Installing Ubuntu Server 8.04 LTS on a Dell OptiPlex 160

Linh Pham []


This article describes the process of installing Ubuntu Server 8.04 LTS on a Dell OptiPlex 160 desktop, which can be used as a workgroup file and print server, or as an energy-efficient web and e-mail server.

Table of Contents


Before going into the installation and configuration process, an overview of the desktop is in order. The OptiPlex 160 (and its relative, the OptiPlex FX160 thin-client) is a very small form factor desktop computer that contains an Intel Atom processor, supports up to 4GB of RAM and either a 2.5" SATA hard drive or an SSD flash module. The Intel Atom processor is available either as a single-core or a dual-core version, both running at 1.6GHz with a front-side bus speed of 533MT/s and each core has 512KB of cache. Bundled with the Intel Atom processor is an SiS chipset combination (M671 northbridge, 968 southbridge and Mirage 3D integrated video using shared memory), along with a Broadcom BCM5764M Gigabit Ethernet NIC and an open half-size Mini PCIe slot for a Dell Wireless 1397 802.11b/g card. Any optical drive must be in the form of an external USB drive. The OptiPlex FX160 differs in that it is bundled with a lightweight build of SuSE Linux on a flash module and is sold as a thin client. This article covers the installation process of the standard OptiPlex 160 with a traditional hard drive, but the steps provided would also apply to a model with an SSD flash module.

n-Series Models and Alternates

Outside of the OptiPlex FX160, the OptiPlex 160 can only be ordered with Windows through Dell's website. In order to order an n-Series version of an OptiPlex 160, you will need to go through your Dell Account Manager. The n-Series version includes a CD with FreeDOS and does not include the Windows tax, which is perfect for the purposes outlined in this article. If an OptiPlex 160 cannot be procured for non-business uses, another option is the Dell Zino HD desktop computer, which has a form-factor that is akin to an Apple Mac mini. The Zino HD uses a single-core or dual-core AMD processor, supports a 3.5" SATA hard drive and an internal optical drive. Building up a Zino HD is beyond the scope of this article, but should be able to accept a recent version of Ubuntu Server.

Pre-Installation Tasks

Without an internal optical drive, the operating system must be installed from an external USB optical drive or a USB memory stick. This article covers the installation using an external USB optical drive. Please refer to the Ubuntu documentation website for instructions on how to prepare and create an installer for a USB memory stick. Make sure that the installation media is plugged in before powering up the system.

Before Ubuntu Server 8.04 LTS can be installed, several BIOS settings must be changed in order to have the kernel to detect the hard drive. Power up the system and enter the BIOS and go into the Drives section and change the SATA Operation setting from AHCI to ATA.

If the system will not be running a desktop environment, such as GNOME, KDE or XFCE, go into the Onboard Devices section and change Video Memory Size from 128MB to 32MB. This will reduce the shared memory space used by the integrated graphics controller and increase the available memory for the operating system.

Save BIOS settings and exit from the BIOS.

Installing Ubuntu Server 8.04 LTS

Next, boot from the installation media by going into the boot device selection menu (press F12 when prompted at the boot screen).

Once the Ubuntu installation boot menu is started, select the appropriate menu language, then press F6 to bring up the boot command line. Move the cursor left, so that it is before -- and add noapic vga=xxx . The noapic parameter disables the Advanced Programmable Interrupt Controller (APIC), which can cause an error message to be displayed and the system to hang during bootup. Press ENTER to proceed.

Depending on the display being used, the VGA code number, xxx, needs to reflect the resolution supported by the attached display. Typically the value of 771 will work with most displays, as it sets the frame buffer to 800x600 with 256 colors. Refer to the "ConsoleFrameBuffer" article on the Community Ubuntu Documentation website for various VGA codes.

Proceed through the Ubuntu Server 8.04 LTS installation process as with any other Ubuntu Server install.

Post-Installation Tasks

After Ubuntu Server 8.04 LTS has been installed on the system, the GRUB boot menu configuration file needs to be modified to include the noapic parameter to each of the kernel boot options. To do so, edit the /etc/grub/menu.lst file and locate the ## ## End Default Options ##. At the end of the kernel line for each Ubuntu 8.04 boot option, append it with noapic.

Save the file and restart the system to boot kernel with the APIC disabled. This change will need to be made each time a new kernel version is installed.

Once the system is booted with APIC support disabled, the default hard drive power management setting in Ubuntu needs to be modified to reduce wear on the hard drive (there is a known issue with Ubuntu 8.04 LTS that agressively shuts off a hard drive). To immediately disable power management on the hard drive, run:

sudo hdparm -B 255 /dev/sda

To disable power management on the hard drive each time the system is started, modify /etc/hdparm.conf and add the following to the end of the file:

/dev/sda {
	apm = 255

Save the file and exit from the text editor.

If the hard drive installed in the system supports SMART, it can be monitored with the smartmontools package. To install the package and enable SMART on the hard drive, run the following commands:

sudo apt-get install smartmontools
sudo smartctl -d ata -s on /dev/sda

To enable the SMART monitoring dæmon when the system is started, modify /etc/default/smartmontools to look like:

# Defaults for smartmontools initscript (/etc/init.d/smartmontools)
# This is a POSIX shell fragment

# List of devices you want to explicitly enable S.M.A.R.T. for
# Not needed (and not recommended) if the device is monitored by smartd

# uncomment to start smartd on system startup

# uncomment to pass additional options to smartd on startup

The SMART monitoring dæmon configuration file also needs to be modified to contain only the following line:

/dev/sda -a -d sat -o on -S on -s (S/../.././02|L/../../1/03) -m

Once the configuration file has been modified and saved, the dæmon can be started by running:

sudo /etc/init.d/smartmontools start

The dæmon will run a quick test on the hard drive each night and a long test once per week. If any problems arise, an e-mail will be sent.


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