Fresh linux install not booting? Don’t get mad, get googling.

The main hard drive in my shitebox HP media centre PC died over the weekend, taking with it a significant collection of TV episodes. That didn’t bother me too much, as I rarely rewatch old TV, but it also meant that I couldn’t download any new TV, and that’s just intolerable when BSG, Dollhouse and Terminator are all airing in the States on the same night. My first reaction was to install Linux on a semi-spare USB-connected hard disk. One copy of the Lenny installer on a USB key later, and a base system was up and configured on an unclean partition.*

First problem: the bios won’t boot from USB hard drives, even though it boots from flash drives without a second thought. And no, it won’t boot from FireWire either. So, out with the screwdriver and the disk is transplanted into the main machine where the dead HD had been futilely spinning and radiating heat.

Second problem: the replacement drive is PATA, not SATA, and the mobo only has one PATA port. Not a problem, I wasn’t using the LightScribe DVDR for anything anyway…

Third problem (and this was the killer): GRUB hangs at

GRUB Loading stage 1.5
GRUB loading, please wait...

No amount of reinstalling or reconfiguring seemed to help, and I spent quite some time on google trying to track down possible reasons. I even installed grub on a USB key to see what happened; it got as far as the boot menu, but hung immediately afterwards.

Thinking it may have been something to do with installing on an unclean filesystem, I partitioned out some free space on the same drive and started from scratch. This ended up exactly the same way, but with an added “Error 22”. Much swearing was done, some of it on Twitter, and I went to bed really late and really angry two nights in a row, because I had two fresh yet broken installs of Linux and still no Galactica.

Maybe the disk wasn’t LBA? I didn’t think it was that old, but anything was worth a shot. Firing up parted, I tried to move the big partition out of the first 1024 cylinders to make space for a tiny boot partition. Parted gave me “Unable to satisfy all constraints on the partition”, which I had never seen before. When googling for this error, I stumbled across the following:
Error: Unable to satisfy all constraints on the pa: msg#00059 gnu.parted.bugs

The line about cylinder boundary alignment tickled something in the back of my brain. So, I booted up once more using the trusty usb key, ran fdisk and sure enough the old unclean partition didn’t end on a cylinder boundary. Deleting it and recreating it with the same parameters jiggled it a few kb larger and lo! both copies of Linux were magically fixed.

* Can’t be deleting the old photographs now, can we?

One thought on “Fresh linux install not booting? Don’t get mad, get googling.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s