July 28, 2004

Linux, linux every where…

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My friends consider me a geek because hardware is a hobby; so is software, but that’s another story. Tweaking machines for better performance is fun. Figuring out why a particular setting or chipset works better then another is challenging — and much more enticing then watching Fox News.

Two weeks ago the power supply blew on my Win XP box. I’ve done some hardware configuring, but never replaced the power supply. This box runs hot: AMD 2600+, 512 MB RAM, 1 80 Gb drive, 1 120 Gb drive, and Gigabyte KT motherboard. All of that with one CPU fan and one fan on the power supply. It heats the office in winter. Insufficient airflow and heat retention had caused the powersupply fan to die, even though the box was just over a year old. I had a new hard drive upgrade to an 80 gig Western Digital special edition with an 8 mb cache, so why not, I thought foolishly, do all upgrades on this box and update the Linux box as well?

After seven or so years of doing upgrades on Macs and PCs, I should have known better.

Installing the desktop upgrades were simple. The new power supply has dual fans instead of one. All of the internal ribbon cables were replaced with round ones to improve air flow. Floppy drive pins were bent; replaced the drive. New 512 RAM chip went in without a hitch.

The hard drive was another matter. The disk copy utility failed to copy the files. Well it failed to thoroughly copy files. Windows XP copied sufficiently to boot the new drive, but none of the user settings remained, including the Admin logon. I reformatted, copied data files, and reinstalled the operating system and applications. I’m still reinstalling software, but at least the machine is up and online.

The faster hard drive has made a huge differnce in response time. I’m lovin’ it! (After 20+ hours of getting things situated…)

Now the fun part. I’m a Linux/Unix newbie: basic file commands are easy; installing drivers and the operating system was foreign territory. I’ve done more on my Qtopia linux powered Zaurus PDA then on a desktop linux box.

The four CD images for Fedora, the open source version of Red Hat Linux, downloaded easily. Tested the new media and burned CDs. Set the new box up, and began the four hour process of installing Linux on the P-II 233.

My luck held. Linux came right up after the initial installation, except that the nice X-Windows GUI would not load because of a video driver problem. Keyword searches on Google returned nothing useful. Red Hat’s older Linux documentation, while thorough, listed a solution for this problem, but the files the instructions said to edit did not exist in this installation.

The best option turned out to be reading the error log file on my Fedora box and using that to guess which settings to tweak. After several false starts, it worked!

Of course, then the mouse didn’t work properly. Navigating a GUI-based environment with the keyboard is not fun. Again, Google revealed the instructions for how to correct this problem. The Mouse control panel under Settings should have an optoin to change the driver — except that control panel wasn’t available. Neither was an easy option to install an RPM. So I’m stuck for now, but at least the box is up.

The mouse periodically works. I have both machines on a KVM switch.

At least I didn’t have to install Linux on a badger…

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