Howto boot Quantian without a cdrom or hardisk

This is a current first draft, and the page needs more polish. Feedback welcome.

Knoppix and clusterKnoppix support, respectively, 'terminalserver' and 'openMosix terminalserver' modes. The difference between the two modes is the added functionality of openMosix clustering in the latter variant.

In either case, a machine running thh 'terminalserver' service can serve as a host for other nodes. The appealing part is that those terminal nodes can be so-called thin clients without the need for cdrom, hardisk or even floppy drives --- as they receive all their required code via the network.

There are two main modes for booting via the netwoork: via 'etherboot' or via 'PXE'. This note tries to explain both in detail below. Both require the host to run as a terminal server.

Starting a terminal server

On the machine running Quantian, simply select the option from 'Knoppix' menu adjacent to the KDE menu in the bottom of the screen. A short graphical dialog is started, and the main difficulty is the selection of the network card of the client. As the terminalserver host supplies a bootable kernel to the terminal node, it needs to equip it with the correct binary module for the network card. As this cannot be detected remotely, the admininistrator has to supply this critical piece of information.

In my case, my older 'white box' PCs all run the el-cheapo realtek 8139 cards (which provide excellent full-duplex 100mbit networking support for the maybe $4 or $5 dollars they now cost), the work laptop has an Intel epro100 and the older server has a 3com 905 on board -- so I activate all those options. For the rest, I simply stick with default.

At the end of this dialog, the required services will be started.

Booting via PXE

PXE is a new-ish network protocol invented by Intel for a framework just like this. Newer and fancier network cards are already PXE-ready (as the 3com 905 in my server or the Epro100 in the work laptop). In this case, it is merely a question of halting the PC at boot time to select 'network boot' (which may come under strange and different name as e.g. on my IBM T23 laptop) once the terminal server is running, and presto -- it will boot from there.

Booting via etherboot, floppies

Before PXE, NICs were often equipped with code burned into EPROMs that did just about the same using the etherboot protocol. This technology is very mature, and thanks to the popularity of the Linux Terminalserver Project, well supported even if you don't have such a EPROM-enabled NIC.

The trick is that the sublime site can create a bootable image for a floppy for you on the fly. This is as easy as

  • selecting you network card module from the first dropdown list (in my case rtl8139 for the realtek chip)
  • selecting the output format (the default, floopy bootable rom)
  • selecting no other options whatsoever from the customisation step
  • clicking the 'Get ROM' button and
  • saving the transmitted file, in my case 'eb-5.2.2-rtl8139.zdsk' (for an etherboot version 5.2.2 module for the realtek 8139 chip) to disk and finally, as suggested'
  • copying it to floppy disk with 'cat eb-5.2.2-rtl8139.zdsk> /dev/fdo'.
Carrying it to the PC, inserting and turning on power is all that was needed to see first the Knoppix splashscreen followed by the Knoppix bootprocess. terminal screen

Further references

For clusterKnoppix, Wim has four nice alternatives from the two-by-two cases of whether server and/or client are running in graphics or text mode here:

The site for etherboot images and more.

The Linux Terminal Server Project has more info on network booting (outside of the Knoppix and openMosix context

Last modified: Tue Feb 10 13:00:02 CST 2004