Sunday, April 17, 2011

MSI 880GM MainBoard... Oops: E41

I bought a box of computer guts from Newegg, to upgrade my Linux virtualization host. This box has not been doing anything recently, because it was still running Fedora 8. I know F8 is soooo old, but the machine is only a PIII with 512Mb. Since it didn't have VMX or SVM, old school Xen was all it could run.

That board was an Asus, and it had served me well, as have several other Asus boards. My Citrix XenServer machine is running on a Foxconn mainboard and my VMware ESX is running on HP board (because VMware will not lower themselves to run on anything but name brand hardware.) This time around I selected an MSI 880GM-E41.

My plan was to run RHEL 6 for a few weeks to look at the changes to their virtualization stack, then move to either SL60, Citrix XenServer, or VMware. To determine my options, I attempted an install of each. Of course VMware threw up all over the box, but I expected that.

What happened next scared me: Citrix XenServer refused to load, since the machine had no network port. No need to panic. I tried Red Hat 6, which installed, but didn't recognize the onboard port.

Uh oh... Bad board? That means pulling out all the guts and spending more money to send the thing in for a replacement. Maybe I should check the Google Interwebs to see if this is a known issue.

And it is. The 880GM-E41 has an Atheros AR8131M, which is not "fully" supported by Linux. If I had gone $5 more to the 880GM-E43, I would have gotten a Realtek 8111DL, but I didn't check the drivers first. The really fun part is that if I'd gone $5 less to the 760GM-E51, I would have only lost the ability to overclock the memory. For some reason Newegg's site only displays the 760GM-E51 when you specifically search for MSI boards. (It must be a special order.)
So what do we do? Turns out, Red Hat's Anaconda installer does not recognize the Atheros NIC, but the Red Hat kernel does. Once the install was finished, I was able to manually configure the interface. At the first boot, udev had seen the card, and installed the driver, but was not able to active it without an ifcfg-eth0 file.

I've got a couple hours left, tonight. I'll either try to hack Citrix Xenserver to recognize the NIC, or mess around on I Can Has Cheeseburger.

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