Why does Linux hate me?

Why does Linux hate me?

Summary: Last year, I tried installing Linux, with less than encouraging results. This past weekend I tried again, with hardware that's about as generic as you can get, using up-to-date versions of the two most popular distros I could find. So why didn't it work?

TOPICS: Windows

In the Talkback section of this blog, my loyal readers routinely urge me to switch to Linux. “Try it!” they say. “Once you do, you’ll never look back.” I’m perfectly willing to try, and indeed I’d love to have at least one Linux machine on hand so I can test interoperability scenarios here. About eight months ago I tried to install Ubuntu Linux 6.06 on a couple of systems here. The results were less than encouraging, and I’ve been using Linux in virtual machines since then.

Over the weekend, I thought I’d try again to put together a dual-boot Windows/Linux PC. I have another system I can devote to the cause, with decent specs and no hardware issues that I know of. This hardware is about as generic as an Intel-based system gets. I first built this system in late 2003 and have upgraded it extensively over the past three and a half years. System specs are as follows:

  • Abit BL7–Raid motherboard
  • 2.8 GHz Pentium 4
  • 1.5GB RAM
  • Two ATA drives (200GB, 250GB) connected to HPT370 controller (on motherboard) in non-RAID configuration
  • ATI Radeon 9600 AGP video adapter
  • Realtek RTL8169 Gigabit Ethernet adapter

I downloaded the latest release of SUSE Linux (10.2) and burned it to DVD. I also retrieved the Live CD copy of Ubuntu 6.06 LTS that I used last July and burned a fresh copy of Ubuntu 6.10. Here’s what happened next:

I booted from the Suse Linux DVD first. The system went straight into the installer, where I answered a few simple questions (time zone, language, and so on) and eventually got to the screen where it proposed what seemed like a sensible partitioning scheme. It recognized both drives, offered to create swap, system, and home partitions, and said it would resize an existing partition. I clicked OK and promptly received this error:


Failure occurred during following action:
Setting type of partition /dev/hdf6 to 82

System error code was: -1012

That’s not good, is it? Googling every conceivable permutation of that error message turned up no useful information. When I rebooted to Windows, I saw that the partitioning utility had created the three partitions but hadn’t been able to finish the job.

I repeated the process after wiping all disks completely and removing all partitions (i.e., making them RAW). No difference. I tried the different installation options on the Suse DVD, including the Safe option. Still no joy.

So, it’s adios to Suse and on to Ubuntu 6.06 LTS. I restored an image of the Windows Vista installation and then booted to the Ubuntu CD. The runup to the installation was similar to my Suse experience, but when I chose the default partitioning options the installer didn’t halt on me. This is encouraging. The “Installing system” dialog box kept me apprised of its progress and eventually asked me to remove the CD and reboot. When I did, I was greeted with the usual startup text, followed by this message:

GRUB loading Stage1.5

And then the system rebooted. Next time around, it got to exactly the same point and rebooted, continuing in this loop until I hit the power button.

When I used a disk diagnostic utility to view the partitions, I saw that Ubuntu had indeed set up all the partitions exactly as it promised; it just couldn’t boot from them. And somehow the resized system volume (which had previously contained Windows Vista) had become corrupted and would no longer start. So I wiped that disk completely and restarted, this time using the Ubuntu 6.10 CD. When I got to the disk partitioning screen, I chose the default option to use the entire drive (the one I had just wiped) and to completely reformat it.

Everything proceeded exactly as before – including, unfortunately, the reboot loop.

Finally, I inserted a Windows Vista DVD, rebooted, and ran through Windows Vista setup. Vista doesn’t include drivers for the HPT370 controller, but I was able to download the XP drivers to a USB flash drive and supply them at the disk partitioning screen. Less than 25 minutes later, I had a full working copy of Windows Vista with access to all drives and devices.

So, my loyal Linux advocates, where did I go wrong? This isn’t a case of oddball hardware or missing drivers – in fact, both distros I tried had in-box drivers for my storage controller, recognized my disks during setup, and partitioned them to the correct sizes. They just couldn’t get the job done. And just to make clear, my objective here is to get a working installation, not to prove some ideological point in a Windows versus Linux debate. I want to have a working Linux box.

Update, seven hours later: The culprit apparently, is the HPT370 card. I disabled it (and unfortunately lost access to 450GB of storage) and installed a PCI SATA card with a 200GB drive. After a few hiccups (still not smooth) and more than two hours, Suse 10.2 is nearly installed. Now that I know this works I’m going to reconnect the IDE drives and hope it works…

Topic: Windows

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Blimey!

    I don't know what you're doing Ed. The only time I've seen SuSE fail to load is when SuSE 9.1 came up against SATA drives - which it didn't support.

    Are the drives known to be OK?
    • Try removing the second disk

      With a device name like hdf6 it is likely that the second disc has something up with it. Take it out and see what happens. Linux disc are named to a pattern see


      for details

      The bit about "type 82" is telling you that it is the swap partition. See here.


      Finally you might this gives a few pointers but I don't think you were trying to preserve a Windows partition

    • Hardware

      The hardware seems to be pretty straight forward.

      My first though was if there wasn't possibly faulty hardware in the system.

      I used SUSE 10.1 on several different hardware configurations and never ran into such a problem.
      Tim Patterson
      • If the hardware was faulty ....

        ... then Vista would not have worked either.
        • Maybe not

          [i]If the hardware was faulty then Vista would not have worked either.[/i]

          Not necessarily. For one thing, MS has historically been much more tolerant of broken hardware (as in, fails diagnostics.) Even in cases such as failing memory, different systems "hit" different parts of the hardware such that they won't always fail at the same point.

          A good example was posted here a while back (by Ed or George, IIRC) of a system that failed randomly under MSWinXP but failed immediately under MSWinVista [b]and[/b] failed under Knoppix -- it turned out that the memory failed diagnostics, but MSWinXP simply wasn't "hitting" the failing addresses right away, but the other systems tripped over it at boot time.

          Bottom line: diagnostics are your best bet rather than trying to guess whether the hardware, software, or bad karma are at fault.
          Yagotta B. Kidding
          • I've done diagnostics

            Yagotta, I agree with you completely. These are known good drives and the controller has no issues that I can tell, plus the latest BIOS. The Linux installers recognize the drives; they just crap out trying to make them bootable.
            Ed Bott
          • This is why

            I always set aside 75MB of space on hda1 (or sda1 as the case may be) for a boot partition. It never fails. All we're doing is installing grub and the kernel there, so it doesn't need to be big, and everything else can be wherever on whatever type of partition I want, as long as there is kernel support. And of course Windows is chainloaded so that can be wherever as well.

            Of course you need to know to do this before you even have Windows on the computer, and most people wouldn't know better, so I can understand your frustration.
            Michael Kelly
          • That's helpful info

            I think in this case, though, it didn't make a difference, because I started with raw disks and still had problems. Filed away for next time, though.
            Ed Bott
        • Vista did NOT work without an XP driver. (NT)

          Update victim
          • What difference does that make.

            The author is able to load Vista and cannot get Linux to load. The Linux people on this board don't seem to know the answer either judging by all the different suggestions of what might be wrong. Seems to me one OS is easier then the other. Can you guess which one?
    • Thank you!

      I have tried to install Suse 10.1, 10.2 & RedHat on a compaq 1.7 Ghz Pentium 4 machine. It's a vanilla Compaq machine that was old and I like you wanted to play with Linux. I have had nothing but trouble after trouble getting this to install. I put Vista (RC1) to see it it would work - stripped of the bells and whistles worked great - Installed XP Pro worked great. Went Back to Linux and Redhat. The most Arcane error screens and boots to a command prompt.

      I have given up on it...just put a MS product on it and wait for the others to catch up. At this point it's not worth the time or effort.
    • Wish I could help

      I don't know what to say because I have never had such problems loading/installing Linux. The only difference is that I have yet to use the SATA drives but that apparently does not appear to be the issue. In any event when you figure it out please post it.<a href="http://www.ingsoft.net">HOIATL</a>
  • My guess is hardware....

    I am also a Linux noob, but it sounds like you might have a hardware-Linux incompatibility issue. I was able to load and run Ubuntu on an Intel PIII 1 Ghz with 512MB and a 20GB hard drive. I got it to load, boot and run on the first try. I would try to simplify (read downgrade) your hardware setup. Keep It Simple.
    • YES, the HPT370

      HPT 370/372 controllers apparently overwrite a sector with internal configuration data of the controller, even without raid setup. The sector is around 9-10 after MBR, so it overwrites stage1_5.
      It is possible with manual configuration to overcome the problem (embedding stage1_5 avoiding that sector)

      I know what the problem is with the HPT370/372 case. The controller writes to the boot drive in the area of
      the disk (first cylinder?) and grub also wants to write to the first 16 sectors. Basically to work around the problem you need to take the grub modified stage1_5 (before its corrupted) and write it past where the bios writes to the disk. Then run the grub install command telling it where the stage1_5 is located on disk. You can alternately install stage1 to a floppy, and boot from it, which seems to solve the problem as well.

      I installed Ubuntu 4.10 on his three systems. The only major problem I found was that the HPT370 controller writes to the first cylinder of the hard drive breaking grub?s stage1_5, which was easily worked around. So far everything has worked fine for him.

      See also:
    • So it WAS hardware after all?

      Or actually a lack of compatibility between the hardware and the Linux operating systems tried.
      Everything discussed seemed to point to that HPT370 controller - I understand the loss in performance / storage capacity - but sometimes a downgrade, not an upgrade, in hardware is needed to get the software (operating or application) to "work" - reducing the system to basic devices, installing, and then upgrading in a systematic, logical approach to identify incompatible or defective components is a simple troubleshooting procedure.
  • WOW

    I guess now we can say

    "Windows ... It Just Works"
    • Re: WOW

      [i]I guess now we can say
      "Windows ... It Just Works"[/i]

      Not quite. Did you read the article? Ed clearly indicated that his Vista had problems with the drive controller as well. The difference is that he knew what to do to help Windows past that problem: "[i]download the XP drivers to a USB flash drive and supply them at the disk partitioning screen[/i]".

      My guess something similar will be needed for Linux and that drive controller. So Windows didn't "just work" here, either.
      • It just worked well enough he knew what to do. (nt)

        • Bizarre comment

          That is a bizarre way to look at it.

          The comment "Windows just works" was not accurate. Windows failed, in much the same way Linux seems to here - with that drive controller.

          Ed knew (from his personal experience and knowledge of Windows, I presume) what manual actions to take. He isn't familiar with Linux in this same situation. Neither am I, actually. Does this make Windows a "just works"? No. This just means that Ed knew the manual steps needed for Windows, but not for Linux.
        • re: It just worked well enough he knew what to do. (nt)

          Well, yeah. But would he have known what to do if this was his
          first foray into Windows? You absorb knowledge over time
          without really working at it. Most long time Linux users, even
          NOOBS, probably know enough about Linux to recover from that
          mysterious and frankly, bizarre hiccup.