tek, thinks & la strada ☯ॐ☢ csmr@kapsi

OK lets try Debian Buster install from live USB pen install

Here is a little story about installing a debian system on an ITX box. Nothing wen't well here. Nothing, including the debian installer itself worked well out the box. I initially ordered the parts in 2018 but that year was really busy, so never got around to it. And then 2019 came along: had to give up the work-studio, got two ribs broken, was overwhelmed by work and tax paperwork, and had to move out and back in due to kitchen, plumbing and electric renovations at my home.

After 2019, the Worst year of my life

Thank gods and goddettes I managed to do my job well, get paid and could phoenix up my shit. So, those storms calmed down by June 2020, and I got around to restarting this project. The Asrock motherboard wouldn't POST so I swapped the case as I thought the PSU on the perfect Antec ISK 110-case was too weak. But the motherboard, Asrock Z370X-ITX wouldn't post in the new case, either. I fiddled around with the memory, mobo-connections and the peripherals and somehow got into BIOS, only to learn later that the components were both broken and slightly incompatible. Anyway, here's some notes on the install path.

What kind of debian image do I need?

The first step is to decide which flavour of debian one wishes to install. I am just going for a quick and light install, so I will go for LXDE -desktop. LXQT is newish desktop solution for debian, but I feel safest with plain Openbox, so I will initially go for LXDE.

The second step is to review your hardware plus figure out the CPU architecture. I just got 64-bit CPU so thats going to always be under AMD64. I also want to have all possible hardware drivers as this is for a bootable usb pen, since its going to be the "live" -version. This means I want to include the non-free packages that include proprietary drivers, firmware even.


After narrowing down some basic choices, I simply searched for "debian current non-free firmware cd". This should take you to debian.org-page with the unofficial cd release. The directory tree could be pictured as a set of choices You can make. When, with what, which media. Going for the "current-live", "amd64", and the familiar "iso-hybrid", one is presented with desktop package choice, basically.

Clicking on the iso, I knew there would be a bit of downloading, about an hour. And thats nice for a cup of hot coffee, and some previews of debian desktops. Also, sha256sum must be downloaded to check integrity of the image.

Write USB media

So, if the image sha256-sum matches that listed in the SHA256SUMS-file, then its time to write the USB media. I think generally one wants to use fat32 for the filesystem, and there are couple of variables for USB media, like boot flag.

As is often the case, I had to write the USB media twice. Writing it on an external HD with USB connection resulted in BIOS booting into an empty black screen with a blinking underline cursor. It's as if the bootstrap loads but then fails to load the kernel, perhaps due to the partition format and USB giving the kernel too much to think about.

After grabbing a simpler USB-media, an USB pen, formatting it to FAT, and then wrote the downloaded .iso -image on it using gnome-disks "restore disk image".

Boot into the live debian on the USB media

So, as I mentioned above, I had to do few attempts before being able to boot into the live debian.

The motherboard BIOS is the first thing to check: are the BIOS/EFI settings correct to allow booting of USB media. On the Asrock Z370, I had to disable Fast Boot.

Then run the installer.

Debian Buster Live GUI Installer partitioning tool is bugging out

OK, more "fun". The partitioning tool crashes when trying to execute the changes set to the partition table. It just dies without any error, ie. the installer window disappears, leaving you to admire the desktop.

Well fek you installer-partitioner, I'm not having this, I thought and opened the terminal. After figuring out the sudo password (search) and updating the apt packages, I installed GParted and formatted the whole drive as ext4.

After this, the install could be completed. Why the installer partitioner crashes, I could not figure out.

Debian LXDE and crappy Asrock+HyperX combo

So, after the first boot+login into the freshly installed Debian Buster LXDE-desktop, I felt a surge of confidence. Whoa boy had it been crazy between May 2018 when I decided to order the parts, and last week of June 2020 when I actually began assembling the box.

But the confidence was lost just few minutes later, as the system glitched into a loop of graphic flicker and audio noise streamed into my audio amplifier. Something is wrong, and the system is not stable. After 2 hours of tweaking BIOS, memory cards, and checking and reattaching the mobo connections I booted back into the LXDE-desktop, and the system ran well. But, this only lasted couple of hours, before the system would crash again.

Now the main doubt is on the memory sticks

Oh boy. Two years, 900 euros and about 12 working hours later I have an unstable box with base LXDE Debian Buster together. Its not how I imagined it. The memtest needs to be run. Either its the memory, or the motherboard has something wrong with it. Although another artifact stands out: swapping out HDMI to connector 2 seems to cause full system crash every time. But lets start with the memtest.

Don't give up. Unto the bitter end. The will makes the way.

So, turns out one of the memory modules was faulty. Good thing there was warranty on that module: I got the replacement for free. After installing the replacement module, the system became stable. And has been so for four months. Debian Buster with LXDE is very simple and nice. Go for it!

Copyright 2020 Casimir Pohjanraito

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