Linux On My X2-4800+

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Here’s the next chapter in the story. Please refer to Is Linux Ready for Prime Time? and its follow-up for additional details. I should also warn you….it’s long…so go get a cup of coffee…..and I only re-read it once…so my pardon for any glaring omissions, rambling or otherwise incoherent writing 🙂 . If you have questions (or can help with an issue), please feel free to fire up the ol’ email.

THE PREP & INSTALL

I initially thought I’d use System Command 7 (vcom), but in the end I had major issues trying to get it installed – mainly with the MBR writing, perhaps there are also SATA issues with this version of VCom.

So I defragged my main drive in Windows. Then I ran all of my SyncBack profiles in order to get current backups, just in case something terrible happened. At that point, I determinedly cracked a beer, then dropped in CD #1 of Mandriva Free 2006 x86-64 into my DVD-ROM drive, rebooted, checked my BIOS to ensure a CD boot, and let it rip. The introduction screen came on, I hit enter to continue and the install was up and away.

First task – resize the first disk drive and grab part of that for Linux. Easy to do, and it did it perfectly. Next, format part of that for Linux, and part of it for the Linux Swap. Done and done. So far so good. At this point, this is all stuff I’d rather not have to do, and the only real reason it had to be done was to due to the dual boot – this part of it would have been much easier had this been a clean install with blank drives. As it was, very simple.

The install proceeded by prompting me some more for obvious items. Then it asked me what media I had other than CD’s #1, #2 and #3. I said none and checked the box to copy the three CDs to the drive. That accomplished, it came up with the giant-check-box choice screen. Here I left everything checked that was checked, and simply added checks for “Games”, “Network client”, “Documentation”, “Firewall” and since I prefer Gnome to KDE, I also selected “Gnome”. (Note, I left KDE checked, because I do sometimes like a change). That done, the next button was primed to go. Hit it, and waited while the five-minute install cruised along.

At its conclusion, it prompted me some more and I defaulted everything in, except the stuff that was specific to me – ie, root password, user info, etc… Other than that I defaulted everything. And that is where I made my first mistake: I also noticed that EVERYTHING was set up except for two things. One was my network connection – so I hit the button to configure that – successful. Next I noticed the graphics for “X” were not setup, so I configured that. Oh Freaking My! Mistake #2, just made. I noticed that it defaulted to “vesa” and nothing even remotely close to my eVGA GeForce 7900GT CO card. Stupid me decided, “I can just select something close in the ‘nVidia’ section”.

When it was done installing, it displayed the reboot button, which I did and it did. However, when it fired back up, there was a very very odd screen-flipping thing. Not sure how to describe what it was doing, but basically it looked the same as if you were inside a game and you Alt-Tab back to Windows – you see the screen resolution information, it “clicks” (for those with a CRT, lol) and takes you to Windows.

You Alt-Tab back to the game, same thing occurs – you know the millisecond of black screen before the game or the Windows resolution/refresh numbers kicks in. BUT, it did it every five seconds, all by itself. Well, what was happening, and the message that I’d get when I manually started “X”, was that an “X Server was already on display :0”, or something like that – no idea what that meant, but I can conclude that it had something to do with the screen trying to flip to “that display :0”

I decided that I screwed that up, not the software, so I decided to start over. Rebooted using the CD #1, it started the install again. This time the partitioning was already done, so I just wiped the Linux partition and started the install over.

On install #2, I defaulted everything, and upon reboot, I still had that “flippy” thing going on, like it was changing sessions on me automatically every five seconds. But at least the graphics were OK. I searched the web to find that Xorg was the likely issue. Didn’t know how to fix it…..so……Off I went for attempt #3.

THIS time I defaulted everything, except for saying “NO” to Xorg, and again, did not touch my graphics for X. Whew, much better this time. Rebooted, went into KDE at first, I changed the boot to start the GUI and default to Gnome. Rebooted and DONE. Nice, and I avoided panic, though I was close.

“WHAT? YOU SAY SOMETHING? CAN’T HEAR YOU RIGHT NOW!”

Oh Freaking My! What is all that static? It was soooo loud I nearly jumped during the start up. Well, I’m going to count all the “other” bad stuff as MY MISTAKES, not the software (Well except for the Xorg – that’s a bug in my opinion), so this is the first real issue I encountered. The sound. It was a very LOUD issue, to say the least. My speakers were only on two, but it sounded like a jet engine got stuck in overdrive two inches from my head……and I couldn’t get to the volume knob fast enough.

Popped into the “control-panel-like” application for “Sound” and I determined that it defaulted the sound to a two-channel. The second I set it to six-channel, the LOUD static in the speakers went away and the speakers/sound worked perfectly. Issue #1 – minor and fixed within one minute.

Cool. I don’t get why it didn’t “know” my on-board sound was a six-channel system, but bleh, other than scaring me half to death, no harm. I played a quick CD to make sure it was working……(btw: my choice to initiate my new install was “Can You See” off of Dokken’s Hell To Pay album, erm, CD for you young-uns out there.)

TAKING CARE OF THE EASY STUFF

What I did next, is what I do on ALL my Unix/Linux installs the second I get a chance:

  1. I edited the .bashrc to “CD” to my home instead of where the command line is initiated from – ie if the terminal is started from the desktop toolbar, it puts you in the “Desktop” directory, etc… I don’t want that. I AWAYS want to start from my user home.
  2. I edited the .bash_profile to create an alias for my printer, in this case I added “sammy=SAMSUNML1710” for my Samsung ML-2010 printer. Yes, I had to look this up online to select the correct driver for this printer since it was not listed – apparently these two share some “guts” so it works perfectly. I had done so as part of my notebook install, so this was a quick one; btw, the “default” it used worked correctly too, but I just preferred the one that was a closer match.
  3. I edited the /etc/bashrc file and added “set -o vi” so that the “vi” commands work at the command line…something I got used to when I worked with Unix 13 years ago. I also added PS1='[u] $PWD> ‘ to the file so that my command line prompt showed the full path of the current directory. Again, something I got used to from my Unix days.

  4. Finally I edited my /etc/lilo.conf to comment out all but two options that it automatically created – just too much clutter, plus my wife uses the computer from time to time and it will be easier for her to just see two options – Linux and Windows XP. It sure seems like there was a GUI interface for configuring lilo, but I for the life of me couldn’t remember where and couldn’t find it, so I just updated the lilo.conf file manually.

All four of these are must haves for ME. They are NOT something anyone else may need, want or desire.

At this point I should note that my two printers were both set up correctly, as was my scanner. Note I made sure I turned all these “extra” devices on during the install and first boot so that it would “find” them, which it did perfectly.

I went into the hardware configuration and decided to do a quick check on my ATI TV Wonder VE. This device was in the list, so I chose it, defaulted the rest, set to US-Cable and allowed it to find channels. I’d probably pay big bucks if someone could come up with a way to speed up these ridiculously slow channel scan processes. Both in Windows with the ATI drivers and Linux with KdeTV, these things take forever.

In the end it seemed to find most of my channels, though they were all jumbled in order. Again, no sound though. Curiously, when I shut down just after the “static” starts up, the static ends and I hear a TV station playing on my speakers….for about four seconds, then the machine is off. I will be investigating this some more later.
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GOTTA GET ME SOME UPDATES

Next up, jump into the software configuration and set the “Where to look for updates”. I chose a couple of mirrors that were close to me and then jumped over to the actual Update. I scanned the mirrors for Security Updates only – something that takes waaaaay too long for my tastes, but it did find 148 packages plus dependencies to update. I selected them all and it took about an hour to get them all.

It sort of hung on the validation process in the installation of them, so I installed them a few at a time until I found the packages that were causing the hanging. This is something that annoyed me. The average Joe is going to want to do three things here:

  • Hit a button to go find the updates
  • Hit a button to install the updates
  • Hit a button to reboot or restart X

Period, done, finished. So At this point, I must take a few points off on this. I determined the “bad” packages all had something to do with “…openss…”. I tried them one at a time – hung. I tried them all at once – hung. Tried them in different sequences, again – all hung. So not sure what’s going on, but at this point don’t care as it is not impacting anything I know of.

Next I unselected “Security” and selected “Bugfixes” and “Normal” updates at this point to mass download them and then install. I was able to get everything done here, except for another “…openss…”.

So to recap the Update process, only updates that I was unable to install:

lib64openssl0.9.7-0.9.7g-2.1.20060mdk
libopenssl0.9.7-0.9.7g-2.1.20060mdk
openssh-4.3p1-0.1.20060mdk
openssh-askpass-gnome-4.3p1-0.1.20060mdk
openssh-clients-4.3p1-0.1.20060mdk
openssl-0.9.7g-2.1.20060mdk
libxorg-x11-6.9.0-5.8.20060mdk

[EDIT: Upon finishing the write up, I decided to try the downloads again. This time, they all worked. I wanted to leave my initial experience in there to better inform you. I can only assume that there was a server issue and not an operating system issue.]

HERE GOES THE VIDEO

Next on my hit list, probably the one I dread most – getting the nVidia drivers for my 7900GT.

I downloaded the AMD64 nVidia drivers with no issue and it has a fantastic online help on what to do to get them installed. It says there’s a simple one line command to install them. OK, opened a terminal session as root, typed “init 3” to stop X, and tried the install. The nVidia install failed two or three times, but it did tell me exactly why it failed each time and which package it needed that was missing. So I got back into X, installed the missing packaged, tried again, repeat…until it continued the install.

It seemed to install OK, but when I tried to start X – it failed. Well, it has now gotten into the “this is bad” territory. I Googled. I found a link that had the same issue and walked me through a few items in the xorg.conf file. I made the updates manually that the link told me too, plus I discovered a FontPath that was wrong and made the changes……took a deep breath, and started X….SHAZAM! It worked, YES! In the end it took me under 30 minutes to get it working.

I will admit that this should be a better process. Nvidia should know which packages it needs and have the installation install them. Period. I will also admit that the average Joe would probably never have noticed the “FontPath” issue or what to do to correct it, though the error I was getting led me right to the file and the section in that file that was bad – I simply copied the “old” fontpath that was in a backup of the xorg.conf file.

A few points off for the minor pain of getting it installed….BUT….not as bad as I thought it was going to be, and not as bad as some others had described. So I’m going to call it a wash. Now I have my 1600 x 1200 resolution in wonderful 24 bit color, with, I assume, 3d drivers there for the using (it is my impression the only way you know is if you get the nVidia Green logo splash screen, which I do).

A FEW MORE QUICK HITS

Most of the install has been completed. What I’ve tried seems to be working. I have not configured email or downloaded the Firefox extensions, or anything like that, because that stuff is simple and I did that on my notebook w/o any issues.

One thing I do need now that the OS is up – music.

So, I moved into the area of getting my Linux OS to see the Windows drives so I could copy over the MP3 on my Windows partition. Gotta have the rockin’ tunes for the next section. To my surprise, actually a reminder to my poor memory, the install took care of this for me. I simply used the “Computer” icon on the desktop to navigate to the “Filesystem”, then the “mnt”. There I found all 4 of my Windows partitions mounted for me and waiting to be accessed. Cool. I do recall the 2005 version did not do this and it was a messy time for me to get it working. Tunes are rocking, ready to start overclockin……OK, that was bad, really really bad.
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BENCHMARKS, MONITORING…..AND GAMES, HURRAY!

With most of the basics out of the way, all I really care about now is giving the “Overclocker” in me some attention. Need some benchmarks. Need some high-end games (or at least their demos). Need some monitoring tools fired up to see what’s going on with the rig. All those things we all have running to give us the low-down on our machines.

So, off to the Mandriva menu to see what was available in the OS in the way of monitoring tools. I opened a few up, but I quickly got bored. Then I jumped to Google to see what I could see. I got bored. So………..Let’s just get right down to it, the Quake 4 Linux demo was done downloading…..and I was ready to try to install it and run it and see how things went. On to the games and we’ll return to this other “stuff” later.

Quake 4 Demo Experience

Jumped in fired off the install, and a dialog window indicating installation to the /usr/local/games/quake4-demo, and I hit the “begin install” button. Fast install with a nice prompt at the end to let me know to type “quake4-demo” when I wanted to run it. I exited the install – that indicated it had done everything it was supposed to do.

Grrr! Typed what it told me to, and it didn’t work. It had an error while loading shared libraries, specifically “libSDL-1.2.so.0. OK, no idea what that is or why it had trouble. But it gave me the name, so I went to see if that packaged was installed. I could not find it. I went to see if it was available to install. I found two packages that had “libSDL” in the name.

I picked the non-devel one and installed it, then tried to fire off Quake 4 demo again. Woot..FLYING DEBRIS, CORPSES AND METAL…It worked. So that was it, one small package was missing…..again, the install should have taken care of that, but bleh again, no biggie took all of two minutes to deal with. (But this is another indication that it is not quite ready for prime time, let along ready for Joe and his beer). I did notice my sound was distorted and “digitized” for some reason – the people and the music sounded like some horrible robot voice. Configuring my sound indicated there was no sound to configure.

Well, my sound issues continue. When I tried to fix the digitized sound by changing the switches within the game, I lost sound completely and can’t get it back at all.

I should mentioned before I begin ripping on the crappy sound that the graphics looked fantastic, and it was very very clear that 3d acceleration was running very nicely. I had 1600 x 1200 with everything set to max and AA=4x and it handled it just fine….more than fine.

But I’m getting distracted by the eye candy – let’s get to fixing that sound.

Off to the Asus site to see if there are any Linux drivers for this mobo…..and there was. Sound. That’s all, lol. But luckily for me, that was exactly the one I needed. Downloaded, unzipped, untarred, read the readme.txt…..tried to follow instructions….and of course it didn’t work as advertised. I had issues during the “make” for the driver….Sure seems like this isn’t something I should have to deal with – sound install doesn’t go out and get what it needs to allow itself to install properly.

So far, this is the biggest issue. Why? Because the sound was dumpy from the beginning, and me trying to fix it has caused no sound in the games I have installed. I still have music, but I’ve now spent a few hours trying to make the sound install from Asus work…..and it won’t…..and I’m clueless as to what to do. So the only thing to do when you stand defeated…..post for help and give up and admit that it was not meant to be at this point. Which is a major disappointment to me, especially after getting the graphics to work so easily.

Enemy Territory Experience

First, I must mention that I am also going to download and install a program called ET Manager, which is a great tool to allow for downloads of maps outside of the game based on which maps are currently running on the server I play on. In addition, it allows startup/connection to that server. I love it and recommend it highly.

I fired up the notebook so that I could take care of two birds with one stone. All the programs and files I need are already installed and working on that machine. So, I figured if I can get them talking to each other I will be able to check off another item on my list – Linux box to Linux box connectivity, and save myself some serious download time with the game, the maps, etc…

Again, Linux does a fantastic job “just connecting”….that is, once I ticked the correct check-box on my desktop’s firewall that kept my notebook from “seeing” my desktop. All files for ET and ETManager, as well as the 32-bit java files I needed copied over and installed easily. ET Fired up on the first try. Graphics looked great, as did game play…..oops, no sound. So it appears that pesky little issue doesn’t magically fix itself. Hmm. I did a quick Google and found that by appending “artsdp -m” before the script that starts up ETManager, I got sound in ET. However, somehow, I’ve managed to break all sound in ET trying to fix the sound in Quake4-Demo.

So it would appear that my nemesis for this install is sound.

Not that my onboard sound is high end, is very capable and sure as heck sounds fantastic within Windows. After more Googling, I discovered there is an application called “alsamixer”, which brings up a cheap-looking interface inside the terminal window. There I discovered more sound issues.

First, when I turn the master volume down, using the mixer or the mouse on the desktop or my keyboard volume keys, the master volume does in fact go down…. BUT, the surround sound continues to play. So the master volume doesn’t seem to be actually controlling all sound channels. I also noticed that if I change the “surround” mode from “shared” to “independent”, I suddenly get TV-channel sound playing, even thought the TV application isn’t running. Change it back to “shared”, and the TV is gone. When I open my TV app, I get no sound. Change it back to “independent”, and the sound is there again – and it matches the TV station that happens to be playing when I launch the TV app.

To say the least, this is NOT the way it is supposed to work.

I have no idea what to do about this, and can darn well state with 100% assuredness, that ole “Joe” won’t know either.

[Edit: I’m still working on the sound as of this date]
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WRAP IT UP AND CONCLUDE AWAY

At this point I was going to see what I could do with some Windows Emulation software, but honestly, this sound thing is bugging me way to much for me to concentrate on that. Perhaps an additional article covering emulation will be forthcoming AFTER I get the sound working correctly, which also means the TV application.

So, there you go. I don’t know how many hours exactly getting to this point, but I can definitely say that it was far fewer than I thought in order to get the “high end” hardware working. I can also say that I’ve spent way more time on the sound than I thought I’d have to. My gut feeling was that the video/3d-acceleration was going to be the issue that drove me insane. That said, all in all not bad.

So, have I changed my opinion of the “90% ready for prime time”? Not really.

I’m sure there is a simple fix to the sound, just a matter of me finding it. I will qualify the “90%” number a bit, as I did in my last writing. I’m not sure anymore what “ready for prime time” means. After all, many of the “big” issues that we run into, the average Joe wouldn’t. Why? Because Joe is buying Dell, and Dell has already figured out the sound thing, the graphics thing….and all the other things on their end. They are shipping a customer a box they can plug in and use.

Once you get ISP vendors supporting email setup instructions for Linux, etc… you are in business. After all, if my parents can set up their internet and email all by themselves…..and do it correctly simply by following the instructions from their dial-up ISP, why couldn’t that same ISP give those instructions for Linux instead? They could and they will. But When is the question.

So Linux being ready for prime time, meaning ready for Joe, probably has more to do with “others” supporting the operating system than it does with the people that make the operating system. This isn’t to say that the people that are doing the programming don’t have a boat load of work to do to fix their code, because they do. They’ve been so focused on making Linux a cool-nerd operating system and bragging about how great it is instead of actually figuring out a way to make it popular.

This is, after all a popularity contest.

Right now Microsoft is the most popular, for whatever the reason – it doesn’t matter if it is better or not, it doesn’t matter if it is easier or not. It IS the most popular operating system on the market. Period.

But I think I know why – because they made it easy to do things – remember the huge impact that “plug-n-play” was on the industry. No more screwing with IRQ’s, etc… You dropped in your hardware and it “just detected”. Now does this happen each time? No. Does it happen with better regularity than it does in Linux – you bet it does.

Proof? Ahem, my sound, my keyboard, my mouse, my …..OK I’ll stop. When I installed Windows on my desktop, it figured out almost everything. I dropped in a CD and said “go” and it got the rest. Done, no issues.

So when Linux gets easy (read all GUI, no command line, no having to know obscure details about things, just drop in a CD and go, just download an executable (or rpm, or whatever) and double click it), it will get popular….but people won’t support an un-popular OS, which makes it tough to get it to be easy.

The battle the Linux folks are fighting looks suspiciously like the whole chicken or the egg scenario: what comes first, popularity or support/applications? Someone needs to make a commitment to supporting Linux. Perhaps someone like Dell coming out with Linux boxes for the Joe’s of the world would shoot the OS to the forefront.

Again, I still think 90% is a valid number, but as many know the first 90% is ALWAYS the easiest to achieve.

You spend 10% of your time getting the first 90%, and then you spend 90% of the time getting that last 10%. How long has Linux been out? You do the math – we have a few years left to wait before you will be able to consider it on par with Windows. What people need to ask themselves is this:

“Is it worth the extra pain to not have to give Microsoft oodles of my dollars for Vista?”.

Some will say yes, others will say no. I’m leaning towards yes, as I suspect many of you are, at least those of you that have not made the jump 100% to Linux (not even sure this is possible for many, perhaps most people – simply too much pain involved in doing it, and too easy not to.)

I think there is one heck of an opportunity for someone out there to really capitalize on Linux. BUT, it isn’t shrink-wrapping it….that will come later.

What made Microsoft so successful so quickly was the deal they signed to have their OS on a huge number of PCs.

Right now, a serious player needs to make that same commitment with Linux – Dell, HP/Compaq anyone there listening? You are two of a few companies that can really make things happen much quicker than they are happening. How? By announcing a new initiative to have Linux pre-installed and fully supported across your entire line of products, not just servers.

Start your advertising minds working and start selling Linux boxes to Joe for Christmas – make these plug in and use. Put on there every application that Joe uses – mail, office, internet, photo, video editing, etc… Get it all on a pre-loaded, heavily testing configuration with a drop-in-CD tutorial and you will get sales. Especially if you knock $100 off the system when compared to the same hardware configuration but with Windows loaded on it. Once Dell or HP does this, it will be tough for others to not follow, then suddenly Linux WILL be supported, people WILL be using it, and there WILL be applications available everywhere.
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QUICK REVIEW OF THE ISSUES

In closing, I’d like to say thanks for sticking with me….lots and lots of words and pages of text that you’ve managed to ground your way through. Before I sign off, let’s review the issues I encountered:

  1. Initial stumbling at install because I chose wrong options and there wasn’t sufficient help during the install to choose the right options – in my case defaulting everything would up causing issues for me. I needed to say “no” to Xorg and just default the graphics information it used, in this case “Vesa” for the installation at least. Touching either or both, caused a nightmare-flippy-screen issue. Status: Resolved.
  2. Sound defaulted to 2 channel instead of 6 and got LOUD static at boot. I also still get loud static (and sometimes a tv channel voice breaks in) when I shut down or reboot – presumably as the kernel unloads. Sound is goofed up with Alsamixer (controlling volume, etc..), the TV App, Quake and ET. Works with music and desktop sounds. Status: Still a problem for “extra curricular” applications.
  3. Had initial problems installing 7 updates using the built-in software updater. I was able to do this a day or two later, so perhaps a server somewhere was having issues. Status: Resolved.

  4. A rather minor stumble on the video card, but overall, a whole lot better than I expected. After all, the nVidia install actually told me which packages were missing, and then proceeded to work correctly for the most part. I did have to go back and make a quick modification to one file that the install should have done correctly in order to enable the third acceleration. But after that it was awesome. Status: Resolved.

Other than those issues, everything seems to be working – my printers, my scanner, my 20-in-1 panel, my optical drives, etc…

Oh yea – you didn’t think I forgot about my steering wheel, did you? I didn’t. I plugged it in but suddenly lost the desire to go searching for an application to test it with….yes, the sound issue is grating on me. Perhaps after I get the sound working to my satisfaction (or give up), I will get the wheel working.

Eric R. Drake (aka TheDrake)

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