code:dsp:infosec:sounds | ams:txl:nrt:yul


Today, loading a simple VM on my Lenovo X201 (Debian Sid) turned into a wild four hour goose chase of nonsense. So I’ll share the details here and hopefully that’ll save someone the same trouble, as this was quite obscure…

It started with a Linux amd64 VMWare disk image I wanted to load into VirtualBox and systematically got the following error:

VT-x is disabled in the BIOS. (VERR_VMX_MSR_VMXON_DISABLED).

Looking at the BIOS cpu config all virtualization options were enabled.

Of course the i5-M520 cpu on the X201 supports VT-x, SME, TXT and such…

flags           : fpu vme de pse tsc msr pae mce cx8 apic sep mtrr pge mca cmov pat pse36 clflush dts acpi mmx fxsr sse sse2 ss ht tm pbe syscall nx rdtscp lm constant_tsc arch_perfmon pebs bts rep_good nopl xtopology nonstop_tsc aperfmperf pni pclmulqdq dtes64 monitor ds_cpl vmx smx est tm2 ssse3 cx16 xtpr pdcm pcid sse4_1 sse4_2 popcnt aes lahf_lm ida arat dtherm tpr_shadow vnmi flexpriority ept vpid

And of course the VT-x flag was set in the VBox guest configuration…

Through all the forums and bug reports out there the closest I found was a Virtual Box bug report that got closed as “worksforme”. Very encouraging this was.

Some users with similar issues seemed to be able to function by using a prior VirtualBox version (< 4.3), but Oracle did not provide packages for Sid and the Wheezy package is not compatible with the latest kernels.

After giving up on BIOS upgrades due to flaky supposedly bootable ISOs from Lenovo I turned to KVM, assuming this was probably a VirtualBox issue.

But it turned out KVM would not work either. /dev/kvm would not be created and the following warnings showed up in syslog:

kvm: disable TXT in the BIOS or activate TXT before enabling KVM
kvm: disabled by bios

This confirmed for me that this was really a BIOS issue after all. I remembered seeing a reference to conflicts between Intel AMT and VT features in some Lenovo BIOSes, but AMT was definitely disabled and had been for ages.

Then I tried the following:

  1. Enable AMT in the BIOS, and disable all virtualization options
  2. Reboot, let the OS load, do a proper shutdown.
  3. Disable AMT, re-enable virtualization options.
  4. Reboot, and notice AMT being unconfigured.

At this point I had a /dev/kvm and was back in business.

It’s still unclear however weither there was some state confusion in the BIOS about the virtualization options, or with AMT, and if AMT was indeed conflicting.