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Author Topic: Dell Dimension 2400 Problem Child  (Read 5230 times)
ComputerBob
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« on: May 10, 2009, 05:24:16 pm »

Hi and welcome to my very first post here!  Grin

One of my tasks is to recycle old donated PCs for a charity. I'm considering using VectorLinux 6.0 Standard Gold or Light for that purpose, but I'm having some serious problems getting started.

I keep an old Dell Dimension around because it's "a real problem child." I know that if I can get a distro to run on it, then I feel pretty confident that I can get it to run on any of the other old donated PCs.

But, true to form, the old Dell is giving me video problems with Vector.

As soon as the VectorLinux 6.0 Standard install CD first comes up, it tells me that I'm using an undefined video mode. Then it lets me choose between several text modes and 800x600 and 640x480. That behavior is NOT unique to VectorLinux -- it has occurred on that PC with every distro I've tried on it except for Puppy Linux, which for some reason didn't have any problems at all with it.

When it gives me that list of video modes, I can choose Mode C (800x600) and the VectorLinux installer starts up and does the install, and it tells me that it has tested X successfully -- but once the install is finished, the PC boots up to a completely black screen on every boot after that.

If I install xvesa, then I get an error message, saying that X wasn't able to start, and the error log says that I'm trying to use an unknown xvesa mode.

If I install xorg, then I get an error message, saying that X wasn't able to start, and the error log says either "device not found" or "incomplete xorg.conf" or something like that -- I've gotten different messages on different tries.

One of the "automatic" choices lets me choose a few things, but when the PC reboots, it goes to a completely black screen.

The other "automatic" choice doesn't appear to be doing anything at all, and when the PC reboots, it goes to a completely black screen.

Probably the most frustrating part is that it feels like the intaller is forcing me to set up my PC's video at least 2 or 3 times each time I do a reinstall, and there are different, confusing choices at each of the 2 or 3 config screens.

Several times, I've gotten the PC to boot up without any error message at all -- X seems to actually start, but it dumps me straight to the completely black screen.

Here are some basic specs:
CPU: Celeron 2.4 GHz
RAM: 256 MB
Hard Drive: 40 GB
Graphics: Onboard Intel 7xx or 8xx (I don't remember which, but it's always a big pain to get it to work)

I've reinstalled VectorLinux 6.0 Standard Gold on it several times, choosing several different combinations of video modes, but NOTHING is working consistently.

The most frustrating part of trying to solve this problem is that I can't even remember everything I've tried to fix the problem.

At one point, I figured out that if I pressed TAB when LILO came up, and typed the command "VectorLinux vga=normal" the system would boot and it would give me 1024x768 (my chosen resolution).

Hallelujah!

So I did that for several bootups, to make sure it would keep working. And it worked fine -- as long as I pressed TAB at the LILO screen and typed "VectorLinux vga=normal" as the boot line.

But then it stopped working when I tried to logoff as user and logon as root. Instead of bringing up the login screen, it went to complete black -- no cursor, no nothing -- and all I could do was shut off the PC.

When I turned the PC back on, it booted normally until it tried to start X. At that point, it dropped me into a complete black screen again. No error messages. No prompt. No nothing.

I had to shut off the PC. I waited 30 seconds and turned it back on. Nope -- X is still dropping me into a completely black screen.

A related problem -- no matter what I changed in lilo.conf, I couldn't get it to add the "vga=normal" to the boot line itself. It either told me that "vga=" was not allowed in an append statement, or it ignored it when I put in at the end of the kernel line. Either way, it would boot up to a complete black screen unless I manually TABbed at boot and added "vga=normal" to the boot line.

I can still boot into text mode (I've done that at least 20 times today) -- which also requires me to add "vga=normal" to its boot line or I can try to reinstall VectorLinux from scratch all over again (which I've done at least 10 times today), hoping that I accidently hit on the correct combination of graphics settings. BTW, it's really confusing and frustrating that there are there so many different video choices, including at least 2 "automatic" choices and none one of them seems to work reliably on this PC. Both of them drop me into a complete black screen on the next boot.

I'm sorry that this post is ranting and rambling -- it's the result of me trying to distill 5 hours of frustration into a few paragraphs.
« Last Edit: May 11, 2009, 04:02:29 am by ComputerBob » Logged

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sledgehammer
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« Reply #1 on: May 11, 2009, 12:15:58 am »

I don't think I can be of any practical help.  I have loaded Vector many times on old computers but don't recall whether one was an old Dell.  However, here is what I would do.  First, I would check the install disk to make sure it was OK. Then I would check the partitions, to make sure I had three, one swap at about 2x memory, one root at about 10 GB and the rest home.  I am told this (three partitions is not necessary, that two (one swap and one for root and programs works fine, but I don't use two). I would make sure the partitions are correct. Sounds to me like they are probably fine.

Then if I was still worried about the install, I would start the install (if you are up to doing it again...if not, see below) and type "linux" at the prompt, to make sure I got the old installer.  So far I doubt any of this will help much.  Then I would play with the video in vasm, when I got to that point.

If the install is OK, and it sounds like it is, and you can boot into text (tui) mode. I would boot to root and load vasm and then just play, as you have done, with the video installer.  I would use init 4 from the command line after doing this to see if it would go into gui mode.  Often saves a reboot. You might have to open xorg.conf and play with the video horizontal sync settings.

About all I can think of.  Another reason this might not be of any help is that I have never tried the vector live disk.  I just use vector 6.0 standard.

Good luck.  Your basic idea of using vector on the older machines is a good one. 

John
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ComputerBob
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« Reply #2 on: May 11, 2009, 03:43:07 am »

Oh, no! I typed "LiveCD" when I meant to type "Install CD." I haven't used any VectorLinux LiveCD - only the VectorLinux 6.0 Standard Gold install CD (and soon the 6.0 Light install CD). Now I have corrected that in my first post.

I don't think I can be of any practical help.  I have loaded Vector many times on old computers but don't recall whether one was an old Dell.  However, here is what I would do.  First, I would check the install disk to make sure it was OK. Then I would check the partitions, to make sure I had three, one swap at about 2x memory, one root at about 10 GB and the rest home.  I am told this (three partitions is not necessary, that two (one swap and one for root and programs works fine, but I don't use two). I would make sure the partitions are correct. Sounds to me like they are probably fine.

Thanks for your reply! Yeah, partitions are perfect. In fact, I have 4 of them -- including a separate one for user data, so users won't be confused by seeing all of the stuff "under the hood" whenever they go to save a file.

Then if I was still worried about the install, I would start the install (if you are up to doing it again...if not, see below) and type "linux" at the prompt, to make sure I got the old installer.  So far I doubt any of this will help much.  Then I would play with the video in vasm, when I got to that point.

If the install is OK, and it sounds like it is, and you can boot into text (tui) mode. I would boot to root and load vasm and then just play, as you have done, with the video installer.  I would use init 4 from the command line after doing this to see if it would go into gui mode.  Often saves a reboot. You might have to open xorg.conf and play with the video horizontal sync settings.

That's what I'm afraid of -- even more hours of trial-and-error.  Wink

About all I can think of.  Another reason this might not be of any help is that I have never tried the vector live disk.  I just use vector 6.0 standard.

I can't believe I typed "LiveCD" when I meant to type "Install CD." Shows how tired I was when I typed that.

Good luck.  Your basic idea of using vector on the older machines is a good one. 

I hope that idea works out, but I wonder if it's a problem with newer linux kernels. Some other distros (Slitaz, DSL, Mepis, antiX) have given me that same problem -- but Puppy Linux (even the newest 4.1.2) worked just fine.
« Last Edit: May 11, 2009, 04:03:28 am by ComputerBob » Logged

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rbistolfi
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« Reply #3 on: May 11, 2009, 06:17:12 am »

Hi there. I think we need to start with the usual stuff. The output of running
Code:
lspci|grep VGA

would be helpful for troubleshooting. Also, try to find which driver are you using by looking at your /etc/X11/xorg.conf, the section should look like this:

Code:
Section "Device"
    Identifier     "Card0"
    Driver         "nvidia"
    VendorName     "nVidia Corporation"
    BoardName      "GeForce 7100 GS"
EndSection

Of course, your values will be different. We need to play with the Driver variable a bit. Some possible values for your card are "intel" and "i810", we would need the lspci output for proper researching.

Rodrigo
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ComputerBob
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« Reply #4 on: May 12, 2009, 07:04:04 am »

Hi there. I think we need to start with the usual stuff. The output of running
Code:
lspci|grep VGA

would be helpful for troubleshooting.

00:02.0 VGA compatible controller: Intel Corporation 82845G/GL (Brookdale-G) GE Chipset Integrated Graphics Device (rev 01)


Also, try to find which driver are you using by looking at your /etc/X11/xorg.conf, the section should look like this:

Code:
Section "Device"
    Identifier     "Card0"
    Driver         "nvidia"
    VendorName     "nVidia Corporation"
    BoardName      "GeForce 7100 GS"
EndSection

Of course, your values will be different. We need to play with the Driver variable a bit. Some possible values for your card are "intel" and "i810", we would need the lspci output for proper researching.

Section "Device"
Identifier     "Card0"
Driver          "intel"
VendorName "Intel Corporation"
BoardName "82845G/GL[Brookdale-G]/GE Chipset Integrated Graphics Device"
BusID    "PCI:0:2:0"
EndSection

Thank you for your help! It looks like I'm going to learn something about troubleshooting Linux graphics problems.
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« Reply #5 on: May 12, 2009, 01:18:47 pm »

Today, I tried installing VectorLinux 6.0 Light.

Without adding any "vga=normal" to the boot command, the installer booted right up, without ANY error message about "undefined video mode."

But I still couldn't get any video mode to work in the installation itself.

Vxconf resulted in a black screen, no prompt, no nothing.

Auto resulted in a black screen, no prompt, no nothing.

Vesa resulted in a few flashes between the CLI and a black screen, followed by a black screen and an error message, telling me that X had failed to start.

FBDEV resulted in a few flashes between the CLI and a black screen, followed by a black screen and an error message, telling me that X had failed to start.

Looking at the xorg log showed different error messages, such as "no device detected" or "vesa mode not found" (or something like that)

I spent the whole day trying several LiveCD distros on that box -- with mostly similar results. A few of them booted when I added "vga=normal" to the boot line; one or two didn't need the vga line but either gave me a black screen or only gave me 640x480 once they booted up.

I also switched out the monitor for a different (also multi-sync) one, but that didn't make any difference either.

If I knew why Puppy Linux is able to boot, install and run just fine on that same PC without any error messages or problems, I could probably get every other distro to run on it, too.  Huh
« Last Edit: May 12, 2009, 02:06:57 pm by ComputerBob » Logged

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rbistolfi
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« Reply #6 on: May 12, 2009, 02:11:57 pm »

Today, I tried installing VectorLinux 6.0 Light.

Without adding any "vga=normal" to the boot command, the installer booted right up, without ANY error message about "undefined video mode."

the vga variable works only for the cli mode, it shouldnt affect the X server afaik.

Quote
I sure wish I knew why Puppy Linux boots, installs and runs on that same PC without any error messages or problems.

If you can get the /etc/X11/xorg.conf in puppy, the answer should be there. I would try replacing "intel" with "i810" for the Driver option in your xorg.conf, I have seen at least one guy reporting that card to work with the i810 driver.
Also I would start with DefaultDepth 16 instead 24, wich is safer.
So, we should make the device section to look like this:

Code:
Section "Device"
Identifier     "Card0"
Driver          "i810"
VendorName "Intel Corporation"
BoardName "82845G/GL[Brookdale-G]/GE Chipset Integrated Graphics Device"
BusID    "PCI:0:2:0"
EndSection

Let us know how it goes.
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newt
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« Reply #7 on: May 12, 2009, 02:21:59 pm »

A related problem -- no matter what I changed in lilo.conf, I couldn't get it to add the "vga=normal" to the boot line itself. It either told me that "vga=" was not allowed in an append statement, or it ignored it when I put in at the end of the kernel line. Either way, it would boot up to a complete black screen unless I manually TABbed at boot and added "vga=normal" to the boot line.

There is usually a 'vga=###' line towards the beginning of your lilo.conf file which should do what you want.  You need to edit your lilo.conf as root in order to save your changes.  After making your changes to lilo.conf, and exiting your text editor, you need to run 'lilo -v' as root to rewrite lilo to the mbr.  My guess is that you're already doing this process but thought I'd mention it just in case.

Good luck!

edit:
If you want kernel-specific vga modes then you should be able to simply add a new line ('vga=###' without quotes) to the kernel section of choice; it needs to be it's own line rather than part of the 'append' or 'image' lines.
« Last Edit: May 12, 2009, 02:28:51 pm by newtor » Logged
ComputerBob
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« Reply #8 on: May 13, 2009, 09:37:06 am »

Good news!

rbistolfi was right! Changing the Driver option from the VectorLinux-assigned "intel" to "i810" in xorg.conf did the trick! Now I can boot into 1024x768 and even logoff and log back on without any video problem!

If that didn't work, I was going to reinstall Puppy Linux, just so that I could copy its xorg.conf and try that, as rbistolfi had also suggested.

I suspect that my current xorg.conf still contains things that shouldn't be there, since the last time I installed Vector, I chose the framebuffer option. So now I'm going to do a clean install of VectorLinux 6.0 Light again, and then manually change the driver to "i810" again.

If that works -- and it better -- then I might try to reinstall VectorLinux 6.0 Standard Gold again, and make the same driver change in xorg.conf, and then see if I can use newtor's advice to get rid of that "undefined video mode" problem.

Thanks for the great suggestions, everybody! It's a big relief that my "problem child" PC is finally consistently booting into VectorLinux 6.0 Light.  Cool
« Last Edit: May 13, 2009, 09:41:03 am by ComputerBob » Logged

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« Reply #9 on: May 13, 2009, 01:38:38 pm »

I installed VectorLinux 6.0 Standard, then booted into TUI mode and changed the appropriate line in xorg.conf to "i810" but it still gave me a completely black screen on reboot.

Here's something that I've also noticed -- during the VectorLinux installation, it says that it is testing X for a few seconds. Then it displays a weird pattern of what look like colored boxes made up of separate horizontal lines for a few seconds; then it comes back and says "Successful!"

(I just realized that those colored boxes made up of separate horizontal lines are probably supposed to be something other than what they look like. In other words, VectorLinux THINKS that X is configured correctly when it's not.)

So, giving up on VectorLinux Standard 6.0,  I reinstalled VectorLinux 6.0 Light and told it to install the framebuffer video, like I had the last time I had installed it. Then booted into TUI mode and changed that line in xorg.conf (described in a post above this one) to "i810". On reboot, it worked beautifully, but it gave me 1280x1024 resolution, and I need 1024x768 on that monitor.

So I booted into TUI mode, to delete the lines in xorg.conf that say 1280x1024, and force it to boot into the lower resolution.

But there aren't any lines in xorg.conf that list any resolutions at all.

And when I edited /etc/lilo.conf to change
# vga = normal
to
vga=791

my next reboot sent me back to the dreaded black screen.

So I booted up my Partition Magic LiveCD and looked at its xorg.conf. It shows that it's using the same "intel" Driver that VectorLinux apparently chokes on.

I suppose I could manually add 1024x768 lines to xorg.conf, to try to make it work at my chosen resolution.

But I'm exhausted by all of this. It feels like there are too many confusing video choices in VectorLinux's installation screens, and then when I finally choose the exact one I want, then on my first boot, it asks me to set up my video choices all over again, and nothing I have been able to choose has ever worked without my having to go into files and tweak things. And even then, I end up with 1280x1024 resolution and no apparent way to change it without manually editing config files.

And on top of all of that, here's a new disappointment: VectorLinux 6.0 Light is now requiring me to type VectorLinux vga=normal on every boot up, or else it greets me with the "undefined video mode number" message that VectorLinux 6.0 Standard always gave me.

I have to walk away from this for awhile. I may come back at a later point, but right now, I've been juggling way too many different variables in my head for too long, all because of this one video problem.

It stopped being fun a few days ago.

It feels like there are 128 combinations of choices in the GUI, but absolutely none of them will work on this particular hardware unless I accidently find the right one and also try all 64 different combinations of xorg.conf and lilo.conf edits to make it work.

I bet VectorLinux Standard and Light look and work great on most hardware. But I can't really be the only person in the world who's having problems getting it to run on an old Dell like this one, can I?
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« Reply #10 on: May 13, 2009, 02:48:04 pm »

I left it alone for awhile, but then decided that maybe I'll try reinstalling 6.0 Light again from scratch, but choose whichever config option it is that allows me to set my desired resolution (one of the automatic ones) -- and then afterward, manually edit that one Display line in xorg.conf, to see if I can get back to a system that consistently boots into X with 1024x768.

There was a screensaver playing on that PC when I left it -- a 4-sided wall with a ball that bounces down the stair-stepped tops of the 4 wall, around and around.

But when I went back to it a few minutes ago, the screen video was all messed up, and there were several lines of text repeating in the lower-left corner, some kind of error message about the screensaver, IIRC.

Before I could write down what those messages said, the whole screen went to black, and then quickly filled up with several "DOS" error messages -- several screenfuls of messages about the kernel.

Then it went back to the previous, messed-up screen, with an error message in several languages, telling me "You must restart your PC".

For the past several days, I've really, really tried to make VectorLinux 6.0 work on this PC. But either VectorLinux isn't capable of working on it, or I'm simply not skilled enough to make it work.

Either way, I'm giving up.

Thanks for helping me try.
« Last Edit: May 13, 2009, 02:53:21 pm by ComputerBob » Logged

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sledgehammer
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« Reply #11 on: May 13, 2009, 05:06:15 pm »

From the reading of things, I am enjoying this thread much much more than you are enjoying the install.  The folks who have been helping you are great and have helped me often in the past.

I mention in passing that earlier this week I was loading Vector 6.0 light on an old Omnibook 900.  I didn't have the bios password (whoever set it should be waterboarded) and couldn't get it to boot from the CD, so I took out the hard drive and put it in an older 64k omnibook 900 with a bad screen (but no bios password), installed VL 6.0 light, removed the hard drive and put it in the newer (passworded) omnibook (which had more memory). Started it up and got the black screen.  The little clock just ran and ran and ran against the black screen (blank) background.  Nothing I did worked until, in desperation, and in VASM, I switched to the XDM display manager and then it worked fine.  Screen display is fine.

It took me to ICEwin or some such.  Little different look but it ran all night and the girl who now has it says it runs perfectly.  Don't know if XDM would work for you. And have no clue why it worked for me.

John
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ComputerBob
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« Reply #12 on: May 13, 2009, 05:26:02 pm »

From the reading of things, I am enjoying this thread much much more than you are enjoying the install.  The folks who have been helping you are great and have helped me often in the past.

I mention in passing that earlier this week I was loading Vector 6.0 light on an old Omnibook 900.  I didn't have the bios password (whoever set it should be waterboarded) and couldn't get it to boot from the CD, so I took out the hard drive and put it in an older 64k omnibook 900 with a bad screen (but no bios password), installed VL 6.0 light, removed the hard drive and put it in the newer (passworded) omnibook (which had more memory). Started it up and got the black screen.  The little clock just ran and ran and ran against the black screen (blank) background.  Nothing I did worked until, in desperation, and in VASM, I switched to the XDM display manager and then it worked fine.  Screen display is fine.

It took me to ICEwin or some such.  Little different look but it ran all night and the girl who now has it says it runs perfectly.  Don't know if XDM would work for you. And have no clue why it worked for me.

John
Thanks, John. I don't remember trying something called XDM, but I did try every option that the Vector install allowed me to try -- and none of them worked.

After giving up on Vector, I booted up a Puppy Linux LiveCD, and guess what one of its video config screens told me?

It said that certain onboard video adapters (and it mentioned the Intel i810 series by name) have a lot of trouble working correctly. So I guess that confirms that I'm not the only one in the world who knows the old Dell I've been working on is "a problem child."  Wink

But, like always, Puppy configured its video correctly and booted up on that PC without any problems on the first try, without me doing anything manually to it.

BTW, on most desktop PCs, you can remove the motherboard's CMOS battery (usually looks like a U.S. quarter) for 30 seconds or move one specific motherboard jumper to reset the BIOS to factory settings (and delete any BIOS password). I don't know if notebook PCs (or that old Omnibook you were working on) has that option or not, though.
« Last Edit: May 13, 2009, 05:28:11 pm by ComputerBob » Logged

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sledgehammer
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« Reply #13 on: May 13, 2009, 07:17:17 pm »

I don't have access to a machine with Vector Light on it but on regular Vector 6.0, to get to XDM, do as follows:

# vasm>XWINDOW>XDMSET>XDM

Thanks for the battery tip.  Should come in handy next time.  I load Vector on old machines a lot.  Have three more to do before 10:00 a.m. this Saturday, when our club is set to give 10 or 20 of them to some kids.  We used to use Puppy but found that its ready access to root caused too many problems. But I still use Puppy on occasion to test machines.  It is very good for the experienced user.

John
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« Reply #14 on: May 14, 2009, 04:17:22 am »

Thanks for the tip re: XDM, but no such luck.

I just booted into TUI mode, ran VASM and tried XDM. It appeared to work at the time, but it was still running at 1280x1024.

And when I shut down and rebooted into GUI mode, I got the black screen of death again.

I'm going to boot from the Puppy Linux LiveCD and see if I can copy its entire xorg.conf file to my VectorLinux install, to see what that does.
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