Running Linux on the ASRock 775Dual-VSTA motherboard

ASRock 775Dual-VSTAASRock 775Dual-VSTABeing a happy owner of the ASRock 775Dual-VSTA motherboard for a week, I decided to share my opinions about it and also give an advice or two to other people thinking about running Linux on it.

In short, this board is an exceptional piece of engineering and Linux runs GREAT on it. I'm not going to list all the specifications of the motherboard, because they're readily available on its official page, but let me go through the interesting features:

  • the board can use both DDR & DDRII memory (but not at the same time!)
  • you can equip it with AGP or PCIe graphics card, your choice
  • there's plenty of connectors for both older ATA or newer SATA drives
  • you can run any LGA 775 processor you can get hands on, including latest Intel Core 2 Duo (Conroe core)
  • the board is very affordable (or should I say dirt cheap)

If you followed the above list closely, you'll soon understand what's the real value of 775Dual-VSTA. It's a very good choice if you're trying to make an incremental upgrade and continue using most if not all of your existing hardware trying just to invest in your CPU speed. And then later, when you're ready and/or when prices of new technology drop, you can buy additional goodies and put it on this same motherboard. That's another reason, beside low price of the board (around $50, but check with your favorite hardware dealer) why this board is such a good value: it preserves your current investment but also gives you an opportunity to upgrade components later.

To end this superlative rich part of the article, allow me to give you an interesting example of my own upgrade. I was able to upgrade from a dual Pentium III board to the latest and greatest Intel Core 2 Duo E6600 by replacing just motherboard and processor(s), I kept EVERYTHING else! That's an enormous improvement in raw CPU speed for a relatively small investment. Now, most of you who remember PIII era will also remember that those Pentiums run on SDRAM memory, but hey, I had some wild motherboard before that actually used DDR (MSI MS-9105RL), so I got to keep even my old DIMMS.

With all these good features, it's maybe time to mention some of the shortcomings of this interesting board. First, there are 4 memory sockets on the board, two for DDR and two for DDRII. You can use only 2 of them at the same time and with the maximum supported DIMM size of 1GB it sets the maximum amount of supported memory to 2GB. Quite enough today, but somehow I feel that in the next few years those 2GB of RAM are actually going to become the minimum required for many OS. We'll see...

Next, from what I hear, the only PCIe socket on the board is x4 while todays graphics cards are capable of x16. The manual even goes so far to state the supported PCIe cards which is quite an unusual practice. So, if you're into gaming and/or expensive graphics cards this board might not be a good choice for you.

In all truth, Linux runs great on the E6600. Firefox is finally responding fast as it should. Kernel compiles are also blazingly fast, what took 10 minutes before, now is 2 minutes plus few seconds. The only problem that I had with 775Dual-VSTA in the beginning is that my ATA disks ran in the PIO mode which made them unbearably slow, of course. After some investigation I found that the current 2.6.17 kernel doesn't have proper support for the Via 8237A southbridge that is onboard, but that the problem is also easily solved with oneliner patch. I was originally going to attach that patch to this article, but hey, I checked and I see that the abovementioned oneliner is included in 2.6.18-rc6 which means that, by the time 2.6.18 is out, this board should be fully supported. I say "should" because of the unfortunate fact that I don't have any SATA disks to test the board with. So, if you're using ATA disk drive(s), you're safe, but with SATA you'll need to investigate further. I see that guys at the popular Phoronix portal had trouble with SATA support, but that could also become old news with 2.6.18. If anybody succeeds running SATA drives on Linux on 775Dual-VSTA, please leave a comment, so other people know what to expect.

Finally, I believe that running E6600 with DDR400 is as fast as it would be if you bought and run DDRII. If not even faster! Somehow this new memory technology doesn't yet bring speed increases as we would expect. So if you were wondering if your old DDR400 is good enough for new processors, rest assured that it is. Read these articles if you want to know more:

And if you're compiling your own kernels, like I do, I'm sure you'll find the relevant parts of my kernel .config below useful:

# Linux kernel version: 2.6.18-rc6
# Tue Sep 5 21:16:50 2006
#
CONFIG_MPENTIUMM=y
CONFIG_NR_CPUS=2
CONFIG_SCHED_MC=y
CONFIG_BLK_DEV_VIA82CXXX=y
CONFIG_VIA_RHINE=y
CONFIG_VIA_RHINE_MMIO=y
CONFIG_VIA_RHINE_NAPI=y
CONFIG_SENSORS_W83627HF=y

After I went through my .config, I now see that I didn't even try to compile the kernel with support for the onboard audio (Realtek ALC888 7.1channel audio CODEC with High Definition Audio). That's because I kept my trusty old Sound Blaster Live Value which perfectly fulfills all my needs regarding audio recording/playback. Sorry for that! But, I would bet, knowing that ALSA is of such high quality, that onboard audio is surely supported. If anybody really needs to be sure, let me know and I'll check.

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Looking for new motherboard

I'd like to find a good motherboard that has a great feature set for a great price. I also think AMD is the best value in microprocessors.

cpu kernel option

why CONFIG_MPENTIUMM=y ?

is CONFIG_MCORE2=y better suited for e6600 ? (Select this for Intel Core 2 and newer Core 2 Xeons)

Maybe this wasnt an option as you went to press. Cheers.

Absolutely, CONFIG_MCORE2 is

Absolutely, CONFIG_MCORE2 is the way to go if you have E6600 or similar. But, at the time this article was written that option was yet to enter the kernel, so I used what I thought was the closest match.

Speaking about E6600 and ASRock MOBO, year and a half later both are happily running, no problems at all. Actually, I'm typing this on that configuration. Only one disk decided to die few days ago, ouch! Thank God for RAID technology, it's a life saver. ;)

Fan controls

Hello,
Thanks for this valuable information : I just upgraded to the AsRock 775 Dual VSTA motherboard and your text and the replies below it were a GREAT help.
Have you managed to control the speed of the M/B and CPU fans ? When I run pwmconfig, it fails to turn them off.

You have to disable

You have to disable fancontrol in the bios to use fancontrol and pwmconfig! But then is is perfect...

You asked to leave comment

You asked to leave comment if you get sata working, Well my sata worked just fine from the beginning, it as the ata that wouldn't work. I could instal ubuntu on my ata or sata drives if I tried to instal it on master partition, but in logical partition it works just fine, I don't know if it was because of the partition, but hey you newer know.

I ment, I couldn't instal it

I ment, I couldn't instal it on master partitions.

Thanks for this review, I

Thanks for this review, I was just looking for some positive feedback on this MB to be used with Linux.
Is also sound working well?

Ciao,
kutuntu

Realtek ALC888 working!

Yes, it seems the sound is working, too! At least on Debian testing/unstable equiped with the most recent kernel: 2.6.18 (custom built). Which means, even if it doesn't work in your favorite distribution right now (see the other comment), at least it should in the not so distant future.

This is what is needed when compiling kernel:

CONFIG_SND_HDA_INTEL=y

Or compile it as a module, or use the precompiled module (but I don't know if it works if kernels is older than 2.6.18).

This is the userspace part of ALSA that I've tested:

ii alsa-base 1.0.13-1
ii alsa-tools 1.0.13-1
ii alsa-utils 1.0.13-1

This can be found in the kernel log after boot:

Advanced Linux Sound Architecture Driver Version 1.0.12rc1 (Thu Jun 22 13:55:50
2006 UTC).
ACPI: PCI Interrupt 0000:02:01.0[A] -> GSI 17 (level, low) -> IRQ 20
PCI: Setting latency timer of device 0000:02:01.0 to 64
hda_codec: Unknown model for ALC883, trying auto-probe from BIOS...
ALSA device list:
#0: HDA VIA VT82xx at 0xff4fc000 irq 20

/dev/sndstat (udev enabled):

Sound Driver:3.8.1a-980706 (ALSA v1.0.12rc1 emulation code)
Kernel: Linux atlas 2.6.18 #1 SMP PREEMPT Thu Oct 5 22:43:20 CEST 2006 i686
Config options: 0

Installed drivers:
Type 10: ALSA emulation

Card config:
HDA VIA VT82xx at 0xff4fc000 irq 20

Audio devices:
0: ALC883 Analog (DUPLEX)

Synth devices: NOT ENABLED IN CONFIG

Midi devices: NOT ENABLED IN CONFIG

Timers:
31: system timer

Mixers:
0: Realtek ALC888

Finally, I must admit this was a really quick test, I only played one mp3 file! It went OK. That means I don't make any guarantees that the driver is rock solid, or that everything you might need works (you can see that I don't use synth or midi device). But, at least there's a good chance that you will enjoy some good music with this motherboard.

Hope this helps!

Centos 4.4 ~ e6400 ~ Asrock 775Dual VSTA

Centos 4.4 doesn't like Core 2 Duo and the VSTA board.

What a waste of time the last 5 hours was, not including the download time for the DVD iso.

The onboard sound won't work, did not recognized my SATA Seagate, one of my optical drives quit working, could not connect to the internet except http only. (I know there are a lot of variables, but Centos works great on the 'old' x3400 AMD64 with onboard nVidia everything.

Grrrrrr.

Cutting edge sux sometimes.

Ubuntu Edgy Eft works

Centos may not work, but the new Ubuntu Edgy Eft 6.10 works great with this board !!
What a difference running an e6400 over an amd x3400 ~ wine runs Macromedia apps really smooth, almost native-like. Using ies4Linux to install IE6 is awesome.

Since Fireworks and Flash work in Linux at a relatively lag-free pace with this system, I may just fade away from windows.

Haven't tried XGL yet, I'm afraid to, after hosing Dapper 6.06 so easily.

This mobo / cpu, 2 gigs of xms 3200, an nVidia 6800XT and Edgy Eft are quite the combination, and I'm duly impressed for once with the whole thing ;)

yay that.

(forgot my original p/w, so had to make a new account just to set the record straight)

Getting SATA drives to work - at least seagates with Mepis

I've found that to get Linux (Mepis) to see a SATA drive on a VSTA m/b you do the following.
From boot add the following to the boot line:

all-generic-ide

This should then fool a SATA drive into thinking that it is an IDE for installing to your SATA drive. This can also be added to the line in your GRUB file.

I would imagine this works for UBUNTU and others.

If you have problems getting the Radeon 9600 or similar going using fglrx I've found that one line is critical which is quite often missed out of xorg.conf:

In Section "Device" add the line:

Option "BusType" "PCI"

This should allow you to use hardware acceleration. It might be useful also setting:
Option "AGPMode" "8"
Option "AGPSize" "64"
Option "AGPFastWrite" "1"