2 manual seems to suggest that there is a BAT1 soldered LiIon battery as a board build option.

hardware modifications

to get the board properly in the case, i needed to remove the screw posts on the DB9 connector. To be able to have access to the USB ports, i also needed to nibble out the hole in the case between the power jack and LAN1.

We also want to add in BT1, (a battery) so that the clock persists across power outages. The board creator suggests:

  • the panasonic BR2032-1HE, which was relatively easy to solder in (though the ground pad seemed to soak up all the heat we could pump into it with a reasonable soldering iron).

open questions

  • front-panel LEDs: i expected to see an LED indicating writes to the CF. i don't see that happening during the installer. Is this an OS-level thing?
  • how much power does this thing actually draw? Could we power it from any other bus from another computer?
  • benchmarks: how can we characterize the performance of this hardware relative to machines it might replace?
  • choice of kernel: the debian installer chose the -486 line of kernels -- can these boards work with -686 or some other more specialized version?
  • why couldn't i get memtest86+ to work? i tried the version i'd compiled with the serial line enabled at 115200 bps, but it just hung after grub loaded with no output. Maybe it was confused by the lack of a video console?

hardware crypto acceleration

VIA's padlock is a hardware-level cryptographic accelerator. I think the geode powering these boards might include support for it. Adam Cécile has mentioned trying it and having a few problems, but the details aren't clear yet.


  • document pci availability
  • document full lshw output
  • document review of standard /proc files
Last modified 9 years ago Last modified on Apr 8, 2008, 12:13:10 PM