Building a new Slackware machine.

Posted by jdixon on Apr 10, 2007 2:20 AM EDT
LXer; By James Dixon
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The process of building a new Slackware box for my wife's use; a new Slackware 11 system.

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OK. This is intended to be a summary of the steps my wife (Meredith) and I followed in setting up her new Slackware 11 system.

First, we ordered the system. The system is a bare-bones system from MWave. After a fair amount of research, Meredith settled on an MWave Hermes case, an MSI K9VGM-V motherboard, an AMD AThlon 64 X2 5000+ processor, 2 GB of MWave DDR2 667 memory, a floppy drive, and a Lite-On 16X DVD drive. She also ordered two 500 GB Western Digital SATA 2 hard drives on the same order, and a separate Lite-On 20X DVD+-RW LightScribe compatible drive and 10 pack of LightScribe compatible DVD's from Newegg.

Our hope was that the MSI motherboard, which uses a fairly standard NVidia chipset (the video is the NVidia Geforce 6150, the network is a standard NVidia forcedeth, and the sound is a standard Realtek chipset) would be supported under Linux. Our hopes turned out to be in vain, but more on that later.

The system arrived on a Saturday afternoon, and I assembled it that evening. The case, motherboard, CPU, and floppy came pre-assembled and tested by MWave, so all I had to do was insert the memory, mount and connect the hard drives, and mount and connect the DVD's. There were two problems: Neither of the DVD's came with an audio cable, and the case did not come with a fan as we had expected. A quick trip to my junk box fixed both problems, as I had a spared audio cable and a spare slot mounted fan available. I installed both and reassembled the case. The system was now ready for testing and the installation of the operating system. We ordered a new 12 cm. fan from Newegg the next day, and it has since arrived and been installed, replacing the slot mounted fan.

We connected the computer to Meredith's KVM switch and powered it on. The system booted with no problems, so she entered the BIOS settings and set it to boot from the DVD. Inserting the Slackware 11.0 DVD and rebooting got us to the familiar Slackware installation screen. We were ready to begin installing Slackware 11. Meredith wanted to use the two SATA drives in a RAID 1 array. Fortunately, doing so under Slackware is well documented, and we found ready guides here: [HYPERLINK@slacksite.com] and here: [HYPERLINK@www.megapico.co.uk] Following the directions in these documents enabled her to get a bootable Slackware 11 system with the two drives working as a RAID 1 array with no problems.

Once the operating system was installed, we encountered four problems. First, the default Slackware 2.4 kernel is not an smp kernel, so her second core was not recognized. Second, neither the onboard sound or network were recognized. Third, the video chipset was not recognized by the nv driver and Slackware defaulted back to the vesa driver. And finally, once the networking problems were resolved, we found that the proprietary NVidia drivers, obtained from NVidia's web site, would not install. The smp problem could easily be resolved by installing an smp kernel, but the other problems required more research.

A number of hours of web research revealed that we were not the only ones having the audio and network problems. It looks like this NVidia chipset is simply too new to be well supported under Linux. Given that information, both problems were quickly resolved by another trip to the junk box and the insertion of an Ensonic 16 bit PCI sound card and a 3Com 3C900 PCI network card, both well supported. A quick reboot, and both network and sound were operational.

Yet more research on the NVidia drivers revealed that there was a conflict with the rivafb driver and the newer NVidia drivers, even if the rivafb driver is compiled as a module. Since the Slackware kernels include the rivafb driver, it looked like it was time to compile a new kernel.

Since compiling a new kernel was going to be required in any case, Meredith decided to download the source for the current kernel, 2.6.20.3, rather than using one of Slackware's existing smp kernels. We had decided to use the ext3 filesystem on our 500 GB disks, so using a 2.6 kernel under Slackware would require that she either compile ext3 support into the kernel or create an initrd for the 2.6 kernel. Directions for creating the initrd are included in the README.initrd file enclosed with the 2.6 kernel packages provided with Slackware, so she decided to go that route. A quick mkinitrd command and a download of the 2.6.20.3 source code, and she was ready to start configuring her new kernel.

She tried configuring the new kernel herself the first time, but wound up with a non-bootable kernel. Fortunately, we had configured Lilo to prompt us which kernel we wanted to boot, and were able to recover by booting the old kernel. On her second try, she copied the .config file over from Slackware's working 2.6.17.13 kernel. This allowed her to only change the options relating to new kernel features and the rivafb and nvidiafb drivers. Once she was done, the new kernel compiled and booted with no problems, and she was able to install the proprietary NVidia drivers. As a bonus, the NVidia network interface is now recognized by the 2.6.20.3 kernel, though we have not tried using it yet.

She has been playing with her new system for the last few weeks and is trying to move all of her Internet activity to Linux. Among the various things she is trying: She has downloaded and compiled the latest version of DOSBox, using checkinstall to create and install it as a Slackware package (this meant she could now copy over all of her games she played under DOSBox on her Windows system and play them largely unmodified on her Linux system). She has installed the latest version of Wine from Linuxpackages.net and has been testing her various Windows games under wine, with extremely limited success. And finally, she has installed VMware server and installed a couple of pre-created virtual machines for testing.

Directions for installing VMware Player under Slackware can be found here: [HYPERLINK@madpenguin.org] and the final hint required to install VMWare Server can be found here: [HYPERLINK@lwn.net] which is that Server won't install unless you create an /etc/pam.d directory to fool the installer into thinking pam is installed.

There are a number of things she's looking into as time permits: She's interested in Crossover Office and possibly signing up to test games for them. She's interested in taking a look at Cedega. She's interested in checking out Lyx too. There are probably a number of others she hasn't mentioned to me, and probably won't unless she runs into problems and needs help.

So far, the new system has worked well, and appears to meet her needs. It's not going to replace her Windows machine for gaming, but she hopes to eventually move everything else to Linux and keep a Windows machine around strictly for playing games.

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