The Blinking Cursor of Immense Frustration
May 3, 2007 6:36 AM   Subscribe

I'm trying to install Ubuntu Server on a just out of the box Dell machine. After completing the install the machine hangs (displaying only a blinking cursor), and subsequent attempts at reinstall from the LiveCD result in hangs as well.

I downloaded the Ubuntu Server 7.04 i386 install ISO and computed it's md5 sum, which validated correctly. I ran through the install using the whole hard-drive on a brand new Dell Optiplex 230 server uneventfully. Upon the first boot, I got a blinking cursor after GRUB, after which it simply hung. I tried to boot again several times, in safe (or "recovery") mode, with and without the monitor plugged in, and combinations thereof.

I tried to run a verification on the disc, but it hung in the same manner as booting from the HDD did. I assumed I had a bad disc. I burned another and ran a successful verification (on another machine) first. Upon trying to install from it, it hung once again - same blinking cursor of frustration.

I've let the box sit for 15 minutes more than once to ensure it wasn't just some daemon taking a long time to come up.

Also, I get random characters and colored blocks (like old DOS-style ASCII blocks) when I let it sit for a bit.

Someone in the Ubuntu IRC channel reccomended using a LiveCD to re-install GRUB on the HDD, which was done to no avail. While the Ubuntu install LiveCD's hang as described after the ubuntu menu, the super grub disk worked fine.

My post on the ubuntu forums yesterday has gone unanswered. I've got to get this server up before Friday, when I leave town for three months. Help me MeFi!
posted by phrontist to Computers & Internet (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Are you certain that your Dell is linux-compatible, i.e. drivers exist and are stable for its various devices especially the RAID or SCSI controller?
posted by damn dirty ape at 6:55 AM on May 3, 2007

I don't know if this is at all helpful to you, because I don't have an out of the box dell, but back in Feb I failed 5-6 times to install Ubuntu. I also had lots of unrecoverable hangs at various points in the installation - LiveCD, actual install, all of it. After looking at a lot of forums, my partner and I eventually concluded that my video card (an NVIDIA) was fatally incompatible.
posted by cobaltnine at 6:58 AM on May 3, 2007

Response by poster: Link to machine specs. The ATI card makes me nervous.

Again, this is a server, so I don't need X to run or anything. The install did work, so the machine is capable of displaying VGA graphics...
posted by phrontist at 7:03 AM on May 3, 2007

Run memtest86 to verify the memory is ok. I do this on every new machine and memory upgrade.
posted by knave at 7:16 AM on May 3, 2007

Response by poster: Progress... it seems others have had this problem.
posted by phrontist at 7:17 AM on May 3, 2007

If the Ubuntu installer LiveCD's are behaving the same way as your failed server install, that's a good thing. It means you can use an Ubuntu LiveCD to fool around with kernel parameters until you find some that let the LiveCD boot successfully. If a LiveCD runs OK on your box, so will an installed Ubuntu, because they use the same hardware detection methods and configure their kernels the same way.

Last time I had trouble with running Linux on a Dell box, I got it to work by appending


to the kernel boot parameters. You can do this from Grub by selecting the kernel you want to boot with the arrow keys, then pressing B (I think - not going to reboot my laptop to find out) for boot options.

If that works for you, you can add pci=nomsi to the kernel options lines inside /boot/grub/menu.lst - and if you add it to the commented-out kopt= line as well, the next kernel the Ubuntu auto-updater puts in there will have it automatically.

My laptop's a Dell as well; it doesn't need pci=nomsi (it's old) but it does need vga=792 to stop the text-mode display getting b0rked. The Dell BIOS is just weird. Other options that may or may not be needed on your Dell are irqpoll, noapic and nolapic.
posted by flabdablet at 7:22 AM on May 3, 2007

Another thing you might want to do is remove the 'quiet' option from the kernel options and boot. This will let you see what is loading and what fails.
posted by chrisroberts at 7:49 AM on May 3, 2007

Do try noapic and noacpi as kernel command lines, and in general try to avoid the fancy-splashscreen quiet boot option. Use the failsafe, and add as many noX options as you can find.

My Dell workstation won't boot with an amd64 kernel unless noapic is in the kernel command line. It's a Dell thing.
posted by Skorgu at 8:40 AM on May 3, 2007

Dell used to make their own RTC chips, which behaved strangely and often would hang some kernels.

My advice:

Boot the console version. See if Alt-Sysreq-foo keys work. Is it really hung, or is it just refusing to talk to you?

Or, try setting the bootloader parameter "init=/bin/sh" to drop to a shell as soon as the kernel is running. (This is the earliest step you can get to, before initialization, so you may need to jump through the hoops that "init" does when starting up. Doing them manually will be a fantastic debugging aid.)
posted by cmiller at 8:43 AM on May 3, 2007

I had a problem similar to this on both my machines, one with ATI graphics, and one with Nvidia (although it was with Edgy). The driver set in xorg.conf was causing the machine to hang on starting X. to get the thing to work, I had to install with text mode, change the driver to 'vesa', and then install the binary driver. everything worked ok after that. I don't know if this is fixed in Feisty or not.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 9:13 AM on May 3, 2007

ArgentCorvid, the server variants don't install X. And a Feisty upgrade broke my nVidia config rather than making it better.

posted by flabdablet at 10:11 AM on May 3, 2007

Phrontist, have you pursued the LILO solution posted to the Ubuntu forums thread you linked to?

The problem is apparently a Linux kernel bug.

Here's a different work-around for what seems to be the same problem.

Flabdalet, AgentCorvid said he installed in text mode, not that he installed a CLI system. The Ubuntu alternate install CD lets you do the same installation you get from the LiveCD, but with a text-based installer. (And for a couple of releases now, a server install is a different thing from a CLI install from the alternate CD.) /derail
posted by Zed_Lopez at 10:24 AM on May 3, 2007

Zed_Lopez, ArgentCorvid said "The driver set in xorg.conf was causing the machine to hang on starting X." I was pointing out to him that phrontist's problem was unlikely to be, in fact, "similar to this", since phrontist has installed Ubuntu Server, and the server versions don't have X. At least, they didn't when I installed my Dapper server (on a different box from my Feisty laptop). Has that changed?
posted by flabdablet at 11:51 AM on May 3, 2007

Oh, and Feisty (i.e. 7.04) is based on kernel 2.6.20, which includes the fix for the bug you linked to.
posted by flabdablet at 11:53 AM on May 3, 2007

Again, AgentCorvid did not say he installed the server version. He said he installed in text mode. I explained that these are not the same thing. The Ubuntu LiveCD lets you install a Desktop system with a GUI installer. The Ubuntu Server Installation CD lets you install a server system with a text installer. The Ubuntu Alternate Installation CD lets you install a full Desktop system, or a CLI-only system, which is similar, but not identical to, a server system, with a text installer.

Feisty (i.e. 7.04) is based on kernel 2.6.20, which includes the fix for the bug you linked to

I saw that, but given that everyone else on the Dell mailing list I linked to was having the same problem as Phrontist with the same model, and lots of people in the Ubuntu bug thread I linked to were having the same problem with 2.6.20 kernels, I considered it possible it didn't make it into Feisty.

It appears to have been committed to the kernel on 12/7. Feisty's Debian import freeze was 12/21, and their Upstream Version Freeze was 2/8. Did that particular fix make it into Feisty? Without checking the source or finding a specific reference to this issue on an Ubuntu development mailing list, I couldn't say.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 12:45 PM on May 3, 2007

Actually, I just didn't read the question very well. I missed the part about not wanting X installed.

What happened to me was the live CD (of all 3 variants I tried, Ubuntu, Kubuntu, and Xubuntu), would freeze just after showing the bootsplash, as X was starting. It turns out that the opensource nvidia and ati drivers included with X didn't work with my video cards. I ended up having to use the alternate install cd and then used aptitude to do the Kubuntu task and install the binary drivers.

Have you checked to make sure your cables are seated? I had some wonky stuff happen once when the hard drive cable decided to jump out of its socket for no reason.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 12:59 PM on May 3, 2007

Good suggestions above, but assuming those didn't work -- 'I've seen this happen before when the grub conf had the wrong root partition in the kernel arguments. The last time that happened was with a server install of Ubuntu, oddly enough (using software RAID1, FWIW). So you might want to check out the Grub configuration and make sure everything looks like it should (hit 'e' in the screen where you select the kernel version, and you'll get a window where you can change things; hit 'b' out of that to boot using the changed config -- and then don't forget you need to edit menu.lst once the machine boots...)
posted by genehack at 5:57 PM on May 3, 2007

if you keep having issues, I would suggest Debian. If you're running a server, I can't imagine there's anything too different.
posted by cellphone at 6:22 AM on May 4, 2007

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