John Smith's Blog

Ramblings (mostly) about technical stuff

The saga of getting Fedora 14 running on a Dell Mini 10 netbook - part 2 of several

Posted by John Smith on

Continuing on from the introductory post in this series...

This post is really only of relevance if you intend to retain the original OS and dual-boot - if you're happy to obliterate all traces of Windows, then you can happily skip this one.

I'm not really up on current best-practice for PC vendors, but traditionally I'd expect a new machine to ship with the hard drive fully formatted with a C: drive, whether FAT32 or NTFS. However, this Dell netbook appears to have the disk split into three partitions, as follows:

  1. A pretty tiny 'Dell Utility' filesystem
  2. The actual Windows NTFS, taking up the bulk of the disk
  3. what purports to be a CP/M (!) filesystem, containing (presumably) an image of Windows XP that can be reinstalled. As I haven't used it, I've no idea if this is a vanilla install, or if it has the specific drivers for this machine pre-baked in
Here's how fdisk -l reports these filesystems; note that this was run after I'd created a Linux partition, hence the end of the NTFS filesystem not matching the start of the CP/M one. /dev/sda1 1 5 40131 de Dell Utility /dev/sda2 * 6 11643 93478796+ 7 HPFS/NTFS /dev/sda3 18184 19457 10233405 db CP/M / CTOS / ...

The machine isn't currently powered up, so I can't check the exact figures, but I'd made a backup of these files, and the first partition has just 9.7MB of files, the backup partition has 4.1GB - I'd assume the partitions are only slightly bigger. (By the way, both Ubuntu 10 and Fedora 14 seemed quite happy to mount these filesystems, despite their slightly obscure formatting.)

What I'm guessing is the 'Dell Utility' filesystem is like a /boot Linux filesystem with grub or lilo on. It would seem to look for some key being pressed at boot time - F8 judging by various pages on the net - and if so, runs some restore process using the images on the CP/M filesystem. (Note that F8 itself doesn't seem to be picked up by the BIOS, which only mentions and responds to F2 and F12.) Unfortunately, all this is a guess, because neither the Ubuntu 10 nor Fedora 14 installers seem to recognize the true nature of these filesystems! :-(

What happens is that the installers detect the existing XP install, and when they configure the bootloader, give the choice between booting Linux or Windows - and by Windows, I mean the OS on the NTFS filesystem, not the Dell Utility stub. As such, while XP boots up happily, it seems that I've now lost the ability to restore the system to the factory default using the Dell tools. Whilst I don't have any plans to do this, it would be nice to have the option.

In retrospect, what I should have done was to first back up the MBR using a live distro, which in theory would allow me to undo any "damage" inflicted by a Linux installer - or a regular reinstallation of Windows for that matter. As I've never actually restored an MBR, I don't know if various pages on the net are accurate, but the commands seem to be: # create a backup file called sda-mbr.bin in /tmp dd if=/dev/sdX of=/tmp/sda-mbr.bin bs=512 count=1 and # restore the backup file dd if=sda-mbr.bin of=/dev/sdX bs=1 count=64 skip=446 seek=446

At some point I'll do some experiments with the grub configuration to see if it can be coerced into booting either of these extra filesystems - but for the most part, I've given up on any expectation that they ever be usable again.

As a postscript, this information may not be applicable to newer Dell netbooks. Some page I read - this one perhaps? - mentioned that when the restore stuff is running during the boot process, it briefly flashes up some white text on a blue background. I do recall seeing something like this on this netbook, but it doesn't do it now, which makes sense given the mangling of the original boot sequence. However, my 11" Celeron/Win7 Dell doesn't flash this up at all, so whether they're doing something different now, I don't know. I'll probably do some digging with the aid of a live distro on it, but right now I'm still more interested in getting this 10" machine fully up to speed.

In the next exciting installment, I'll bitch about Ubuntu...

About this blog

This blog (mostly) covers technology and software development.

Note: I've recently ported the content from my old blog hosted on Google App Engine using some custom code I wrote, to a static site built using Pelican. I've put in place various URL manipulation rules in the webserver config to try to support the old URLs, but it's likely that I've missed some (probably meta ones related to pagination or tagging), so apologies for any 404 errors that you get served.

RSS icon, courtesy of RSS feed for this blog

About the author

I'm a software developer who's worked with a variety of platforms and technologies over the past couple of decades, but for the past 7 or so years I've focussed on web development. Whilst I've always nominally been a "full-stack" developer, I feel more attachment to the back-end side of things.

I'm a web developer for a London-based equities exchange. I've worked at organizations such as News Corporation and Google and BATS Global Markets. Projects I've been involved in have been covered in outlets such as The Guardian, The Telegraph, the Financial Times, The Register and TechCrunch.

Twitter | LinkedIn | GitHub | My CV | Mail

Popular tags

Other sites I've built or been involved with


Most of these have changed quite a bit since my involvement in them...