Overview: how to install UNIX/Linux to a machine with no bootable disk

Installing operating systems to the HP nc4010 ultralight notebook has been an excercise in how to accomplish the seemingly impossible: installing an operating system to a laptop with no removable disk and no bootable disk.

Generally, there are three different ways to do this:

  • Boot from the network using PXE.
  • Boot from an external add-on device such as USB CDROM or USB memory device.
  • Create a bootable disk in another system and install the disk afterwards.

Booting from the network requires several servers to be set up, including a TFTP server, a NFS server, and a DHCP server. Though they could all be on the same machine, it does represent a significant amount of set up and configuration in order to install, including the need to copy all installation parts to the NFS server to be served up to clients. In addition, there are special configurations needed for DHCP to get this started.

Booting from an external device is much easier, and can be done on the nc4010 and probably can be done on most laptops from the last 10 years or so. This method is probably the easiest to accomplish and without any fuss.

Alternately, it is possible to install the operating system normally in another system and then transfer the disk over to the new system. The biggest problem – the major problem – is that the disk locations all change. What had been /dev/hd1 is now /dev/hd0; all of this will need to be changed in order to have the new system boot properly.

The boot loader may also need to be changed to recognize the new location of the disk.

Linux has a parameter “root=/dev/zzzz” which allows the boot process to specify where the system root disk is. After this, then /etc/fstab will have to be changed (which is standard everywhere).

Solaris has UFS and ZFS, and UFS can be modified to reflect a new source disk location. ZFS is more troublesome and hard to do, as the filesystem is newer and has not been used as a boot drive for hardly any time at all. I still do not have an understanding of how to convert ZFS from using one boot disk to another (in name only) – once that happens, I’ll have OpenSolaris on an nc4010.

2 thoughts on “Overview: how to install UNIX/Linux to a machine with no bootable disk”

  1. Umm… why not simply remove the old hdd from the other system before installing the os on the notebook disk? Shouldn’t that void all the problems with disk locations?

    Some other hardware related problems might still occur of course..

  2. The notebook disk was removed and presented to the virtual machine as a USB drive (which it was on the host as well). Not sure how I would do what you suggest.

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