I had a choice at work – build my own system using generic hardware and wait indefinitely for ordering (3 quotes, preferred suppliers bla bla bla) or go with the standard option and wait, oh, only a month. So I went with the standard option and acquired something called a HP Compaq dc7600. It’s OK and has enough power for my needs. Fired up the Debian sarge installer CD and halfway through I was hit with “no partitionable media found”.
Never seen that before. I Googled and researched and it turned out that this is a very common problem with SATA drives. Basically, the 2.6 kernel in Debian sarge has a limited set of drivers (modules libata and ata_piix) and often fails to detect SATA controllers. Booting from a Knoppix 4.0 CD – no problem, so I know the controller can’t be that unusual.
There are “pure Debian” solutions – use the testing installer, customised install images, none very appealing. So I grabbed an Ubuntu 5.10 image, fired it up and minutes later, had a fully-working system. I like it a lot – it’s essentially Debian but does a much better job of hardware detection with the later kernel, no problems with X11, sound, DVD RW etc., plenty of packages, nice interface. Recommended.