Category Archives: Hardware

Test bed: Dell Latitude D600

Because life isn’t interesting enough, last week I pinned down a used computer and brought it home.


That is a plain-Jane Dell Latitude D600, with not a bell or whistle to brag about. Jane came into the house along with an assortment of leftover PCMCIA wireless cards, a docking station that may or may not work with this model, a power cord and an excellent lesson in the power of patiently bargaining over three or four days.

And in return, I parted with the rough equivalent of US$50.

This is 4dkln41 — a 400 MHz-bus Pentium M, 1.6Ghz, with a lowly 512Mb of memory, Intel Pro/Wireless 2100 and an ATI Mobility FireGL 9000 on a 1400×1050 LCD. This machine reminds me a lot of the Insprion 8000 I kept for many years, in that it’s roughly the same size and shape, same era, and similar hardware.

It’s a bit scratched, not too purty, but 100 percent working in all the places that matter — keyboard, screen, audio, optical drive, power train, etc.

It came with some disadvantages in life, most notably that this particular machine is one of the rare ones that can’t handle PAE.

Up until now, PAE was just another acronym I had to run to Wikipedia to figure out. I hadn’t ever seen a machine that spat out errors about PAE.

Those three little letters turned out to be very important though. Linux Mint outright refused to boot, as did a couple of other smaller distros — all because of PAE. 😦

Arch, on the other hand, didn’t seem to care. But installing Arch on it came with its own set of headaches.

Most notably, absolutely hideous video performance. Some of the worst I’ve ever seen. Arch’s xf86 radeon driver was giving me redraws in IceWM that I could actually watch trace along the screen, and slowly fill with data.

It was painful. Honestly, I’ve seen K6-2’s with better redraw rates than that.

The vesa driver was about the same. I tried to build the catalyst driver, but my efforts were fruitless. The wiki instructions failed miserably. In desperation I even plugged in a few third-party repos and backdated versions of xorg-xserver. But things were either the same — or worse.

This couldn’t be the case, I thought. It can’t be that this machine is doomed to such lousy performance. Perhaps there is a mechanical issue, I thought.

As a troubleshooting measure (I swear) I installed Windows XP. Dell’s support site archives all the appropriate drivers, and the proprietary ATI Catalyst package for XP was marvelous.

Instantaneous performance. No wicked laggy redraws. Full 3D acceleration. Video modes from 1400×1050 to 800×600, no sweat. So at least I knew it wasn’t hardware-related.

Of course I have no love — or need — for Windows, but the future of the machine was bleak without some sort of proper distro on there. I briefly thought of running an XP system with only free applications on it. And quickly moved on from that idea.

I also contemplated just running a framebuffer system, but it was a bit disapppointing after watching Windows spin through Deus Ex (best game ever) at full detail and full resolution. And even Arch’s radeonfb environment was sluggish.

So for a short while it looked like Windows or nothing. A bad situation, to say the least. 😦

On one last hunch, I decided to try Debian. If the main limiting factor was PAE, then possibly one of Debian’s versions would sidestep that issue.

And Debian’s always been the go-to distro in my times of direst need. Maybe this time it would be successful.

To make an already too long story short, Debian’s i386 version installed without harassing me about PAE. It put a picture-perfect graphical desktop in place, and best of all, performance was magnificent.

Almost as good, if not on par, with Windows. No draggy desktops, no slow filling of application windows. Full screen h264 video (no 1080p, of course). It was bewildering.


And Debian on that machine runs like a cat on fire. Insane start speed. Faster than Arch. Faster than the dual core. Faster than the dual core with Arch. 😯

X pops into place like it’s jacked up on sugar. And as you can see in the screenshot, much of my same grotesque old pretend-Windows XP Classic theme translates directly to Debian.

True, I have to manhandle the fonts a little, but it works. And 3D acceleration is still a bit fuzzy. As in, I haven’t really tried yet.

Overall, this is more than just a bit of a shock. With so many failings — either hideous video performance under Arch, or refusing to even start because of PAE in three or four other distros — for Debian to punch a hole through and come out shining on the other side … well, it’s a Christmas miracle. Or something like that. πŸ˜‰

P.S.: The guts? Here you are. PDF alert.

Test bed: Acer Aspire V5-122P

My intercontinental transition is more or less complete, and with a new home comes a new array of toys.

For the last week or so I’ve been using a home-grade lightweight department store PC as a test bed. This is an Acer Aspire V5-122P.


It’s been a long time since I bought a new computer, and ordinarily I would be averse to it.

I was losing time though, and had no local connections for leftover hardware, and this had the right price on it.

Guts are:

System:    Host: v5-122p Kernel: 3.8.0-19-generic i686 (32 bit, gcc: 4.7.3) Distro: Linux Mint 15 Olivia
Machine:   Mobo: Acer model: Aspire V5-122P version: V2.04 Bios: Insyde version: V2.04 date: 05/10/2013
CPU:       Dual core AMD A4-1250 APU with Radeon HD Graphics (-MCP-) cache: 2048 KB 
           flags: (lm nx sse sse2 sse3 sse4_1 sse4_2 sse4a ssse3 svm) bmips: 3992.46 
           Clock Speeds: 1: 1000.00 MHz 2: 1000.00 MHz
Graphics:  Card: Advanced Micro Devices [AMD] nee ATI Kabini [Radeon HD 8210] bus-ID: 00:01.0 
           X.Org: 1.13.3 drivers: ati (unloaded: fbdev,radeon) FAILED: vesa Resolution: 1368x768@0.0hz 
           GLX Renderer: Gallium 0.4 on llvmpipe (LLVM 3.2, 128 bits) GLX Version: 2.1 Mesa 9.1.3 Direct Rendering: Yes
Audio:     Card-1: Advanced Micro Devices [AMD] FCH Azalia Controller driver: snd_hda_intel bus-ID: 00:14.2
           Card-2: Advanced Micro Devices [AMD] nee ATI Device 9840 driver: snd_hda_intel bus-ID: 00:01.1
           Sound: Advanced Linux Sound Architecture ver: k3.8.0-19-generic
Network:   Card: Atheros AR9565 Wireless Network Adapter driver: ath9k bus-ID: 01:00.0
           IF: wlan3 state: up mac: 00:1d:76:c3:bc:5c
Drives:    HDD Total Size: 500.1GB (42.0% used) 1: id: /dev/sda model: ST500LT012 size: 500.1GB 
           Optical: No optical drives detected.
Info:      Processes: 167 Uptime: 1 day Memory: 542.8/3475.2MB Runlevel: 2 Gcc sys: 4.7.3 Client: Shell inxi: 1.8.4 

My personal opinions are sometimes one way, and sometimes the other.

It’s got terrific battery life, which is not something I’m used to. It’s very light and has a strong display, which are also things I’m not used to.

And I can honestly say this is the first computer I’ve ever had with a touchscreen.

On the other hand, I am used to machines that run me US$20 or so at the max. This was a good deal more than that, even if it was a bargain-basement price.

But I can hardly complain. This is running Linux Mint 15 (as you might have noticed) without effort, setting up perfectly and with no complications save a failure to properly turn off. No biggie.

(It did come with that abortion of an operating system, Windows 8, preinstalled. The salesperson was horrified when I told him I planned to put Linux on it. And he ran away mad when I told him Win8 was unilaterally despised. 😈 )

My plans include a shift to Arch and a different window manager to be sure. Mint with MATE is a little laggy on this.

After that, probably drop back to console applications. And there you have it.

Test bed: Gateway Solo 2150

Here’s the test machine du jour in action.

System: Host: solo-2150 Kernel: 3.6.8-1-ARCH i686 (32 bit, gcc: 4.7.2) Console: tty 10 Distro: Arch Linux
Machine: Mobo: Gateway model: Solo 2150 version: Rev 1.0 Bios: Gateway version: 17.50 date: 01/21/2000
CPU: Single core Celeron (Coppermine) (-UP-) cache: 128 KB flags: (sse) bmips: 1002.05 clocked at 501.145 MHz
Graphics: Card: Advanced Micro Devices [AMD] nee ATI Rage Mobility P/M AGP 2x bus-ID: 01:00.0 chip-ID: 1002:4c4d
X-Vendor: N/A driver: tty size: 146x26 Advanced Data: N/A out of X
Audio: Card: Creative Labs Ectiva EV1938 driver: snd_ens1371 ports: 10c0 1080 bus-ID: 00:09.0 chip-ID: 1102:8938
Sound: Advanced Linux Sound Architecture ver: 1.0.25
WAN IP: None Detected! IF: eth0 ip: ip-v6: fe80::2a0:b0ff:fe2c:631d
Drives: HDD Total Size: 12.1GB (33.1% used)
1: id: /dev/sda model: TOSHIBA_MK1214GA size: 12.1GB serial: 60C95063T
Optical: /dev/sr0 model: N/A rev: N/A dev-links: cdrom
Features: speed: 24x multisession: yes audio: yes dvd: yes rw: none state: N/A
Partition: ID: / size: 7.6G used: 1.4G (18%) fs: ext2 dev: /dev/sda3
ID: /home size: 3.3G used: 2.4G (74%) fs: ext2 dev: /dev/sda4
ID: /boot size: 92M used: 29M (32%) fs: ext2 dev: /dev/sda1
ID: swap-1 size: 0.25GB used: 0.00GB (0%) fs: swap dev: /dev/sda2
Unmounted: ID: /dev/sr0 size: 1.07G label: N/A uuid: N/A
ID: /dev/fd0 size: 0.00G label: N/A uuid: N/A
Info: Processes: 69 Uptime: 4:00 Memory: 56.4/277.9MB Runlevel: 5 Gcc sys: 4.7.2 Client: Shell (bash) inxi: 1.8.23

2012-12-06-solo-2150That’s the insides. But the outsides are another reason I picked it out, for a lowly $15 (plus or minus). The physical condition is impeccable, with no scratches and only a few odd spots of grime that washed away without any effort.

Nothing is perfect though. There are a few shortcomings, some of which are internal and problematic.

For one, there seems to be some inconsistencies between the Rage Mobility card, and the available drivers for mach64-based cards. I put Xorg et al. in place, but the available drivers — and a few that were self-built — worked only in part.

Closest was a working desktop that started up fine, but crashed back to the terminal as soon as any graphic element moved … like the mouse pointer. 😐

Apparently this BIOS also has problems too. The kernel spits out a warning message on every boot, about ACPI errors that can’t be worked around. That also alienates the built-in network jack and USB hub. Neither one can be detected by the kernel, and don’t respond to my efforts to prod them. (Note, 2013-01-31: the USB and ports were restored with an obscure BIOS setting; the network plug may have life in it but the kernel can’t sense it and I find no documentation or drivers to reveal its innards.)

All of those things can be comfortably worked around though, and with no major heartache. I have plenty of leftover PCMCIA network and USB cards, some of which accrued even when I thought I was out of the ancient laptop game.

And videowise, there’s little I could expect to do with a Rage Mobility that isn’t just as accessible through the framebuffer or just the vesa driver. So I lose a meager shred of 3D acceleration? Oh well.

Best of all? Well, best of all … I can’t say that it’s fanless, but I have yet to hear it turn on. Many times I’ve wished back to the late 1990s for a computer that could run silent. This might be as close as I get. πŸ™‚