Intel D945GCLF2 vs GPT and Smoothwall 3.0 SP3

Here was me thinking that it would be a good idea to finally replace my old laptop based Smoothwall setup with a nice mini-itx one…

The mini-itx board in question is a Intel D945GCLF2 and has been working hard over the past few years as my home NAS. Since I just swapped it for a Gigabyte GA-D525TUD to add another RAID1 and finally fill the remaining slots in the NAS box I decided to throw out the old moody Smoothwall laptop and let the D945GCLF2 do the Smoothwall-ing. Got a box, got a 120W picoPSU and my nice home soldered molex->P4 adapter, got a beefy laptop charger, got the tools and setup discs, all seemed good. Until I tried to install Smoothwall 3.0 SP3.

The install routine went through ok but after the reboot I only got “no bootable device”. So I tried all the usual BIOS tricks, AHCI off and even tried it with a 2.5″ IDE drive which I had to dig out from the furthest corner of the room (<- keeping stuff is good, I still had an adapter lying next to it to connect this to a 3.5″ IDE port ;) . Still no joy. So I got desperate, got out a trustworthy desktop PC, installed the latest smoothwall onto a drive. All boots ok in the desktop but same error when connected to the D945GCLF2. Grrrrrrr! Oddly enough the D945GCLF2 had no problems installing and booting both 32bit and 64bit Ubuntu 12.04. I slowly started to suspect partition layout-ish problems and set off to investigate further…

So I went out into the big cold world of error googling to gather more information. Luckily I also had a look at the last Smoothwall updates and update8 was quite a big one so I thought why not try Smoothwall 3.0 SP2. And tadaaaa, suddenly the D945GCLF2 boots fine :)

Any sane person would probably have been happy at this point, I wasn’t and spent the rest of the afternoon trying to figure out what was going on. Long story short, with SP3 (update8 I think to be exact) the setup routine started to work differently. Apart from support for multi-core CPUs it now also formats a lot quicker and uses GPT. Nice idea in general but the D945GCLF2s BIOS has a bug which effectively means it doesn’t boot from GPT partitions. And that’s where I got angry and decided to write a blog post to hopefully help others who are stuck with similar problems on the D945GCLF2. How a company the size of Intel get’s away with bugs like this is a mystery to me…

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  1. I have the same motherboard, and I was trying to do a FreeBSD/zfsroot install a few years ago on a machine using this board. Well, after following all the instructions, I was left wondering why it wouldn’t boot, and I tried partitioning and installing multiple times. Turns out that the instructions had you creating GPT partitions with a utility FreeBSD includes called “gpart” and the D945′s broken BIOS wouldn’t allow it to boot. I’ve noticed other quirks with this board’s BIOS with MBR tables as well, such as it wouldn’t boot unless I marked a partition as active and bootable with fdisk. Most of the time, you can get away with this. Horrible BIOS, but decent board.

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