Debian testing/3.0 Installation Procedure on Cobalt/Sun RaQ 3+
Our company purchased a Cobalt RaQ 3 some years ago. As time progressed
it became increasingly ill-suited for our purposes and we finally decided
to decommission it. Since the hardware is worth more to us as a server
than it would be on eBay, we decided to put another, modern, distribution
on the machine.
We attempted FreeBSD first but were unsuccessful, although I believe that
my failure was related to the fact I had not flashed the BIOS properly
beforehand. If time permits I will attempt to install FreeBSD on another
disk and post my results here. Debian is my Linux distribution of choice,
so I then attempted to install it on our RaQ. Installation went
relatively smoothly and I was able to get a functioning system with a
brand-new 2.4.18 stock kernel running on our RaQ.
Please note that one of the other users on this list attempted to install
RedHat 7.x, but all of its packages are built with P2+ class systems in
mind, which the RaQ is not (it is a 586/Pentium class system utilizing an
AMD 6x86 processor), so attempts to install RedHat on a RaQ will almost
undoubtedly end up being a waste of time. I do not like RedHat, so I
didn't even attempt it, but you may try it if you are so inclined.
Below you will find the steps required to get your RaQ 3 running Debian
Linux 3.0. This installation procedure should work pretty much the same
way on all x86-based RaQ products. THIS INSTALLATION DOES NOT WORK ON
MIPS-BASED RAQ PRODUCTS (Qube/RaQ 1 and 2).
USE THIS GUIDE AT YOUR OWN RISK! THE INSTRUCTIONS INCLUDED IN THIS
DOCUMENT WERE COMPILED TO ASSIST OTHER USERS WITH THEIR INSTALLATION
NEEDS, AND NO WARRANTY OF ANY KIND IS PROVIDED OR IMPLIED. BY USING THE
CONTENTS OF THIS MESSAGE YOU EXPRESSLY RELEASE THE AUTHOR AND ALL
AFFILIATED PARTIES FROM ANY LIABILITY OF ANY KIND. IF YOU DO NOT AGREE TO
THESE TERMS, DO NOT PROCEED. ADDITIONALLY, NO SUPPORT WILL BE PROVIDED
SHOULD YOU HAVE ADDITIONAL QUESTIONS NOT ANSWERED IN THIS DOCUMENT. IT IS
NOT MY JOB TO SUPPORT RAQ PRODUCTS OR RAQ INSTALLATION QUESTIONS. IF YOU
HAVE QUESTIONS, POST THEM TO THE APPROPRIATE MAILING LIST/FORUM.
Installing Debian 3.0 on Cobalt RaQ 3+ (x86-based) Systems
1) Flash your BIOS up to a 2.4-friendly version.
2) Install Debian using another computer.
3) Build a custom kernel.
4) Install a custom kernel.
5) Replace drive into RaQ and boot.
1) You need a new BIOS for your RaQ to load modern (2.4.x) kernels, so I
recommend that you take the time and flash up now. This will undoubtedly
void your warranty, but if you're formatting and putting a new OS on your
RaQ you obviously don't care. Obtain the newest BIOS for your RaQ from
the URL below. Make sure you read the README files and you select the
appropriate BIOS for your RaQ; the versions differ depending on what
generation of RaQ you own. At the time of this writing the version
available for our RaQ 3 (generation III) was 2.3.40. Read the READMEs
included in the directory for directions on how to flash your RaQ.
I was unable to get the "flashtool" userland flash utility to successfully
read/backup or flash our BIOS. After some cruising of
ftp.cobaltnet.com/pub/users I came across another BIOS upgrade package
that contained a kernel module and utility to allow for flashing of the
BIOS. The package also included an older prerelase BIOS, which I did not
use. The module and utility worked fine and successfully flashed my BIOS
up to 2.3.40. For reference purposes, I had booted manually using the ROM
kernel, which can be done by bringing up a diagnostic console (hold the
reset button on the front panel while powering on) on COM1, entering the
ROM mode, and then using the "bfr" command to use the ROM kernel.
2) After flashing our BIOS, I yanked the drive from the RaQ and installed
Debian on the drive using another spare P3 system, so I would have a
floppy and keyboard and pseudo-normal hardware capable of handling the
installation. I am not sure if installing straight from the RaQ is
possible at this time, but I can tell you that setting up a netboot
environment and then attempting to do the install over a serial line is
probably not worth the effort.
When installing Debian, remember your BIOS requires a very specific
partition for booting purposes. When you fdisk, you create the first
primary partition (AKA hda1) large enough for / and /boot. You can use
other filesystems for everything else, but / and /boot should be on this
first primary partition. Debian's "testing" (at the time of this writing
testing == 3.0) floppies by default format new ext2 filesystems with a
2.2-friendly ext2fs that the BIOS does not understand. I manually
formatted the / partition after fdisk'ing the drive to prevent possible
incompatibilities. I broke to the emergency console on tty3 and used the
"mke2fs -r 0 -O none /dev/hda1" to create the RaQ BIOS-friendly format on
I then returned to tty1, mounted the partition, and continued to format
the other partitions using the GUI and continued the install process as
usual. You can install LILO for convenience purposes if you wish, that
way your system is bootable should you pull the drive again, but your RaQ
will just ignore the MBR.
3) Since the RaQ has a kernel size limitation and it requires a very
specific format for the kernel, you can't just drop the standard kernel in
place. I rebooted after installation, downloaded the latest stable kernel
(2.4.18 at the time of this writing), and configured it to meet my
specifications. The RaQ does not use a normal PC BIOS nor does it provide
many of the normal PC hardware components, so you can safely omit many
things that you would normally have to install in order to have a working
system. No keyboard or mouse is required or available, so you can omit
PS2 mouse drivers. You can also omit floppy drivers and CDROM drivers.
Some RaQ models have SCSI, but mine did not so I also disabled the SCSI
subsystem. The onboard Ethernet on my RaQ was an Intel EthernetExpress
Pro (eepro), so make sure that is enabled or your RaQ won't know how to
use the net.
Your kernel must be less than 1000000b compressed and 2500000b
uncompressed, so I elected to make extra functionality, like USB, loadable
modules instead of including them in the kernel. The RaQ expects the
kernels in straight gzipped format, not bzImage/compressed format, so when
you make your kernel, use 'make vmlinux' instead of the traditional
bzImage/zImage method. Make sure you specify the vmlinux target, as the
default target makes a bzImage and will not help you at all.
4) When you are done you should have a /usr/src/linux/vmlinux kernel.
Make sure it fits the size requirements above for the uncompressed kernel,
then compress it up with 'gzip -v9 vmlinux'. You'll get a vmlinux.gz that
is ready for booting on a RaQ. Move it to /boot/vmlinux.gz, which should
reside on hda1.
5) Now you are done using your spare system and you should be ready to
boot the RaQ. I shut down and put the drive back in the RaQ and it booted
the first try. You have no console available by default, so make sure you
enable sshd/telnet before you shut down or you won't be able to get back
into your RaQ when it boots.
NOTES: Your init will generate all sorts of errors when it tries to spawn
getty's for the system consoles, so it is best to disable them in
/etc/inittab. I elected to enable COM2 as another system console so you
have a "normal" console available.
Your LCD will be forever stuck with the Cobalt logo saying 'Booting...' as
it requires some sort of special kernel module to make it work and I
didn't even try to make mine behave. Along the same lines your 'Web'
light will not do anything anymore, I assume it is also related to the LCD
System reboots using the 'reboot' command do not appear to work. The
kernel signals that it is restarting the system, but the RaQ just sits
there. I will venture to guess this is related to the strange BIOS
employed on RaQs, so if you intend on deploying this in a datacenter that
is not right next door, make sure you use some sort of power-cycling
equipment that will allow you to toggle the power to make the system
reboot. A slight inconvenience, but much less than using the standard RaQ
That's it. Now we have a usable AMD-based 1U system without having to lay
out additional capital for a standard/real 1U system. Happy Linux'ing.
Robert Gash, CS, Georgia Tech \\ firstname.lastname@example.org gte393u@prism
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