Ubuntu on a Mini-ITX, take 3

Turns out, I have not one, not two, but three spare laptop hard drives hanging around my house. Who knew? There’s the 20GB drive that I bought for my VIA EPIA computer, a 30GB drive that came out of my old X-series ThinkPad, and a 40GB drive I just re-remembered was inside my old CMS backup drive.

OscilloscopeI also happen to have a laptop hard drive enclosure with a USB connection from back when I was trying to get data off the 30GB hard drive for my brother (after the ThinkPad failed). The backup drive has a PCMCIA connection, so I ripped that sucker open and put it in the USB enclosure to see whether it still worked. It seems that the only thing missing from my kitchen table at the moment is an oscilloscope.

Since both the 20GB and the 30GB drives have failed in my previous, attempts to install Ubuntu on my VIA EPIA system, I decided to test all three to see if I could access them from Windows within the USB enclosure. Worth noting: gently shaking the ThinkPad’s Travelstar drive yields the unsettling rattle of what I’m guessing is a busted drive head. Well, as expected, the 40GB drive worked, while the 20 and 30GB drives just sort of clicked and sputtered.

So I’m starting to get a hunch of what may have happened. Unbeknownst to me initially, the IDE connector that plugs into the hard drive is not polarized. Usually one of the holes is filled in with plastic—but not this one. So I’m curious, does anyone know if it’s possible to fry a hard drive if you plug in the IDE cable backwards? Since most of the IDE connectors I’ve seen are polarized, I’m guessing so. Bummer.

So of course I’m rightfully concerned about frying my last functional hard drive in the jaws of this system of death. Now there’s one more piece of information I left out of the last part of this story, Giving Ubuntu another go with Dapper Drake. Round about the time I was getting ready to give up for the night, I rebooted the system and got an unfamilar BIOS warning:

Warning! CPU has been changed.
Please re-enter CPU settings in the CMOS setup
and remember to save before quit!

Wait, no it hasn’t. I’ve just been futzing with the hard drives. This is where I started to think there might be greater hardware problems afoot. The annoying thing is, it doesn’t indicate what key to press to get to the CMOS setup. Pressing the traditional F1 just starts to boot the system. Well, I finally RTFM and it turns out DEL is the key to press to access the BIOS settings. D’accord! Voila. CMOS saved, no more BIOS warnings, Ubuntu CD boots. But first, let’s get hard drive #3 in there, fingers crossed.

So I booted the system (booting into a working version of Ubuntu off the CD takes about 10 minutes) tried to access the hard drive and got the same message I’d gotten with the busted drives (which I thought was on account of them being busted).

Unable to mount the selected volume
error: device /dev/hda1 does not exist
error: could not execute pmount

I tried to start the install, but the system just locked up. Err. Reboot. I’m starting to better appreciate the intended aim of the Xubuntu project (which I am not presently trying to install):

Xubuntu is a complete GNU/Linux based system with an Ubuntu base. It’s lighter, and more efficient than Ubuntu with GNOME or KDE, since it uses the Xfce Desktop environment, which makes it ideal for old or low-end machines, as well as thin-client networks.

Well, I took the hard drive out and plugged it back into my laptop. Still works. That’s a good sign. Anyway, I’m going to give this one more go. After that, I think it’ll be time to think about throwing a few hundred bucks at a higher-powered box.

Well, this is just not happening. Locked up at the “Where are you?” time zone installaton step. The CD-ROM has been spinning away something awful, so it could be a bad CD/CD-ROM drive, but really, I’m not sure I care to endure much more of this. The “live” CD install method definitely leaves something to be desired on less powerful hardware.

My 3rd post in a series about running Ubuntu on a Mini-ITX.

Part 1: Installing Ubuntu on a Mini-ITX VIA EPIA ME6000
Part 2: Giving Ubuntu another go with Dapper Drake
Part 3: Ubuntu on a Mini-ITX, take 3
Part 4: Slowly chipping away at unknowns
Part 5: Ubuntu up and running!



“does anyone know if it’s possible to fry a hard drive if you plug in the IDE cable backwards?”

laptop harddrives use a 44 pin IDE cable as opposed to a 40pin, the extra 4 pins supply the harddrive’s power, so plugging a laptop harddrive cable in back to front will fry your harddrive…..

Fraser, thanks. That’s what I feared.


Well, since that is true, I just fried my 44-pin CD/DVD drive. D’oh! Why do they not leave the silly pin? Or at least so the thing that most IDE ports have – the plastic nub in the middle on one side. Both the mobo and the CD drive have the hole for it, but the cable (provided by the mobo company) didn’t have it!


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