IBM ThinkPad T40 GRUB menu not loading (most of the time)

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Onsemeliot
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Joined: 09/09/2011

Resently I got my old IBM ThinkPad T40 laptop from about 2003 back. (Someone else had it at home but hasn't actually use it in recent years.) Firstly I replaced the finally empty CMOS battery. Afterwards I could install Trisquel 8.0 mini only by using a DVD. (The USB option unfortunately never worked.) But now I keep having issues with booting the system since it only rarely does even display the GRUB menu. Most of the time the screen goes just blank before the GRUB menu should show up.

Rarely I can get to boot options when starting from the Trisquel live DVD. From there I can start the system using additional boot options adding: GRUB_DMDLINE_LINUX="forcepae".
I learned that the worst thing I can do is trying to start the system with an ethernet cable connected since it would then try a network boot which doesn't work either. In such cases I am not able to tell the system to just boot from the hard disk. No matter how carefully I set the boot options in the BIOS.

I tried to make the obviously working boot option the default when I finally managed to reach it again:

1) Start the system from the Trisquel installation DVD using the additional option adding: GRUB_DMDLINE_LINUX="forcepae" in the Trisquel installation menu.
2) After my successful boot into the already installed system I altered the GRUB configuration to make the forcepae option permanent:
2a) sudo leafpad /etc/default/grub
2b) add forcepae to the following lines:
GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX_DEFAULT="quiet forcepae"
GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX="forcepae"
3) sudo update-grub

After a reboot the system seemed to start reliably. But already the next boot afterwards left me in the same situation: GRUB didn't show up and even several attempts to boot from the live DVD didn't result in showing me at least the installation options from the Trisquel live system. It really seems to fail most of the time just having random lucky moments when the system can actually load anything that would allow any boot.

I wonder if anyone here can understand this behaviour. Could a hardware issue with a wonky contact somewhere on the mainboard explain what is happening?

Magic Banana

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Joined: 07/24/2010

I would try to reconfigure the BIOS... somehow! Something you want is the hard disk having a higher boot priority than the network (so that you do not need to unplug the Ethernet cable before booting). Reading the beginning of the section "Make the Live-System your boot priority" of https://trisquel.info/en/wiki/starting-installable-live-system may help you.

Also, you may want to read https://jxself.org/linux-libre/ (which explains how to to check whether your CPU indeed supports PAE, and proposes non-PAE kernels).

nadebula.1984
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Joined: 05/01/2018

I've used T40 for some years. To be honest, it's not suitable for modern GNU/Linux distributions.

First, it uses ATI discrete graphics. Second, there is no usable Atheros WLAN cards (unless the white list restrictions can be removed).

For the hardware, I believe that T40 doesn't support PAE. To make USB HDD booting reliable, the BIOS needs to be updated.

BTW, ThinkPad X40 is much better for GNU/Linux users. It uses Intel's integrated graphics, and has usable Atheros cards. I can run latest blobless Debian 32-bit on it smoothly, as long as I don't try to browse any webpage.

Onsemeliot
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Joined: 09/09/2011

Thank you for your feedbacks Magic Banana and nadebula.1984.

> you want the hard disk having a higher boot priority than the network

I have of course changed those options over and over again. Unfortunately it doesn't help.

> check whether your CPU indeed supports PAE

I know already that I need the "forcepae" option for this device.

> it uses ATI discrete graphics

The graphics is good enough for me. I can't complain. Screen tearing is present but that doesn't bother me much on this device since I don't plan to use it for video playback and image editing. It wouldn't be strong and fast enough for that.

> To make USB HDD booting reliable, the BIOS needs to be updated.

This is annoying but not vital. It would be sufficient to have a reliable boot from the internal IDE disk.

> ThinkPad X40 is much better for GNU/Linux users.

This might be true but I can only make use of the hardware I have available.

Magic Banana

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Joined: 07/24/2010

I know already that I need the "forcepae" option for this device.

nadebula.1984 wrote he "believe[s] that T40 doesn't support PAE". If he is right, installing a "*-nonpae" package from https://jxself.org/linux-libre/ may be good. That said, I do not think it will help with your problem, which comes before the kernel is booted: it must deal with the hardware, the BIOS or GRUB's configuration.

Have you tested your RAM? Trisquel's repository includes "memtest86+". Many live systems (but not Trisquel's) include it as well. If you can identify damaged regions of RAM, you can define the GRUB_BADRAM variable in /etc/default/grub: https://www.gnu.org/software/grub/manual/grub/html_node/badram.html#badram

Onsemeliot
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Joined: 09/09/2011

I think I have tested the RAM already but I actually can't remember any more. I will test and investigate more as soon as I can.