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C.5. Preparing for Installation of Linux Alpha

We can now return to the steps we listed earlier to get Linux running. You must also decide how you want your Alpha to boot after Linux is installed and configured; Alpha systems support a number of alternatives.

C.5.1. Minimum Hardware

You can run Linux on Alpha systems using as little as 8 MB of RAM, but most installation programs, like the Red Hat installer, require a minimum of 32 MB. The mininum disk space for the installation is 170 MB. To run the full X Window System and a desktop comfortably and have adequate storage for applications, you need a minimum of 16 MB RAM and 500 MB of hard-disk storage.

Many users of more recent Linux distributions have found that 24 MB or 32 MB of RAM is required to complete the installation. While it should still require no more than 16 MB to run Linux on a properly configured Alpha system (with a kernel compiled to support just that system's features), you may need more memory to install some distributions. An alternative is to install an earlier, smaller kernel.

Installation takes a huge amount of RAM because of the combined memory requirements of the bootstrap loader and Milo and the loading Linux kernel image, not because of the memory requirements of the Linux kernel itself. If you cannot complete your initial installation, you can also try to use an earlier and smaller Milo to boot your Linux distribution or a Milo that has been stored in nonvolatile RAM. You can select compact applications to conserve memory and storage. For more information, see

C.5.2. IDE/ATAPI Drive Support

Some Alpha systems, especially those intended for use as network servers, do not support IDE or ATAPI drives.[7] We recommend a fast SCSI drive as a basic system element, whether installed internally or attached externally. However, if your system has a free PCI slot, add a current PCIbus ATAPI/EIDE controller card supported by Linux so that you can also use a cheaper EIDE hard disk or fast CD-ROM drive. See the next section for more details on firmware limitations.

[7]Early Alpha systems provided 10 mbps SCSI-2, and some of the latest Alpha system boards provide "fast and wide" 40 mbps SCSI-3. The very earliest (Jensen) provided an Adaptec 1740 ISA bus controller, but most SCSI controllers are integral NCR 810 family controllers that were considered high-performance controllers when adopted.

C.5.3. Firmware/BIOS Peripheral Device Support

Alpha systems recognize a number of peripheral devices through a configurable native Alpha system BIOS. The devices recognized vary, depending on whether the system was initially set up to run Windows NT, DU, or VMS.

Milo incorporates code from the original Windows NT firmware console for Windows NT systems, and ARC. An SRM console is provided for DU and VMS systems. If you install Linux using default system devices, you shouldn't have problems, but if you need to tailor the system to support your input device, you will find installation more complex. One list of supported peripherals in current Alpha systems is the "Hardware Compatibility List" in Samsung Semiconductor's Alpha Resource Book, found at

If your system was set up for VMS, install system firmware for Windows NT or DU before installing Linux. Any SRM firmware from VMS should be replaced by SRM firmware for DU.

C.5.4. Updated Firmware

Your system firmware (ARC, AlphaBIOS, or SRM) should be up to date. In many cases, it won't matter whether it is an older version. But generally, we recommend updating your firmware before installing Linux. In the case of AlphaBIOS software, updating is expected and necessary.

Follow your hardware manual's directions for upgrading firmware. You can get firmware upgrades from

Some users advise you not to update firmware unless you know you need to do so. In other words, you can upgrade firmware if Linux fails to install properly on your system. Indeed, some Linux installations require some systems to be "downgraded" to an earlier firmware version to succeed.

C.5.5. Mice and Serial Ports

A commonly reported problem in Linux installations is connecting a serial mouse to the system. Some Linux installation programs map device definitions to the serial ports incorrectly during kernel configuration. Most of these complaints involve autodetection of a mouse installed on the first serial port. We recommend that you install a three-button PS/2-type mouse, if your system has a PS/2 hardware port rather than a serial mouse. Moreover, do not put a modem on serial port 1 as Milo will echo its output to serial port 1 and this can cause some strange results.

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