HP Hardware/ Non-HP Linux compatibility?

Keith Stracchino
Frequent Advisor

HP Hardware/ Non-HP Linux compatibility?

I own several HP X-class workstations, model A1280C. Briefly these are dual INTEL, 1GHz, P3 machines with 4GB of memory, dual SCSI 160 HDD. I have been struggling to convert from WIN2K to Linux (Tired of the MS upgrade cycle, its costs, and the bloatware.) and I need confirmation that this HP hardware/non-HP Linux software combination is compatible. Everything I read tells me that it should be so but; I have tried Debian 5.0.4, Debian 6.0, and Ubuntu 10 without success. I have configured the test system so that W2K Pro is resident on HDD0 and the Linux distro. on test is resident on HDD1, using a dual boot configuration. In every case the Linux installation process appears to run correctly, but, on the final reboot into Linux I find that I have an unusable, locked-up system. I have no problems running from the W2K Pro.installation, hence the hardware is OK. What am I missing?
Small, insignificant details rarely are!
Honored Contributor

Re: HP Hardware/ Non-HP Linux compatibility?

In which phase does the system lock up?
Do you see any error messages? What do they say?

On PC hardware, it is very hard for the OS installer to programmatically determine the correct bootloader configuration, especially if your OS disk is not the first disk on the system. The bootloader relies on the disk order as determined by the system BIOS: when you use BIOS menus to select the disk to boot from, this ordering changes.

With Debian, you should be able to access your installed system by booting from the installation CD in rescue mode. If the problem is related to bootloader, it's very likely fixable in the rescue mode - and once you figure out the correct configuration, the problem should stay fixed.

You used disk identifiers HDD0 and HDD1: these sound like hardware-level IDs. The first thing to figure out is, how are they mapped to Linux? Usual names would be /dev/sda and /dev/sdb. These names are determined by the Linux SCSI/disk drivers, and are independent of any BIOS choices.

The GRUB bootloader (the default in Debian/Ubuntu) uses identifiers like (hd0) and (hd1). These are based on BIOS disk numbers (0x80 and 0x81, if you want to be technical). A de-facto standard says that the disk chosen by BIOS as the boot disk will usually be 0x80 = (hd0), independent of what it is at the hardware level.

So, when you're running Windows, you have:
HDD0 = 0x80 = (hd0) = /dev/sda (or the equivalent Windows identifier)
HDD1 = 0x81 = (hd1) = /dev/sdb
This is the normal, no-surprises configuration.

But if you boot Linux by selecting HDD1 as bootable using BIOS, you'll usually get:
HDD0 = 0x81 = (hd1) = /dev/sda
HDD1 = 0x80 = (hd0) = /dev/sdb
This is something the Linux installer cannot always anticipate.

Some exceptional BIOSes *might* give you this:
HDD1 = 0x81 = (hd1) = /dev/sdb
Unfortunately, this is very rare since older bootloaders of Microsoft products don't handle this very well.

Honored Contributor

Re: HP Hardware/ Non-HP Linux compatibility?

Well, Pentium III b ased systems are "pretty old". Make sure you read through release docs of the Debian distros you are installing as there may be something there that applies to your woes.

I suggest moving instead to HP's newer XW workstaions -- they're pretty cheap -- even the refrubs, remarketed ones. And pretty sure you can still use your expensive add on cards - Nvidia Quaddros, etc...

Hakuna Matata.
Honored Contributor

Re: HP Hardware/ Non-HP Linux compatibility?

Having worked in HP Linux test labs, I can tell you that you'll get "better" "luck" with RedHat and SuSE on HP equipment.

Having said that, I can't imagine a situation where at least Ubuntu 10.04 wouldn't work on your equipment with a little tweaking. My bet is that GRUB is acting up when trying to reconcile with the Win2k installation.