Alix ###'s on 0.99m



  • I've got a ALIX2D13 and a 4g CF microdrive (CF form factor, but it's a spinning disk, not flash, so I probably don't need the write limits of nanobsd, but still using that version currently).

    Short version: Updated bios to 0.99m, but when I get the

    1  pfSense
    2  pfSense
    
    F6 PXE
    Boot:  1
    

    prompt, anything I type displays #'s.

    Longer version: Initially had 0.99l (L), so no surprise that didn't work.
    Tried```
    FreeDOS CF image which contains the ALIX 0.99h BIOS update

    
    This booted freedos successfully, but running```
    sb.com
    ```to apply the update gave this error:
    

    FreeCom version 0.84-pre2 XMS_Swap [Aug 28 2006 00:29:00]
          C:>sb.com
          ALIX flash update (C)2007 PC Engines GmbH
          Flash ID = 1 0000 GPI = 00
          Flash ID = 0 5BBF GPI = 01- FAIL !
          C:>

    
    I removed all the alix* files from the freedos image above and copied in the 0.99h update from pcengines. This applied correctly:
    

    C:>sb.com
          ALIX flash update (C)2007-2011 PC Engines GmbH
          Flash ID = 2 FFFF GPI = FF
          Flash ID = 1 0000 GPI = 00
          Flash ID = 0 5BBF GPI = 01
          Reading 512KB flash image alix1.bin................
          Compare Erase Program Verify - update OK.
          C:>

    
    However, it would also give #'s if I type anything at the boot prompt, AND I couldn't update any bios settings:
    

    Save changes Y/N ?
        Writing setup to flash... FAIL
        PC Engines ALIX.2 v0.99h

    (it reboots between the FAIL and the version header).
    
    Tried reapplying the 0.99h flash to see if that fixed the "can't change bios options" issue, and while it verified the bios:
    
    

    C:>sb.com
        ALIX flash update (C)2007-2011 PC Engines GmbH
        Flash ID = 2 FFFF GPI = FF
        Flash ID = 1 0000 GPI = 00
        Flash ID = 0 5BBF GPI = 01
        Reading 512KB flash image alix1.bin................
        Compare  - no change, OK.
        C:>

    
    It still wouldn't let me set any bios options. (bios was always coming up as CHS, so that wasn't a worry, but it also defaulted to 38400, which was a little annoying).
    
    Finally, removed the alix* files from the freedos image again and copied in the 0.99m update from pcengines. This also applied correctly and I'm now able once again to update the bios:
    
    

    FreeCom version 0.84-pre2 XMS_Swap [Aug 28 2006 00:29:00]
        C:>sb.com
        ALIX flash update (C)2007-2011 PC Engines GmbH
        Flash ID = 2 FFFF GPI = FF
        Flash ID = 1 0000 GPI = 00
        Flash ID = 0 5BBF GPI = 01
        Reading 512KB flash image alix1.bin................
        Compare Erase Program Verify - update OK.
        C:>

    
    So my bios is set for 115200 and CHS, but I still get #'s in the boot prompt. If I let it sit for a few seconds, it boots freebsd, but complains that no bootloader exists (at which point, I can type normally, but have zero idea what to type. I've worked with debian for over a decade, but know next to nothing about freebsd's conventions):
    
    Here's the current full serial output when it boots now, for reference:
    

    PC Engines ALIX.2 v0.99m
    640 KB Base Memory
    261120 KB Extended Memory

    01F0 Master 848A HMS360404D5CF00                       
    Phys C/H/S 7936/16/63 Log C/H/S 992/128/63

    1  pfSense
    2  pfSense

    F6 PXE
    Boot:  1
    /boot/config: -h
    No /boot/loader

    FreeBSD/x86 boot
    Default: 0:ad(0,a)/boot/kernel/kernel
    boot:
    No /boot/kernel/kernel

    FreeBSD/x86 boot
    Default: 0:ad(0,a)/boot/kernel/kernel
    boot:

    
    I don't care so much about the #'s at the initial boot prompt, but any suggestions on how to get this thing to boot would be awesome.
    
    I've got virtualbox on my mac as well as another linux box. I'm going to try booting the pfsense installer in virtual box and see if I can use that to install to the microdrive (attached via usb-cf). Since I'm installing the i386 version, I hope I won't have any arch issues going from virtualbox to the alix (or limited memory issues since this board only has 256mb of ram), but we'll see.
    
    Thanks
    
    PS. I noticed there was a```
    (M) MFGPT workaround
    ```option that popped up in the bios settings for 0.99h, but has disappeared in 0.99m. Not sure if that matters at all.


  • well im on 0.99h, pfsense boots but i cant select any slice etc during boot so r u sufferring something similar to whats mentioned in the below thread

    https://forum.pfsense.org/index.php?topic=95167.0

    no kernel found would mean something is corrupt on ur microdrive, can u try and reflash pfsense and see if it solves it?



  • something is corrupt on ur microdrive

    This turns out to be exactly the problem. For "reasons", an error would occur on the usb bus causing the usb-cf reader to disconnect and reconnect.

    What I found disturbing was that "somehow" the error doesn't make it back to dd, so when you're writing an image to the microdrive, it appears to complete successfully, but it actually errored out quite early.

    I initially noticed the random disconnects when I was trying to use the pfsense boot cd in virtualbox to do a normal install to the microdrive (write errors and disconnects were popping up all over the place in nanobsd, which is the behavior I expected with dd on osx).

    I later did a test on the osx box with dd using /dev/zero to blank the microdrive. Then I took the reader and microdrive over to a debian box and ran it through this:

    
    dd if=/dev/sdb  |xxd | cut -f2 -d: | uniq -c  | head
     251776  0000 0000 0000 0000 0000 0000 0000 0000  ................
       2176  ffff ffff ffff ffff ffff ffff ffff ffff  ................
          1  55aa 54e8 191d cb0a 6c04 0000 0000 0000  U.T.....l.......
          1  0000 0000 0000 2000 4000 6000 8d64 2400  ...... .@.`..d$.
      ... snip ...
    
    

    Where the expected output from a fully zero'd 4gb card is something like

    
          16777216  0000 0000 0000 0000 0000 0000 0000 0000  ................
          239206400 0000 0000 0000 0000 0000 0000 0000 0000  ................
    
    

    I rewrote the microdrive on the debian box with dd using the embedded image, booted it in the alix and everything went smoothly (still only get #'s if I type an the boot prompt, but at least it boots pfsense).

    So, long story short: the issue wasn't the microdrive or the usb-cf dongle, but the way it interacted with a USB1.0 bus on an old mac laptop.

    If you (future reader searching for an answer to a similar problem) are having the issue I described at the top, try doing the read/write test I mention above. On the osx host, the read test would error out quite quickly (less than 30mb read before failing).



  • ok so r u on 0.99h or 0.99m with everything now working?



  • I'm on 0.99m.

    With 0.99h, I would get an error trying to save any changes to the bios settings (which was pretty much just the baud rate, but still, disconcerting).

    I was able to diff the 0.99h and 0.99m files on the freedos partition on the microdrive with the ones on my laptop and they came back as correct, so I don't think there was a bad flash to the alix.

    Still, just to eliminate the microdrive as a variable to my new problems, I've ordered a new cf card that is 8gb and a flash card (not a microdrive). I may try downgrading to 0.99h when that arrives just to test things.

    (and again, I get #'s at the boot prompt, so technically "everything" isn't working yet, I just don't care because I don't plan to dual boot an alix board).



  • when u were trying the bios update, what was the baud speed set in bios as well as ur terminal program because im trying to update my bios but booting the freedos cf i only get dots on screen



  • @xbipin:

    im trying to update my bios but booting the freedos cf i only get dots on screen

    You only need to to update the BIOS if you have a recent version of the board and it won't save setup changes.
    ALIX tinyBIOS v0.99m (1/17/2014) - use this version with recent production boards, v0.99h does not allow setup updates on SST 49LF080 flash.



  • so how do we know what flash is on the board and recent meaning how recent, is there any specific date after which its considered recent



  • btw i managed to create the cf card to update the bios, for testing i tried on a very old alix box and it updated to 0.99m and works well so i guess recent or old board, it still works



  • @xbipin:

    when u were trying the bios update, what was the baud speed set in bios as well as ur terminal program because im trying to update my bios but booting the freedos cf i only get dots on screen

    Dots? Can you copy/paste what you're seeing out of your terminal window into a post (and use the 'insert code' button to wrap what you're pasting)?

    If you're baud rate is incorrect (depending on your terminal client), you should get binary garbage.

    The only baud rates the alix supports are: 9600, 19200, 38400, 57600, and 115200

    so those are the only ones you need to try (and I'd try 9600, then 38400, then 115200, then the others).

    If you get text initially (from the alix bios), then it goes to garbage after the memory test, it's a baud rate on freedos problem. You can change your baud rate and hit enter til you find the right one (then reboot, and set the alix to that baud as well. Makes capturing a full text log for debugging possible, which is very important).

    (then set it back to the original baud or whatever you want to boot with when you're done using freedos).



  • @xbipin:

    so how do we know what flash is on the board

    First line the alix prints on the serial console when it boots shows the bios version.
    Ex:```
    PC Engines ALIX.2 v0.99m

    
    My initial board showed```
    PC Engines ALIX.2 v0.99l
    ```(that would be a lowercase L)
    
    @xbipin:
    
    > and recent meaning how recent, is there any specific date after which its considered recent
    
    You can try and check your board for the mentioned chip "SST 49LF080 flash". Also, if you bought your board after the 0.99m release date dotdash mentioned (1/17/2014), then you should probably be running 0.99m.
    
    I bought my board around march of 2014, and this explains why 0.99h wasn't saving my bios updates.


  • i just reflashed the CF card using the image on pfsense site and copied the newer bios files in it and it booted fine, was able to upgrade a very old alix 2d3 to 0.99m without issues


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