Installing Linux on an AlphaStation 200

Printer-friendly version
WARNING: This is out of date. The SCSI drive on my alpha went kaput and I no longer use this machine. Some of this information may still be helpful, but I think there are better resources out there now...LAST UPDATED: April 1999.


Most of the problems installing on the AlphaStation 200 seem to be SCSI related (I'm blaming the ncr53c8xx controller!).  The right kernel should solve your problem.  The ZLXp-E2 card is not supported under X and sometimes leaves artifacts on the console (this might not be true anymore).   I threw this together pretty quickly, but I hope it helps!  I originally wrote this for RedHat 5.0 (I've retested it for 5.2) , but it should also work for other versions and distributions and, heck, other Alphas (just make sure you get your machine's files, kernels, milos, etc.).  Distributions that support the Alpha are: Redhat, Debian, Suse and Stampede.


I.     Update your firmware to the latest ARC console.  (I gave up on SRM.)
Firmware file:
(where x is the lastest.)
Some background:
DOS utility: mkboot.exe for writing the firmware image to disk.

Summary:  You need to put the firmware image on a disk the SRM console can read:
  1. Get as200_vX.exe file and mkboot.exe
  2. Rename as200_vX.exe to fwupdate.exe
  3. Use mkboot.exe to put the image on a floppy:
    mkboot.exe fwupdate.exe
  4. Boot your Alpha.
  5. Set os_type variable to NT (might not be necessary)
    set os_type NT
  6. Insert the floppy you just created
  7. Load the floppy:
    >>> boot dva0
  8. You should get to a menu system.  Choose "Update" then choose "Update ARC ROM"
  9. Answer yes, etc., then exit utility.
  10. Shutdown and restart (cold boot).
  11. You should be at the ARC console (a menu driven console).

II. Create a "MILO" disk.  i.e. Make a DOS formated floppy with the following two files on it: linload.exe and milo.

LINLOADER v1.5 or the one that came with your distro. This file doesn't seem to change. (Don't forget to rename it.)

Choose your milo!

  • DEC's - worked for RH 5.0
  • Debian Stylee - worked for Redhat 5.2 (Solved an "out of memory" problem for me).
  • You might want to try the milo that came with your distro (unless it's Redhat, then you're probably wasting your time.)

NOTE:  David Miller say there's a new milo-avanti that corrects the E2 cursor problem (see below).  You might want to check it out.

III. Create a "KERNEL" disk.  i.e. Get a decent kernel.  Rawrite or dd it onto a floppy.
I had better luck with Debian's Alpha kernels than Redhat's (and I use Redhat).
Redhat: probably on your CD /Redhat/alpha/images/avant.img**
(I used a debian kernel for RH5.0)
(I used the avanti image on the RH5.2 cd and it worked fine for RH5.2.)

NOTE: milo and the kernel have to be from the same kernel version (or so I have read - although in practice this doesn't seem to be so...mmm...).
*  Slink might be something else now (like stable).  Look around the site.
**avanti-s.img are supposedly for the SRM console (if you're so inclined).

IV. Create a "RAMDISK" disk. i.e. This is the actual installation disk.
  1. Get a ramdisk image
    Debians are called root.bin (same directory as the kernel).
    Redhats are called ramdisk.img (same directory as the kernel).
  2. dd or rawrite it onto a floppy

square BEGIN THE INSTALLATION! (You should have three floppies: MILO, KERNEL, RAMDISK.)

I. Boot the MILO disk from the ARC console.
  1. Boot into the ARC console.
  2. Insert MILO disk.
  3. In ARC console choose "Supplementary menu..." then "Set up the system..." then "Manage boot selection menu..." then "Add a boot selection..." then "New system partition" then "Floppy Disk"  (you'll change this later to make it boot directly from the HD).
  4. Change the following (there's more, but these are the two biggees):
  5. Go back two screens (with <esc>) and save changes.
  6. Choose your selection (the one you just modified) from the boot menu. You should be on your way!

Note 1:  After eveything is installed and you want to boot from the hard drive and not the floppy, you'll use OSLOADOPTIONS to add your boot string.  See RedHat manual.
Note 2:  If you're unfortunate to have a ZLXp-E2 or 3 card, you're screen may be "funky." Wait til the floppy has not activity and then continue - the screen should clear up later (watch your typing!).

II. Boot the kernel.
  1. You should be at the MILO prompt.
  2. Insert the KERNEL disk.
  3. At the prompt type:
    boot floppy:vmlinux.gz "rw root=/dev/fd0 load_ramdisk=1 prompt_ramdisk=1"
  4. Cross your fingers.

III. Start the Installation!
  1. Insert your RAMDISK when prompted.
  2. Follow the instructions of your particular installation.
  3. Leave a 2MB DOS partition for MILO (or you won't be able to boot from the HD).

Note:  I had better luck using the Debian partitioner.  If you have trouble with Redhat (i.e. it hangs when partitioning, making files sytems, formating, or while installing packages) partition and make file systems with Debian, then quit the install, and use RedHat next time and do not remake the file systems!

IV. Install MILO (so you can boot directly from the HD).
  1. Your installation should be finished and everything should be ok.
  2. Copy the milo and linloader.exe files from your MILO floppy to your 2MB DOS partition. 
  3. Add a new boot selection in the ARC console (see "Boot MILO disk from ARC console" above). 
  4. This time choose appropriate"SCSI Bus..." 
  5. Enter milo and linloader.exe like above. 
  6. In OSLOADOPTIONS you need to put the boot string for the kernel (the partition where your kernel is (i.e. NOT milo)).  Mine looks like this: 
    boot sda2:vmlinux.gz root=/dev/sda2

V. Enjoy!



Okay, so you want to get back to the SRM console (maybe you want to try installing Linux from SRM???).  You can NOT use the same firmware disk you used to get to the ARC console.  You must make a new one:

  1. Get a DOS formatted floppy
  2. Rename as200_v6_X.exe to fwupdate.exe
  3. Copy fwupdate.exe to the floppy
  4. Boot your Alpha
  5. From Boot Menu choose "Supplementary menu..."
  6. Insert your floppy.
  7. From "Supplementary menu" choose "Update Firmware"
  8. Program will load then choose "Update"
  9. Then choose "Update SRM ROM"
  10. Answer yes, etc., then exit utility
  11. Do a cold boot and you should be back at the SRM console.

square MISC    
  • ZLXp-E2/3 graphic cards are not supported under X =(   The E2 seems to work in console mode, although I get a "funky" cursor.   If someone can get the ZLXp-E2 card to work properly in the console (or even better - under X),  please let me know!  Note:  Tim Rowley did a  patch and patched XF86_TGA that I haven't had time to try.  Also, see "Create MILO disk" above.  Give 'em a try.
  • If you get a green/garbled screen when trying to install, it's the E2 graphics card.
  • The AlphaStation 200 is in the Avanti family.  (I've had better luck with Avanti images than AS200 images.)
  • Some of the files listed above will probably have changed.  Try the newer ones.
  • I bought my Alpha at   I've also seen them at

Last Update: April 1999