Oldish Sony Vaio Laptop + Debian Jessie + USB-booting when the BIOS doesnt support it

A project log for Potentially Useful/Obscure Linux Stuff

Things that I've found useful/hard-to-find in my Linux endeavors...

esot.ericesot.eric 08/03/2016 at 12:093 Comments

Alright! My first laptop in nearly 2 years! (I've been sitting at the ol' desktop since the old one suffered the GPU-deballing fate).

The cat *seems* to be quite happy about it... but now she's not. You know cats...

So, here we are... I finally have a laptop about the equivalent of (actually slightly lower-spec'd than) the one I invested a Hefty Fortune into over a decade ago, and expected to last me a good decade+ (but didn't due to stupidity).

So, here we are... A Laptop! 2006, no less! Movin' on up!

So, here's the deal... I'll make it real quick, then go into details, I guess.

Blacklist BOTH: 'sonypi' AND 'sony-laptop' modules.

OK, I can't recall *how* I determined this path, but this is the path I took:

First of all, the debian Jessie: 8.5.0 live-boot was flakey, to say the least. But I recalled the same from my desktop (and an older version of Jessie, as well as Wheezy?) The end-result being: *install* seems to work-ish, but live-boot is questionable.

So, that's the first bit.

Then, from there, booting seemed to stop after fsck ran... There was a weird message about an unhandled interrupt, but that wasn't the problem. Oh yeah "nobody cares" no joke, that's what it said.

Oh, wait, there was a step before that... USB-Booting... Nogo. And I've only got a handful of blank DVDs...

Most of those are now coasters. But before wasting *them all* I had a brilliant idea... Certainly someone has come up with a boot-disc/k that can load-up a menu for booting from e.g. USB even on systems which don't have BIOS support for it... right?


I mean, I know that technology's progressing and all that jazz, but this "new" (to me) laptop is in damned-near pristine condition, despite being over a decade old... This thing's still useful, and if logic serves me, there must be a million others out there in equally useful condition (things that've been sitting in server-closets as little more than remote-desktop machines for those times) if people would just put some time into it... (two days, now... yeah, it'd be cheaper, hour-wise, to buy a new one... are you really "green"? 'cause the carbon-footprint of building a new system, no matter how much faster and more energy-efficient, *far* outweighs the carbon-footprint of a couple days of work and probably *all* the inefficiency of this CPU's remaining lifetime, running at 100% the whole time...)

Anyways, some people have actually thought about this, or are lazy, or cheap, or Luddites, or something. Thank God For Them.

YES: You *CAN* boot from a USB thumb-drive on a system which doesn't support booting from USB...

So, burn ONE CD (or even a floppy) with that image, and quit wasting DVDs when you could be using thumb-drives. (BTW: my "thumb-drive" is my camera's SD-card and an adapter... Gotta erase this thing when I'm done to use my camera again. Heaven forbid).

Alllllright... where we at...?

Download that shizzle, and more importantly, if you find it useful and you make even $5 more than I make in a month (and I dang-near guarantee that's the case, in consideration of local cost-of-living, etc.) send that bloke $5 for all his hard work so the next version doesn't contain a virus...

Alright, where we at...?
OK, so this laptop... it's got some issues, it probably needs some resoldering somewhere, but in general, it's running. I have to pull the power/battery every so often before it'll boot. But I'm writing on it now, so obviously it's not *so* bad... Sooner or later, maybe I'll open it up and see if the BIOS-battery has died...

Alright, where we at...?

Oh yeah, so, I finally booted Debian Jessie's (MATE! Not GNOME!) installer from the live-image (but wasn't able to get it to live-boot), and did the full installation... and upon the first boot was met with two messages.

A) Some sort of interrupt that "nobody cares" about.

B) fsck did its check, and it stopped there.

Dead-frozen... Even CTRL-ALT-DEL did nothing.

So, some searching (and, if you know me, then you know my search-fu has failed me for quite some time), and eventually came up with:

  1. At the GRUB menu type 'e' to edit the boot-parameters...
  2. Then remove 'quiet' from whatever line says it...
  3. Then boot, using those new parameters.


Now, some messages that might be useful...

That last one is where everything came to a halt... But I didn't know what to do about it, and did some more searching and somehow came to the conclusion:

  1. At the GRUB menu type 'e' to edit the boot-parameters...
  2. Then remove 'quiet' from whatever line says it...
  3. Then add 'acpi=off' to that same line
  4. Then boot, using those new parameters.

And, low-and-behold, the system booted.

Not happily, mind-you...

BUT: I did log-in to MATE-DESKTOP... So that's a start


OK, I need network-access, right...? So, get that firmware... no biggie, Debian's website provides it (it's just 'non-free'), and even explains the process, but, again, USB isn't working...

OK... This is a weird one... For some reason it made sense to me that maybe ACPI was responsible for configuring the USB ports, or something... So what could be farther from the BIOS's ACPI configuration than... another USB controller?

Yeahp, so I plugged in my PCMCIA USB adapter... and... that blasted thing was not only detected, but also detected my USB 'thumb-drive'. K-den. Guess ACPI doesn't fsck with cardbus... right-on.

OK, so now I've got USB and I loaded that wifi's firmware... and the wifi wasn't strong enough to connect to my (very remote) access-point... So, I started loading shizzle onto the thumb-drive from my desktop, until I realized, wait a minute, I can't explain it, but my friggin' "phone" has a much more sensitive wifi receiver/transmitter than this ol' laptop... So plug that blasted thing into my cardbus->USB card, and tether... and alright, now it's like I've got wifi.

OK... NOW... I can do what needs to be done without having to resort to... not reclining.

Alright... Where we at...?

'acpi=off' == boot -> X11 -> Mate Desktop -> Internizzle, etcetterizzle.

But, wait... why does 'acpi=off' do its thing...? I don't even remember, now... I thought there was a problem with the "Sony Jogdial" or something, right...?
OK, well, I guess... I dunno.

Time to friggin' recompile the kernel.

I don't know *why* exactly, but maybe something I'll see in 'menuconfig' will remind me of something I saw and will stick out like a sore thumb... right?

Well, not quite, but pretty-durn-close.

(Oh, and in-so-doing, things'll get optimized quite a bit... who needs 386 or Cyrix6x86 support when you're running a Pentium++? etc....)

OK, so the Sony-Jogdial message is the last message that occurs before the entire system freezes (when "acpi=off" is *not* added)... so... with "acpi=off"...

  1. 'dmesg'
  3. 'Jogdial'
  4. Nada.

K-Den... Apparently "acpi=off" somehow disables the jogdial driver...

Some searching, some finding... A bit confusing... Looking for ways to disable that jogdial... Lots of things inbetween, including 'make menuconfig' for a new kernel (which I did NOT end up building/installing)... And, an observation within that process... In ONE location there's an option to make "sonypi" as a module... Right...? So blacklist "sonypi" and see what happens... and lo-and-behold that dang message *still* shows up... WTF? I blacklisted that module!

Alright, back to kernel configuration 'make menuconfig' (oh, BTW: apparently menuconfig requires 'ncurses-devel' which you can't apt-get... instead apt-get 'libncurses5-dev' if I recall correctly)...

Alright... still going through stuff... What's This?! "sony-laptop" is *way* outside the "branch" that "sonypi" was located in... BUT "sony-laptop" has a sub-option to *include* 'sonypi' within it... So, we have *TWO* kernel-modules loading sonypi... one directly, 'sonypi.ko', and one indirectly, 'sony-laptop.ko'.

So, suffice to say, you've gotta blacklist *BOTH* 'sonypi' AND 'sony-laptop' and you might luck-out like me and have a running system without actually having to recompile the kernel.

So, a little more detail... Apparently 'sonypi' has a document at: <kernel source>/Documents/laptops/sonypi.txt... and in that document, if you're looking at one of the newer versions (than the one I found online, originally) it says something along the lines of: some Sony Vaios use the jog-dial pins for *other* purposes... Apparently mine is one of 'em. I tried using 'sonypi.mask=0' but that was a nogo... (maybe sony-laptop.mask=0?). There may be more to this, in the future, but as it stands, just glad to have a running system that doesn't require 'e' at the grub menu every boot, doesn't limit the resolution to something awful, and a few other things...

This decade+ old system is gonna revolutionize my recent-computing-experience... I'mma kick up my feet, stretch my arm over the cat... who knows where this could go!

(but, seriously... 1280x800 is a *stupid* resolution for such a *huge* screen... I had *significantly* more pixels on my 12in PBG4 after my hack... This thing's *taller* AND *way wider*! I should have nearly double the resolution of my PBG4, after the hack, and instead I have something like 1/2... what were those lunatic-designers thinking?! Without multiple-desktops to switch-between, there's no way you can have more than a webpage open at a time! I mean, sure, if you've got a 10in screen it makes sense, but why make such a huge screen with such a low resolution...?! Mind=Boggled.)

Hey, if someone donates $10 to me, I'll give $5 of it to the "Plop" dude! Click that "" link, above!


Dr. Cockroach wrote 11/28/2019 at 10:55 point

Hey Eric, three years later and I have a older VAIO PCG-671L that will not boot from the HD, says no OS found. Found this at a thrift store and MorningStar and I are figuring out either to try for Linux or RPi desktop on a boot cd/dvd. Oh yes, also USB boot is not a setup option as well. Any thoughts ? :-D

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esot.eric wrote 11/30/2019 at 03:22 point

Hey Dr. C. Happy Holidays!

Erm... I honestly long-forgot everything I wrote, here... hope it helps!

That usb-boot-cd trick's perty groovy, though!

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esot.eric wrote 08/03/2016 at 12:27 point

Oh, yahknow, if anyone's searching, these numbers might be relevant:


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