GRUB error 18 when installing SUSE 10 on an IBM ThinkPad

A few days ago, I finally managed to solve a problem that had been preventing me from installing SUSE Linux 10.0 on my IBM ThinkPad T40 for the last couple of weeks. My problem was, that the first stage of setup ran with no difficulties at all but after the initial reboot I was greeted with the following error:

GRUB Loading stage1.5…

GRUB loading, please wait…
Error 18

GRUB error 18 means “selected cylinder exceeds maximum supported by BIOS” but as the disk is the original one supplied with the PC, I thought that was unlikely to be an issue. There is, however, another variable in the equation with when using a ThinkPad.

Rather than supplying recovery CDs with its notebooks, Lenovo (IBM) positions its ThinkVantage software products as a differentiator and a reason to charge a premium price for its hardware – actually, my ThinkPad is by far and away the best hardware I have access to – comparable Dell machines have been very poorly built, although the HP (Compaq) and Fujitsu-Siemens equipment that I use has been pretty good. Part of the ThinkVantage product range is the rescue and recovery with rapid restore software, combined with the Access IBM key which uses a hidden partition on the disk – the Access IBM pre-desktop area or hidden protected area (HPA).

It was this hidden partition that caused me difficulties. There are three options for controlling access to the predesktop area in the BIOS – secure, normal and disabled. Normal (the default setting) allows changes to the pre-desktop area but the contents are hidden from the operating system whilst secure prohibits all user- or software-initiated changes and disabled makes the pre-desktop area visible and reclaimable for use.

After trying various pre-desktop area BIOS settings I noticed that the amount of disk space available to SUSE varied between 34.2GB in secure mode and 37.2GB in normal mode. It seems that even with the normal selection in BIOS, SUSE setup had been able to detect the full disk, and had installed the kernel on a section of the disk reserved for the pre-desktop area (which was then unavailable at boot time – causing the GRUB error).

In summary, if installing SUSE (or any operating system I guess) on a ThinkPad, set the predesktop area to secure before commencing installation – Sharad Popli has more information about this in his SUSE Linux, WinXP and Access IBM on the ThinkPad T43 article. I now have SUSE installed, but have a corrupt HPA. Thankfully my PC is still under warranty so Lenovo are sending me some recovery CDs without charge (my experience of their technical support has been excellent).

Overall, I was impressed with the SUSE setup – very straightforward compared to my earlier experiences of installing Unix and Unix-like operating systems. I also know (from my limited tinkering with Sun Solaris) that I like the GNOME desktop – let’s see how I get on with using the product over the next few weeks (and how it stacks up against the competition, as I’m attending a Red Hat Enterprise Linux course all of this week).

4 thoughts on “GRUB error 18 when installing SUSE 10 on an IBM ThinkPad

  1. I had the same problem on a desktop. I had grub installed on hda and it didn’t work so I decided to exchange disk hda with hdb. Reconfigured grub with the installation DVD repair option inside the install option. And that was it. Wrong cylinder definitions from the windows partitioner on windows disk, so I used the GNU disk. Solved.

  2. Had the same problem on and off and found a similar factor. If my machine was in Windows and was alowed to hibernate the Error 18 would come up if the machine was rebooted rather than ‘woken up’ from the hibernation state. I have now stopped Windows from hiberating by getting it to shut down fully after a preset period of time. Hope this helps.

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