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(?) SGI Visual Workstation

From Beth H.

Answered By Jim Dennis

Hi Answer Guys!

I must install LINUX on an SGI 540 Visual Workstation running WinNT4.0. I'm using RedHat 6.2 and want to make a dual boot system with LINUX on the 2nd SCSI drive.

My problem is that I can't boot off the RedHat install floppy or the CD. I can't get past SGI's system initialization/setup to boot off either device. I have installed this software on several INTEL Pentium platforms without any trouble.

Please help me get started and/or provide some useful websites that will help. I find SGI/MIPS stuff, but can't seem to find anything else. I checked your answers too so if I missed it, my apologies.

Beth H.
[From a U.S. Navy Address]

(!) [JimD] Well, Beth, You've discovered a fundamental truth about the SGI vis. WS. It's not a PC. It uses an x86 CPU but from what the SGI folks told me when I was teaching advanced Linux courseware to some of their tech support and customer service people, the resemblance pretty much ends at the CPU pins.
So you can't boot one with a typical Linux distribution CD or floppy. I guess we have to find a custom made kernel and prepare a custom boot floppy or CD therefrom. Did you call SGI's technical support staff? They probably have a floppy image tucked away on their web site somewhere; and SGI is certainly not hostile to Linux. Give them a call; if that doesn't work I'll try to dig up the e-mail addresses of some of the employees that took my class and see if I can get a personal answer.
After writing this I got to a point where my Ricochet wireless link could "see bits." (I do all of my e-mail from my laptop these days, and much of it as during business meetings or at coffee shops and restaurants; so it's a little harder to do searches --- I write most of my TAG articles from memory and locally cached LDP docs --- an 18Gb disk is good for that).
So I did a Google!/Linux (http://www.google.com/linux) search on the string: 'SGI "visual workstation" boot images' and found:
Linux for SGI Visual Workstations:
Linux 2.2.10 + Red Hat 6.0
Updated: July 28, 1999
Luckily the main differences are in the kernel and (possibly) in the boot loader and a few hardware utilities. I wouldn't expect programs like hwclock, lspci, isapnp etc work --- though some of them might. I've seen lspci used on PowerPC (PReP) systems, and I've used it on SPARC Linux. I seem to remember that hwclock was modified to use a /proc interface and that most of its core functionality is now in the kernel.
The other software element that is very hardware dependent is the video driver. As more accelerated framebuffer drivers are being added to the kernel then this becomes less of an issue (it folds back into the earlier statement: "MOST of the differences are IN THE KERNEL").
So, once you get the boot disk/CD and an X server working most other software and all of your applications should work just fine.
Of course updates to RH6.2 or later, and to newer kernels might be a bit of a challenge. However, I'll leave those as exercises to the readership. The source is all out there!

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