Networking with DSL & Linksys NP100

This post will briefly detail my experience setting up the Linksys NP100 PCMCIA 10/100 Ethernet adapter in DSL. It is currently fully functional, and getting networking (even ethernet) on this old beast was a real benefit.

First, I was saved from the trouble I had with TinyCore by the fact that DSL run cardmgr, a utility for interfacing with PCMCIA cards. I plugged in the card and it recognized it at boot immediately- dmesg showed

eth0: Asix AX88190: io 0x300, irq 3, hw_addr 00:04:5A:A5:66:08

This card uses the AX88190 chip, which means that although normally it tries to use the pcnet_cs driver, you must manually bind it to axnet_cs.
Open /etc/pcmcia/config with a text editor, and search for the paragraph on the Linksys NP-100. Change the line that says

bind "pcnet_cs"

to

bind "axnet_cs"

Next open /etc/pcmcia/config.opts, and add this to the end of the file:

card "Fast Ethernet 10/100 PC Card"
  version "Network Everywhere", "Fast Ethernet 10/100 PC Card", "3.0", "AX88190"
  manfid 0x0149, 0xc1ab
  bind "axnet_cs"

After this you should blacklist the pcnet_cs driver by opening /etc/modprobe.d/blacklist, and adding the line

blacklist pcnet_cs

Save and exit.
Now because DSL doesn’t autoconfigure the network (no dhcpcd or dhclient) at startup you need to set it up manually, with a static IP address:

sudo ifconfig eth0 desired_ip netmask 255.255.255.0

Changing desired_ip to your desired static IP.
This got the card functioning for me. If anyone else has any different experience or corrections to make, please leave a comment or send me an email at cortman@ubuntu.com.

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DSL on the 460CDT

After a long leave of absence, I picked up the old Toshiba 460CDT again, determined as ever to get a working GNU/Linux system working on it. Just so you know what I’m dealing with, here‘s a link to the full system specs.

This time I am happy to report some success, with DSL. DSL (the acronym stands for a somewhat unsavory title) is an old but solid little distro built loosely on Debian and Knoppix. After a hiatus of some years, it appears that the devs are back at work on it, and the latest DSL release (4.4.10) was made available in August 2012.

Because it is partly Debian based it has a lot of similarity with it in regards to how the system is laid out and configured (as opposed to, say Tiny Core). It installs and runs from a computer’s internal HDD, and the base system (on my machine) with no programs running uses a whopping 9 MB of RAM.

All in all, it’s truly a remarkably light and yet functional little system. It comes bundled with many useful applications such as a terminal, emelfm (file manager), and various GUI config tools. Even has a nice selection of games. 😉 I’m really enjoying using DSL, and am glad development has resumed on it.
I have tried countless distros on this machine, and I have thus far only had any luck with three:

  • Slitaz base install (no GUI)
  • Tiny Core
  • DSL

As the most recent attempt at a Slitaz base install failed, and as a Slitaz base install is somewhat useless, my only other option for this computer besides DSL was Tiny Core. Tiny Core is a more up-to-date distro that has (as I’ve noted elsewhere) a strong development team and a helpful and active forums. The trouble I have with TC, however is-

  • Poor/nonexistent PCMCIA support
  • Too much RAM usage

Of course the very nature of TC is that it loads itself into RAM at boot (thereby helping it run very fast on old machines) but with only 64 MB it was too much. The base system with wireless firmware modules used up 57 MB alone, leaving very little extra for any other programs.
But I gave it a try. By trimming down packages loaded at boot, trimming excess kernel modules, and configuring a swap partition, I had the base system down to about 22 MB.
This was satisfactory, but my next goal- get a working network connection going- failed. PCMCIA support seemed lacking, and I kept running into dead ends. Furthermore, my attempts to run some of TC’s SCM (self-contained programs) failed as some packages are too new (based on i686, not =<i586).

So I went back to DSL. I scavenged a replacement HDD for the machine, and boosted my internal storage from 2 GB to 30 GB. DSL is using up about 1 GB and still runs in less than 10 MB of RAM. By dint of a lot of research and some better PCMCIA support in DSL, I even managed to get my (donated by a fellow enthusiast) Linksys NP100 ethernet adapter card working, and the machine is now online and running great.

DSL was an easy installation. It requires pre-made partitions (the installer script wisely avoids any attempt to partition) but it installs quickly and smoothly. The default JWM desktop is very easy to use and very responsive, and I’m eager to try my hand at JWM configuration.

For the benefit of anyone else with a similar machine and/or network adapter, I will be documenting my full experiences getting the ethernet adapter to work in another post.

Oh, and finally, a screenshot. 🙂

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Acer Aspire One 722-0369 Overheating Solved

My varied experiences with running Linux on this netbook is well documented in the “My Hardware” category of this site, and a brief perusal will reveal that it has been, if nothing else, varied.

My distro hopping has stopped, or at least slowed down, with Crunchbang 11 (Waldorf). The only remaining fairly serious issue I’ve had is that the computer tends to overheat, and I can’t hear/feel the fans running. I managed to ignore it for a while until I realized how foolish it was to ignore it, and did some research.

I wound up installing lm-sensors and thinkfan (both available in the Debian repositories). With no further configuration, this seems to have taken care of the problem. The netbook runs a good 10° C cooler than previously, and I can feel the fan running (it’s ridiculously quiet). I check the temperatures by running

sensors

What distro should I use on my old computer?

This question comes up time and again. This article will attempt to provide a bit of an opinion, if nothing else.

Disclaimers:

This article is a VERY SKETCHY overview of MY OWN OPINIONS on lightweight GNU/Linux distros. I will be the last to deny the possibility that I am ENTIRELY WRONG ABOUT EVERYTHING. If your favorite is not represented here, DON’T PANIC. Send me a note and I’ll check it out. 🙂

Terminology:

  • DE- Desktop Environment (includes panels, window managers, docks, etc.)
  • WM- Window Manager (software to enable running GUI programs, no docks, bars, panels, etc. included)

First, what’s old?

For clarity’s sake we’ll divide them into several categories. The most common benchmarks for measuring a computer’s speed and ability are RAM quantity and CPU speed.

RAM                CPU SPEED                             AGE GROUP
64-256 MB       100-450 MHz, single core           Ancient
256-768 MB     500-900 MHz, single core           Elderly
1-1.5 GB          1-2 GHz, single core                  Senior
1.5-2 GB          1-2 GHz, dual core                     Middle Aged

Debian

Since this is my article I will start with my perennial favorite, Debian.
For someone wanting stability and to go back to the “roots” of many of today’s popular OS’s, the Debian Project is the ideal distro. Debian comes in three flavors; Stable, Testing, and Unstable. All come with the Gnome desktop environment. While Stable (as of this writing) can probably be used with Elderly computers, the other two will likely run best on Middle Aged and up.

Then there are the Debian deriviatives:

  • Crunchbang
  • antiX
  • MEPIS

First and foremost (in my mind) is Crunchbang. Based on a minimal Debian Stable system, it uses Openbox and Tint2 for a very lightweight but extremely elegant desktop. Crunchbang is solid, reliable, and looks fantastic on top of it. Recommended for Elderly up.
antiX is Debian Testing based and uses Fluxbox and Icewm which put it in the same catagory as Crunchbang; good for Elderly on up.
MEPIS uses KDE and therefore is best for Middle Aged.

Ubuntu

Ubuntu is Debian based and is easy to install and use.
Vanilla Ubuntu has outdistanced these computers in terms of optimal performance. Since we aren’t talking minimum requirements, we’ll be generous with resources for each distro.
There are several official Ubuntu derivatives (we’ll only look at the main ones)

  • Kubuntu
  • Xubuntu
  • Lubuntu
  • (and the upcoming Gn[ou]buntu)

Kubuntu is too heavy for anything older than Middle Aged. Yes, it will probably run, but not well, and certainly not optimally.
Gn[ou]buntu (the name has yet to be confirmed) using pure Gnome shell, would likely be in the same catagory as Kubuntu/Ubuntu.
Xubuntu and Lubuntu use the XFCE and LXDE desktop environments, respectively. Of these LXDE/Lubuntu is arguably the lighter. Pure XFCE is probably as lightweight as LXDE, but Xubuntu comes with many Gnome apps, which, while often more polished than their lightweight counterparts, take a toll in speed.

There are the unofficial Ubuntu derivatives, such as

  • Bodhi Linux
  • Zorin
  • Linux Mint
  • WattOS

Bodhi Linux is Ubuntu with the Enlightenment desktop environment. Enlightenment is very lightweight and can be customized to look very polished. It has graphical tools for all configurations and has a built in lightweight compositing manager.
WattOS utilizes the OpenBox window manager, and focuses on low power consumption. The project however appears to be more or less dormant.
Linux Mint is a popular distro that uses MATE (a Gnome 2 fork), Cinnamon (a Gnome 3 derivative), KDE, and XFCE. Cinnamon and KDE can be considered in roughly the same category, as can XFCE and MATE.

Then there are the tiny distros.

Tiny Linux

  • Tiny Core
  • DSL
  • Puppy Linux
  • Slitaz

Tiny Core is a unique system that loads only a completely base system by default. The user customizes it by adding software “modules” that the OS loads at boot, thus keeping computing requirements at an absolute minimum. TC loads itself into the RAM upon boot and runs from RAM; persistent changes can be saved. This makes it a poor choice for REALLY RAM poor machines, however; 64 MB should be the absolute minimum.
Tiny Core is BUILT for Ancient computers.
DSL is similar to TC but is easier to install straight to a HDD. It supports a number of lightweight WMs, such as Icebox, Fluxbox, Icewm, and JWM. DSL is best for Ancient computers as well.
Puppy Linux aims at being a complete GUI solution for old PC’s. It is built from scratch and comes with a large suite of software. It runs quite well on high-end Ancient to Elderly computers.
Slitaz uses a very slick, useful amalgamation of DE and WM components to create a very good looking and easy-on-the-hardware interface. This is a fine distro and is perfect for all Elderly computers.

You’ve probably figured out by now that DE/WM is easily the most influential part of any operating system’s relative “weight”. Pick your DE or WM wisely and nearly all distros will function more or less the same, the one exception being on Ancient computers.

My personal recommendation? If it’s ancient, run a CLI only system on it. 😈


TinyCore Notes

I’m currently (in between a lot of demanding real life projects) trying to run TinyCore on my Toshiba Satellite Pro 460CDT. TinyCore is an excellent project with an active dev team and a helpful forums. I’ll use this post to keep track of useful tricks and “dumbed down to cortman’s level of comprehension” commentary on installing and using TC.

Bootcodes:

  • Tce=sda1
  • Multivt
  • Home=sda1
  • Host=shagrat
  • Vga=788

Notes:

  • Bootcodes can be added/removed from /mnt/sda1/tce/boot/extlinux/extlinux.conf
  • Persistent home is just the device- “home=sda1”
  • Same for tce- “tce=sda1”
  • Store all extensions in /mnt/sda1/tce/optional
  • To add extensions to onboot, add the name of the extension (i.e., “screen.tcz”) to /tce/onboot.lst
  • Do the same for ondemand.lst

The “New” Laptop

The other day I picked up yet another laptop- well, it was FREE. It’s a Toshiba Satellite Pro 460CDT, in almost perfect condition- barely needs cleaning, and just a few slight scratches on the cover. Before anyone gets too excited about it, here’s a picture. And full specs.

Showing my previous attempt to put AntiX on it.

This beauty runs an original Pentium processor at a blazing fast 166 Mhz. With a 32 KB cache, 64 MB of RAM and a cavernous 2 GB HDD, this is the machine of your dreams… in 1997.

The 12″ screen is clean and bright, zero dead pixels or artifacts, and will display at 800×600. On a screen that size it honestly doesn’t seem too big or pixelated, although I do have to think of my 11″ netbook running 1366×768…
The back fairly bristles with ports and connections, serial ports, parallel ports, nameless 30 pin this, 20 pin that, 50 pin something else with giant hooks and couplers to hold the cables on- I haven’t even identified half of them yet. And the real gem- a single, lonely but gloriously useful USB 1.1 port. 🙂
At about 2″ thick and weighing a portly 7 pounds it’s even portable, in a vague sense. I haven’t tested the battery, but it held a charge for at least two minutes, so it doesn’t appear to be a total loss.
Right now I’m working on putting Slitaz CLI only on it- I would have loved to go Arch but Arch has yet to spawn a viable i586 compatible release, despite numerous efforts in the past.
But with no networking capabilities beyond an RJ11 port, installing software is going to be tough. My best option at this point seems to be repackaging the EasyTether for Android .deb file as .tazpkg, and hopefully avoid dependency misery.
We’ll see. 🙂


Linux on Acer Aspire One 722-0369: II

In my last post about my Acer netbook, I wrote about how I had tested several distros on it and Fedora 16 LXDE was the only one that suited me for it.

Well, it’s changed.

The sad thing is, as much as I would like to like Fedora, it takes FOREVER to boot. Minute-and-a-half boot times are quite common, and for a machine with 4 GB RAM, dual core 1.3 GHz processor and an SSD that is just plain unacceptable.

I’ve been through dmesg time and time again. The main holdup can vary, but primarily it seems to be activating the wireless. After finding little on blacklisting wireless at bootup, and after borking the current system with a little too much experimentation, I decided it’s time for another change, back to one of the two distros I wanted most to run on it: Bodhi Linux.

Bodhi is based on Ubuntu LTS. The current version (Bodhi 1.4) is built on top of Ubuntu 10.04, and the next release (scheduled for June) will be based on the newest LTS, 12.04. Bodhi uses the Enlightenment DE, although you can install other DE’s if you wish. Enlightenment is… well, interesting. In some ways it feels like dated future tech (how’s that for nonsense?) but overall I find the experience to be polished and functional. On top of that, it’s extremely lightweight.

Enlightenment is almost infinitely customizable, and (gasp) there are GUI tools to do virtually everything related to customizing. Indeed, learning to navigate through the plethora of menus and options is one of the steepest learning curves I’ve found yet.

But because it’s infinitely customizable, you can make your desktop look pretty much ANY way you want. I’m going for a fairly minimal setup myself (easier on the li’l netbook) but you can get it as glitzy, gadgety, and ornate as you want. And many of the wallpapers available in the Art Wiki are absolutely stunning.

Bodhi also has a great community and an active forums. The project is definitely very alive, and that in itself is reassuring.

All told; I think I’ll be much happier with Bodhi (at least with its boot time- 26 seconds) than I was with Fedora, but we’ll see. Crunchbang still beckons alluringly… 🙂