Fedora Core 9 on the Dell Inspiron Mini 9

by krisrowland

I’ve finally done it!: Installed the latest stable Fedora Core on my new Dell Mini πŸ˜€

I’ll recount exactly what I did for the benefit of others trying to do the same.

The main issue with installing an OS on the Mini is that it lacks an optical drive and Linux distros are typically installed via CDs/DVDs. Of course, there are ways of preparing the relevant .iso images to boot from a USB memory stick, but figuring out how for a specific distro can be troublesome. In the end I found the advice of JonRob to be the best (some parts involving the installation of Fedora below are from his hints – I’ve fleshed them out here for those who aren’t, like I wasn’t, too familiar with updating kernels and the such).

Preparing a USB memory stick to boot FC9

Now, for better or worse, I chose to use my desktop PC, which runs Vista, to prepare most of the following. I must admit, I did use my old laptop, which runs Ubuntu Hardy, for some little bits, but everything can just as easily be done under Windows (at least Vista and XP). I’ll detail the rest as if you’re using windows (if you’re a Linux buff, figuring it out for Linux shouldn’t be too hard using this as a base – Google is your friend).

I used an 8GB AData stick. It’s nice and cheap… and works. You could get away with a 4GB stick but will need another USB drive (could be an external HDD, say) to store the .iso image itself – the technique I describe isn’t the most elegant or efficient way of installing FC9 on the Mini but it’s the simplest.

So, the obvious question arises: how do you prepare said USB stick? After seeing this Ubuntu post on how to load Ubuntu onto a USB stick (which works very well, incidentally) I took the following steps:

  • Format the USB stick to Fat32. In Windows this is easy: right-click on the drive in the start-menu or in explorer and select Format. Then choose to format to Fat32 (I chose block sizes of 4096 but that’s really up to you). Give it a label and format it (a quick-format should be fine).
  • You’ll clearly need the FC9 image. Download it from your favourite Linux distro mirror. If you’re totally stuck, download it from here.
  • I decided to give UNetBootin a go. It works well for most distros. Download it, install it and run it.
  • It appears UNetBootin makes the stick bootable automatically. However, at this point I’d already made the stick bootable by using Syslinux independently. If the next step doesn’t make the stick bootable (which it should) then run Syslinux on it first. Download it for Windows here (choose the .zip with the latest version number).
  • Now use UNetBootin to bootably load the FC9 image into the stick. Select the Diskimage option. Browse to the FC9 image you previously downloaded. Select your USB stick from the list at the bottom of the window under the Drive popup (and making sure you select USB as the drive type, not Hard Disk). Then click OK. The process will take quite some time. While I’m sure my drive was working at USB2.0, I’m almost certain the speeds were USB1.0. Hard to tell. Could have just been the unpacking directly to the stick. There are more efficient ways to make a bootable USB stick, but they’re a bit trickier. This is the easier route that worked for me.

Prepare the Mini for booting FC9 from USB

JonRob notes that the onboard ethernet must be disabled for the vanilla FC9 to boot because the kernel doesn’t support the network adapter used by the new Atom motherboards.

  • To disable the ethernet on the Mini, press 2 at boot to enter the bios setup. From here, go to Advanced (the second menu tab) and select Disable for On Board Lan Control. Leave the rest untouched.
  • Of course, you’ll have to enable booting from USB. Ensure that USB Storage is the top item under the Boot menu (it should be top by default).
  • Navigate to the Exit tab and choose the first option (Exit Saving Changes). Now the Mini is ready to boot FC9 from a USB stick.

Actually installing FC9 on the Mini

So now the Mini is ready to boot FC9 from USB and the FC9 files are bootable on the stick. Now, due to the way this technique works, FC9 won’t use the unpacked files on the stick for the installation (there’s surely a way to get this working but the following is easy so it’s a moot point). To get around this, you’ll have to supply the .iso file seperately. If your stick is big enough, copy the FC9 .iso file to the root folder of the USB stick itself (an 8GB stick is the smallest that will allow this). This should be allowed since the Fat32 partition can handle files up to ~4GB, not above, and the .iso is about 3.5GB. Otherwise, do what I did and copy the .iso to an external USB HDD (making sure it isn’t bootable). Again, make sure it’s in the root folder.

To actually do the installation:

  • Unmount the USB stick from the Windows (or Linux if you chose that route) machine and plug it into one of the ports of the Mini. If you used an external HDD (or another stick) to store the .iso, plug that in, too.
  • Power up the Mini, pressing 0 at the boot splash screen.
  • Select the first option to boot from USB.
  • The FC9 installer GRUB menu will appear. Select the third option: Install or upgrade an existing system. The FC9 installer boot should begin.
  • If the ethernet isn’t disabled, the installer boot will crash or hang. If this happens, double-check you’ve disabled the ethernet support in the BIOS.
  • If all goes well, you’ll be greeted with the blue installer screen and the Select a Language box. Choose your preferred language and keyboard type.
  • At the Installation Method screen, select Hard Drive. A list of disks will be presented; all attached USB drives being shown. Select the drive with the .iso in the root folder. You can actually just select one after the other until it works as it won’t begin installation until it find the .iso.
  • Once the .iso is found, the process is just like any other Linux install (keeping in mind you still don’t have ethernet enabled).
  • Once finished, boot into your almost functional FC9 install on the Mini.

Re-enabling ethernet

If you just re-enable the ethernet after the install, the boot will fail (just like the installer boot would fail). Thanks to JonRob’s tips, I found that updating the kernel to the latest will fix everything (since the Atom board network adapters are supported in the latest builds). To do this without an ethernet connection to the Mini is a little trickier than just using yum, say.

  • On your other machine, download the latest FC9 kernel from Koji: HERE. I chose the latest FC9 kernel build at the time: kernel-2.6.26.5-47.fc9. In the page for the particular kernel, download the RPM package under the i386 heading. e.g. I chose: kernel-2.6.26.5-47.fc9.i686.rpm
  • You’ll should also download the latest iwl4965-firmware package from Koji. I used this one. (Found on this package list).
  • Copy the downloaded FC9 kernel and iwl4965-firmware .rpm files to the desktop of the new FC9 install on the Mini.
  • Before you install the new kernel there is a conflict between firmware installed by default with vanilla FC9 and the latest kernel (thanks to this forum post for instructions on how to fix it). First, check that the incorrect firmware is installed. Bring up a terminal and type:

rpm -q iwl4965-firmware

  • The output should be:

iwl4965-firmware-4.44.1.20-1.noarch

  • Remove this package via:

rpm -e iwl4965-firmware-4.44.1.20-1.noarch

  • Install the new package, if desired (you can probably safely leave it removed since the Dell Mini doesn’t care much for it):

rpm -Uhv iwl4965-firmware-228.57.2.21-1.noarch

  • Now install the new FC9 kernel:

rpm -Uhv kernel-2.6.26.5-47.fc9.i686

  • The install may take a little while (a few minutes, max). Once completed, reboot the Mini.
  • Press 2 on boot again to access the BIOS setup.
  • Enable the On Board Lan Support option again.
  • Exit Saving Changes
  • Boot into your new FC9 install on the Dell Inspiron Mini 9! πŸ˜€

From here you can plug in your LAN cable and update to your heart’s content. I found that updates took a veeery long time to install. I suppose there were a lot of updates but I think it’s a bit to do with the SSD drive and burst writing… not sure. Nonetheless, it works! Once updated, the response of the system is good.

I haven’t as yet got the wireless working but I’m not fussed about that yet. The card that comes with the Mini is a Broadcom jobby – YUUUCK! Broadcom have a reputation of being difficult with Linux buffs. I hate their wireless cards, having tried to use the one that was in my old Asus A6k. Like JonRob, I too have ordered an Intel 3945ABG Mini PCI-E wireless adapter card from ebay for nix. e.g. one for ~US$30, inc. p&h.Β  Once I’ve installed this (two weeks time – thanks to delayed delivery due to a Chinese public holiday-week), wireless should be a breeze.

I’ll post updates on my experiences with this distro soon.

Hope this guide was helpful πŸ™‚

Kris

P.S. Of course, Fedora Core 10 will be out soon ~ 5 Dec. (I think) and it should have full support by default, making some of the aforementioned bugs disappear. I definitely look forward to the release.

EDIT: See part 2 here. You might also find other posts under “computing” (on the toolbar to the right) useful, too.

Advertisements