Linux on a Mini-itx System

Updated 5/8/05


I've wanted to try on of these out for a while. The mini-itx system has been available for a couple of years now. What sparked my interest was the posts that I encountered on Linux forums by folks who wanted to get these systems up and running in a Linux environment. There is something cool about running a system on a box that is only a little larger than a phone book.

Through a set of circumstances, I obtained the following reasonable bare bones system;

1. VIA-EPIA M10000 motherboard 1ghz Nehemiah processor ($149.00)
2. 512 mb Transend PC 2100 memory ($72.00)
3. Casetronic C158 itx box w/120 watt power supply ($157.00)
4. Seagate 10 gig hard drive lying around collecting dust

Once I assembled the purchased components, I quickly realized that I had no onboard media drive to install Linux. Fortunately, I has an external USB CentDyne dvd/cdrw drive that the bios was able to be set to boot media from. You can add a slimline cdrom or cdrw to the box, but you need a slimline  cdrom ide adapter to hook it up to the system. This costs $7.00 (lowest price) at Logic Supply. I had a Teac 24X (CD-224E) notebook cdrom hanging around, so it is a matter of ordering the adapter and installing the cdrom drive. A current fad of Linux users is using a CF drive to install a mini-linux system to and the Casetronic system box comes with an available slot to install such a beast. The adapter costs $28.00 at Logic Supply. Since I will be trying this out with Puppy Linux, I fished for yea old credit card once again.

I quickly realized that the 10 gig hard drive was not going to cut it and instaled a 20 gig Seagate drive in it's place.

Linspire 5 (Development Realease)

I really wanted to run this box as a Linspire system, but the burned cd hung at initial install with a grub command line (using the USB DVD drive).  This was my first clue that something was amiss with either the video or use of a usb cdrom drive. After searching the Linspire support site (an excellent resource), I found that one could install the distro by copying the burned Linspire cd files to the hard drive and use grub to start the installation.  One caveat of this method is that you still need to cd disk in the drive. This time Linspire installed without incident and I was up and running in under 20 minutes. Linspire found all the onboard hardware without a problem. After installing some basic packages, I was happily running Linspire on the system. Two applications that I found on click-n-run, GenWeb and Gramps (Genealogy programs) should help with my recent interest in genealogy reseach for my family.

SuSE 9.1 Pro

I had previously set up the hard drive with one primary fat32 partition. The Suse install ran flawlessly and all hardware was detected and set up. Using the suse partitioning utility, I allowed Suse to downsize my fat32 partition and create a reiserfs and swap partition. I was up an running in about 40 minutes. Tryingto use k3b to burn a mandriva dvd iso to disk failed multiple times. it seems that permissions are not set up correctly for cdrecord. K3b suggested runing k3bsetup2, but this is depreciated in Suse. I decided to move on, as I wanted to try out a more recent distro to see how the system performed.

Mandriva 2005 Limited Edition

For this installation, I did a hard drive install of Mandriva using the dvd iso from the fat32 partition. Mandriva installed fine, but on reboot, the system hung on starting the X server. No command line, just a blank screen. After some fiddling, I discovered that Mandriva did not like the "via" video setting in x-org.conf. I was able to use F4 to change to a console mode and use the vim editor to change the video driver to normal vesa and KDE came up fine on reboot. I added some source destinations using Mandriva's urpmi utility with the following commands;

urpmi.addmedia --distrib nluug- --probe-synthesis --wget

Puppy Linux

The installation of Puppy was very straightforward. The SuSE installation made all three of my hard drive partitions primary, thus, I could not create additional partitions on the drive using qtparted from the SuSE installation. I elected to do a so called "poor man's install" which essentially meant that I did the install on the fat32 partition. After editing my Grub file appropriately, Puppy was up and running without incident.

One note, the Puppy hard drive install utility requires that you have a floppy on your system to make a boot floppy. The install attempt that I made to the hard drive failed at detecting the cdrom/dvd drive, so I could not install Puppy on my hard drive. I should be able to solve this issue later on.

Puppy can also be installed on a compact flash disk, which makes this distro appealing. Once I get my CF adapter (which emulates a hard drive) we will see how the install goes.

Libranet 2.8.1

When I swapped my 20 gig hard drive for the 10 gig drive, I had Libranet 2.8.1 already installed on the 10 gig drive. Linspire was also on the hard drive, but failed at boot. Interestingly, Libranet booted and recognized that my video card had changed and made the necessary adjustments.  All the hardware was configured, including sound. Nice! Although this version is a bit outdated, it would be interesting to see how the new 3.0 version would run on this system. Since Libranet worked fine, it allowed me to make whatever changes I needed to get the drive up and running the way that I wanted it. One star for Libranet!