Start Linux with Dell Mediadirect button – updates

For people who dual boot Windows OS and Linux in their notebook, Dell Mediadirect(TM) is an features that most learn to hate. Dell allow one to hot start the Dell notebook by pressing the MediaDirect button that locate in front of the notebook. However, MediaDirect is not very useful if user scratch Windows XP with minimal OEM junks application : Windows XP startup is as fast as the MediaDirect application.

At the end, the MediaDirect turn out to be useless application with little value. In 3rd Quarter of 2006, Dell install Inspiron notebook with MediaDirect 3.0, and change the way of installing MediaDirect. Under MediaDirect 3.0, when you press the button, it will load the boot up record which locate in the main partition to bootup MediaDirect.

This change means anyone can replace MediaDirect software with Linux Operating system without messing around with the default Windows XP boot loader.

The follow are some step to install Dual boot Windows – Linux system with MediaDirect enable.

  1. Delete all the partition inside the notebook.
  2. Repartition the notebook and allocate some space for Linux OS (5GB and more)
  3. Install Windows XP
  4. Insert the latest Linux installer CD (I am using OpenSuse10.2) and boot the installer
  5. At the Linux partition manager, assign the remaining space for Linux operating syste. Leave around 256MB space for swap partition.
  6. Select your desire application and start the installation. Change the CD when asked.
  7. During the final stage, the system will ask your choice of boot loader
  8. The system will suggest to put the bootloader into MBR, DO NOT choose the option to write bootloader into MBR. Choose to write the bootloader into your first Linux partitions. For OpenSuse, this mean using the default setting.
  9. The system will reboot after done the installation.
  10. When the system reboot, it will boot up Windows XP.
  11. Just shutdown the Windows XP and press MediaDirect button. You will notice MediaDirect screen will show for a while and the GRUB boot loader will show afterwards. If you just leave the GRUB loader on, Linux will booting up after the timer laspe.

Good Luck.

—————
Updates

Evan question about Linux boot process when pressing MediaDirect button.

  1. Here is my Dell Inspiron 640m linux hard drive grub.conf
    setup --stage2=/boot/grub/stage2 (hd0,2) (hd0,2)
    quit
  2. And to extract MBR records, boot into linux and issue the following command. (must be root to do this)
    dd=/dev/sda of=mbr.bin bs=512 count=1
  3. The file command will the mbr information in verbal forms.
    file mbr.bin
    mbr.bin: x86 boot sector; partition 1: ID=0x7, starthead 1, startsector 63, 40965687 sectors; partition 2: ID=0x7, starthead 0, startsector 40965750, 109193805 sectors; partition 3: ID=0x83, active, starthead 254, startsector 150159555, 6136830 sectors

    ID=0x7 show that both partition 1 and 2 using NTFS. ID=0x83 mean the 3rd partition using ext3.

  4. For more details, using od -xa will print the binary command in ascii forms.
    # od -xa mbr.bin
    Click this MBR file to inspect the record. (sorry, I can’t decipher it without further research)
  5. p/s : IBM has write an article :
    Inside the Linux boot process
    which describe all necessary step to investigate linux bootup process. Above step are derive from IBM articles.

Further research
It seems Dell has make a tool call Media Direct Repair Utility, which will help to reinstate MBR record with MediaDirect info.

After reading brief information about Master Boot Record, it is safe to derive the following conclusions :

1. MediaDirect has programmed MBR to make it dual boot.
2. From power off state, pressing MediaDirect will initiate the MBR dual boot section and may program to load the last partition boot loader. (As what Evan has suggested)
3. From power off state, pressing Power up button will take the first MBR dual boot instruction to boot OS inside Active partition.
4. For Dell notebook owner, it is advisable NOT TO load Linux boot loader into MBR. As this might overwrite the MediaDirect button functionality. Install the boot loader into the Linux partition will save you all the hassle.

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15 Responses to “Start Linux with Dell Mediadirect button – updates”

  1. Evan

    Do you know what the boot process actually works? Does the Dell MBR look for the last partition of the harddrive and then load the bootloader from that partition? Also where is the Linux bootloader installed? in the same partition as Linux itself or in the MBR, in the first sector of the disk?
    Thanks for the valuable information.

    moo_t: I don’t think the Linux bootloader store inside Linux MBR. Because Windows XP just boot without going through the Linux bootloader. I will check the the partition used by the bootloader and answer with a updated post. Thanks for raising the question.

  2. dr_g100k

    How to do the same with MediaDirect 2!
    You have to use
    1. rmbr.exe
    2. removedriveletter.exe
    All files from MediaDirect Reinstollation CD (folder DellKit)
    Actions:
    Install WinXP then install Linux (to extanded partition). Save copy of mbr
    (from linux: dd if=/dev/hda bs=512 count=1 of=/linboot.bin )
    Next from WinXP make PRIMARY NTFS partition about 8Mb (Don’t chek Compress when formatting)
    Copy ntldr, ntdetect.com, boot.ini from WinXP bootable disk to your new 8Mb partition and file linboot.bin
    Edit boot.ini in 8Mb partition
    ***********************************************************
    [boot loader]
    timeout=0
    default=C:\linboot.bin
    [operating systems]
    C:\linboot.bin
    **********************************************************
    No matter what is letter of your new partition (in my case it was M) You must use “C:\linboot.bin”
    Now You have to find out numbers of WinXP and new 8Mb partitions in patition table (tou can find it in Windows Disk Manager)
    execute rmbr.exe tool
    rmbr Vendor WinXpBootPartitionNumber Your8MbPartitionNumber
    (in my case was: rmbr DELL 1 3 )
    Execute removedriveletter.exe
    removedriveletter LetterOfYour8MbPartition
    (in my case: removedriveletter M:\ )
    All Done!
    I have:
    1. Primary NTFS Partition (WinXP System) (C:\)
    2. Primary NTFS Partition (Data) (D:\)
    3 Primary D7 Partition (BootFrom MediaDirect Button) (No letter)
    4. Extended Partition (4 Linux Logical Discs)
    From Power button WinXP starts
    From MediaDirect button Kubuntu 6.10 starts
    P.S. sorry for my English

    moo_t : This is handy, thanks.

  3. Adam Cooke

    Can this be done with vista pre-installed without having to reinstall vista?

  4. moo

    Not sure. But if Dell maintain the same Mediadirect setup, the setting should be identical.

  5. Adam Cooke

    When setting up the partition for linux do i need to flag it as bootable?

  6. Andreas Demmer

    How can I get it to work, that MediaDirect keeps working but Windows is replaced by Linux? With a partition tool, I would erase the Windows partition and use this space for Linux (the MediaDirect partition stays untouched). But how to replace the Windows bootloader with Grub?

  7. moo

    Never try it before.

    But this is my assumption. OS such as XP are actually pretty “predatory” over OS. MediaDirect try to work around this problem by using partition trigger no used by other OS.

    After many round with GRUB, I can safely assume GRUB will take over the MBR ( use the GRUB overwrite MBR options during installation) .

    However, it is a good idea to backup the partition records using the stated command.
    dd=/dev/sda of=mbr.bin bs=512 count=1

    So if you mess things up, you can restore back the partitions.

    You should downlaod Dell MediaDirect Repair utility from their website. Should anything gone wrong, you may use XEN to load a Virtual Windows XP OS to run the tools to fix MediaDirect(Though I cannot guarantee whether XEN allow the utility to initial a partition writing instruction not within the safety margin).

  8. Andreas Demmer

    I will give it a try and keep you posted…

    moo_t : thanks

  9. Andreas Demmer

    This procedure worked for me:

    1. Using a boot-cd with a partitioning-tool to delete the backup- and the windows-partition but letting the first small partition and the media direct partition (last partition) untouched
    3. setting the linux partition active
    3. create 3 new partitions in between the 2 remaining partitions (linux, swap and data)
    4. installing linux und letting grub write its settings on the linux partition
    5. works like a charm! :-)

    ok, mediadirect is very slow now, but i think it searches for playable media on other paritions and struggles with ext3…

  10. Dani

    I tried today after tried any solutions to run windows and ubuntu withouth media direct.

    So somehow after following your instruction it just works!
    But the thing is when I press Media Direct somehow it shows the grub command prompt with media direct background like this:

    Grub:

    So I am not sure what to write in this?

    I did restart it somehow and I just press MEdia Direct again somehow it just try to install Media Direct and destroy all partition.

    Any suggestion :) Thanks again.

  11. juan

    the same problem(vostro 1400), when I press the MD button it tries to install itself sending a no NTLDR message ups if you maintain the MD key pressed it bypass MediaDirect Launch and restore your MBR now you can use again your power button.

  12. kossel

    I have 3 questions:

    1-how do I ensure that grub is loaded into the Linux partition’s bootsector?
    2- what can I do if I have already using grub to dual boot vista/ubuntu? (I mean I use power button to boot both OS)
    3- do I need to have MD partition? because I deleted it

    moo_t :
    1. It is OS that utilize the boot sector feature, not otherwise. You can try to use disk dump tool to export the boot sector contents and inspect the header key. But I rather remember what I have done during installation : e.g. whether I install grub inside MBR or first partition.

    2. If it works, don’t break it. The MediaDirect button for Linux bootup is just a caveat, for fun.

    3. The good news is, no. Because the tricks falls on the DELL mediadirect special boot partition.

  13. Rickson Crazy

    so thanks for this blog. I have a strange problem.
    this is what I did:
    1)erased all dell and vista junk from hard drive.
    2) formatted 30gb in NTFS and installed windows xp pro
    3) inserted Fedora 8 cd. formated about 82gb in ext3. formated about 2gb for swap. so there is not more space or other partitions on my hd.
    4) I chose advanced during fedora install and wrote boot log file in SDA2 partition (where fedora is)
    5) restarted. inserted dell media direct 3.3. navigated to dellkit folder. ran : rmbr.exe dell 1 2.

    Since MBR style bootloader only deal with Primary

    NOW!!!:
    when I press power button . windows start normally.

    when I press dell media direct. I get message “please remove media and click any button to continue”. I click any button and I get to the screen which let’s me choose fedora or windows.

    if I choose Fedora everything is normal.

    if I choose windows xp on that screen. windows xp does not load. I get black screen with message ” please remove any media and press any key to continue.”
    to fix this problem I turn off computer. press media direct button and get to the same screen which allows me to choose.
    if this time I choose windows, windows start normally. then everything works ok. I shut down and start with power button and windows start…

    I don’t know much about linux. anybody help? I will appreciate very much.

    moo_t : Sorry, there is not quick fix for this. Dell change each version of Media direct behavior slightly. As in your case, the choice menu can belongs to either fedora boot manager or Vista boot manager, or EVEN the Media direct MBR boot manager itself. Because I notice you run the util rmbr.exe

    Some Ubuntu user has learn some tricks. Hope this link is helpful

    http://ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?t=413292

  14. RicksonCrazy

    YeheheheheASS!! I got to work it.
    Don’t know what fixed it. but this is what I did:
    1)format hard drive and install windows on first partition.
    2) go to dell.com and download latest bios.
    I have vostro 1400. so I updated form A03 to A07 Bios. make sure your battery is inside the laptop during upgrade.
    3)install Fedora 8 on EXT3. I did not make swap partition. so now I only have 2 partitions. SDA1 windows and SDA2 Fedora 8. make sure you choose advanced options when installing fedora 8 and choose to install grub into SDA2. in my case it’s fedora partition. DON’T install grub into MRB.
    4) shut down.
    5) press power button and log in into windows.
    6) insert your dell media direct 3.3 cd. go to command prompt. navigate to CDdrive:\dellkit
    run : rmbr.exe dell 1 2. so 1 for windows and 2 for Fedora/windows choice.
    7) without removing dell media direct cd shut down.
    8) restart and log in into windows. maybe dell media direct actually executes the command during boot.

    so now everything works very well. don’t know if dell media direct button goes to last partition no matter what or it was ‘rmbr.exe dell 1 2′ that reprogrammed it. I will make swap shrink fedora partition on weekend and make swap partition. we will see what happens.

    SO THIS APPLIES IF YOU HAVE DELL MEDIA DIRECT 3.3.

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