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Tuesday·12·October·2010

Still happy with the ASUS EeePC 701 //at 16:02 //by abe

from the Good-Hardware dept.

Recently Eric asked on the LUG Vorarlberg mailing list about netbook experience. I wrote a lengthy reply summarizing my experiences with the ASUS EeePC 701. And I thought this is something I probably should share with more people than only one LUG:

I ordered an ASUS EeePC 701 (4G) with US keyboard layout at digitec in Spring 2008, got it approximately one month later and posted a first resumé after one month in my blog.

I’m still very happy with the EeePC 701, despite two commonly mentioned drawbacks (the small screen resolution and the small SSD – which I both don’t see as real problems) and some other minor issues.

What matters

  • Very robust and compact case. And thanks to a small fan being the only moving part inside, the EeePC 701 is also very robust against mobile use.
  • Very pleasing always-in-my-daypack size (despite the 7" screen it’s the typical 9" netbook size) and easily held with one hand.
  • Black. No glossy display. Neither clear varnish nor piano laquer. Short: No bath room tile. Textured surface, small scratches don’t stick out and don’t matter.
  • Debian (previously Lenny, now Sid) runs fine on it, even the webcam works out-of-the-box.
  • Despite all those neat features, it was fscking cheap at that time. And it was available without Windows.

Nice to have

  • There’s power on the USB sockets even if the EeePC is turned off but the power supply is plugged in.
  • The speakers are impressingly good and loud for their size. (But my demands with regards to audio are probably not too high, so audiophiles shouldn’t run to ebay because of this. ;-)
  • It has three external USB sockets.

What doesn’t matter

  • The small 7" 800×480 screen: I like small fonts and do most things inside a terminal anyway. And even with 800×480, those terminals are still much bigger than 80×25 characters. Only some applications and webpages have no heart for small screens.
  • The small disk size: Quite a lot of programs fit on 4 GB of disk space. Additionally I use tmpfs a lot. And music and video files are either on a external 500 GB Western Digital 2.5" “My Passport” disk (which I need quite seldomly) or much more come via sshfs and IPv6 from my home server anyway. :-)
  • The small keyboard: I just don’t have any problems with the size or layout (right shift right of the cursor up key, etc.) of the keyboard. Well, maybe except that any standard sized keyboard feels extremely large after having used the EeePC exclusively for some weeks. ;-)
  • The to 630 MHz underclocked 900 MHz Intel Celeron: It’s enough for most of the things I do with the EeePC. Also the original 512 MB RAM are somehow ok, but for using tmpfs, but no swap space at all, 1 GB or 2 GB are surely the better choice.
  • A battery runtime of 2.5h to 3h is fine for me.

What’s not so nice

  • The “n” key needs to be pressed slighty stronger than other keys, otherwise no “n” appears. So if one of my texts in average misses more “n” than other letters, I typed it on the EeePC. ;-)
  • Home, End, Page-Up, and Page-Down need the Fn key. This means that these keys can only be used with two hands (or one very big hand and I have quite small hands). This is usually no problem and you get used to it. It’s just annoying if you hold the EeePC with one hand and try to type with the other.
  • What looks like a single mouse button is a seesaw and therefore two mouse buttons below one button. This makes it quite hard to press both at the same time, e.g. for emulating a middle mouse button press. It usually works in about half of all cases I tried it. My solution was to bind some key combination to emulate a middle mouse button in my window manager, ratpoison:
    bind y ratclick 2
    And that mouse button bar already fell off two times.
  • The battery reports only in 10% steps, and reporting in percentage instead of mAh is an ACPI standard violation because reporting in percentage is only allowed for non-rechargable batteries. It also doesn’t report any charging and discharging rates. But in the meanwhile nearly all battery meter can cope with these hardware bugs. This was quite a problem in the early days.
  • Now, after approximately 1.5 years, the battery slowly fritzes: When charging there are often only seconds between 10% and 40%. Rigorously using up all power of the battery helped a little bit. Looks like some kind of memory effect althought the battery is labeled Li-Ion and not Ni-MH and Li-Ion batteries are said to have no memory effect.
  • The SD card reader only works fine if you once completed the setup of the original firmware or set the corresponding BIOS switch appropriately. No idea why.

Similar models

Technically, most of this also counts for the EeePC 900SD (not 901) which only differs in screen, resolution and disk size as well as CPU, but not on the the case. So same size, same robustness, same battery, same mainboard, bigger screen, resolution, disk and faster CPU. (The 901 has a different CPU, a different battery, and a different, glossy and partially chromed case.) See Wikipedia for the technical specifications of all EeePC models.

ASUS’ only big FAILure

Stopping to sell most EeePCs with Linux and cowardly teaming up with Microsoft after having shown big courage to come out with a Linux only netbook. Well, you probably already know, but it’s better without Windows

So basically you no more get these really neat netbooks from ASUS anymore and you get nearly no netbooks with Linux from ASUS in the stores anymore. It’s a shame.

Would I buy it again?

Sure.

Well, maybe I would also buy the 900SD, 900AX (replacing the harddisk with an SSD) or 702 (8G) instead of the 701, but basically they’re very similar. See Wikipedia for the differences between these EeePC models. And of course I still prefer the versions without Windows.

But despite the low price, the EeePC 701 is surprisingly robust and still works as on the first day (ok, except battery, the mouse button bar and the “n” key ;-), so I recently bought a second power supply (only white ones were available *grrrr*) and ordered a bigger third party battery plus an adapter to load the battery directly from the (second) power supply without EeePC inbetween.

What desktop do I use on the EeePC?

None.

I use ratpoison as window manager, uxterm, urxvt, and yeahconsole as terminal emulators (running zsh with grml based .zshrc even as root’s login shell :-), wicd-curses as network manager and xmobar (previously dzen2) with i3status as text-only panel. Installed editors are GNU Emacs 23, GNU Zile and nvi. (No vim. :-)

And of course a netbook wouldn’t be a netbook if it wouldn’t have a lot of network applications installed. For me the most important ones are: ssh, scp, autossh, sshfs, miredo, conkeror, git, hg, and rsync.

Monday·02·November·2009

Can’t resist this meme //at 18:24 //by abe

from the easy-guess? dept.

Just stumbled over this meme at Adrian (the meme seems to be started by madduck involuntarily), and since I’m fascinated by how people choose hostnames since my early years at university, I can’t resist to add my two cents to this meme.

To be exact, I have two schemes, one for servers out there somewhere (Hetzner, xencon, etc.) and they’re all wordplays on their domain name noone.org, e.g. symlink.to.noone.org (short name “sym” :-), gateway.to.noone.org (usually an alias for one of the machines below), virtually.noone.org (always a virtual machine, initially UML, soon a Xen DomU), etc. So nothing for a quiz here.

My other scheme is for all my machines at home and my mobile machines. I’ll start this list with the not so obvious hostnames, so the earlier you guess the scheme, the better you are (or the better you know me ;-). One more hint in advance: “(*)” means this attribute or fact made me choose the name for the machine and therefore can be used as hint for the scheme. :-)

azam
My first PC at all, a 386 with 25 MHz and MS-DOS. (Got named retroactively(*). Hadn’t hostnames at that time.)
ak (pronounced as letters)
Got it from my brother after he didn’t need it anymore. It initially was identical to azam, but once was upgraded to a 486. Still have the 386 board, though.
azka
My first self-bought computer, a pure SCSI system with a AMD K5-PR133 and 32 MB RAM. Initially had SuSE 4.4 and Windows 95 on. Still my last machine which had a Windows installed! :-)
m35
Same case and same speed as azka. Used it for experimenting(*) with Sid years ago.
azu
Initially also an AMD K5-PR133, later replaced by a Pentium 90 and used as DSL router.
azl
An HP Vectra 386/25N book size mini desktop I saved from the scrapyard at Y_Plentyn before his (first) move to Munich. The cutest(*) 386 I ever saw.
ayce
A 386 with 387 co-processor(*) and solded 8 MB of RAM.
ayca
A 1992 Toshiba T6400C 486 laptop bought at VCFe 5.0.
bijou
My 1996 ThinkPad 760ED, which is still working and running Debian GNU/Linux 5.0 Lenny (I started with Debian 3.0 Woody on it and always dist-upgraded it! :-)
gsa (pronounced as letters)
My long-time desktop after azka. A Pentium II with 400 MHz and 578 MB of RAM at the end. Bought used at LinuxTag 2003, it worked until end of last year when it started to suddenly switch off more and more often and now refuses to boot at all. Hasn’t been replaced yet though. I mostly use my laptops at home since then.
gsx (pronounced as letters)
An AMD K6 with 500 MHz I got from maol and which was used as Symlink test server more than once. (It was the machine initially named symlink.to.noone.org because of that.)
hy
My 32 bit Sparc, a Hamilton Hamstation.
hz (pronounced as letters)
My 64 bit Sparc, an UltraSparc 5.
tub
An HP Apollo 9000 Series 400, model 400t from 1990.
tpv (pronounced as letters, too ;-)
My Zaurus SL-5500G.
tryane
A Unisys Acquanta CP mini desktop with a passively cooled(*) 200 MHz Pemtium MMX. Used as DSL router for while, but the power supply fan was too noisy.
lna (pronounced as letters)
A 233 MHz Alpha
loadrunner
An IBM ThinkPad A31 running Sid. I use it as beside terminal.
pony
A Compaq LTE5100 laptop with a Pentium 90 running Sid.
dagonet
A Sony Vaio laptop which ran Debian GNU/kFreeBSD until it broke.

Those who know me quite good should already have guessed the scheme, even if they can’t assign all the names. For all others, here’s one name which doesn’t exactly fit into the scheme, but still is related in someway, but you need to knowledge of the theme’s subject to know the relation:

colani
A big tower from the early 90s designed by Colani.

Ok, and now the more obvious hostnames:

rosalie
A very compact Toshiba T1000LE 8086 laptop running ELKS and FreeDOS.
amisuper
Also an old Symlink test server from maol. He named it “dual”. 2x(*) Pentium I with 166 MHz. Unfortunately doesn’t boot anymore.
visa
An IBM NetVista workstation running Debian GNU/kFreeBSD. My current IRC host.
nemo
My ASUS EeePC running Debian 5.0 Lenny.
pluriel
My current WLAN router running FreeWRT.
c1
My MicroClient JrSX, an embedded 486SX compatible machine with 300 Mhz for VESA mountings.
c2
My MicroClient Jr, an embedded Pentium MMX compatible machine with 200 Mhz for VESA mountings.
c-crosser
My Lenovo ThinkPad T61 running Debian 5.0 Lenny.
c-cactus and c-metisse
The KVM based virtual(*) machines on c-crosser running Sid and Debian GNU/kFreeBSD.
jumper
My NAS(*) at home, currently a TheCus N4100. Soon to be replaced by some Mini-ITX box.

Any one who hasn’t guessed the scheme yet? For those understanding German it’s explained at the end of my old hardware page. For all others I suggest either to look at the domain name in my e-mail address (no, it’s usually not noone.org).

Still not clear? Well, feel free to ask me for all the gory details or mark the following white box to see the scheme as well as the explanations for nearly all hostnames hidden in there:

All the machines are named after Citroëns. Old machines after old Citroëns, current hardware after current Citroën models or prototypes.

Those names starting with “A” are 2CV derivatives since the 2CV was Citroëns “A” model. “AZ” was the 2CV, AZU and AK were 2CV vans and everything starting with AY (e.g. AYA, AYA2, AYB – but those don’t sound that nice ;-) is Dyane based, but I currently only use Méhara names (AYCA is the normal Méhari, AYCE the 4x4 version). Interestingly not everything starting with AYC is a Méhari: AYCD was the Acadiane, the Dyane van.

HY and HZ are variants of Citroëns “H van” (HX, HW and H1600 as well, but they don’t sound that nice), TUB was the pre-WWII “H van” prototype and later the nickname of the “H van” in France.

TPV was the name of the pre-WWII 2CV prototype and an abbreviation for Toute Petite Voiture (French for “Very Small Car”), hence the Zaurus, my smallest Linux box, got that name. Rosalie was the nickname of a rear-wheel drive pre-WWII Citroën.

M35 was a Wankel engine prototype of the Ami 8 and the Ami Super was the 4 cylinder version of the Ami 8. Bijou was a 2CV based coupé build by Citroën UK in the late 50s and early 60s.

Visa and LNA were 2CV predecessors which were available with 2CV engines, but were stopped before the 2CV. GSA and GSX are GS late derivatives.

C1, C2, (C3) Pluriel, C-Crosser, Jumper and Nemo are current Citroën models and C-Cactus and C-Métisse are recent Citroën prototypes and show cars.

The 2CV Dagonet was an aerodynamically optimised 2CVs by Jean Dagonet in the 50s. The Tryane is an aerodynamic and fuel efficient, three wheeled car by Friend Wood based on the 2CV and with a body of wood. And Colani once dressed a 2CV so that it broke several efficiency world records.

The Namco Pony was a 2CV based light utility truck (similar to the Méhari, but with steel body) built in Greece under license in many variants.

And Loadrunner is the name of some CX six-wheeler conversions.

Some links about the naming items:

Hope you had fun. I had. ;-)

Now playing: Willi Astor — Gwand Anham Ära

Mini-ITX based Home Server: Planning and Hardware //at 18:24 //by abe

from the availability-and-power-consumption dept.

Ever since my former desktop machine gsa died and I started using only laptops at home, I noticed a need for a home server for storing all my MP3s, holiday pictures, games, and backups of my other machines. And I also want a filtering web proxy at home again.

Current situation

Currently my Norhtec MicroClient Jr. “c2” with it’s 120 GB 2.5" harddisk does some of these jobs (mostly storage and backup), but it neither has the disk space nor the performance to do all the things I want.

For storage I once bought a TheCus N4100, the big brother of the popular and officially Debian supported N2100. Unfortunately there are a few things different than in the N2100 (NIC without MAC) which makes it much more difficult to get Debian on it and the original firmware doesn’t support NFS at all. *grmpf* I had hints from others who managed to get Debian on this NAS, but I didn’t find the time and leisure to really dig into cross-compiling kernels. (Although with the new 1.3.06 firmware, so called modules became possible also for the N4100 and a SSH module has been posted with which a Debian chroot could be installed and the required kernel build on the machine itself.)

I though wasn’t very angry when the N4100+ came out shortly after I bought the N4100, because the N4100+ was no more an ARM based device but had a Celeron processor inside instead. And a NAS which is built on average PC hardware wasn’t as appealing as some device based on some more exotic architecture mainly used in embedded devices. :-)

The Mini-ITX Appeal

This view changed rapidly, when Raffzahn showed me a few Mini-ITX boards and cases. I surfed around on Mini-ITX.com store and stumbled upon the NAS-like ES34069 case from Chenbro featuring four S-ATA hotswap 3.5" slots, a slim-line CD-ROM drive slot, a SD card reader, and enough space for an additional 2.5" hard disk and a low profile Mini-ITX board.

Additionally, the VIA EPIA SN series of Mini-ITX boards sports 4 S-ATA ports and either a passively cooled 1 GHz C7 processor or an actively cooled 1.8 GHz C7 processor. That should be enough power for a small multi-purpose home server while still keep the power consumption low. And I’m not the only one having this idea, Mini-ITX.com suggests this combination and Chenbro officially supports the VIA EPIA SN boards.

Additionally, Debian 5.0 Lenny seems to run fine on the SN series, only lm-sensors seems to have problems with SN18000G and SN10000EG (but not SN18000 and SN10000E).

So when the Chenbro ES34069 case showed up in digitec’s online shop, I ordered one there and a VIA EPIA SN18000G board at Brack. I didn’t order any disks since for data storage I plan to use the four Samsung 400 GB 3.5" S-ATA disks I bought for the N4100, and for the system I plant to use the 2.5" disk I initially bought for my MicroClient JrSX “c1”, but then continued to use it only with the CF card. Not yet sure, if I’ll also equip the slim-line optical drive slot, too.

The case took several weeks to deliver and the mainboard hasn’t arrived yet. Instead I got an e-mail from Brack that VIA products are currently very difficult to get in Switzerland. Reason is said to be that VIA tries to channel the distribution of their products to a single distributor. (Sounds somehow similar to what Apple tried with the iPhone and failed.)

Mini-ITX boards and power consumption

So I now have a nice case without a board. There aren’t that many Mini-ITX boards out there sporting 4 S-ATA ports. One which cleary stood out was the new Intel DG45FC Mini-ITX board with LGA775 socket. (In Switzerland neither available at Brack nor at digitec, but e.g. at PCP.) But reading the specs of this board it was also clear that it wasn’t thought for NAS systems but high-performance HTPCs — the focus seems to be on multimedia performance which a NAS doesn’t need.

Its newer sister, the Intel DQ45EK Mini-ITX board is focussed more on office and business PCs than on multimedia. But Intels remote adminstration is not really a plus for me (don’t need it, I’ve got SSH ;-) and it’s neither cheaper than the DG45FC nor does it have significantly lower power-consuption.

Despite the 120W power-supply there are people who already combined the Chenbro ES34069 with the Intel DG45FC or DQ45EK board, e.g. one of the administrators of the German NAS-Portal forums built such a machine and this German guy who wants to build a Windows Home Server based on such a combination. At least the NAS-Portal administrator found out that the board consumes so much power that together with the 4 S-ATA disks the included 120W power supply doesn’t suffice and the system is not stable in this configuration. Trusted Reviews review of the DG45FC explains why: It’s one of the first Mini-ITX board not following the MoDT idea, has a desktop chipset instead a mobile chipset and therefore hasn’t all of the power-saving features of those mobile chipsets.

But it’s easy to see anyway: Most of the CPUs supported by the DG45FC and DQ45EK boards have a TDP of 65W. Offically the processor cooler delivered with the case supports processors with up to 65W, but 65W is already more than the half of what the power supply delivers and according to the Trusted Reviews review, the board itself consumes another 35W itself. So for the four 3.5" S-ATA disks — which are usually not as economical as notebook disks — about 20W are left. This can’t work! The guy from NAS-Portal.org plans to solve the problem by using a universal 180W notebook power supply instead of the original one.

In comparison to the 100W of the both Intel boards, VIA’s SN18000G consumes only 26W (the fanless SN10000EG even only 22W) and that’s board and processor! That’s about ¼ of what the Intel board consumes. Imagine the difference between having a 100W light bulb (suffices for a whole small room) shining 365 days a year compared to a 25W light bulb (often used in bedside lamps) in a year.

Other Mini-ITX mainboards with 4x S-ATA include the following ones:

Conclusion

For now, I decided to wait a little bit more for my VIA EPIA SN18000G board which still seems to be the best board for the Chenbro ES34069 case although not really cheap. But if I once in a not that distant future decide to have a desktop at home again, I’m quite sure it’ll sport a cute Mini-ITX case (perhaps a nice black-orange HFX micro M1 case by mCubed — unfortunately the M2 is no more available in a color combination including orange ;-) with an Intel DG45FC or Kontron 986LCD-M/mITX and a decent Core 2 Duo processor.

Software Plans

Of course my home server will run Debian GNU/Linux 5.0 Lenny on it, with software RAID-5 and LVM2 over the 1.6 TB of S-ATA disks resulting in 1.2 TB available disk space which will be offered using at least NFS, SMB and SSH (think sshfs). Planned software includes BackupPC (a very fine pulling backup system for machines which are not online 24/7) and Privoxy. I’ll perhaps also install Tor and a caching proxy like Squid or Polipo. Another idea is to run Mediatomb on that machine. :-)

NSLU2 in a Tux Case //at 18:23 //by abe

from the embedded-in-a-tux dept.

It started harmless when Thomas asked on Linux User Group Switzerland mailing list if someone knows a tux-shaped alarm clock. But the topic of that thread quickly moved to two other things in tux shape: the Tux Droid, a device similar to the Nabaztag, but needs a Linux host with USB, and ACME SystemsTux-Server, a ETRAX CRIS based Foxboard inside a tux-shaped case.

We found out that Telion, the Swiss importer for Foxboards, also imports ACME Systems’ Tux Case — although the Tux Case is not mentioned on their website. Even better: They had a few old Tux Cases in stock which don’t fit anymore on current Foxboards since the position of the power socket changed. (So only one hole in the case was missing.) And they wanted to get rid of them quite fast: They offered us the Tux Cases for 10 CHF (6€) each instead of 28 CHF each (17€) if we buy all of them. Of course we couldn’t reject this offer and bought all five remaining cases.

Another part of the thread was about performance. Although ETRAX CRIS is used by its inventor AXIS in many of its products (they’re famous for the Linux based web-cams) many were not sure if the board’s performance would be sufficient for their ideas. Another disadvantage of the ETRAX CRIS architecture is that no mainstream Linux distribution supports it.

Another point was the Foxboard’s price (169€, ca. 268 CHF). Bones just mentioned that an NSLU2 costs only about 100 CHF (60€).

Probably on IRC someone (probably Bones, too) wondered if it’s possible to fit a NSLU2 into such a quite inexpensive Tux Case. We took Wikipedia’s picture of the NSLU2 board, compared the size of the USB ports on that picture, compared them with real-life USB ports and found out the size of the board that way. And when I got my Tux-Case I noticed that the NSLU2 board really could fit into the Tux-Case.

Since I’m already building a bigger NAS-like home server, I have no use for another, much slower NAS. But since I more or less gave up the also ARM-based Thecus N4100, another ARM-based machine in my hardware collection wouldn’t be bad.

So it didn’t took long and the idea was born to build the NSLU2 board into a Tux-Case and let the website tux.ethz.ch run on it. (I inherited its administration from Beat and it’s currently just a virtual host on one of our webservers.) Then it would be a server named Tux, serving Tuxes, looking like a Tux and running Tux’ operating system Linux. :-)

I ordered an NSLU2 at Brack for 117.60 CHF (ca. 70€). Played around with the original firmware for a moment, but it’s horrible from a security point of view: You can’t even change the admin password (default: “admin”) if no USB harddisk is attached. And no, a USB stick doesn’t suffice. So I didn’t wait long and tried to install Debian’s “armel” (ARM, Little Endian) port on it. But the NSLU2 refused the “new firmware” with the error message “Upgrade: no enough free space.”. While this is not in the Debian specific NSLU2 FAQ, it is mentioned in the general troubleshooting FAQ. As described in there, first upgrading to the most recent firmware version and then uploading the Debian installer worked fine.

After I had successfully installed Debian Lenny on a pqi 4 GB USB sticked into the NSLU2 and verified that everything is working fine, I opened the NSLU2 case and checked if it really would fit into a Tux Case.

It does, but very, very close. You’ll have to drill some holes and the ethernet socket will stick out Tux’s shoulder, but everything else should fit perfectly after a few mounting parts inside the Tux Case have been removed. As a proof of concept I laid the NSLU2 board on the Tux Case’s back:

Pictures taken with my Nokia E51

So later the LEDs will be in Tux’ one shoulder while the network socket will be in his other shoulder. And the USB stick will be inside his paunch via a USB hub.

water-proof mice //at 18:23 //by abe

from the *want* dept.

When I blogged about water-proof keyboards a few months ago I did not really expect that there will be water-proof mice (no IP classification though) so soon, too. (Found in an advertisment in the current issue of the German c’t magazine.)

But the idea of water-proof mice in general doesn’t seem to be as new as I initially expected, at least the web design of http://www.waterproofmouse.co.uk/ is very nineties. ;-)

RuggedTech even has washable, wireless, IP66 (protected against powerful water jets) mice with a scroll-wheel and completely silicone sealed IP68 mice (protected against immersion beyond 1m).

Mini-ITX based Home Server: Hardware Review //at 18:23 //by abe

from the the-waiting-has-an-end dept.

Mostly for my backups needs, I planned a Mini-ITX based home server around the Chenbro ES34069 Mini-ITX case which features four hot-swap S-ATA bays. I wanted a low-consumption motherboard and CPU in there (not only because of the default 120W power supply) and since low-consumption mainboards with 4 S-ATA connectors are quite seldom I’ve chosen the not so cheap VIA EPIA SN18000G mainboard with actively cooled 1.8 GHz VIA C7 processor and a maximum power consumption of less than 30W (including CPU).

Waiting for delivery

While the Chenbro ES34069 case I ordered at digitec “only” needed a few weeks to deliver, the VIA EPIA SN18000G mainboard from Brack took over eleven weeks to deliver, it finally has been delivered on Wednesday, 5th of November 2008.

I initially ordered the VIA board for CHF 324, now it’s at CHF 397 (without rebate even at CHF 439) because Brack seems to have had a lot of hassles to get some of them at all. Although they usually sell for the prices at the time they ship the hardware (market price), they sold it to me at their purchase price, so it became only about CHF 15 more expensive than when I ordered. And since the RAM price dropped by one third during those eleven weeks, the whole order became about CHF 25 cheaper, the order was CHF 10 cheaper overall than when ordered. :-) (Still waiting for the according voucher, though.)

So I’ve joined the two main components together, installed Debian Lenny on it, crammed four 400 GB Samsung S-ATA disks (formerly in a TheCus N4100) and the 160 GB 2.5” harddisk from my MicroClient JrSX (I never really used it in there, it always runs from CF card) into it, created a software RAID-5 and now fill it with music, games and backups.

But not everything was as easy as it sounds above. Although Chenbro lists the VIA EPIA SN18000G as officially compatible mainboard for the ES34069, not everything really fitted as expected. So here’s my review of this hardware combination.

Chenbro ES34069

It’s really awesome how much features you can stuff in such a small case. Of course it’s not as small as a thin client case or the mCubed HFX micro case, but it’s smaller than most book-size cases like the ASUS Pundits, just a little bit thicker.

Inside the case (laying on its left side) there are two decks. The lower deck contains the 3.5” hot-swappable S-ATA harddisk bays, the internal part of the power supply and the two fans for cooling the interal power supply components and the disks. The upper deck has space for the mainboard, a 2.5” harddisk, a slim-line optical drive slot and all the front-panel stuff (card reader, LEDs, USB sockets).

Both decks are divided in two section. The front section belongs to the case itself and the back section containing the mainboard mount points and the two fans can be easily unplugged after removing four screws and keeping an eye on the cables from the lower to the upper deck. That way the mainboard can be mounted very easily. So far a very convincing design.

To mount the 2.5 harddisk in between the mainboard and the front panel, it’s not really necessary, but convenient to remove the slim-line optical drive slot, since you then have better access to the harddisk’s IDE socket. To remove the slot, you need to remove the front cover. That sounded easier than it actually was and I nearly broke of one its catches. :-/

Although all parts of the case seems to fitting very well together, the bays for the hot-swappable drives weren’t perfect: The drive slots not always connected even if the latch iss already closed. This was definitely better with the TheCus N4100. Additionally the bays seem to be made for slightly larger disks, so mine had play and the screws pressed the it together and you need to take care that the screws don’t cant.

A big positive point of the case was that there were all necessary screws included and they were fitting. This was a bigger problem with the TheCus N4100, since many harddisks ship with their own screws, but those are seldom the needed flat-head ones.

Even a P-ATA to slim-line optical drive adapter was included, so I don’t need to buy one. (Would have costed CHF 42 at digitec.)

VIA EPIA SN18000G

While it’s surely not the most performant board out there, I’m quite satisfied with its performance. I installed BackupPC 3.1.0 as backup system on it and it works like a charm. It daily backs up up to 14 machines over ssh tunnels – more to come) and is way more performant than expected. But I probably had very low expectations due to everyone arguing about the bad performance of the VIA C7. ;-)

Not nice, but known is the problem that most (but not all) USB connectors on the SN mainboard have 2.00mm pitch while all the case’s plugs have 2.54mm pitch. Apropriate adaptors are available from Mini-ITX.com. Thanks to Akim for this tip!

Power consumption

I hoped to get more details into this posting, e.g. measured power consumption, etc. But then I recently read in the c’t magazine how inexact my watt meter (from Brennenstuhl) is, so its values would probably bring more confusion than help. Additionally I don’t feel like powering down the server just for measurement.

Feedback

I got quite a few mails with hints to further Mini-ITX boards and TDP but also with questions about the case. I hope that this blog post asnwers some of the questions also for other readers. Thanks to all who replied to my initial blog post about my Chenbro/VIA based home server, either by mail, or comment, or both. :-)

Further plans

For deploying music to my other computers I tried both, mediatomb and gmediaserver but none really convinced me. Currently I just mount the media directory using the FUSE and ssh based sshfs. Not sure if I’ll add NFS due to it’s user base syncing hell.

Further plans are an HTTP proxy with ad filtering and caching capabilities, it’ll be Privoxy combined with either Squid or Polipo. Maybe even a Tor SOCKS proxy.

Tuesday·20·January·2009

First experiences with Debian on the OpenMoko FreeRunner //at 00:40 //by abe

from the DIY dept.

I ogled with an OpenMoko FreeRunner since Harald König (of X.org fame)’s OpenMoko talk at LinuxDay.at last year. I knew that a team around Luca Capello and Joachim Breitner managed to get Debian running on it.

So when Venty told me that harzi wants to sell his nearly unused FreeRunner, I couldn’t resist and bought it just a few days later.

I played around a little bit with the two distributions which were already installed, AFAIK the original 2007.2 and a version of Qtopia. Called Venty with the Qtopia to prove him that you indeed can make phone calls with this phone, but he wasn’t pleased by the echo he heard of his own voice.

Since the included 512 MB microSD card surely is too small for a large Debian installation, I bought an additional 8 GB microSDHC card at digitec and then installed Debian on it.

The installation mostly went smooth: Partitioning threw a timeout error which didn’t cause any further harm than aborting once. A bigger problem was that the hint that you need to update the U-Boot bootloader itself and not only its configuration (called environement) to get it booting from ext2 partitions. lindi (Timo Lindfors) on #openmoko-debian (on Freenode) was of great help spotting the small details hidden in continuous text.

After having Debian booting I installed all software I wanted to play around on a mobile phone including a bunch of web browsers. But since I ran into a bug which occurs after a non-deterministic amount of data is written to a big microSD card, I quickly got annoyed by the fact that I had to wait for the 8 GB fsck each time this bug was triggered.

So I converted the root file system to ext3 by adding a journal. But whatever I did (reinstalling U-Boot, the U-Boot environement, regenerating the U-Boot environement from scratch, trying to load it as ext2 again, etc.) I didn’t get it to work anymore.

On #openmoko on Freenode, PaulFertser was trying to convince me that Qi is the better choice of a bootloader. Although its description didn’t appeal to me at all, I understand that U-Boot seems a maintainability hell and that a more simplicistic approach can have its advantages. But there was feature listed on the Qi wiki page which made me try it: explicit ext3 support.

After creating the appropriate configuration files and symbolic links in /boot/boot and flashing Qi over the U-Boot in the NAND flash, Debian booted again without problems and with a journaling file system. :-)

In the meantime I found a setup which suites my tastes:

  • Matchbox stays my window manager, but I enabled the cursor which is very useful if you want to remote control you OpenMoko with synergy. I installed unclutter to automatically hide the cursor after a few seconds, so I see it when it moves, but it goes out of the way when not needed.
  • Like on my EeePC, I replaced trayer with lxpanel, because it also provides access to the Debian menu system.
  • The best compromise in rendering quality and resource usage is still NetSurf. So that’s my browser on the OpenMoko.

Next step will be to move daily usage from root to an unprivileged user.

As soon as that’s done, I’ll try to get Tablet Amora aka Tamora working on the OpenMoko, too. Currently it only runs on Nokia’s Linux based internet tablets (N800, N810, etc.).

Update, 17:54

To answer Joachim’s question in the comment: I don’t plan to use it as daily phone, but it may replace my old Nokia 6310i where currently my German mobile phone SIM card resides in. Use it mainly to have a cheap way to make phone calls inside Germany.

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