B221 Firmware options

Each Alpha contains at least one firmware program stored in system ROM or flash ROM that provides a configuration-program execution environment to set up hardware configurations, specify boot options, and perform other system maintenance tasks. This firmware is the usual starting point for installing Linux. Types of firmware include:

System Reference Maintenance (SRM)

Available on systems set up for Tru64 Unix or Open VMS. The only exceptions are systems based around the UX motherboard, which have their own ARC BIOS firmware and the Digtal XL series, for which SRM was never released. SRM is the best environment for installing Linux, and the one we concentrate on in this appendix.

The SRM is described in an online manual at http://ftp.digital.com/pub/Digital/info/semiconductor/literature/srmcons.pdf.4

Alpha Reference Console (ARC)

Available on older systems set up for Windows NT. It offers a simple, menu-driven console interface for managing the system's hardware.

AlphaBIOS

A replacement for ARC that attempts to make OS installation on Alpha systems more uniform and automatic, such as OS installation on an Intel-architectured PC. It offers a graphical user interface.

Firmware programs are small and efficient. Alpha system ROMs typically include space to hold several of them, along with other essential programs, such as debugging and diagnostic tools (which should not be overwritten).

To load Linux, many Alpha installations in the past used Milo, mainly because the SRM console used to boot Tru64 Unix and OpenVMS was not easily available for many machines. The standard firmware was initially loaded by accessing a system console when the system was booted and instructing it to load Milo from a diskette. Then a current Milo miniloader image was loaded from diskette, and it in turn was told to load the Linux kernel from the CD-ROM or boot diskette.

By now, Compaq has made the SRM console available for almost all the Alpha machines (one exception being the XL series). Since SRM is much more readily available now, it is the preferred way of booting Linux. Milo is still available and still being updated for those that do not have this option. While you can get by using a slightly old Red Hat Milo for your hardware with the latest Red Hat Linux, the best solution is to change over to SRM console when it is available and supported by your hardware.

Once Linux is installed, many systems provide a flash-RAM management utility (FMU) to allow you to "blow" a Milo image into system nonvolatile RAM. Other such utilities may come with your purchase of a commercial OS release or a developer package. Some are distributed on an EPROM chip that you install. Because ARC and AlphaBIOS firmware provide a graphical interface environment, they take more space, and you will find at most one of them on a standard system.

Booting Linux can be made as automatic as booting MS-DOS or Windows. We do not recommend that you use an FMU, because booting from an SRM console is just as efficient. In this appendix, we focus on an SRM and aboot because they work on all significant Alpha platforms and offer the most consistent and predictable results. You will learn about other installation options as you review your resource materials.

In many cases, it won't matter whether you have an old or a new version of your firmware. In fact, some users advise you not to update firmware unless you know you need to do so. In

4 SRM console firmware for Multia, AlphaStation, AlphaServer, AlphaPC164, and AXPpcisystems is available at ftp://gatekeeper.dec.com or http//ftp.digital.com/pub/DEC/Alpha/firmware.

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.

But generally, we recommend using the most recent version of your firmware to install Linux, especially if you use AlphaBIOS. Follow your hardware manual's directions for upgrading firmware. You can get firmware upgrades from

http://ftp.digital.com/pub/DEC/Alpha/firmware/.

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