[Solved] Why can't my computer's boot menu see a bootable LiveUSB?

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br1anstorm
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[Solved] Why can't my computer's boot menu see a bootable LiveUSB?

Post by br1anstorm » Tue Nov 13, 2018 12:38 pm

I have come up against a puzzling problem with an older desktop on which I have a Linux-only multiboot setup. It is not specifically a Mint problem, and maybe not a Linux problem, but I am hoping some forum expert may be able to advise.

The computer is an MBR/legacy machine - no UEFI. I use it infrequently, mainly in order to learn more about Linux and to experiment cautiously. (A laptop with Mint 17.2 installed is what I normally use every day).

The inxi info on this elderly machine is as follows:

Code: Select all

brian@clans-mint ~ $ inxi -Fxxx
System:    Host: clans-mint Kernel: 4.8.0-53-generic i686 (32 bit gcc: 5.4.0)
           Desktop: Xfce 4.12.3 (Gtk 2.24.28) info: xfce4-panel dm: lightdm
           Distro: Linux Mint 18.2 Sonya
Machine:   System: DIXONSXP product: N/A
           Mobo: Foxconn model: P4M800P7MB
           Bios: Phoenix v: 6.00 PG date: 09/21/2006
CPU:       Single core Intel Celeron D (-UP-) cache: 512 KB
           flags: (lm nx pae sse sse2 sse3) bmips: 6638 speed: 3319 MHz (max)
Graphics:  Card: VIA CN700/P4M800 Pro/P4M800 CE/VN800 Graphics [S3 UniChrome Pro]
           bus-ID: 01:00.0 chip-ID: 1106:3344
           Display Server: X.Org 1.18.4 drivers: vesa (unloaded: fbdev)
           Resolution: 1024x768@0.00hz
           GLX Renderer: Gallium 0.4 on llvmpipe (LLVM 3.8, 128 bits)
           GLX Version: 3.0 Mesa 12.0.6 Direct Rendering: Yes
Audio:     Card VIA VT8233/A/8235/8237 AC97 Audio Controller
           driver: snd_via82xx port: cc00 bus-ID: 00:11.5 chip-ID: 1106:3059
           Sound: Advanced Linux Sound Architecture v: k4.8.0-53-generic
Network:   Card-1: Realtek RTL-8100/8101L/8139 PCI Fast Ethernet Adapter
           driver: 8139too v: 0.9.28 port: fc00
           bus-ID: 00:09.0 chip-ID: 10ec:8139
           IF: enp0s9 state: down mac: 00:15:58:6c:bb:ec
           Card-2: NetGear WG111v2 54 Mbps Wireless [RealTek RTL8187L]
           driver: rtl8187 usb-ID: 001-002 chip-ID: 0846:6a00
           IF: wlx00146cf1949f state: N/A mac: N/A
Drives:    HDD Total Size: 160.0GB (19.7% used)
           ID-1: /dev/sda model: WDC_WD1600BB size: 160.0GB serial: WD-WCANME907700
Partition: ID-1: / size: 15G used: 14G (96%) fs: ext4 dev: /dev/sda7
           ID-2: swap-1 size: 2.15GB used: 0.00GB (0%) fs: swap dev: /dev/sda5
RAID:      System: supported: N/A
           No RAID devices: /proc/mdstat, md_mod kernel module present
           Unused Devices: none
Sensors:   System Temperatures: cpu: 40.0C mobo: N/A
           Fan Speeds (in rpm): cpu: N/A
Info:      Processes: 164 Uptime: 2 min Memory: 210.7/1947.5MB
           Init: systemd v: 229 runlevel: 5 default: 2 Gcc sys: 5.4.0
           Client: Shell (bash 4.3.481 running in xfce4-terminal) inxi: 2.2.35 
Just to add to that, the system has SolydX as the main or initial install, so its Grub is in the lead. It gives me the options to boot into SolydX or into either of the other two installed distros, which are MX16.1 and Mint 18.2. Part of my reasoning was to explore SolydX and MX - which are Debian-based and use the XFCE desktop (which I like!).

I have had a problem booting into MX16 following a recent update of SolydX which I think included a Debian-provided update to its Grub. The system will still boot into SolydX itself, and into Mint. That, however, is not the issue now.

Because of the problems getting into MX16 I thought I might uninstall it and replace it with a more recent version (MX17) or maybe another distro altogether.

The problem now is that the Boot Options menu (Esc at startup) cannot "see" or show any bootable USB. It will show a LiveCD, and can boot up from it (though oddly the LiveCD I have of MX16 hangs before booting is complete, and I get a black screen). A LiveCD of Mint works fine [EDIT AND CORRECTION: I checked later and tried again, and in fact the LiveCD of Mint, and any other OS, also fails to boot completely, but hangs on a black screen].

The Boot options menu will not see or enable booting from of the various bootable USBs I have of different Linux distros. I have LiveUSBs of Mint and PCLinuxOS. I have separate USB sticks with Mint, Linux Lite, MX16, and LXLE actually installed on them. None of these shows up at all on the Boot Options menu. I also have a YUMI multiboot USB stick. Weirdly, when this is plugged in, it does show up in the Boot Options list. But I can't get to its initial splash screen or menu: the system seems to hang part way through the booting process.

I have looked at the BIOS set up (Del at startup). It shows that booting is enabled from the hard drive, from a floppy disk, from a CDRom, and from any other 'external device'. Yet whatever bootable USB I connect (other than the odd case of the YUMI one), the Boot Options menu steadfastly refuses to list it.

Is this a BIOS problem, a hardware problem, or something else? I'm no expert so don't know how to do any diagnostics or detective work. Fortunately this is not mission-critical as I don't use this older computer much and hold no important data on it. But I'm baffled, and would just like to know what the problem is, what caused it, and - if it's not too complicated - how to solve it.
Last edited by br1anstorm on Tue Nov 20, 2018 7:40 am, edited 2 times in total.

jglen490
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Re: Why can't my computer's boot menu see a bootable LiveUSB?

Post by jglen490 » Tue Nov 13, 2018 2:16 pm

On just about every BIOS based machine I've ever owned that also had a USB port, during the boot cycle it will present (very briefly) a prompt to select some key for entry to BIOS setup (i.e., DEL or F2, in many cases) AND select some other key for a temporary boot device list. As long as some bootable device was connected to a USB port, that device would show up as a selection in the temporary list. It's possible that the USB port could be going bad, it could also be possible the the USB device (thumb drive, hard drive, etc.) is not properly formatted.
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Re: Why can't my computer's boot menu see a bootable LiveUSB?

Post by br1anstorm » Tue Nov 13, 2018 3:33 pm

Thanks for this thoughtful response.
jglen490 wrote:
Tue Nov 13, 2018 2:16 pm
On just about every BIOS based machine I've ever owned that also had a USB port, during the boot cycle it will present (very briefly) a prompt to select some key for entry to BIOS setup (i.e., DEL or F2, in many cases)
Yup, exactly right. On my machine, the prompt for BIOS Setup is Del. Been there, done that - and the BIOS boot arrangements are set up so that Hard Disk, Floppy Disk (!), CDROM, and 'other external device' are all "enabled".
AND select some other key for a temporary boot device list.
Yup, right again. On my machine, the prompt for Boot Options is Esc. Been there, done that too. With no external bootable device plugged in to USB port, the two options listed are Hard Disk or CD-ROM. If a Live CD is in the tray, I can toggle to that option and boot from the Live CD.
As long as some bootable device was connected to a USB port, that device would show up as a selection in the temporary list.
Yup, that's the theory. And that is what normally happens on any of my other computers, (and until recently, on this one too). But now, none of my bootable USB sticks with Live versions of Linux distros on them, when plugged in, shows in that Boot Options list. Oddly, the YUMI multiboot USB stick, which contains Live versions of a selction of distros, DOES show on the boot options list - but cannot boot up properly.
It's possible that the USB port could be going bad, it could also be possible the the USB device (thumb drive, hard drive, etc.) is not properly formatted.
Yup, I had thought of that. So I checked out all my USB sticks on another computer. They are all properly formatted and fully functional and I can boot into a Live session of whatever distro is on any of those sticks. Does this narrow down the diagnosis to a faulty USB port on the computer in question? Or some other fault in the hardware or the BIOS settings?

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Re: Why can't my computer's boot menu see a bootable LiveUSB?

Post by thx-1138 » Tue Nov 13, 2018 3:58 pm

...guess in the wild - that machine is so old that it's BIOS doesn't support booting from USB.
Assuming such is the case, possible workaround (never had the need to do so myself), Plop:
https://www.pendrivelinux.com/boot-from ... a-plop-cd/

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Re: Why can't my computer's boot menu see a bootable LiveUSB?

Post by br1anstorm » Tue Nov 13, 2018 4:23 pm

Hmmm, yes, thx-1138, that's a good piece of lateral thinking, and I suppose it is possible.

It's true that the machine is old. It isn't from a major manufacturer, so user-manual info and technical spec and advice is scarce. It was a redundant office computer. I wiped Windows XP off it, added some RAM (and IIRC a new power unit), before installing Linux.

I confess I cannot remember now exactly what method I used a year or more ago to install the three Linux distros (SolydX, Mint 18.2 and MX16.1) on to it in a multi-boot setup. I did it mainly as a learning exercise and to avoid messing with my regular computer. SolydX and Mint usually install from a LiveCD. But I seem to recall that MX16 installed from a USB stick..... although I do have both a LiveUSB and a LiveCD of MX16, so can't be sure which I actually used!

I've heard of PloP, and had a quick look at what it does (it is offered by the same folk who do the YUMI multiboot). I might experiment with it just out of curiosity. Otherwise, perhaps what I might do is to run a LiveCD (or DVD) of MX17 or some other distro, and try to install from that....

Any further words of advice would be welcome. Otherwise, watch this space!

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Re: Why can't my computer's boot menu see a bootable LiveUSB?

Post by jglen490 » Tue Nov 13, 2018 4:26 pm

Just for fun (and important research!), what is the make and model of the laptop?
I feel more like I do than I did when I got here.
Toshiba A135-S2386, Intel T2080, ATI Radeon® Xpress 200M Chipset, 2GB RAM, 500GB

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Re: Why can't my computer's boot menu see a bootable LiveUSB?

Post by br1anstorm » Tue Nov 13, 2018 4:56 pm

It's an E-Systems E-S Ei 204-UK desktop, if that's any help.

I believe this was an in-house own-brand range sold by the Dixons/PCWorld group of stores in the UK.

To be honest it is pretty basic and a bit rubbish, but I claimed it when an office-services upgrade was about to consign it for scrap. So I don't trust it with any serious data, and I don't lose sleep if it malfunctions. But if I have equipment, even old stuff, I like to see it working!

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Re: Why can't my computer's boot menu see a bootable LiveUSB?

Post by thx-1138 » Tue Nov 13, 2018 5:01 pm

...i found the manual for the mobo here (direct link).
On page 10 though, it does state 'Supports HDD, CD-ROM or USB device boot up'...hmmm, dunno :?

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Re: Why can't my computer's boot menu see a bootable LiveUSB?

Post by br1anstorm » Tue Nov 13, 2018 7:30 pm

Bravo, thx-1138 - you have had more success than me in tracking down info about this machine.

That manual (I've saved a copy) confirms my recollection that the computer does support booting from USB.

Which leaves us more or less back where I started this thread: struggling to figure out why a properly functional bootable USB stick doesn't show up in the Boot Options, and why a LiveCD won't fully boot up.

Diagnosing or running tests for this kind of issue is 'way above my pay grade. I have however just tried something else. I have plugged a LiveUSB into a different USB port. The good news is that it showed up in the Boot Options menu this time. So I booted it.

A screen of info came up (as if it was going through the boot process) with what seems to be details of the system devices, including Disks, Ports, Display type, and including the Kingston USB storage device - then a table with columns of numbers and a list of various controllers, IRQ etc.

The bad news is that at the bottom of the screen the last text entry says "verifying DMI Pool Data ............" and below it a flashing cursor which appears to be doing nothing and going no further.

Does this give any forum experts a clue as to why the boot process appears to have stalled?
Last edited by br1anstorm on Tue Nov 13, 2018 7:45 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Why can't my computer's boot menu see a bootable LiveUSB?

Post by lsemmens » Tue Nov 13, 2018 7:37 pm

Have a rummage around in BIOS, there may be an option to permit booting from USB. It could be buried under another item. i.e. enable that item and then the option appears.
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Re: Why can't my computer's boot menu see a bootable LiveUSB?

Post by br1anstorm » Tue Nov 13, 2018 7:54 pm

G'day lsemmens (Your post coincided with my latest)

Been there, done that! As noted in my OP...... I have looked at the BIOS set-up (Del at startup). Under advanced BIOS settings it offers four options. The current default shows that booting is enabled from the hard drive, from a floppy disk, from a CDRom, and from any other 'external device'.

Those four options are displayed as a list in the BIOS with "Enabled" next to each entry. I have looked to see what other boot options are possible, They include USB-FDD, USB-ZIP, and USB-CDROM. So I have enabled USB-ZIP as an option instead of Floppy. We'll see if that makes a difference....

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Re: Why can't my computer's boot menu see a bootable LiveUSB?

Post by jglen490 » Tue Nov 13, 2018 11:24 pm

USB-ZIP ... Ha! That's a blast from the past. Look up ZIP drives some time, they were really impactful steps on the road beyond the floppy drive on both the Macintosh and PC platforms.
I feel more like I do than I did when I got here.
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Re: Why can't my computer's boot menu see a bootable LiveUSB?

Post by br1anstorm » Wed Nov 14, 2018 9:12 am

Just shows how the technology, and the terminology, moves on....

But whatever the labels or initials - USB-FDD, USB-ZIP, or USB-CDROM - the reality, confirmed by the manual which we have now seen, is that this old machine should be able to boot up from a bootable USB device (whether that is an external hard drive, a USB stick, or some other kind of drive).

And the reality is that, at the moment, the system sometimes does not list a USB device in the Boot Options menu (Esc at startup). And on the occasions when it does, and that USB device is selected to boot, the process only goes part-way and then seems to stop.

There is also a problem with booting from LiveCDs. The Boot Options menu always lists the CDROM drive. But the boot process from a LiveCD also hangs part way through the process.

In most other respects this old machine seems to work OK. It has three Linux OSs installed on it in a multiboot setup (SolydX, MX16 and Mint). The first and last of these work perfectly. This suggests that the computer hardware, the monitor, and the keyboard all function normally. However, for reasons still unexplained, MX16 - which used to work fine - now won't boot up properly. The screen goes black partway through the boot process. At that point, <Ctrl><Alt><F1> gets me to an MX16 login and command prompt screen. I just don't have the expertise to know what commands to use to troubleshoot that MX16 installation even though it seems to be running with a black screen.

So I'm still stumped. I know my bootable USB sticks and my LiveCDs (with Live versions of various Linux distros on them) are good and not corrupt, as they work on other computers. Is the cause a faulty USB port on this old machine (I've tried two separate ones)? Or is there some other problem which is preventing boot-ups from USB stick or CDROM from completing, and which is also preventing the installed MX16 from booting?

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Re: Why can't my computer's boot menu see a bootable LiveUSB?

Post by Neil Edmond » Wed Nov 14, 2018 9:48 am

I have a desktop machine, that I believe is a little older than the one in question here.

Code: Select all

Machine:   Device: unknown Mobo: Intel model: D865GLC v: AAC28909-410 serial: N/A
           BIOS: Intel v: BF86510A.86A.0077.P25.0508040031 date: 08/04/2005
CPU:       Single core Intel Pentium 4 (-MT-) 
           arch: Netburst Prescott rev.3 cache: 1024 KB
           flags: (pae sse sse2 sse3) bmips: 5586
           clock speeds: max: 2793 MHz 1: 2793 MHz 2: 2793 MHz
For the longest time, I thought it would not boot from USB, while still thinking "surely it can". Well, I finally discovered that it can, and does. I had external devices enabled in the BIOS, but did not realize that the BIOS recognizes USB drives as "External HDD". I found that I had to select HDD on a separate BIOS page and choose which of the HDD to boot from first. After placing USB first, it will now boot from USB devices, and if none are present, from the internal HDD.

You may have such a BIOS option that is being overlooked.

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Re: Why can't my computer's boot menu see a bootable LiveUSB?

Post by br1anstorm » Wed Nov 14, 2018 11:28 am

Thanks, Neil Edmond, that was a helpful suggestion, and so I've done some further exploring.

The good news is that you were right. In the Advanced Settings of the BIOS, there is an entry for Hard Disk. And if you click on it to go one level further into the menu, if a USB stick is plugged in, it will show in the list as well as the internal hard drive.

So I changed the priorities to make the system boot from the USB first, and then carried on. Sure enough, the system booted up from the USB (which was a LiveUSB of MX16).

Then came the bad news. That Live USB of MX16 booted part way up. Then the screen went black. The boot would not complete. But clearly the session was running, because <ctrl><alt><F1> brought up a command-type screen with an invitation to login....

I tried a second time with a USB of Mint. Same thing. Bootup proceeds, up to a point. Then black screen, but with the same possible route to login on a command-type screen.

So that is the same problem as I encountered earlier when booting up the installed MX16, and when trying to boot into a Live session from a LiveCD.

I don't know how to take this any further. I have no idea what commands to use if I do log in via this somewhat unorthodox route. It does seem that - whatever Live session I try to boot into from a USB stick (or a CD), it fails to get all the way through into a proper display.

Does this point to some issue with the login manager, or the drivers, not being able to identify or connect to the display monitor? That was one possibility mentioned in another forum post. But I have no idea how to troubleshoot that!

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Re: Why can't my computer's boot menu see a bootable LiveUSB?

Post by michael louwe » Wed Nov 14, 2018 1:17 pm

br1anstorm wrote:
Wed Nov 14, 2018 11:28 am
Then came the bad news.
.
Likely, the OEM for your very old VIA graphics card has stopped providing the proprietary driver for Linux = maybe only old Live Linux media would work, ie newly created ones from newly downloaded Linux ISO files would not work(= blank screen = no video driver). ...
https://www.pclinuxos.com/forum/index.p ... c=103654.0 - Topic: Help with VIA Intergrated Graphics Card Problem
https://wiki.archlinux.org/index.php/Via_Technologies

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Re: Why can't my computer's boot menu see a bootable LiveUSB?

Post by br1anstorm » Wed Nov 14, 2018 7:57 pm

Thanks, Michael.

It does seem that the problem has to do with graphic drivers and/or connections with the display screen. But I'm still puzzled.

All three of the Linux distros on this old computer (SolydX, MX16.1, and Mint 18.2) were installed about a year ago. Now, MX16.1 won't boot up properly. The other two - which have been successfully updated - still boot and operate normally, so their graphics drivers evidently still work with the VIA graphics card and the display screen.

Also, the Live CDs and LiveUSBs which I have been trying to boot into are all also at least a year old. They are the same CDs/sticks from which I did the original installations. One or two date from 2014. So they surely have the graphics drivers which work(ed) with the VIA graphics card when first installed? But none of these old Linux Live media will now boot up properly: all go through most of the starting processes but then I get a black screen.

Is it possible that the SolydX update which I did a few days ago might have affected the graphics card in some way which means that SolydX (and Mint) can still work with it, but somehow the MX16 and all the Live media can't? It just seems hard to understand how that might have happened.

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Re: Why can't my computer's boot menu see a bootable LiveUSB?

Post by Neil Edmond » Wed Nov 14, 2018 8:35 pm

It is hard to grasp why a system that worked in the past doesn't work now. I'm fairly sure MX offers a safe graphics mode of some sort in the boot menu of the live system. Have you tried choosing that? Maybe even try the xforcevesa boot option and see if that makes any difference.

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Re: Why can't my computer's boot menu see a bootable LiveUSB?

Post by michael louwe » Thu Nov 15, 2018 5:41 am

br1anstorm wrote:
Wed Nov 14, 2018 7:57 pm
It just seems hard to understand how that might have happened.
.
Maybe an update to the System BIOS firmware or CPU Microcode or Linux kernel to patch for Meltdown/Spectre is the cause of the problem.

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Re: Why can't my computer's boot menu see a bootable LiveUSB?

Post by br1anstorm » Thu Nov 15, 2018 7:48 am

I'm kinda pleased that others like Neil are as baffled as I am by the fact that a system which worked well (hardware and software) has started behaving oddly.

All three OSs on the system were installed at the same time about a year ago and worked well until last week. I hadn't booted the system for a while (it has no critical or personal data on it - it's a 'spare' system for me to learn from!).

The precise sequence of events recently was
  • I booted up into SolydX which is the 'lead' distro: its Grub then displays and manages the booting of the other two distros
  • there were a lot of SolydX package updates. I just hit install for them all, and in they went
  • then I rebooted into Mint 18.2 and updated it too
  • then I tried to reboot into MX16.1..... and it failed to boot up properly. So I have been unable to update it
  • Meanwhile both SolydX and Mint continue to boot up and work normally, so the hardware is still all OK
That was the start of the headache. Neither MX16.1 nor any LiveCD or LiveUSB will boot: they all 'hang' after going through most of the process, and give a black screen. But it's clear that when I try to boot MX16 or a Live session at that stage, it is in fact running, as <ctrl><alt><F1> gets me to a command-type screen on which I can log in to that OS.

So.... picking up Michael's point ..... did the SolydX updates mess with the system in some way which still allow it, and Mint, to work, but prevent MX16 and the Live media from connecting or driving the display graphics properly?

How might I repair, remove or reinstall MX16 by accessing it either through the command-type screen as above, or by accessing its files via SolydX or Mint? At present the fact that I can't run a Live session means that the obvious way of removing and replacing MX16 - or adding another distro - is simply not available....

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