Installing Red Hat Linux on an AlphaPC 164

These pages will be a (very sketchy) cronicle of how I set up a Linux Alpha workstation, starting with a bare AlphaPC 164 board with ARC firmware, and an 21164 (ev56) CPU.

After getting the computer put together physically, I started by upgrading the firmware, to be able to use the SRM console, instead of the ARC console the motherboard supported by default.

I had planned on installing debian, to get to know a new Linux distribution. I ran into some problems, as I couldn't figure out what I needed for a Network install.

So I went back to tried & true RedHat, and downloaded two .iso images of RedHat Linux 7.1. Since I wanted to do a network install, I mounted them via loopback, and copied the files onto a server.

I created a bootdisk, and a ramdisk from the images directory, and booted the computer with them. I tried a NFS install first, but the computer hung, after mounting the install directory. I had more luck with a http install. Here the computer got as far as allowing me to choose packages to install, and formatting the harddrive. It hung, just after formatting the harddrive, though.

I finally got it installed, by installing from a CD-ROM instead of from the Network. I couldn't get booting from the CD-ROM drive (a Toshiba IDE) to work, so I created a boot & generic floppy, and used them.

When I'd gotten RedHat installed, I experienced mysterious hangs, when accessing the LAN. Not good. I swapped the card for a another 100baseTX, but the Alpha still hung. Finally I dug up an old ISA NE2000 clone, and the problem went away. I tested various kernels (2.4.10, 2.4.0, 2.2.19), and discovered that with 2.2.19, the cards worked fine, with no hangs.

I searched around a bit, but didn't find an answer, so I sent a mail to RedHats Alpha mailing list. I quickly got this response:

From: Jay Estabrook @ Compaq
Subject: Re: Hangs with 100baseTX, RedHat 7.1, kernel 2.4.x and AlphaPC 164

On Thu, Oct 04, 2001 at 05:12:49PM +0200, Mads Peter Bach wrote:
> I've been trying to a net install of RedHat 7.1 on a machine with a
> Digital AlphaPC 164 (not SX/LX) motherboard, but failed miserably,
> due to machine hangs.

I'll bet you're running from SRM console, right?

> Last week, I finally installed from a CDROM instead, which went
> smoothly. It turns out, that the reason the net install didn't work,
> was that any heavy 100baseTX ethernet activity, using normal size
> packets hung the machine.  I've tried multiple ethernet interfaces,
> both RealTek RTL-8139 based, and DC21040 based, in 32 and 64 bit
> slots. When I finally dug up an old 10baseTX ISA card, the problems
> went away.

Yes, network traffic (even "ping" did it for me) seems to exacerbate
the problem.

> The strange thing is, that the cards work fine, if I use a 2.2 kernel
> (tested with 2.2.19). Others have posted that they needed to enable
> CONFIG_PCI_QUIRKS, but that doesn't seem to be necessary for me (I've
> haven't tested with heavy trafic more than 15 minutes, though).

Yes, well, the 2.2. kernels dealt with a PC164 "anomaly" much better,
and even 2.4.10 deals with it, but ONLY if you've booted from MILO.

Use the attached patch against 2.4.10, and you should have better
results. These patches, among others, are in the process of being
submitted to Linus for 2.4.11, hopefully.

Here's the patch for AlphaPC 164 quirks Jay included. With it (and kernel cmdline parameter cycle=366000000), I ran 2.4.10 succesfully. At the moment I'm running 2.4.16 with only Andre Hedrick's IDE patches. The IDE patches are to be able to use a Promise TX2 IDE133 controller. Unfortunately, it doesn't work at the moment, and hangs the Alpha on bootup, when partitions are being detected. The IDE133 harddrive I was going to use it with works just fine (albeit slowly) on the Alphas builtin IDE controller.

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Last updated: 2002-02-06 04:04