Monday, June 22, 2009

First Impressions: HP Mini (Best Buy Style) vs. Lenovo S10

So I picked up whatever the model of the HP Mini that they sell at Best Buy for $329 (the 10.1 model with a 16GB flash drive) for my mother with the goal of installing Ubuntu, since she the one family member that I've successfully converted from Windows.

Keyboard - the larger keyboard of the HP Mini's are well known. You can definitely tell the difference with the larger keys in that it allows more natural touch typing but the feel is spongier. About what you'd expect from a consumer laptop. The arrow keys are smaller size that all the other keys which is very annoying. It is difficult to see the special keys since they are light grey. On my white Lenovo they are blue so it is much easier. Overall the action is much crisper on the Lnovo

Ubuntu Netbook Remix 9.04 installation - Installation took slightly longer, I assume due to the flash drive, but the OS upgrade too so longer (scrollkeeper was pegged at 100%) I killed gdm and went into the console and did the apt upgrade's there which seemed to work better. Still really slow. Hangups at upgrade of synpatic and other packages. I assume this is all do to the flash drive. There is also a known bug in the sound support. No sound through the speakers. Haven't tried a headphone.

Wireless - Even though both use the same Broadcom chipset I had more problem with the Mini. It connected to 1/3 of the networks I tried (a WPA2 for my Verizon Westell DSL modem) but not successfully with an HP 420 WPA access point or a Cisco 851W that was wide open. Perhaps I had L2 ACLs on the latter, not sure.

Ethernet - the RJ-45 port is plugged by default. The Mini appears to use a Marvell driver (as opposed to the Reatek used most other Netbooks). I could not get a lease and was getting PHY errors.

Touchpad - the buttons are on the side which are really annoying but I could probably get used to them. But the touchpad is definintely better than the Dell Mini 10. I prefer the buttons on the buttom that are much crsiper.

Screen - the 576 vertical resolution is definitely a pain since 600 of most Netbooks is too small. The screen seems somewhat brighter than the Lenovo.

Ports & Form Factor - these I knew about so wasn't suprised. No VGA. Ethernet is plugged. Two USBs (like the Lenovo). It is too narrow, IMHO. Sitting side by side the top of the screen is a full 3/4" shorter than the Ideapad. These sacrifices are needless in my opnion because it makes the form factor too small and thin.

Upgradeability - RAM bay is easy on the back, takes up to 2GB but you have to remove the keyboard to upgrade the drive.

Noise: It is definitely seems quieter that the Lenovo. Not sure whether it is the driver or the fan.

Bottom line: I've very happy with my Lenovo even though it hurts my hands and the keyboard is small. Overall Linux runs much better. I don't see the need for a slow (if quiet) flash drive. The form factor of the Mini is just too weird for me. The Ideapad feels like a small version of a real laptop.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Are 6 cell batteries ruining Netbooks (or why you should return your Dell Mini 10)

So based on these pictures of the new Lenovo S-10-2 it looks like the S-10-2 which otherwise looks like a winner, has the same ugly, bulky, downward-extending battery as the Dell Mini-10, which my parents ended up not liking (and hopefully will be able to return)

Here are my beefs on the Dell Mini-10 (with Ubuntu) most which relate to the touchpad:
  • Given that it is Ubuntu 8.04 the Xorg (synaptics) touchpad driver is not the same as in 9.04 and it is impossible to make the touchpad usable, despite all the tweaking of the mouse settings. This may be both a software as well as a hardware issue but it is does not bode well for Linux.
  • The touch pad and mouse buttons are all-in-one. It is nearly impossible to click.

As I would expect from Dell, sloppy engineering shortcuts, both in hardware and software.

And now Lenovo only sells the S10-2 with these bulky 6-cell monsters and has the ugly shiny finish.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Netbook Broadcom (43xx) Cards with Debian Lenny

So with Ubuntu 9.04 (and possibly earlier) the Broadcom Wireless NIC in your Netbook (mine happens to be a Lenovo Ideapad S10) should just work. But obviously this will not happen with Debian 5.0. Because very little in Debian just works.

So the first thing to know is to ignore an articles such as these that tell you to mess with firmware. Also ignore whatever is on the Debian.

You do NOT have to use the fwcutter tools. Do it this way.

First, install your kernel headers (I use an OpenVZ kernel)

# apt-get install linux-headers-`uname -r`

Download the module source for the Linux STA driver from Broadcom.

Create a directory and uncompress the tarball (mine was hybrid-portsrc-x86_32-v5_10_91_9.tar.gz)

debian-s10:~/bc# pwd
debian-s10:~/bc# ls
built-in.o Makefile src wl.mod.o
hybrid-portsrc-x86_32-v5_10_91_9.tar.gz modules.order wl.ko wl.o
lib Module.symvers wl.mod.c

The above is what you should see when you after you compile the module using the step below. Execute the command below from wihtin the directory that has the Makefile

# make -C /lib/modules/`uname -r`/build/ M=`pwd`

The resulting module you care about is wl.ko (assuming you have the ieee80211 module installed you will be able to insmod this and see the following in dmesg)

[  922.523743] ACPI: PCI Interrupt 0000:05:00.0[A] -> GSI 18 (level, low) -> IRQ 18
[ 922.523997] PCI: Setting latency timer of device 0000:05:00.0 to 64
[ 922.622849] ieee80211_crypt: registered algorithm 'TKIP'
[ 922.623123] eth1: Broadcom BCM4315 802.11 Wireless Controller
and with a lshw

description: Wireless interface
product: BCM4312 802.11b/g
vendor: Broadcom Corporation
physical id: 0
bus info: pci@0000:05:00.0
logical name: eth1
version: 01
serial: 00:21:00:7e:7a:7d
width: 64 bits
clock: 33MHz
capabilities: pm msi pciexpress bus_master cap_list ethernet physical wireless
configuration: broadcast=yes driver=wl0 driverversion= ip= latency=0 module=wl multicast=yes wireless=IEEE 802.11bg

so I modified /etc/modules so that it looks like

# /etc/modules: kernel modules to load at boot time.
# This file contains the names of kernel modules that should be loaded
# at boot time, one per line. Lines beginning with "#" are ignored.
# Parameters can be specified after the module name.

So that ieee80211 gets loaded and then added the following line to my rc.local file (before the exit 0, obviously)

insmod /usr/local/lib/modules/`uname -r`/wl.ko

After copying the module there and creating the directory (remember mkdir -p is your friend)

Now NetworkManager should work just fine. And WPA2 worked just fine with my crappy Westell AP.

I tried putting in somewhere in lib/modules/`uname -r` with no luck, but this works for me...

* * *

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Additional keywords: NERC, FERC. SCADA. Project Grey Goose. Cyberwar. ISN. TASE.2

Best Linux Virtualization for Netbooks?

So I use my Lenovo Ideapad S10 as my main Linux box nearly 40% of the time. I've 1.5GB of RAM and 120GB drive so this a decent machine. My current setup is two Linux partitions, one for Ubuntu 9.04 and the other for Debian 5.0. Ubuntu is my production distro and Debian is for bleeding edge stuff. My main requirement is to run Linux VM's (of other distros than what I run on the host) because if I need to run Windows or Solaris or whatever I can connect to a remote system. For Linux systems I want "server virtualization" meaning I don't have to have a console up. Realistically there is no single solution that will meet my requirements, but here are my thoughts on the alteratives for running on a Linux Atom-based Netbook.

1) OpenVZ - this would be my first choice. Unfortunately there are only kernel for Ubuntu 8.04 LTS and Debian for the these and Ubuntu LTS is too old to work well for a desktop on netbooks. I have yet to get the Broadcom drivers working yet on Debian and the latest stable OpenVZ kernel patches are 2.6.18. I guess the real issue is if I could get the Broadcom drivers working on the stock kernel that would be the way to go.

2) VMware Player - I don't want to put VMWare Server 2.x on my laptop and this seems like the logical choice. I already have this for BSD or Windows.

3) lguest - this is something new that I've just discovered. Can I run a CentOS VM under this. Not sure.

I don't care for VirtualBox and Qemu is too damn slow. Is there anything else I'm missing?