I spent several days last week and this week getting FreeBSD 6.1 to work on my workstation.
Basically, my workstation is running cutting edge Intel hardware, which FreeBSD doesn’t understand yet. So here is the complete process I went through.
First I reinstalled Windows XP x64 (twice) to make sure it only takes up a fifth of the hard drive
Then I tried to install FreeBSD 6.1/amd64, only to find that it did not recognize my hard drive.
Next I tried to install FreeBSD 6-Stable/amd64 and FreeBSD 7-Current/amd64, which also didn’t see my hard drive.
Finally, I found a patch for the ata drivers in FreeBSD 6.1 that made FreeBSD aware of my hardware. However, this was only the beginning of the end of my journey. To use the patch, I had to figure out how to make a custom release of FreeBSD and roll new isos, using the FreeBSD-6.1/amd64 installation on my server, Memnon (the machine that runs this website). Then I had to figure out how to do it correctly. (I was trying to roll a patched FreeBSD Current iso, when I wanted a patched FreeBSD 6.1 iso.) Now, creating these releases takes a while, so had to wait about half a day each time I did it. Eventually, I got the patched iso that I wanted.
So, I burned my new iso onto a cd and went to install it. … It didn’t see my hardware. After a couple of days of work, I was back to where I started. So, I booted into Windows XP and started to look at my hardware. Then I went to Intel’s web site and looked at the documentation for my hardware. I figured out that the patch I applied was incomplete. I had to add some stuff to it to make it recognize my particular hard drive configuration.
So, I made a new patch and rolled a new release, another night passed. This release worked, and I was able to install FreeBSD-6.1/amd64 onto my workstation yesterday. Because I rolled my own iso, it was the minimum install, so I had to install Xorg and Gnome separately, which I did last night and this morning.
This afternoon, I discovered that the driver I needed to use to get dual monitor support didn’t work with amd64, only FreeBSD i386. So I decided to roll another patched iso of FreeBSD, this time i386. However, this roll went much faster because I non longer needed to use Memnon. I could now use the FreeBSD installation on my workstation, Orochi, which has eight logical processors (2 Xeon 3ghz Dual Cores with hyperthreading). On Orochi, using multiple processors during the build and some other speedups, I was able to create ISOs in about 2 hours, less than a fourth of the time that it was taking me before.
So I installed FreeBSD–again–this time FreeBSD 6.1/i386. I also installed Xorg and Gnome via a faster method, although it made them slightly out of date. Now I was ready to try out dual monitor support, and voilla I had a working desktop system on my workstation that wasn’t Windows.
Sure, I could have probably installed Linux last week and been done a few days ago, but what is the fun in that. (Besides, FreeBSD is better than Linux.)