I am trying to get a few more useful years from a ThinkPad T-43 (x86 processor, model 1871-48U, BIOS 1.29, which, according to this appears to be the latest.) by installing Debian Buster i386. I want to put it on an SSD installed in the Ultra Bay, where the CD/DVD drive normally lives. I do not want or need dual-boot. I can install Buster, but can't get it to boot.

A few possibly relevant facts:

  • The main drive bay of the T-43 is equipped for a PATA device.
  • Windows 7 will boot from SSD in the Ultra Bay, with or without a drive in the main bay.
  • Patience is the key to installing to a drive in the Ultra Bay when there is no drive present in the main bay. You just have to wait through the timeouts. For reasons I don't understand, it seems impossible to install anything on a drive in the Ultra Bay without a drive present in the main (PATA) bay. I conjecture that has something to do with the internal PATA / SATA bridge making it "look like" there's a disk present, but that's just a guess.
  • I can install Debian Buster (i386) on a magnetic disk PATA drive in the main drive bay. It boots as expected, with no error messages and no grub prompt.

So, with a copy of Buster installed on the main PATA drive, I did another install from USB with the target being the SSD in the Ultra Bay. I made the choice of "everything in one partition," so there's only a root partition and a swap partition. I manually selected the SSD at the point in the process where grub is installed in the MBR.

That install would not boot. I got a blank screen with flashing cursor and nothing else.

If I boot from the PATA drive, I can see the SSD as /dev/sdb. I can mount the root (only) partition and see that the expected files are there. It just won't boot.

Attempting to force a boot loader on the SSD I tried

sudo grub-install /dev/sdb --force --boot-directory=/mnt as suggested in this answer.

That got me a grub> prompt after boot from the SSD. The response to ls was (hd0) (hd0,msdos5) (hd0,msdos1) (fd0). (There is no floppy drive, but there is a floppy connector, and it's enabled in the BIOS.)

I entered the following grub parameters:

grub> set root=(hd0,1)
grub> linux /vmlinuz root=/dev/sda1
grub> initrd /initrd.img
grub> boot

That actually got me to the Debian desktop after numerous errors of "ATA.1 device not ready" and "SRST failed errno -16." (I believe that ATA.1 is the main bay, which was empty at the time.)

Once I reached the desktop and opened a terminal, the update-grub command (as root) appeared to work.

Sadly, a reboot brings me right back to the grub> prompt.

I tried grub-install /dev/sda --force --boot-directory=/ after rebooting and entering the grub parameters above. Rebooting still gets me a grub prompt.

I'm pretty sure at this point that I'm doing something wrong with grub. Help on what I've been doing wrong will be most appreciated.

Note: In case others read this, someone in a ThinkPad forum commented offhand that "older ThinkPads will not boot from USB 3 drives." I could have saved myself a lot of grief had I seen that a couple of days earlier. I'd give credit if I remembered who posted that, but I don't.

  • What is your BIOS version?
    – Mr. Donutz
    Jan 17 '20 at 19:51
  • @Mr.Donutz 1.29 (70ET69WW) 2007-05-29 According to this that appears to be current.
    – Bob Brown
    Jan 17 '20 at 19:57
  • What is the model number? I've seen a number of different 4-digit models, some beginning with 1, others with 2. Does yours start with a 2?
    – Mr. Donutz
    Jan 17 '20 at 20:14
  • @Mr.Donutz Model 1871-48U
    – Bob Brown
    Jan 17 '20 at 20:33

Yup, I was missing something about grub. After booting through entering the grub parameters, one needs update-grub followed by grub-install /dev/sda I'm not sure why doing it with --force didn't have the same effect.

It boots without intervention now, but still takes forever because it's timing out on the "phantom" disk in the main bay. I think that's another question for another time.

  • 1
    Glad that worked. Funny enough, I think I've had a similar problem not too long ago, but totally forgot about the update-grub part now. Have you set the correct device first in the BIOS boot order? You might also have a play with the Config -> Serial ATA setting (AHCI or Compatibility).
    – Mr. Donutz
    Jan 18 '20 at 15:42
  • @Mr.Donutz Thanks. I do have the boot order correct. I'll poke at the other stuff. I'm going to use this machine as a testing device for web applications, so it won't get booted very often.
    – Bob Brown
    Jan 18 '20 at 15:51

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