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Installing Ubuntu on a Soekris net6501

After frustration with FreeBSD’s ports system on a slow box such as the net6501 (it took literally 7 hours and endless “continue” buttons to get subversion installed), I decided to try and install Ubuntu. No clear instructions can be found on the net as to how to do it over a serial terminal, the only option available with the Soekris, so after some mix & match of various hints and pointers, I managed to do it. Here is how.

1. My setup

My particular net6501 is the mid-range version, with a 1GHz processor, 1Gb of RAM, and an internal Transcend 16GB flash drive. I also got the case & power supply, of course.

2. Get the Ubuntu Server ISO

Easy, just grab it here (32-bit version).

3. Create a bootable USB drive

You will need at least a 1GB flash drive, 2GB is recommended. I use Sandisk or other well-known brands, less likely to give headaches. The easiest way to create the bootable USB drive is to use Ubuntu’s own Startup Disk Creator, found under System in your standard Ubuntu desktop distribution. I use Macs so I run mine inside Parallels, with no issues at all.

4. Edit the boot menu configuration

You need to find a file named txt.cfg in your bootable USB drive and open it in a text editor. You will find a line that reads:

kernel /install/vmlinuz

The line after that begins with append – it needs to end up like this:

append console=ttyS0,19200n8 file=/cdrom/preseed/ubuntu-server.seed initrd=/install/initrd.gz

You need 19200 as that is the default speed on the Soekris serial port.

5. Connect a serial cable to the Soekris

A null-modem cable is needed. I use a DB9 adapter male/female adapter and a normal serial cable.

6. Open a serial terminal

The terminal needs to support VT100 emulation. Unfortunately all terminal apps for Mac that support this are payware and suck. I ended up using Hyperterminal in a Windows XP Parallels VM. It was rock solid throughout the procedure.

Set the terminal to 19200/8/N/1, no flow control, VT100 emulation.

7. Connect the bootable USB to the Soekris

The external USB port next to the DB9 will do fine.

8. Boot up the Soekris

Once you see the 5…4…3… countdown, hit Control+P, and then type

boot 81

and hit enter. Check that 81 is your USB drive, it should appear at the start of the boot log in the terminal. Adjust as required. You should now see a boot: prompt, type “install” and enter – an Ubuntu text-based install should follow, continue with the normal setup procedure after this.

That’s all folks – the toughest part was to find the terminal settings for the menu, if you get errors related to unknown video modes, you have not edited the right file or have done so incorrectly. Enjoy!

For the record, apt-get installed subversion on the same box in 30 seconds flat. FreeBSD needs to fix its package management system. Vim on FreeBSD requires over 500 individual file downloads with over 500 fixes/patches to the base version – ridiculous!


2 Responses to “Installing Ubuntu on a Soekris net6501”

  1. Stephen July 27, 2012 at 15:18 #

    Finally something that works.. Well done!

  2. Stephen December 11, 2012 at 21:24 #

    FYI works for Debian too.. However you will need to leave out the ubuntu seed part in the txt.cfg

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