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Booting DEC PW500AU

decI’ve got an ancient Digital Equipment Corporations Personal Workstation 500AU, containing an EV56 Alpha cpu. Quite nice. Got no CD or floppy station, so only option seems to be net-booting, which is quite straight forward on about any computer I’ve touched that’s not an X86… On most Alpha systems, you just enter boot -flags 'a' ewa0 to have it boot from the first tulip network device. It then boots from TFTP, using bootp to determine boot server and filename to use.

To set up your bootp/dhcp-server, simply issue show device at the console. This will give you a output similar to the following:

dkc0.0.0.1009.0 DKC0 RZ2CD-KS 0306
dva0.0.0.0.1 DVA0
ewa0.0.0.3.0 EWA0 00-00-F8-76-17-41
pkc0.7.0.1009.0 PKC0 SCSI Bus ID7 5.57
pqa0.0.0.4.0 PQA0 PCI EIDE
pqa0.0.1.4.0 PQB0 PCI EIDE

The interesting thing for bootp-setup is the entry for ewa0, listing it’s MAC address as 00:00:F8:76:17:41. Simply adding the following section to my /etc/dhcpd.conf (Debian – placement might depend on distribution) worked fine:

host alpha {
              hardware ethernet 00:00:F8:76:17:41
              fixed-address 10.0.0.2;
              filename "/boot.img";
              next-server 10.0.0.3;
}

The hardware ethernet 00:00:F8:76:17:41-line is simply the mac address from above. Please note that Alpha’s firmware uses – as delimiter, whilst ISC DHCPD expects : as delimiter. You also have to set path to netboot image on tftp server, with the filename directive, and a TFTP server with the next-server directive. Then place the netboot image (for debian the netboot image can be found at http://ftp.nl.debian.org/debian/dists/etch/main/installer-alpha/current/images/netboot/) in tftp root, with correct file name according to your bootp setup, and enter the following to the Alpha’s console: boot -flags 'a' ewa0. Watch it boot. Within few seconds you should have the familiar Debian (or whatever you choose to install) installer up and running.

This is really what I used for booting it. To install Debian, simply follow the default approach; load modules needed, partition disk, download software and there you go… All hardware is nicely supported. Only problem so far is that the disk is quite noisy and slow, so I’m gonna change that. Since I decided to change disks, I’ve not yet played with booting the Alpha from disk, but I expect no real problems with that, since Debian tends to be rock stable for what it supports…

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