Troubleshooting with Knoppix

A friend of mine purchased a surplussed EPIA-M Mini Mainboard, then got a case for it to build a mini-computer.

Mainboard Open Case

For a hard drive, he got a Western Digital mobile SATA drive. Since the mainboard did not have SATA connectors, he got an SATA to IDE converter, hooked up an external USB DVD/CD drive, booted the computer and . . . nothing.

Since I had a spare IDE drive in my test computer (it has two IDE drives and a SCSI drive it’s picked up along the way), I volunteered to test it to narrow down the trouble.

Here’s the computer with the disk carrier removed.

Exposed mainboard

I ripped the test IDE drive (which was unformatted because I had been playing with something that didn’t work) out of the tower, then downloaded and printed out the manual for the little motherboard, primarily to identify all the connectors. I found that which of the two IDE ports you used mattered and verified that my IDE drive was jacked into port one. Here it is with the IDE drive connected and sitting on top of the USB DVD/CD drive. Because of the length of the power cable, I had to improvise where to put stuff.

Mainboard with IDE drive

I booted to . This took several minutes because the mainboard does not have a lot of RAM. Once I was booted, presented this menu:

This is a new interface for Knoppix. In previous versions, it booted right into a stripped down version of KDE. I consider it an improvement because the command line is always faster than a GUI, especially with no GUI loaded (you can load a GUI by selecting “Graphical Programs” from the menu). I had to poke around a bit to figure out how to use the menu, but a mistake didn’t matter–I was booting directly from the CD, so, if I goofed up, all I had to do was pull power and start over.

I opened up the “File Manager” and it displayed the choice of drives:

  • Home DIrectory=the home directory of the Knoppix RAMDisk.
  • sda=The IDE Drive
  • sdb=USB thumbdrive
  • sr0=The CD/DVD Drive

I shut down the computer and pulled power, then hooked up the SATA drive to IDE Port Two using the converter connector. When I rebooted, the system did not see the SATA drive.

For one last test, I installed Knoppix to the hard drive. This is also new in this version of Knoppix. The creators of Knoppix historically have recommended against using it as a regular distribution because it is so stripped down, though installable versions created by others have been available. The SATA drive is still invisible after installation.

A side note: I was using a 4 GB IDE drive that started life in a Windows 95 computer. When Knoppix installed, it didn’t like my partitions, so I selected the “Automatic Partitioning” option. When the installation was done, I had about a one GB swap partition and a 3.2 GB primary partition with 1.2 GB free and a fully functional, though admittedly very lightweight, installation.

Knoppix GUI

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