Install Ubuntu Server 18.04 on Intel Compute Stick Guide

My primary purpose for buying the Intel Compute Stick was to have an ultra portable x86_64 server to get around ARM limitations. Therefore the dated Ubuntu 14.04 GUI install had to go. In this guide we will walk through installing Ubuntu Server 18.04 on the Intel Compute Stick!

Hardware

For this project I used the Intel Compute Stick STCK1A8LFC. It costs $40 at the time of writing making it an extremely cheap x86_64 microboard. It has a Intel Atom 1.33GHz 64 bit processor and 1GB of RAM. This one is the cheapest one. There are various more expensive models that have more USB ports and run Windows 10 and have much more memory/power.


Since this model of Compute Stick only has 1 USB port you will need a USB hub if you don’t already have one. It does not need to be powered for this guide. I used a < $10 Sabrent USB 3.0 hub

And last but not least you will need a USB ethernet adapter. I used my trusty Belkin. Make sure yours is Linux compatible, preferably plug and play without needing extra drivers.

Prepare Installation Media

Download Ubuntu Server 18.04 from https://www.ubuntu.com/download/server and create a bootable USB flash drive with whatever your favorite method is.

Update BIOS

First we need to update the Compute Stick’s BIOS. My Stick came out of the box with a BIOS that was 3 years out of date. Go to https://downloadcenter.intel.com/ and search for your model of Intel Compute Stick (mine is STCK1A8LFC). You’ll see the BIOS update on the search. Go there and download it (it’s a .BIO file) and put it on your USB flash drive.

Now plug your flash drive into the Intel and power it on. Repeatedly press F7 during startup. This will take you into a “BIOS Flash Update” screen. Select your flash drive and navigate to where you put the .BIO file. Select this file and confirm that you want to flash. After about 2 minutes the stick will finish updating the BIOS and restart.

Configure BIOS Settings

Boot the compute stick and repeatedly press F2 during startup until you enter the BIOS menu. Choose the “Configuration” tab at the top. Make sure that USB Boot is set to “Enabled” and power state is set to “Always On”. Make sure the peripherals are enabled such as USB and SD Card (if using).

If you have a Windows version of the compute stick you need to change the “Select Operating System” option from Windows to Ubuntu. Press F10 to save BIOS settings.

Install Operating System

Insert your USB flash drive with Ubuntu Server on it. Restart the stick and press F10 repeatedly until you get into the boot selection screen. Choose your flash drive and the Ubuntu installer will load.

Choose your language and and proceed to the Install Ubuntu screen. Make sure that the stick is getting an IP address through your USB ethernet adapter. Proceed with the defaults until you get to the Filesystem setup screen. Choose “Use an Entire Disk” and select either the internal storage (limited space, mine was ~8GB) or your SD card. Confirm settings and press done.

Enter your desired username/password in the profile setup screen. Configure snaps if you want any (or just configure the OS once it’s booted how you want it). The operating system will now install to your chosen drive.

First Boot

Initially you may be seeing some warnings. Ignore these for now as we will fix them after updating.

The first thing you want to do is update your Ubuntu. Type:

sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get dist-upgrade -y

Reboot your system. This will put you on the latest kernel, linux-firmware, amd64-microcode and other important packages that will fix a bunch of issues right off the bat.

Fixing Warnings

If you installed to the internal storage you may be seeing warnings such as systemd-gpt-auto-generator : Failed to dissect: Input/output error. To fix this we will edit our kernel boot parameters. The details of why we get this warning have to do with the internal MMC storage and are extraordinarily dull. You can google it if you want more details but to just fix it type:

sudo nano /etc/default/grub

Scroll down to the line GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX_DEFAULT=””. This is where we will add systemd.gpt_auto=0 in between the empty quotes to stop the warnings. The correct line after you change it will be:

GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX_DEFAULT="systemd.gpt_auto=0"

Press Ctrl+X and then answer yes to save our changes. Then we need to tell grub to update the bootloader. We do this by typing:

sudo update-grub

Now reboot your system and the gross warnings will be gone!

Final Steps

(Optional) – If you want to get more performance out of the Compute Stick we can change the power mode to “Performance” in the BIOS. You will get a warning that only a single USB device will work in this mode because more power is going to the CPU so we will need to unplug our USB hub. Since this is a headless server this should be fine. I use my Ethernet to USB adapter in my only USB port.

You can now switch to using SSH and unplug the device from your monitor/TV. Simply unplug it and point your favorite SSH client at the Compute’s IP.

The Compute Stick is now ready to configure for whatever purpose you have in mind!

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