Andy presented me with an interesting challenge:
Your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to get Linux on this accursed box.
The accursed box was a Sumvision Cyclone Mini PC: an Intel Atom SoC based PC, in a nice little box about the size of a domestic router. It has been quite popular for a Windows Media playerbox, with wireless built in, and a HDMI-out, but this one was hopefully destined for more geeky things: an easily deployable network monitor, so first thing is Linux.
Apparently others had given up in frustration, and powering it up gave me a particularly unfriendly UEFI shell that didn’t have a scroll-lock, so you couldn’t see the available commands. Nice. I found a way into the BIOS-style setup, and checked all the obvious things; secure boot disabled, clear the secure boot keys, etc. What was notably odd was a OS/BOM seletion screen (that is their typo, not mine) that was set to Windows 8, and all greyed out, and no CSM (or Legacy) boot modes.
A few websites suggested enabling
BIOS firmware passwords would let you select these options- no good (and I still haven’t managed to: congrats to AMI for quite possibly the unfriendliest UI I’ve seen in a PC BIOS firmware.
So. Clearly we have a system that is UEFI boot only. This is the way things are to go, of course. The BIOS has been with us since I was a teenager, which is too long ago for my liking.
As an aside at this point, I should point out this great article on UEFI, Secureboot, and why I keep using a “strike” tag on the acronym BIOS, which demystifying something I inherently distrusted as new-fangled rubbish, even if Fruitco have been doing it for years. BIOS was rubbish, but it was familiar rubbish.
Downloading a restore image from the manufacturer’s (pretty poor) website restored it to Windows, so the boot setup was workable. It didn’t reveal any links to a UEFI update, like I’d hoped, though.
And got either Windows or the UEFI shell again.
A bit of googling found me that while the machine itself is 64-bit, the UEFI firmware is 32-bit (slow handclap, AMI/Sumvision, you fucking geniuses), and that seems common for these low-power SoC machines. Sure enough, re-writing the stick with Debian Jessie 32-bit install media (because Ubuntu i386 doesn’t do UEFI) got an installer booted, and being careful to leave the EFI system partition in place, a working system :-). No wifi, but that isn’t a problem for this use: if you need wifi, you can compile a module.
But this is a 64-bit machine, so running a 64-bit OS would be good. Happily, Debian Multiarch exists, and there’s a set of install media with non-free but redistributable firmware too, so on it went, and it literally installed first time, and booted without drama, so Andy has his network monitor, and I learned a few things.