Fedora 19 on hardware of the last century

Another six month have passed, so my good old laptop from pre-20IMG_220900 got another update.  I updated the already running fedora 18 to fedora 19 by using the fedUp tool.

The update took longer than on more recent systems (of course) but it worked flawlessly.

After that I booted into the LXDE desktop of Fedora 19. Everything worked as before. The machine is still too slow for most uages, even webbrowsing is painful. Work with libreOffice is probably doable.

Still, one big downside of modern linux distributions is that there is no video acceleration for this old graphic chipset anymore. So most videos can not be played. On the positive side, I was surprised to find that suspend to ram and suspend to disk both worked flawlessly on Fedora 19. Good work to remain compatible with APM (pre-ACPI)!

Ubuntu 13.04 and Fedora 18 on the Wetab

You might remember this tablet that came out from Germany in parallel with the iPad. It’s more or less a netbook with a touchscreen but without a keyboard. It hat some drawbacks, the worst in my opinion is the bad screen. You can switch the small SSD in it, but you cannot replace the screen. Bad. The device ended not being used anymore shortly after I bought a used one.

Anyway, I wanted to use the wetab as a (network) tv display wall-mounted in the kitchen. That’s why I started to throw a modern linux distribution on it. I always used the 64-bit images because they are known to run faster on the CPU (at the cost of slightly increased memory usage).

Ubuntu 13.04

In short: Ubuntu was not running on the wetab for me.

Long version: The install image is loading correctly from a usb stick. Everything looks good – unity is not a bad touch experience. The downside comes after you have installed Ubuntu on the wetab. The system does not get to a usable system. The desktop is visible (in a wrong resolution) but there is no reaction to input. Even if you connect a keyboard to the tablet, you cannot do anything. The keyboard is not initialized correctly.

I was not able to find out the source of the problem. Examining log files made clear that the Vesa graphics driver is loaded instead of the intel one. That’s wrong and explains the wrong resolution with which the desktop is started. However it does not explain why the tablet does not react to any input. Why Ubuntu works from usb but not when being installed remains a mystery.

I tested Ubuntu 12.04 too and it had exactly the same problem. So I don’t expect a fix for this any time soon.

Fedora 18

IMG_0441

I gave Fedora 18 a try afterwards. To my surprise it was fully functional out of the box. After installing it boots into a Gnome 3 desktop. I found Gnome 3 less attractive than unity in this touch usecase, but as far as I know Gnome 3 is the only touch friendly desktop in Fedora. I can live with it.

Fedora 18 and Gnome need some more finishing touches than Ubuntu. The default installation is not really lightweight. But you can turn of some programs and services after installation. If you do that, you can bring memory usage in the area around 300 MiB. The remaining RAM should be enough for watching video streams and some surfing.

My browser choice fell on Chrome. While the low memory available on the wetab (1 GiB) suggests using Firefox with its lower memory footprint, Chrome is able to use some acceleration for displaying webpages. As the wetab is not planned to do many things at the same time but is supposed to do one task as fast as possible, the choice was clear for me here. Chrome has a nice touch extension which really makes it fun to use.

The performance of gnome 3 on Fedora 18 on the wetab is acceptable. What impressed me most is that the screen is rotated automatically when you turn the tablet. This works out of the box.

All in all I find the wetab to be really good supported by Fedora 18, what is surprising after the big problems that showed up with Ubuntu.

Build your own 6 watts home server using an raspberry pi

IMG_1513 In the picture besides you see my new home server built around a raspberry pi. The parts in detail:

  • raspberry pi model b Rev.2 inside a transparent casing
  • D-Link DUB-H7 7-Port USB 2.0 Hub (confirmed working with the raspberry pi)
  • 2.5 inch 500 GB usb harddisk from toshiba (an older one I had)
  • Hauppauge Nova-T Stick for DVB-T (confirmed working with the raspberry pi IF you have a powered usb hub!)

The pi is connected to a fritzbox 7270 via ethernet and is running raspian (Debian Wheezy). The CPU is overclocked a little at 800 MHz.

Currently this small computer is running the following services for me:

  • full webserver consisting of nginx, php and mysql (follow standard tutorials for debian)
  • web rss reader using tiny rss 1.7.4
  • streaming tv from the tv stick to all computers in the network using vdr and streamdev-plugin
  • streaming requested music via the upnp protocol having installed minidlna as described here
  • common file storage via ssh/sftp
  • backup space via rsync

Memory usage is around 100 MiB all the time (no graphical is running). TinyRSS could be running a little snappier – I intend to help optimizing it a little. Streaming tv is putting 15% cpu usage on the pi.

The best about it is the low power usage. I measured it and even together with the power supply it never reached 8 watts. I see around 5 watts at idle. It may peak a little higher when there is full cpu and disk load – but that’s rare. So you can think of having it running all day without some bad.

I intend to add another usb disk acting as a backup by mirroring the data on the other disk.

Things to know about power usage

Power supply was the only big question I had when putting together the parts I needed. I wanted to keep costs and power losses low by running not adding more power supplys than absolutely needed.

The raspberry pi can be powered via an usb port. But it needs at least 700 mA what not every port provide. The usb port of the Fritzbox was no option because of that. If you want to connect more power hungry devices (like harddisks or tv sticks) via usb to the raspberry, you really need a powered usb hub because no usb port can power the pi AND that devices together. I wanted to run the pi, two harddisks and a tv stick altogether, so some power was needed.

Instead of buying a power supply for the pi and a powered usb hub (which would make two), I only bought the usb hub. The D-Link hub is specified to deliver 3.5 A, what should be enough. So I simply pluged the pi into the hub and connected the hub with the pi via one of its two usb ports again. This connection circle is working well and every device I plug in the hub can be used by the pi. This trick saved me one power supply and some power being burned.

A hint if you intend to run usb disks with that hub: Have Y-cables available (with two usb plugs). One port of the hub may not be enough to power the disk, but using two of them will suffice.

Update 30.5.2013

In the meantime I added a second USB harddrive to the setup which serves as a backup. Via cronjob the content of the first harddisk is transfered to the backup disk every night by rsync. That works perfectly.

Moreover I have a cronjob making a low level copy of the sd card containing the system image to the hard disk weekly. So I have a full backup of the system in case the sd card is failing.

Two problems I encountered. Mirroring my desktops home directory to the usb drives of the pi via rsync often crashes long before having finished. I do not know the reason but found rsync to be no backup solution for me. Maybe unison will work here.

Apart from that I sometimes find that my tv stream from the pi suddenly aborts and cannot be restored. It took me a while to find out that the problem is actually the fritzbox 7270 running FritzOS 5.50. After restarting it, everything works again. Must be a strange  bug in the fritzbox with data intensive socket connections. So if you are watching tv via your pi and the stream aborts, the problem might actually be your router.

Fedora 18 running on hardware of the last century

An update to the story of the fifteen years old HP omnibook 4150 laptop I still keep running for fun. Well – it is still running quite well.

IMG_1512

I changed the linux distribution to Fedora 18. I found it to be running a little bit better than Linux Mint. It can be stripped down very well. I got memory usage on a freshly started lxde session down to 70MiB.

Installation was quite tough. The built in DVD-drive is has big problems with self-burned CDs. Installation from an install CD failed always because of this (remember, you cannot boot from something else than HD/FD/CD with this old BIOS). I managed to do the installation of Fedora 17 by using online package repositories instead of the CD. It tool several hours.

Fedora 17 (and Ubuntu) failed starting an X-Server with this old ati chipset. That problem could be solved easily at least on fedora by installing the xorg-x11-drv-mach64 driver which was missing.

So this old graphics chipset is still supported by the newest X-Servers.

Still, there is not much you can do with this machine. It has not enough memory, a much too slow harddisk and not enough processing power. Even a raspberry pi feels much faster. Surfing is painfully slow – office work is somehow doable. Even as a server it is no good choice. Too much power usage for very modest processing power – and you’ll have a problem connecting storage to it.

The only useful application I found for this laptop was displaying video streams from the network.

Linux driver for Canon LBP 2000 printer

Last weekend I searched for a driver for a Canon LBP 2000 printer to get it working with Linux Mint 13. I knew from earlier installations that it is possible with the driver from another printer, but I could not remember which one it was. And I couldn’t find the hint in the web. I found out nonetheless and for any one who has the same problem like me, this may help: The Canon LBP 2000 is working with the driver for the HP LaserJet 5100 printer.

This has worked on a Linux Mint 12 and openSuse 11.4 installation. It should be completly distribution independent. So no matter wether you are using Fedora, Arch, Debian, Ubuntu, Mint or whatever, try this HP driver.

Linux on hardware of the last century

I own an old HP Omnibook 4150B. The device must be assembled around 1999. And it still works. And as a hobby I’m regularly trying out recent linux distributions on it – just to see what you still can expect from such a device. Maybe this is useful for someone.

Mint 12 on Omnibook 4150BSpecs

The impressive hardware of this laptop is as follows:

  • CPU: Pentium 3 650 MHz
  • RAM: 368 MB (maximal)
  • HD: 40 GB (upgraded from 18 GB – limited because it has just an IDE port)
  • Display: 1024×768
  • Ports: 1 USB 1.1 – some old serial stuff – very importand: cardbus slot
  • Network: no wifi, even no ethernet

What works

I can say – everything. Obviously you won’t get any 3d acceleration out of it. But despite of this, all the hardware works flawlessly. It cannot shutdown properly however, you have to do it manually. Restart is possible. This machine does not know ACPI – just APM. It can only boot from harddisk and cdrom – not from usb.

Moreover I did some tests of the power conumption of this laptop. It is slower than later laptops, but I cannot say that it burns much more power. I measured a power consumption around 15 watts when idle. Current laptops can get below that of course, but the power saving itself is no reason to use a new laptop.

Constraints

So, what is the problem on such a device? Nearly everything.

The CPUs speed is limited. It can still do work – but don’t try to do several tasks at the same time. The system lags then.

Another big restriction is the memory. 384 MB is enough to load a desktop environment – but that’s it. You have nothing left for applications. Not good. And even a modern web browser is usually consuming more than this. So you must be really careful with this.

The harddisk is another story. It’s not just the transfer speed, that slows down the system. It’s mainly the access time. With the old 18 Gigabyte harddisk you had to wait half of a second until it starts to transfer the requested data. So there was a small pause if you open a menu. With the newer 40 Gigabyte it was better. However, even that harddisk is old. And as this laptop only can access IDE disk, you are very limited in choice here. You can’t get much faster.

Without any network connectivity, you have to use the cardbus slot to connect to the web. An absolute must! The bad thing is, the cardbus slot is blocked then and can’t be used for anything else.

Possible applications

So what can you do with such an device? You don’t have much of an option. The usual answer may be some kind of a server.

You may put some services on it – but your router hardware would do it probably similarly fast and with a smaller power drain. Theoretically you can use the machine as a file server – or a NAS system. It would be probably able to do it with enough speed. But here you are limited to the machines old interfaces.

You can only connect it to a network if you put a network card in the PCMCIA slot. But as soon as you do that, you are limited to the build in harddisk drive – and you won’t get big and cheap IDE harddisks. You can of course connect a USB disk – but as this machine has only low speed USB its not a good option. 100 kb/s is not what you want as a transfer rate.

You can connect faster if you use an esata or usb card in the pcmcia slot. However, then you would have no way to connect to the network. Maybe an interesting setup would be to use a USB 2.0 replicator card, connect a USB disk to it AND some usb network device. Missing hardware for that, I do not know whether that works.

What you can do it with is using it as a workstation. That’s possible. May be as an spare system in your household, for children or people that really need a computer.

Distributions

You can probably put any 32-bit linux distribution on this device – unless it does not deny installation because of the low RAM. There are many distributions like puppy or DSL aimed at old computers – they are no choice for me. I want to use the applications I know from my normal system. Moreover one application of such a laptop is to give it away to someone which has no computer. And as such person are probably no command line geeks, you need a really user friendly distribution. That limits the choices further. What is slackware or arch based, surely they are good distributions but they can put challenges to grandmothers and grandfathers. And I don’t want to spend hours preparing the device.

So what I want for it is something with the friendliness of ubuntu, but really really leightweight. I ended up with Linux Mint LXDE edition. Ubuntu LXDE might work too – but as the time of writing this Mint 12 does a ten time friendlier LXDE desktop then any other distribution I have seen.

Desktop Environment

The main thing you want from your desktop on this laptop is low memory usage. So the best choice is probably a window manager like fluxbox and so on. Having started up one of them you have around 70 MB of memory used. So there are nearly 300 MB left for your work. However, those boxes are only a choice if you use the system yourself. Grandparents and other people want something more common.

You can of course start KDE (has even very slow desktop effects provided by Xrender, funny but unuseable), Gnome 2 or 3 and so on. They do the job fast enough. Even Gnome 3 does a good work in speed on the device. As long as clicking around on your desktop is all what you want to do. That desktop environments use so much memory, that there is nothing left for applications. So you cannot stick with them. I have not tried XFCE – but there enough reports in the web, that its memory usage is not really below that of gnome, if you do a real comparison. So nothing for this laptop.

What I finally sticked with is LXDE. In Mint it looks very friendly – accessible and understandable enough for grandparents! and I get down to 85 Megabyte of RAM usage with some tweaking – that’s good.

Browsers

The most memory consuming applications I use are browsers. Really, they use much more than office applications. So here you need something fast and memory saving. And I want a modern working one. I mainly evaluated Chromium 15 and Firefox4 (+).

Chrome wins in most benchmarks over Firefox. But not in terms of memory usage. Chromiums memory usage under Linux is crazy. I saw a single tab using 500 Megabyte for its own. Firefox is doing a better job in saving memory, as just has problems freeing it after having used it. A good way to make your firefox fast again is to restart it.

Anyway, having only around 200 Megabyte for the browser left, you are limited in open tabs in both browsers. I’m seeing Firefox do the best job on the old hardware. If you open a page, it appears much faster in Firefox than in Chrome.

Of course you should not use much extensions on firefox as they can increase memory usage. A good choice is flashblock. It always a good thing to save processor power on systems and only load flash if you really want to see it. Its exspecially true on such a slow CPU.

Another extension you may use is Adblock. You don’t want to have CPU cycles burned for flashing promoting animations. And you would expect that it lowers memory usage because all that stuff is not loaded. Strangely enough I observed firefox using MORE memory when running adblock with it. Very strange. See yourself.

Having said that, Firefox is since version 4 clearly the best choice for that old hardware. It may even get faster with each release. Firefox 9 is doing a good job although. I tried a recent version of midori – but I found it to have no advantage over firefox. Neither memory or speed wise.

Applications – What can I do with this

So what work can you do on a PC like this?

Well, most simple office work will do it. Writing text is possible, you can fire up abiword with no problems. Even libreoffice will start and find enough memory for itself. So you can still work on that old hardware – but better just have on active application at the time. If you have more, keep an eye on memory usage.

The most hardest common work today for the laptop. It really stresses all of it. Firefox runs acceptable fast  – as long as you don’t load several tabs at the same time. No good idea.

Having said that, you can browse the web on the old hardware. Pages take some seconds to load. And while you can read the page when it is still loading, the systems becomes laggy as long as the page is loaded. So surfing the web takes longer than usual on this machine.

Update 30.5.2012:

I found a good use case for the laptop. It is perfectly possible to play a mpeg2-video on laptop, that is streamed over WLAN. So it is e.g. completly possible to stream a tv show from a dvb-capable system to this laptop and play it. The CPU is even partly idle when doing that. Additionally it is possible to get dvb-t video from a connected dvb-t usb-stick. So this (and other) old laptops can be turned into a cheap and power saving tv.

Conclusion

The hardware is limited but if you have to work with it, it can still do what you want. The latest linux distributions can still work on the machine. Try that with windows 🙂

However, you will probably only work with such a machine if you are really forced to. You will be probably be more happy with hardware built after 2000.

Update 30.5.2012:

I updated the laptop to Linux Mint 13 based on Ubuntu 12.04. I have the impression that the system got a little faster. I even did a half an hour surfing session reading news pages and the speed of firefox 12 was acceptable. So I got my work done with it.

I noticed a regression though. Currently the apm sleep states suspend and hibernate do not work anymore. It worked with Linux Mint 12. I don’t know what causes this and if it will be fixed.

Fixing ath9k on resume

When I buyed my eee-pc 1005-HA two years ago, the built in Atheros chipset was a pain. With the drivers of that time, the connection quality was bad. Exspecially after resuming from suspend or hibernate, the wireless simply was not able to connect anymore. Unloading and reloading the ath9k module always fixed it.

Luckily the problem disappeared in newer kernel version – just to reappear now in Fedora 15 with Kernel 2.6.38. But there is a workaround as you can trigger the un- and reload of the module automatically. In Fedora just add this file to your system /etc/pm/config.d/unload_modules

Add the following line to it:

SUSPEND_MODULES=”ath9k”

After doing this you should have no problems when coming from suspend with atheros wireless chips that run with ath9k.