[Soekris] Booting to PXELinux With CF Card Present

Hal Vaughan hal at thresholddigital.com
Fri Oct 10 23:02:45 UTC 2008

I have a new net5501 and I want to install Debian Linux on it (BIOS is 
1.33).  I have a hard drive on it and I've setup a PXE boot server to 
start the Linux install.

As I understand it, I can't boot off a hard drive and have to set 
up /boot in the CF card.  I've also found comments about a bug in BIOS 
where people have not consistently been able to boot after installing 
an OS on a hard drive.  I've found that once I had any data (from a 
failed install) on the hard drive, the 5501 would fail to boot about 2 
out of every 3 times.  When I put a CF card in, it made it through the 
entire boot sequence but, of course, stopped when it found no OS on the 

Whenever I boot my 5501 (there's no OS on it yet), if the CF card is in, 
I get an error message and it locks up, which brings up the question of 
how to install an OS on the CF when I can't have it connected when I 

Also one time I booted without the CF in, then once the PXELinux boot 
started, plugged the CF in.  Later, when the installer was trying to 
detect hardware and disk drives, it froze.

So here's what I'm trying to figure out:

1) Is there a way to boot off the hard drive consistently, without 
dealing with the bug I've read about?  (Then I wouldn't need the CF.)

2) How can I install Debian Linux so /boot is on the CF card when I 
can't boot with the empty (formated to ext3) CF card in and plugging it 
in later doesn't seem to make it recognizable?

I'm basically trying to set up Debian on this box and be able to use the 
hard drive.  If I can put most of the root fs on the flash, leaving 
most of the hard drive to storage, that would be great.  I've checked 
and followed several HOWTO articles, including in the Soekris Wiki, on 
installing Debian on a Soekris box, but they always seem to miss a 
couple critical details (for instance the one I just mentioned left off 
the need to add "CONSOLE=/dev/ttyS0,19200" to the append lines for the 
kernel boot options).

If anyone has a quick or better way to do this so the system will boot 
every time and run Debian, I'm open to better ways to install it.

I would have searched the archives for answers, but I could not find a 
web page that let me do that.  I've spent a lot of time combing through 
comments found through Google that almost but not really helped me out.

Thanks for any help.  


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