« Archives in November, 2005

Network Booting Your Computer

Look, I know it has been a while since I posted. I am a busy guy, and the blog is one of those “you know I will do that tomorrow” things.

Here is a quick write up of how I took a PC Chips 871G motherboard, and turned 4 of them into network bootable servers. It is worth it trust me.

The PC Chips 871G is an SiS chipset based motherboard, with an SiS900 based onboard LAN. Out of the box the motherboard comes with a network boot option, but it is RPL, and pretty much useless unless you are running Netware, and I haven’t touched Netware since 4.0.

The new universally supported standard of network booting is PXE, so we are going to need to get the computer to boot up using PXE. Here is where things get very interesting.

You have to hack the BIOS. It isn’t for the faint of heart, and I actually killed two bios images before I got this right. As an aside you can flash a non-booting BIOS by booting up the same motherboard with the same type BIOS (like I said I have 4 of them) and then while the computer is running, you pull the working BIOS out of the socket – CAREFULLY. Then you place the dead BIOS chip into the socket and reflash it using your known good BIOS image. I got pretty good at this, I am sorry to say.

You will need a program to edit your BIOS images, there are plenty of places on the internet to find the utilities to do this, but it takes some patience to find one that will work for you. My BIOS was an AMI BIOS, so I had to find AMI BIOS tools. Once you have the tools you can download the latest BIOS from PC Chips, and then grab the latest ROM BIOS for the LAN card. You can get this from the handy site Rom-O-Matic.

The BIOS image I had to work with, was limited in space. The current RPL part of the BIOS was 16KB in size, however the new Etherboot image was 32KB in size, so I had to remove some other things from the BIOS. I removed the RPL portion of the image as well as the SATA RAID software and, boot screen images.

After I flashed the BIOS with this new image, I had the ability to select a new option from the boot menu “Etherboot SIS900″.

The BIOS boots as normal and you can boot into a PXE boot environment to load the OS of your choice.