Linux on Acer RC111

I bought the last unit of the Acer RevoCenter RC111 at a local store a couple of days ago, for a steal – RM799 (US$263). It came with a 1TB harddisk that has Windows pre-installed on it. I wanted to install Linux on the RC111 but the Internet seems to be scant on details. So, I thought that I’d blog about how I did it.

Pre-installation
It would be a pain to install an OS onto the RC111 without a VGA port. Fortunately, the VGA port of the RC111 can be easily exposed by removing the tab covering it. Just use a sharp blade to cut the edges and press down on it slightly to break the thin strip of metal holding it in. Once that is done, the VGA port is exposed on the back.

Power up the device and you will see a minimal BIOS boot from American Megatrends. If you use a paper-clip to depress the reset button on the back of the unit when you hear a beep, the RC111 will boot from USB instead of the internal HDD.

That is the technique that I used to install Linux on the RC111.

Installation Image
It turns out that it is easier to prepare a USB installation image for Debian than it is for Centos. Therefore, I just went with Debian instead. Simply download the latest netinstall ISO and flash it onto a small USB thumb drive.

# wget http://cdimage.debian.org/debian-cd/6.0.6/i386/iso-cd/debian-6.0.6-i386-netinst.iso
# dd if=./debian-6.0.6-i386-netinst.iso of=/dev/sdb

Once that is completed, slot the USB drive into the back of the RC111 and power on the device. The indicator light on the front of the unit should flash white. The main hard-disk needs to be inserted in the RC111, otherwise it won’t boot.

At the sound of the beep, press the reset button with a bent paper clip. The indicator light on the front of the device should turn a stable purple and the RC111 will boot from the USB thumb drive.

Installation
The rest of the Debian install proceeded as normal. However, the ethernet network will not work correctly at the moment. So, it is only possible to install a bare minimal install of Debian on the device.

Post-installation
The built-in gigabit ethernet chip requires firmware that is not installed by default. It requires the firmware-realtek package that is in the non-free repository. Since the ethernet port would not work properly without the firmware, this package needs to be downloaded separately and copied over to the device and installed manually.

# dpkg -i firmware-realtek_0.28+squeeze1_all.deb

After that, the on-board gigabit ethernet will work and can be configured as usual.

All in all, it was simple enough to install an alternative OS onto the RC111. There is no reason why this should be any problem as the RC111 is basically a standard PC design with standard PC parts but with a custom BIOS.

Final Notes
At RM799 with a 1TB HDD, this is a steal and will work splendidly as a file server. I plan to stick in another 3x2TB HDD in the future for expansion.

The indicator light keeps blinking white while the machine is running. This doesn’t seem to be a problem. None of the individual HDD lights blink when in use. This is a small WMI issue that doesn’t affect the operation of each drive.

The system sometimes hangs or reboots on its own during startup. However, once it has successfully started up, it will stay running as normal.

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