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Operating Systems

Running Old Desktops Headless? 347

Posted by Soulskill
from the must-be-the-new-chicken-os dept.
CajunArson writes "I recently dug up an old P4 that is in fine working order and did what any self-respecting Slashdotter would do: I slapped Linux on it to experiment with making an NFSv4 server. One other thing I did was to remove the old AGP video card to save on power, since this is a headless machine. Now, I removed the video card after the installation, and I'm doing just fine as long as the machine will boot to a state where networking works and I can SSH to it. My question: Is there a good solution to allow me to log into this box if it cannot get on the network? I'm looking for solutions other than slapping a video card back in. In my case, I will have physical access to the machine. A few caveats to make it interesting: This question is for plain old desktop/laptop systems, not network servers designed to run headless. Also, I am aware of the serial console, but even 'old' machines may only have USB, and I have not seen any good documentation on how and whether USB works as a substitute. Finally, if there is any way to access the BIOS settings without needing a video card, that would be an extra bonus, but I'm satisfied with just local OS access starting from the GRUB prompt."
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Running Old Desktops Headless?

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  • Serial console (Score:5, Informative)

    by timeOday (582209) on Sunday September 06, 2009 @11:41AM (#29331715)
    A serial console [tldp.org]. As far as I know, this is what serial ports were actually put into computers for in the first place.

    The question about bios settings is a good one though, and I don't know.

    • Good luck (Score:3, Informative)

      by gravos (912628)
      Most of the Dell and IBM servers I've used will let you get to the BIOS/GRUB over a serial console with some configuration, but I've never seen a desktop motherboard that would do it. If you really care about power consumption the easiest route is probably to buy a cheap, low-power itx board that has VGA built in and skip the console altogether. Plus, that way you don't need a laptop to talk to the box, just an old monitor.

      Anyone know some tricks to get serial console to work with grub on a desktop mobo?
      • by Bert64 (520050)

        You would need a lights out management card, many servers have them built in but they're not usually found on desktops.

      • Re:Good luck (Score:4, Interesting)

        by mariushm (1022195) on Sunday September 06, 2009 @12:08PM (#29331935)

        Even easier, go to eBay and get a PCI video card for a couple of dollars. I got an ATI Rage with 8MB of memory for something like 2$ plus about 4$ shipping. It's only a few watts, which if you really freak out about power usage, you can recover by lowering the CPU voltage and the frequency to a bit lower than the normal. Well, anyways you'll make it more economic simply by replacing the power supply with a 80-85+ certified one, but it's probably more expensive than the whole computer, or the money saved in 2-3 years.

        • Re:Good luck (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Useful Wheat (1488675) on Sunday September 06, 2009 @12:30PM (#29332115)

          You're all putting WAY too much thought into this. The easiest way to do this is to take a magnet and manually adjust your hard drive until it has the SSH capability you're looking for. Everyone has at least 1 or 2 good magnets laying around, and with a steady hand this could become a great do it yourself project. Plus, you get epeen bragging rights when people start talking about how they used to code in assembly. You coded with a magnet and a HD.

          Wait? That would be a pain in the ass? Almost impossible?

          The AGP card is rated for 63 watts, maximum. Over a year that's 552 kWh. Paying for electricity at $0.15 a kWh you run into an additional $6.90 a month to run the AGP card.

          1. Find a quarter in your couch cushions.

          2. Plug the damn thing in for the 10 minutes it would take to setup a remote SSH connection using the suggestions people have put in this thread.

          3. Pay the additional power bill with the quarter.

          4. Move on with your life

          5.....

          6. Profit!

          • by dotancohen (1015143) on Sunday September 06, 2009 @03:54PM (#29333813) Homepage

            You're all putting WAY too much thought into this. The easiest way to do this is to take a magnet and manually adjust your hard drive until it has the SSH capability you're looking for.

            Butterflies. What the OP needs are butterflies.
            http://xkcd.com/378/ [xkcd.com]

          • Re:Good luck (Score:5, Informative)

            by hairyfeet (841228) <bassbeast1968 AT gmail DOT com> on Sunday September 06, 2009 @06:05PM (#29334699) Journal

            Actually there is an even cheaper and easier way to do it.....go talk to your friendly neighborhood local mom and pop repair shop. We are the biggest packrats there is and often have drawers filled with old PCI cards of all shapes and sizes. We are also usually quite bored and will happily sell you parts cheap, especially if you are doing something cool with them like a server, instead of dealing with the usual "I got a bug looking at pron again. Here fix it" which is what our days usually consist of. I personally have everything from a 2Mb Matrox card up to a 64Mb MX400 lying in my GPU drawer.

            So go talk to your local repair shop. you'll find if you BS with us a little we're happy to let you go through the goodie drawers and will sell you cheap anything you want. Think of it like a cheap flea market for PC parts. We just really hate throwing working hardware away when we might find a use for it someday. And before somebody goes "WTF you gonna do with those old crappy GPUs?" I would point not only to this article, but point out the fact I just sold a 12Mb S3 graphics card to a guy for a whole $5 including popping it in for him. It was supposed to be just to get him through until we could get him an AGP card (which I was out of at the time) but the S3 worked great on his Win2K office PC so he said "if it ain't broke, why fix it?".

            Those old PCI cards with 8-16Mb of RAM really didn't use hardly any juice at all, probably less than the average IGP does today. 20 minutes worth of BSing with your local repair guy and I'm sure you'll get one for a couple of bucks, with no shipping or waiting. Then if you want to get fancy you can pick up one of the cheapo KVM switches at Newegg, and if you have a problem with your server just "clicky clicky" on the keyboard shortcut and you are good to go. I paid a whole $30 for mine but Newegg has the same model for $26 [newegg.com] or $16 [newegg.com] for a 2 port. Since you already have the P4 this would be the easiest way to go headless and still have access if something goes wrong.

          • Re:Good luck (Score:5, Insightful)

            by emilper (826945) on Monday September 07, 2009 @07:00AM (#29338597)

            the processor is a P4 ... why worry about the power consumption of the AGP card ?

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by KillerBob (217953)

          Even easier, go to eBay and get a PCI video card for a couple of dollars. I got an ATI Rage with 8MB of memory for something like 2$ plus about 4$ shipping. It's only a few watts, which if you really freak out about power usage, you can recover by lowering the CPU voltage and the frequency to a bit lower than the normal. Well, anyways you'll make it more economic simply by replacing the power supply with a 80-85+ certified one, but it's probably more expensive than the whole computer, or the money saved in

          • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

            by BrokenHalo (565198)
            Most motherboards come with some sort of on-board GPU. Since this situation is a server machine, there's no reason to run an X server, so there's no reason to install any more sophisticated graphics card. Even the crappiest on-board GPU I have come across on PC hardware (which incidentally happens to be a SiS unit back in 1996) can cope with text-mode I/O in a TTY.

            But if the server is to run headless, all you need is a good syslog system (which should be set up by default) and ssh.
            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              by KillerBob (217953)

              Most low-end motherboards come with some sort of on-board GPU.

              Fixed that for you. :) Most high-end motherboards don't have an on-board GPU, because most people who'd be willing to spend $250 on a motherboard (when you can get one for $60) probably won't balk at buying a discrete graphics card, and in fact, probably plan on buying a discrete graphics card anyway, because integrated graphics tend to be a generation or two out of date.

              If I were building my own server, I'd make sure to get a motherboard that ha

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by iamhassi (659463)
            "As to the OP's question... whatever happened to using a KVM?"

            Still requires a video card.

            My question is has he tested the motherboard to see if it'll boot without a video card? I've seen many a board that would error if a card wasn't found. If a card is required then just deal with the $6 a month, or if you really wanna do something get a 9 watt Geforce 7300 [codinghorror.com] for under $20 on ebay [ebay.com] which would use $8 in electricity a year [handymath.com] at 10 cents/kw-hr.

            But according to this chart [codinghorror.com] even the greatest 3D video ca
      • Re:Good luck (Score:5, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 06, 2009 @12:59PM (#29332337)

        Grub works just fine with serial console. Add the following lines to your grub.conf:

            serial --unit=0 --speed=38400 --word=8 --parity=no --stop=1
            terminal --timeout=10 serial console

        Also, make sure to add:

            console=tty1 console=ttyS0,38400n8

        to your "kernel" line for linux boot images so the kernel will send console messages to the console. Of course the kernel itself must be configured to support serial console too!

      • RTFLDP (Score:5, Informative)

        by itomato (91092) on Sunday September 06, 2009 @02:02PM (#29332803)
        From the Remote Serial Console HOWTO http://tldp.org/HOWTO/Remote-Serial-Console-HOWTO/configure-boot-loader-grub.html [tldp.org]
        GRUB:

        Define the serial port and configure GRUB to use the serial port, as shown in Figure 4-6. Figure 4-6. GRUB configuration for serial console

        serial --unit=0 --speed=9600 --word=8 --parity=no --stop=1
        terminal serial

        --unit is the number of the serial port, counting from zero, unit 0 being COM1. Note that the values of --parity are spelt out in full: no, even and odd. The common abbreviations n, e and o are not accepted. If there is mysteriously no output on the serial port then suspect a syntax error in the serial or terminal commands. If you also want to use and attached monitor and keyboard as well as the serial port to control the GRUB boot loader then use the alternative configuration in Figure 4-7.

        Kernel:

        The Linux kernel is configured to select the console by passing it the console parameter. The console parameter can be given repeatedly, but the parameter can only be given once for each console technology. So console=tty0 console=lp0 console=ttyS0 is acceptable but console=ttyS0 console=ttyS1 will not work. When multiple consoles are listed output is sent to all consoles and input is taken from the last listed console. The last console is the one Linux uses as the /dev/console device. The syntax of the console parameter is given in Figure 5-1. Figure 5-1. Kernel console syntax, in EBNF

        console=ttyS<serial_port>[,<mode>]
        console=tty<virtual_terminal>
        console=lp<parallel_port>
        console=ttyUSB[<usb_port>[,<mode>]

        Quite a bit more info at tdlp.org..

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by CajunArson (465943)

          Hi, original question-poster here. Thanks for the information, but I was wondering if GRUB would work over a USB serial console as well. I've heard that serial console support works fine after the kernel is up and the USB drivers are in place, but can GRUB run over a USB serial adapter as well?

    • Re:Serial console (Score:5, Informative)

      by value_added (719364) on Sunday September 06, 2009 @12:33PM (#29332129)

      A serial console. As far as I know, this is what serial ports were actually put into computers for in the first place.

      Sigh. I wish more people (the home user Slashdot types) would just go buy a serial cable (and/or serial+USB adapter) and see for themselves how trivial it is to set up, and how valuable that setup can be. There's plenty of reasons why one would *want* to rely on serial, aside from the usual "What if the network is down?" scenario.

      For added fun (when there's more than one computer involved), consider something like this [kd85.com]

      The question about bios settings is a good one though, and I don't know.

      For the OP and most of us, that's a noop. What I would have suggested instead of a powerhungry P4 (or even PIII), is a soekris box [soekris.com]. There's no VGA at all, so the BIOS (and everything else) is accessible via serial only. My "headless" VIA boxes are a PIA by comparison.

      Granted, Soekris boxes are typically used to perform networking functions, but setting one up with a hard drive (laptop or SSD ideally) and running a web, IMAP, NFS, Samba, etc. server is common enough and performance is perfectly adequate. A few bucks more, but hey, they're rackmountable so you can impress your friends and neighbours. :-)

      • by SQLGuru (980662)

        I'm curious if those small USB 'monitors' would work for this. You'd only need to plug it in as needed and could use it on your main machine when not being used on the server. Or, he could always get a USB video card.

    • Re:Serial console (Score:5, Interesting)

      by merreborn (853723) on Sunday September 06, 2009 @12:38PM (#29332173) Journal

      I actually worked on a small project that involved deploying headless desktop-based Debian servers to locations all over the continental US.

      We'd fed-ex the boxes, and most of the time, they'd show up with a hard drive detached, or worse (one fedex ground shipment from CA to FL knocked the RAM right out of the slots on one box). What was worse, we didn't have any technical expertise on site to speak of, so even simple problems were hard to diagnose.

      The ASUS motherboards we were using happened to have serial ports, and the BIOS also happened to natively support pumping text-mode input/output over said serial interface -- so you could edit BIOS settings, tweak bootloader settings, put the machine in single user mode and fsck the whole disk, etc. etc. all over serial.

      We experimented with plugging these things into serial-over-ip devices; specifically, one like this one [digi.com] -- although I think we paid about $60 each. Results were mixed. For one, it was pretty painful getting things operating at a reasonable serial bitrate (especially for curses-esque interfaces like the BIOS settings interface -- characters were getting lost), and making them reliably accessible over IP wasn't easy either. You could configure these things to "phone home" when they were powered on, but the configuration interface and documentation was pretty bad.

      If I recall correctly, KVM over IP devices were a bit more pricey.

      So, long story short, when it comes to low-cost remote server management, in my experience, there's something of a lack of quality offerings.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 06, 2009 @11:43AM (#29331735)

    Maybe I'm way off base here, but putting in an old low memory (2-32MB) APG card isn't going to draw that much power. I totally understand your issues with wanting to run a headless machine, I have a few myself. But honestly I've found it's just a LOT easier to leave a cheapo card in the rig so that if something comes up I don't have to crack open a case.

    • by mikael_j (106439)

      Exactly, it seems like the OP should just stick a weak video card in the box. It's a lot less troublesome than setting up a serial console or something along those lines (serial console on a machine designed to work with a serial console is a lot easier than doing it on some random $500 desktop).

      /Mikael

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by AmiMoJo (196126)

      The Rage Pro 8MB is the ultimate low power card, and comes in PCI format. Less than 1W power use at idle, and supported by Linux and Windows with built-in drivers. Until 2007 many Intel servers had them on the motherboard, before ATI introduced a new line and Intel moved to their own chips.

      • Even better... I have an ancient S3 2MB PCI video card I use when I just want to see if an old MB will boot. It is passively cooled and, obviously for something of this age, requires no additional power beyond what's available from the PCI bus..

        My suggestion to the original poster is to try to find such an old card and realize that it draws so little additional power that the convenience is worth it. As with your suggested Rage Pro 8MB, most servers come with similar embedded graphics because the increme

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by fm6 (162816)

        Which brings us to the fundamental mistake in the question:

        This question is for plain old desktop/laptop systems, not network servers designed to run headless.

        There's actually no such thing as a "server designed to run headless", at least not in the x86 world. All the widely used server designs evolved out of desktop PCs.

        Until recently, my job was documenting Sun x64 servers. Every single system I worked with at Sun had an embedded video adapter. A system might go through its entire working life without a monitor being plugged into that adapter, but it was always there. And these were all "green" systems,

  • Control Card? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by malevolentjelly (1057140) on Sunday September 06, 2009 @11:44AM (#29331743) Journal

    I know there's a type of card that will push the serial interface through the network, if having a serial console (like running HyperTerminal in windows with a Null Modem cable plugged in) is not sufficient. That should allow you to get to the bios without having the monitor plugged in-- that's the theory, at least.

    Also, if you're using this system as the lowest wrung sort of server, you might want to look into simply buying some Via Nano or Intel Atom hardware and just creating an ultra low-wattage server. Older desks were not renowned for their power efficiency, so over a few months, if its running 24/7, more efficient hardware might actually pay for itself in terms of energy costs, especially if you're somewhere with expensive power like California. It might be clever to cannibalize your old systems for hard disks and such and use them in this low power system, since the power usage of the hard disk will be largely a software problem, etc.

    • by Joce640k (829181)

      Another good idea...

      There's brand new intel-Atom based machines for $200 and they only consume about 10 watts - probably less than losses due to inefficiency in the old 486's power supply.

      • Re:Control Card? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Sponge Bath (413667) on Sunday September 06, 2009 @12:36PM (#29332161)

        That's a reasonable suggestion.

        If he truly needs a light weight, always on server then a new mini is a good idea. Modern, low power with a built in console. He can get just as much technical fun from setup and tweaking. If he is so impoverished he can't afford the $200-$300 then he probably does not need to be upgrading the old box and running it around the clock.

        Personally, I've lost fascination with dinking around with old hardware. If I have a specific solution to implement or new skill to learn, I prefer a more forward looking approach with things that are new.

        • I'm looking at replacing our VPN routers with an IPTables/OpenVPN solution. One location doesn't have room for a full-sized PC. Has anyone used any of these minis in that sort of environment?

    • I agree whole heartedly. Plus with a system like that, you'll actually have a decent video card you can use for BIOS settings changes, upgrades, etc.

      Although I'd like to point out, that if you set it up well, you shouldn't have to need to change any settings like that. Most modern Linux distros allow for updates through the console (Ubuntu, Debian, etc.), so I'm a bit baffled why you're so concerned about it. And I can't really think of many reasons to change BIOS settings that often.
  • serial tty (Score:3, Informative)

    by SgtChaireBourne (457691) on Sunday September 06, 2009 @11:46AM (#29331761) Homepage
    If that box and another both have serial connections, then use the serial console: Get a null-modem cable. Connect that to another box. Make sure the you add console=ttyS0,19200n8 [tldp.org] or some variation to the append line in your grub entries. On the client side use cu [die.net] aka tip, minicom [tldp.org] or PuTTY [ubuntu.com] to make the serial connection, making sure that bps, parity and stop bits match.
    • This is the typically ideal solution, when there's other hardware around to take advantage of. C-Kermit is also your able-bodied manservant for getting all the settings right for the client.

      Unfortunately, some BIOS's have never worked well for setting the BIOS interface at anything other than 115.2 KBaud, at least without an undocumented BIOS update. And guess what you need to to the BIOS update? You guessed it: Windows and boot-time console access. I ran into this problem with some new Linux servers and a

  • by blakeyez (827270) on Sunday September 06, 2009 @11:49AM (#29331785)
    As many others have mentioned, the serial console is the way to go. Even if there's no DB9/DB25 serial port out the back, there's likely at least one serial port header on the motherboard. The header/pinout is generally standard, so go digging in that 'really old parts' box that we all have and see if you can dig up a DB9 port mounted on a plate to mount where a card would normally go. It will have a ribbon cable to attach it to the motherboard...
    • by SgtChaireBourne (457691) on Sunday September 06, 2009 @11:56AM (#29331841) Homepage

      As many others have mentioned, the serial console is the way to go. Even if there's no DB9/DB25 serial port out the back, there's likely at least one serial port header on the motherboard. The header/pinout is generally standard, so go digging in that 'really old parts' box that we all have and see if you can dig up a DB9 port mounted on a plate to mount where a card would normally go. It will have a ribbon cable to attach it to the motherboard...

      Very good point. The cables are easy to find, too: e.g. http://www.pccables.com/07120.htm [pccables.com] (That's a random cable picture and not an endorsement of the company. YMMV, Caveat Emptor, etc.)

  • by Anonymous Coward

    They ARE still available, and for as little as $15. USB/serial port adapters do work for outgoing connections from a laptop or PC, but you will probably need an adapter card for the 'server' if it does not have a serial port.

  • Either you use a serial console or buy special, expensive hardware that emulates the video card and keyboard. Well, if you're lucky, you can get some used remote administration cards relatively cheap off eBay, but they might require at least some cooperation from the mainboard, or be designed for some particular type of server hardware and might not work with what you have.

    As for PCs without a serial port, you could try a USB to serial converter. I'm almost certain it won't work with the builtin kernel-lev

  • KVM over IP (Score:4, Interesting)

    by fishthegeek (943099) on Sunday September 06, 2009 @11:54AM (#29331831) Journal
    KVM over IP might be what you're looking for.

    KVM over IP Network Card [startech.com]

    I've never done business with this company. I just googled and took the first link.
    • That card is also $500, which is (most likely) more than the value of the computer. Kind of important if you plan on building a "cheap" headless server.

      • I agree it's expensive but there's no reason to think one (or one like it) couldn't be found on ebay or other place.
    • Um, wouldn't you still need a video card for that? After all, the KVM isn't acting as a video card, is it? From the site:

      WAN LAN Multifunction breakout cable port (connects to system Video, USB, Keyboard, Mouse & Video) External Power Adapter
  • by CSMatt (1175471) on Sunday September 06, 2009 @11:56AM (#29331843)

    I have no idea how much power your AGP card used, but unless it was a gaming rig in its glory days, the CPU probably absorbs most of the power, especially since you mentioned that it is a Pentium 4. I would see if there are any power-saving features in your BIOS and enable them, undervolt your processor to just the speed that you need, and get a cheap PCI video card for when problems occur. I've never used the serial port for diagnostics, but I don't think it will help much if you ever run into a situation where your system won't boot.

    • by Cato (8296)

      For P4s and Celeron Prescott/Northwood using same technology, just install cpufreqd and make sure it's using the ondemand governor. cpufrequtils is also useful and doesn't clash. The actual work is done by the kernel module p4_clockmod, must be in /etc/modules.

      This makes some difference to power consumption. As for temperature, the best thing I did was to remove the old thermal paste on the CPU/cooler and apply some new Zaward paste - CPU temperature dropped by 20 degrees C (something like 30F).

  • Put the card back in, get everything working and set up to boot to runlevel3 (networking, no GUI), and then remove the card. After that you can SSH in to your hearts content. Why jump through a hoop of fire when you can more easily walk around it?
    • If his intent is to 'just make it work', this is the way to go. I've built LTSP [ltsp.org] style rigs going back to the days of KDE 1.x and 486's/Pentiums; good initial set-up and ssh have served. Once the BIOS settings are solid, there is little reason to go mucking there again.
  • How about having a tested Live CD or other recovery disk that will boot the machine and get it on the network? If the machine ever fails to boot due to a local config problem, then you can boot off the CD, log in remotely and then manually mount the local partitions in order to fix problems.
    • what CD do you recommend? Are there any good (reliability is worth more than features) CDs that come with sshd running by default?, I use a basic slaxCD with remote ssh (need to select that "module"), but it takes a while for all the menus to autoselect as it is designed for use by a person.

  • If you had rs-232 ports on both machines, a calbee and a null modem will establish a physical connection that can be read by any number of programs. I wonder if the same could be done with bluetooth if an adaptor canb be f found for the older machine.
  • by Crudely_Indecent (739699) on Sunday September 06, 2009 @12:01PM (#29331885) Journal

    Have a look on ebay for a compaq iLo PCI card. This is a network-attached video card (also providing keyboard and mouse) allowing an administrator to get an actual screen (like VNC) over a network connection.

    You'll have access to bios as well!

  • by gweihir (88907) on Sunday September 06, 2009 @12:02PM (#29331891)

    I have been doing something similar for half a decade now, in a firewall/storage/NAT server running Debian stable. I found that the only really critical operation is changing the kernel, and for that I have a vido card handy (by now I use a low-power board with integrated graphics). For other things, including updates, I just cross my fingers.

    The options that are there to do without the spare video card are basically IPMI (expensive, needs special mainboard), virtualisation and a serial console + remote reset capability. A serial console needs for your kernel to come up, and in fairness, also needs remote reset capability. It also needs a second computer to connect the serial line to. I used that for a test machine in a computer cluster with good results for several years.

  • by ei4anb (625481)
    If the headless box fails to boot due to a problem with the filesystem then it often helps to have a PXE boot image ready on your DHCP server http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Preboot_Execution_Environment [wikipedia.org] that you can use to boot the box. Some BIOS try a PXE boot if they fail to boot from disk or disc but you may have to press some key to start the PXE boot so try it once before you pull the video card (recursive advice, sorry).

    Use a live CD distro (I use Damn Small Linux) as a starting point for building the

  • I have to say I am surprised that the whole concept of serial consoles, serial cards and what not are completely lost on the Windows generation.

    Here are the kernel configs [faqs.org] for using a serial dongle (costs around 5 bucks) on a USB port for as a serial console.

    If you don't want to do that buy a serial port on a PCI card (costs around 10 bucks) or just buy a cheap watchdog card (most expensive least work since it emulates vga over serial).

  • Tossing your AGP card makes sense, but have you considered throwing in an absolutely minimal ISA VGA card?

    e.g: http://www.cablesonline.net/25isavgavidc.html [cablesonline.net]

    The power requirements would be minimal, and you could run a few similar boxes through a monitor-switch so you wouldn't even need a dedicated monitor....

    • by larien (5608)
      Urm, ISA hasn't been provided on PCs for ages - it would need to be a PCI card, surely? That said, the effect is largely the same, find the most minimal graphics card you can and slot it in.
  • I used to do this in lilo I tink grib supports it also. Don't know if this works with usb serial adapters.

    Dell servers have a usfull feature. Redirect bios to serial. This gives you the bios until the kernel loads. After this the kernal must do it. For serail console after boot look for the line in /etc/initab thats looks like this:

    #s1:12345:respawn:/sbin/agetty -L ttyS0 9600 vt100

    remove the #

    • by coryking (104614) *

      Use the VGA. It doesn't eat power. Your CPU is what is going to eat power.

      The problem is the cost to maintain old hardware is usually higher than just buying new hardware. For starters, my guess is you've got antique IDE drives in there that have seen better days. Those things draw a bit of power, but worse they are nosy. Then you've got the old power hungry CPU and all the loud fans needed to cool it. On top of that, your case is probably old enough that it too has loud fans.

      What I'm trying to say is

      • by coryking (104614) *

        (and wow, I guess I replied to a comment instead of to the story... not trying to hijack you, just need my tea)

      • by dentar (6540)

        > Those things draw a bit of power, but worse they are nosy.

        I once had an old IDE drive that got into my bank statements and checkbooks. It then went to the bank and withdrew some cash and headed to Mexico. It then called my mother to inform her about what I had been doing for the past few months. It even made up some stuff. Damn nosy old IDE disks!

    • Why is your console running at 9600 bps?

  • And buy one Sheeva Plug Computer http://www.marvell.com/featured/plugcomputing.jsp [marvell.com]. I bought one and now I save about 245 W per hour. I love this wonderful machine. I have an apache/mysql/webcam, mldonkey, bittorrent, ssh, samba, print server and nfs services and run fine!
  • A related question... How much in the way of resources does it take to run a GUI app on a box when the X-server is running on another machine? I'm sure it largely depends on the app; a web browser? An IRC client? The gimp is probably right out. :-P

  • PCI RS232 card is highly compatible with software and inexpensive, but what P4 doesn't have at least one serial port on it?
    A cheap low-power video card could be an option (get one used, since it's an old machine).
    As for accessing BIOS, if you had a server motherboard then you'd just flip the option on in BIOS to access it over serial port(you pick the port, bitrate and the emulation mode). But given that you are asking and just pulled out some old system I'm going to guess that this option was not available

  • then sell it on e-bay and get an atom mobo. There are quite a few older, decent systems that need AGP video cards. nVidia has stopped supporting the older TNT and some GeForce 2 cards and the best AGP card that can be purchased is a 7300. The P4 processors were energy hungry beasts, sure you can clock a 3Ghz P4 down to 375 Mhz but it will still use more power and be slower than an Atom.

    Of course once you've got your Atom mobo then you might consider a green power supply, and a smaller case and . . . .

  • I have often felt the need for this kind of feature. Not because i removed the video card. But because I didnt always have a monitor connected as i installed the system in a cabinet, and for purposes of remote diagnosis. There is the serial port idea but you need to plug it into another computer. Another option might be to see if any serial to ethernet solution exists, then you can login to the serial port through an ethernet connection. Some network cards have a netboot feature but i dont think this is wha

    • Probably having the SSH run while the kernel boots (at least in the very early phases, but perhaps not in later phases) may not be realistic, but filesystem mounting, where most boot time problems seem to occur, can be delayed until after the kernel is booted, as long as the system files can be accessed from the filesystem. This probably would require some kernel level features to be added and so on. So certainly at that point Linux could start an SSH to debug the filesystem problems. But, with newer filesy

  • Why not just put the AGP card in a box next to the machine and put it back in if you ever get in a situation where it doesn't respond to SSH?

    But how much power do you really think you are saving, here? If the original card was some ass-kicker power hungry thing aimed at gamers, your best bet might be to just go spend $15 on some low-end crappy (and low power consuming) graphics card. Hell...most self respecting geeks I know have ten of those in their garage.

  • by gmuslera (3436)
    Having no screen could be seen as analogous of being blind (ok, you can see the keyboard) Maybe some of the existing solutions for blind people in linux could do the work. Else you could get creative with the speaker and the command prompt (i.e. 2 beeps if last command returned non-zero :)
  • by dentar (6540)

    Slap a 2nd NIC into the box and hard code the IP address to a private network and slap a loopback connector onto it so it's hot and will come up. Then if the "real" network goes down, you can jack up to the old nic and ssh in.

  • network servers designed to run headless

    So, how would one access one of these?

  • by billcopc (196330) <vrillco@yahoo.com> on Sunday September 06, 2009 @04:02PM (#29333877) Homepage

    Many server-class machines have something called IPMI (IP Management Interface), sometimes called LOM (Lights-Out Management). It is essentially KVM over IP, but built into the motherboard, sometimes via a small add-on card.

    If you're playing around with desktop equipment, you should know that most boards will refuse to boot if a video card isn't detected. If you're trying to do this the cheap way, pop in the simplest video card you can find, hook it up to a KVM and get on with your life.

    I run a bunch of headless machines here, they're all fully-functional PCs. When something breaks, I just whip out a USB keyboard and a VGA extension cord, and deal with it. The rest of the time it's all SSH and/or serial.

  • PC Weasel (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Marauder2 (82448) on Monday September 07, 2009 @10:56AM (#29340281)

    The closest thing to a Consumer Desktop Remote Management card I've found is a "PC Weasel" which I saw back in 2000... http://www.realweasel.com/intro.html [realweasel.com]

    That said, the website hasn't been updated since ~2000, it's expensive, but is the closest thing to what you're asking for, "Headless BIOS access" without going with real server hardware. Personally, I'd just keep a video card in the thing and hook it to a KVM switch... It's not going to pull that much extra power.

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