How To Install Debian On NSLU2

There are a couple of good reason to install Debian on your small NSLU2 computer. Although it’s not exactly the Debian version you would use on your desktop PC it smells a lot like it. The file system structure is there, and if you’re used to Linux you’ll know your way around right after installation is complete. Also, ‘apt-get’ is available to you making it easy to install new programs on your small computer.

I’ve used a 4 GB USB flash memory stick as disk for the installation. This is not as reliable in the long run compared to a harddrive. Flash memory allows only a limited number of write operations to the disk, but it’ll be sufficient for now. The worst thing that could happen is that I’ll over-water my garden if my water hose valve is stuck open, but the system will be slow so I’ll probably catch the error in time. Wait until the NSLU2 has been upgraded with the Debian installer before plugging in the USB stick.

The NSLU2 comes with an IP address set to 192.168.1.77. Connect it to a local area network in this range or change the IP address of your desktop PC so you’ll be able to communicate with it. Make sure there are no other devices on your network with this IP address.

The NSLU2 is running a webserver on 192.168.1.77 when you first power it up. I logged in with username ‘admin’ and password ‘admin’ and changed the IP address to 192.168.1.76 because I already had a unit with the address 192.168.1.77. And then I immediately lost the connection when I pressed ‘Save’ 😉 You must log in again using the new IP address 192.168.1.76. I typed in the Internet gateway address, and the address of DNS servers. These addresses will be used by the upcoming Debian installation.

We need a hacked version of the Debian installer from the Internet to put on the NSLU2. Search Google for ‘Debian NSLU2 install’. What you need is a file called di-nslu2.bin around 8 MB in size. It came in a .zip-file called ‘debian-armel-5.0.zip’ last time I did an install. Using the web server interface of the NSLU2 you need to upgrade it with this 8 MB .bin-file.

After an automatic reboot plug in the USB memory stick. The NSLU2 is now running a Debian install program and will need access to the Internet to download and install software automatically. And this is were things usually gets chaotic for me, but after several attempts I usually get Debian installed. Here are some ideas to try if it’s not working in the first attempt:

  • Try different USB memory sticks
  • Remove any data or partitions from memory stick using desktop PC
  • Manual partitioning vs. guided partitioning
  • Try different Debian software mirrors

There are many parameters that will different from system to system, but with persistence and a little luck it should be possible to get it up and running. It’s definitely worth the sweat, having your own 5 watts always ON logging server to give you every detail about your garden.

Any problems with this? Is there something I should try to explain in more detail? Please leave a comment.

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