Category Archives: Hardware

Welcome, new hardware: HP Pavilion g6-2210us

With the untimely (or just timely, depending on your point of view) demise of the Lenovo G555, I found myself in need of a new laptop. I had some critical things to do that required me to borrow Ilene’s sweet MSI netbook, which is bigger than the classic netbook but smaller than your typical small, non-netbook laptop.

That was OK for a couple of days, but I needed a new laptop. That means watching the ads and getting a deal. That came in the form of this HP Pavilion g6-2210us from Fry’s. South of $400 but north of $350, I got a laptop with the standard 15.6-inch screen that has an AMD dual-core A4-4300M processor, 4 GB of DDR3 RAM, an uncharacteristically large 640 MB hard drive (a big selling point) and … wait for it … Windows 8.

A Linux user (mostly Debian) by habit, I nonetheless have been using Windows 7 on a work-supplied desktop (a Lenovo ThinkCentre that hasn’t died, in case you were wondering), so I’m not unfamiliar with the post-Windows XP world of consumer operating systems.

Both for the sake of expediency and as fodder, I am looking at doing a full test of Windows 8 before I either wipe it or dual boot with whatever Linux distribution will run on this now-new hardware (an always tricky proposition with new gear, especially in this era of UEFI/secure boot prompted by Windows 8).

The initial boot and setup was almost uneventful. I had to reboot before completing said setup, and I gave the login name I wanted to the computer itself (it has a name; like a hostname in Unix I suppose), so the computer is named after me, and I have a different login.

Right out of the box, I’ll just say that I NEED A START BUTTON. This is madness. During setup, the laptop clued me in on the “mouse into the corner to get back to the accursed Metro interface” move.

I’m used to mousing into the corner. I do it in GNOME 3. I’ve done it in Ubuntu’s Unity. But here I have to mouse, then click “search,” then type something in. Also like in GNOME 3, Windows 8 allows you to click the “Windows”/Super key and get back to the Metro desktop. But I installed Firefox, and that’s not on that slate of tiles. Internet Explorer is there. Will I be able to put what the hell I want there, or will I only be able to access non-Microsoft apps from the regular desktop WHICH SHOULD HAVE A FREAKING START BUTTON.

You hit the Windows key and get the Metro tiles, but you don’t get a search box. But it’s “there.” You just start typing and the system starts searching for apps and other bits on your computer.

This is pretty much EXACTLY LIKE GNOME 3. Who would have thought?

Lenovo G555 laptop, age 2 years and 11 months, served well, died suddenly

It happened unexpectedly. One minute I was using my nearly 3-year-old Lenovo G555 laptop. I closed the lid, opened it a half-hour later, and s/he was dead.

Wouldn’t even POST. Just a CPU fan and a power light. That means the power supply wasn’t dead. But something on the motherboard sure was.

You can’t really do much about a 3-year-old computer that cost $330 in 2010. I’ll just be pulling the drive and moving on.

I’ve always figured that $100/year is about the right price to pay for a computer. I sure didn’t baby this one. It went everywhere, got pounded on regularly, and — not insignificantly — showed a lot of video (and facilitated the editing of a goodly amount, too).

Unfortunately, three years is what you can generally expect from computers. Five years is lucky, 10 years is “you’re crazy.” I generally am, so I understand it more than most.

I feel better about only spending $330. I’d be hopping mad if it was $900.

Power Mac G4/466 runs Debian Etch

My latest project has been to load and run Debian GNU/Linux on a Power Macintosh G4/466.

The box came to me with no disk drives and 128 MB of RAM. I upped the RAM to 384 MB, and I installed two hard drives.

Besides the stable Etch distribution of Debian, I experimented with the Fedora
Linux distro as well as OpenBSD.

Fedora installed, but configuring X for the GUI video didn’t go very well. I probably could’ve gotten it to work better with information from the xorg.conf file that Debian built for me automatically, but since the system was extremely slow under Fedora, that only made the choice of Debian Etch (which seems made for and tuned to the G4) that much easier.

I really wanted to see how the G4 would do with OpenBSD, but while I was able to install it on two occasions, on neither of those was I able to get the system to boot. The regular FAQ for OpenBSD has excellent instructions on how to install it on an i386 machine, but the supplementary material for doing the install on MacPPC was less than helpful (or not helpful enough to get the system to boot).

So I went with Debian. I installed the system on one hard drive and am using the other to back up the /home directory via rsync.

A Debian victory for the $15 Laptop

I’ve been toying with removing Debian Etch from the $15 Laptop — the 1999 Compaq Armada 7770dmt with a 233 MHz Pentium II MMX processor and 64 MB of RAM. When most computer users — even those partial to Linux — talk about “old” hardware, they mean either things in the 1 GHz range, even 3 GHz single-core CPU computers with 512 MB of RAM.

For me, a 1.2 GHz Celeron laptop with 1 GB of RAM is good enough to run just about any Linux distribution out there. And my main Windows machine at the office — a 3 GHz Pentium 4 with 512 MB of RAM is way more than adequate for desktop use.

As far as the 233 MHz Compaq laptop goes, I’m probably going to bump up the RAM from the current 64 MB to the maximum of 144 MB, but that’s pretty much besides the point.

When I first got this laptop (yep, it cost me $15, though I had to shell out $10 for the CD-ROM drive on eBay) I ran into a lot of luck, because it wasonly supposed to have 32 MB of RAM but had double that. It wasn’t supposed to have a hard drive, but not only was the hard-drive casing intact, but there was a 3 GB drive inside it. It was loaded with Windows 98 but wouldn’t boot. Once I had the CD drive (the incoluded floppy drive doesn’t work, and I could get another one for $10, but I really don’t need it), I was able to run Puppy Linux and Damn Small Linux from live CDs.

At first I loaded Windows 2000 just to see how it ran. Win 2K ran alright, but I’m not in this to run Windows. I had pretty good luck with both Puppy and DSL, but Damn Small Linux is really the more suited of the two for a computer with 64 MB of RAM.

Anyhow, I eventually wanted to try Debian Etch on the Compaq. I’ve done at least four installs of Debian on this computer, but my first began was the “standard” install, which means no X. After that, I added X and Fluxbox, plus all the apps I though I’d need. ROX-filer, AbiWord, Leafpad, Dillo, Lynx, Elinks, Sylpheed (which didn’t work), MtPaint for image editing, and eventually even Iceweasel (aka Debian’s renamed Firefox).

I was able to actually get work done on the laptop, which can connect to the outside world only through the Orinoco WaveLAN Silver 802.11b wireless PCMCIA card I had previously bought for This Old Mac (aka my 1996 Powerbook 1400cs). And since the PCMCIA slot in the much-better $0 Laptop (Gateway Solo 1450) is inoperable (“busted” is the technical term), the wireless card has remained in the Compaq, which has no Ethernet port or USB capability (though it does have a serial port, parallel printer port, built-in telephone modem and a power supply fully enclosed in the case — yes, a 120-volt power cord plugs right into the back). They made these Compaq’s well — this one still runs great.

Anyhow, my “roll-your-own-X” Debian install did OK. The display was a bit slow in Abiword, but I had everything running fairly well. Just not well enough.

Since then, I spent quite a bit of time testing DSL 4.0 on the Compaq. Damn Small Linux runs great on this thing, that much I can tell you. And I even ran Puppy 2.13 for a couple of days this week.

But I always had Debian on the hard drive. Just not the original Debian. I had wiped the drive and experimented with Debian Etch and the Xfce desktop install (desktop=xfce as a boot parameter in the installer) as well as Slackware 12.0 without KDE (Xfce and Fluxbox).

Well, Slackware without KDE means you don’t even get an office suite, and I still had barely any disk space on the 3 GB drive. (I know, I just need to get a bigger drive … I know.)

So I went back to Debian Etch, again the Xfce desktop. Surprisingly, this install includes the full OpenOffice suite and I still have about a full GB of space left on the hard drive. I have a separate /home partition with 800 MB in it, and a root partition with 2 GB, with about 150 MB left. The rest of the space is swap — about 120 MB.

And while on the Gateway laptop (1.2 GHz Celeron CPU) I cannot detect a performance difference between the Xfce and Fluxbox window managers, on this 233 MHz CPU, there’s quite a difference. I was about to give up on Etch altogether when I decided to again install AbiWord (I tried Ted … again … but the RTF word processor still doesn’t work, at least in any Etch install I’ve had), as well as Fluxbox.

Fluxbox makes it a lot snappier. I still have all the Xfce apps, including Thunar, Mousepad and the great Xfmedia.

In fact, I finally got sound working tonight. I don’t think it’ll survive a reoot, so I’ll have to run this line on startup, but for today it did work:

# modprobe sb io=0x220 irq=5 dma=1 mpu_io=0x330

I can’t run alsamixer, but I can play an MP3 in Xfmedia, and it sounds great even on the built-in speakers on this 9-year-old laptop.

I didn’t think I could get sound working in Debian Etch, but since I did, Etch will definitely live to fight another day on this laptop.

Before I close out this entry, let men emphasize that the Xfce install of Debian is a quirky distro, to be sure. It’s nowhere near as complete as Ubuntu’s Xfce variant, Xubuntu.

Etch in its Xfce incarnation includes the full OpenOffice suite, but not Abiword or Gnumeric (which would be good substitutes). There’s no Synaptic or Update Manager, so I’ve been doing what Debian aficionados always tell me to do: use Aptitude. I was running aptitude in a terminal for awhile, but it’s much easier to just run it at the command line:

# aptitude update
# aptitude upgrade
# aptitude install abiword

Yep, just like apt-get and apt-get install, but Aptitude is supposed to do an even better job with dependencies and it keeps track of your changes to the system, should there be any problem.

And if this entry appears on this Blogger blog, it means that the lightweight Dillo browser actually works with the blogging interface — a great thing because Dillo is very, very fast.

Note: I did save a copy of this as text in case Dillo and Blogger aren’t exactly cooperating.

Further note: Dillo and Blogger weren’t exactly getting along, so I completed this post with Iceweasel.

Final note: The fact that Debian Etch — a modern, up-to-date Linux distribution — can run so well in 233 MHz of CPU and 64 MB of RAM is something truly to behold. Again, my thanks to everybody at the Debian Project, past and present, for all they’ve done for the rest of us.

Post-final note: If Debian continues to perform so well, I just might blog the SCALE 6x convention with this 1999-vintage laptop.

Positively the last note: I’ve had trouble with Iceweasel and anything on Google for which I have to log in, so I just cut the fat and posted this to Click. And in case I only mentioned it once above, Fluxbox is really flying on this setup. And since the 1999 Compaq with Debian Etch and Movable Type 4.0 are playing nicely, I think this laptop is definitely going to SCALE 6x.

Sorry, just one more note: Look for a SCALE 6x feature on Click in the days ahead.

I’ve been using Google Docs

In an effort to have just a little more control over what I write, on which of the many PCs I use I write it, and where I post it (i.e. to one or more of the blogs and other sites to which I’m spreading the news), I started to use Google Docs again.

The problem being that I can hardly keep track of anything that I didn’t write and post instantly. I’ve got three notebooks, each a different size (one “moleskin” type book, though no skins were harmed in its making; one composition book; one steno notepad), and a number of computers ($15 Laptop, $0 Laptop, converted Maxspeed Maxterm thin client, Dell Optiplex GX520, iBook G4), have of which change Linux distros as often as most people change underwear (that’s daily, for those of you not following), with /home partitions constantly moving, being deleted and otherwise being ignored.

So the theory is that by centralizing everything on Google Docs, I can better keep track of what is where, what is going where and what went where. That’s the theory anyway.

And while I’m on the subject, it’s time for me to make complete backups of all my blogs, especially Click, which has the most posts and is on a server that is nowhere near as reliable as those of Google or WordPress. The great thing about WordPress, as far as backups go, is the ability to export the entire blog as XML. For Google, and probably for Movable Type, I’ll just have to save monthly archives going all the way back

But I haven’t been the most prolific blogger of late. It all began when the esteemed, highly qualified individuals who run the insidesocal.com blogs (including Click) decided that the best way to stop DNS-level spam attacks was to put an IP block on the entire European continent, costing me every link I could hope to get for Linux-related material (yep, Linux and FOSS is huge in Europe; where else would they even think of publishing “Debian Fur Dummies”?).

So I stopped pimping Click and started this blog, also throwing items to the great LXer. Losing Distrowatch as a source of links to reviews of Linux and BSD distros was probably the biggest blow. So I’ve pretty much been not caring about traffic on Click, which hovers at a steady 150-250 a day.

Slackware 11 — could it work on the $0 Laptop? Not that it doesn’t respond well to Debian, Ubuntu and Puppy

I’ve had trouble with Slackware 12 and the $0 Laptop (Gateway Solo 1450). Something happens when services load that prevent it from running. I’ll have to take a much closer look, but I’m ready to try Slackware 11 just to see if that makes a difference.

I see in the Slackware security page that patches are still being doing for version 11, and even 10.2 for Firefox issues, and back to 8.1 for things like CUPS.

But Slackware 11 is pretty well covered, and I recall having a better time with Zenwalk back in the 4.2 days when I was first getting into Linux.

Even so, Debian is running pretty well on the $0 Laptop. I don’t have Xfce installed, so I don’t know how much better it will do than GNOME. And in Ubuntu 7.10, I can actually make the touchpad do what I want, which is to run at the right speed and NOT tap-to-click unless I want.

And I have been running Puppy 3.00 from live CD (compatible with Slackware 12 packages), and now that I’ve managed to control the noisy fan with a few modeprobes set to run at startup and a cron job, I just might stick with it for … everything. It’s so fast. No tap-to-click in Puppy, but since I don’t want it, that’s fine.
I installed the SFS file for OpenOffice on one of my other Puppy setups, but not this one. I’ll have to try it. I actually like the way Damn Small Linux adds things like the GIMP and AbiWord — the filesystem in DSL (and, by extension Knoppix, which I’ve also been running on the $0 Laptop) seems more flexible than Puppy’s. I don’t think you have any size limitations. I think Puppy’s pup_save can only be 1.5 GB, but that still doesn’t stop you from mounting other filesystems and working with them, so it’s a six-of-one situation anyway.

And Damn Small Linux runs like crap on the $0 Laptop. I just can’t get the X configuration right, no matter how many different ways I try it. Puppy, of course, is perfect.

I conquer the fan

I finally did get my fan under control in Puppy Linux. It involved modprobe commands for both the fan and thermal modules (I configured them to start on boot) and getting a cron job running to check CPU temperature at 5-minute intervals and turn the fan on or off depending on temperature.

I’m working on writing the whole thing up. But first I want to thank the Gateway Solo 1450 owners and Puppy Linux users whose expertise I drew on to get it done.

Even with the cron job running, I think the fan runs less under Debian and Ubuntu. There must be a different set of parameters for determining fan status. Perhaps cron’s check every 5 minutes of the CPU temperature is a much longer interval than those other systems use. I’ll have to look into it.

Another thing I’ll be looking into is what my “trigger” points for the fan are. I currently have it set to start at 50 C and stop at 40 C. Maybe I can shift those numbers a bit to have the fan run less but still keep the CPU at an acceptable temperature.

While I’m giddy as shit at being able to run Puppy without the fan blasting the whole session, I’m still not as satisfied as I would be if it were managed as well as Debian does in EVERY Linux distro I use. But at least I can take what I learned in Puppy and try it in other distros that don’t control the fan on this laptop. I’d love for this to work in BSD, too, but who am I kidding? I’ll have to try my shell scripts and modprobe commands in BSD and see what happens. Probably nothing.

thing bothers me, though. If I were running a fanless PC, this wouldn’t be a problem. It makes me want to build a fanless mini-ITX VIA box with parts from the Damn Small Linux Store or Logic Supply. And why can’t their be a fanless laptop? If only I had enough skill, time and crazy-in-the-headness to build my own laptop. (I know this one has a fan, but I’d do it sans fan.

Still, I’ve got the fan saga, more on the Debian Live CDs, my problems with image editing and IPTC info and more in the near future.

The modprobe squad

During Debian Etch’s boot sequence, I noticed a couple of things happening while the ACPI modules were loading.

Two words flashed by:

Fan
Thermal

Could these be the key to my problems with the Gateway Solo 1450’s noisy, always-on fan with distros that are NOT Debian Etch, Ubuntu (WITHOUT the latest kernel) and CentOS 5?

What if I opened a root terminal and did the following:

# modprobe fan
# modprobe thermal

Could that be enough to stop my noisy-fan problem? That would be too easy.

In other news, Puppy flies on the Gateway. Damn Small Linux runs, but barely. I haven’t been able to get the X configuration right. And I have to disable scsi while booting. I’m not sure if I can boot with PCMCIA either. Strange, for sure. Slackware-derived distros also die in the SCSI process.