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Running Old Desktops Headless?

CajunArson (465943) writes | more than 4 years ago

Operating Systems 2

CajunArson (465943) writes "I have recently dug up an old P4 that is in fine working order and done what any self respecting Slashdotter would do... I slapped Linux on it to experiment making an NFSv4 server. One other thing I did was to remove the old AGP video card to save on power since this is a headless machine. Now... I removed the video card after the installation, and I'm doing just fine as long as the machine will boot to a state where networking works and I can SSH to it.

My question for the Slashdot audience is: Is there a good solution to allow me to login to this box if it cannot get on the network? I'm looking for solutions other than slapping a video card back in. In my case, I will have physical access to the machine.

A few caveats to make it interesting: This question is for plain old desktop/laptop systems, not network servers designed to run headless. Also, I am aware of the serial console, but even "old" machines may only have USB, and I have not seen any good documentation on how and if USB works as a substitute. Finally, if there is any way to access the BIOS settings without needing a video card that would be an extra bonus, but I'm satisfied with just local OS access starting from the GRUB prompt. I'm all ears for advice from any Slashdotters with these setups running."

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2 comments

serial (1)

Spazmania (174582) | more than 4 years ago | (#29320565)

If you want to start from grub you'll need a real serial port. If you don't mind waiting for init to run getty, you can use a USB-based serial port.

# Avoid splashing any GUI!!
# splashimage=(hd0,0)/boot/grub/splash.xpm.gz
#
# Setup serial (COM1) here with baudrate 9600
# use --unit=1 (for COM2) and so on
serial --unit=1 --speed=115200
#
# Now setup terminal as both Serial Line(/dev/ttyS1) and
# Monitor Console(/dev/tty0) depending upon where you press key
# with in timeout (15 sec) period. Otherwise first entry
# (console(Monitor)=>tty0) is selected here.
# terminal --timeout=5 serial console
terminal --timeout=5 console serial

first one (console or serial) is the default if you don't press a key. Remove "console" if you have no video card.

title Red Hat Enterprise Linux ES (2.6.9-89.0.3.EL)
                root (hd0,0)
                kernel /vmlinuz-2.6.9-89.0.3.EL ro root=/dev/VolGroup00/LogVol00 console=ttyS1,115200n8 console=tty0

last console= is the primary one which accepts input. The others only get output.

And in /etc/inittab you'll do something like this:

S0:12345:respawn:/sbin/agetty -L 115200 ttyS0 vt102

Perhaps a serial card? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29321771)

If you just want a way to access the box running an already installed OS, a couple companies like usbgear.com offer PCI RS232 cards. These can be easily used as serial consoles and wired up to your main machine via null modem cables and USB to RS232 adapters.

I do not know if modern Linux distributions support an install just using the serial port. Its not hard to configure GRUB to go to the serial port once the OS is present, but having the install done completely without requiring VGA at some part of the boot process, I'm not sure about.

If you want complete control over the machine, even reinstalling, probably your best bet would be to purchase a KVM switch for about $50 (there are some that use USB keyboards/mice, others can use PS2), put back the video card, and go with that.

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