How to install NetBSD 5.0 on an eeePC 701

Please note: this is a work in progress.

I haven't found a solution yet, I am just using this as a quick notepad to store links and information.


All right, first things first: do not believe the following page!: NetBSD on Netbooks... While the information it provides is more or less true, showing something as supported does not mean it's supported "out of the box"! It usually requires a lot more work than that.

This being said...


Installing NetBSD 5.0 on an Asus eee PC 701 is easy: I used an external CD drive that I had, the NetBSD CD-ROM booted and the installation proceeded without a hitch.

However, once installed, NetBSD 5.0 did not recognize my wifi card (ath0) and gave me the following message in the dmesg output:

ath0: unable to attach hardware; HAL status 13

The man page for the ath driver was not really explicit either, stating simply:

ath%d: unable to attach hardware; HAL status %u  The Atheros Hardware
Access Layer was unable to configure the hardware as requested.  The sta-
tus code is explained in the HAL include file

Small problem: finding the file contrib/sys/dev/ic/athhal.h is already a problem. I finally found it lived on the FTP site of NetBSD, but not in the "5.0" directory, as you would expect, but in the "NetBSD?-release-3-0" (and 3.1-release) directory...

You can see it by clicking on this link. It states very clearly:

HAL_ENOTSUPP    = 13,    /* Hardware revision not supported */
HAL_STATUS_STRING(HAL_ENOTSUPP, "Hardware revision not supported"), \

(Please note I have only included the two relevant lines from the file).

That's not good.

And what made it worse is that Google was not really helpful either... Since Google is your friend(tm), what am I supposed to do when my friend won't help either?

False Hope

Google finally, after much trickery on my part, supplied some useful results. I stumbled upon this page, which sent me to this forum, which tempted me to try their solution.

Long story short: it did not work.

Back to Google...

Beginning of a solution

I finally found this thread on a NetBSD mailing list (I probably should have started with this, I know):

To summarize: NetBSD 5.0 does not include support for the ath card that's in the Asus eee PC 701. You need to patch your kernel.

And this is not the only email list thread on this subject. See, for instance:

OK, but... the eee PC only provides 4 GB of SSD as its main hard disk. That's a bit short to compile a kernel...

Action Plan

Here is what I am going to do, probably sometime this week-end (if I have time)...:

  1. Mount 8 GB USB key on the PC, and use this as my kernel compilation disk (done).
# mount -v -t /dev/sd1e /root/compilation
  1. Copy the kernel sources onto the key (See this reference) (done).
  2. Download the two patches in this directory onto another (smaller) USB key (done).
  3. Copy patches onto the "kernel" USB key (done).
  4. Patch kernel (See: patch man page) (done).
  5. Compile and install kernel (Refer to this documentation).
  6. Reboot... and hope for the best.

In the worst possible case, there is always OpenBSD... ;-)

A tragic finale

Well, let's just say it does not work.

Several reasons for this:

  1. Copying the kernel sources on an eee PC is slow. Painfully slow.
  2. Patching works, reasonably rapidly, but it constantly complains it cannot find the correct files. Which means you have to enter an additional path to the correct file. It takes hours and hours.
  3. Configuring the kernel - once patched - works, but, again is very slow.
  4. It's much too easy to get something wrong in the kernel configuration. Once that is done, either the configuration or the compilation itself will stop cold.
  5. Long story short: too much work, too much hassle, not enough time. And a machine that is obviously NOT designed to make programming and/or compilation easy.

For the time being, I have installed Debian for Asus eee PC on my little 701 - everything works, wifi, sound and all, and my little machine has gone back to the Linux side of the free UNIXes.

I have to say I am bit disappointed with NetBSD? here: the NetBSD on Netbooks page on its web site never states explicitly that you have to compile a custom kernel, and, while I am not afraid to compile my own kernel from time to time, it does not provide you a seamless way to do it, as Linux does, for instance.

Ah well, back to Debian, I guess.

I hope this will, at least, help someone out there...