Posts filed under ‘Laptop’

Linux Mint 8 Helena on an Acer 3680-2633

This blog documents my experience with running Linux Mint 8 Helena on Acer Aspire 3680-2633. Previously, this laptop had been running Linux Mint 5. I decided t reformat all of the drives to ext4 and reinstall from scratch.

Why use Linux Mint?

In my opinion, Linux Mint offers the best out of the box experience out of all of the Linux distros. On just about every other distro, you have to figure out how to add the repository for the restricted formats and load the codec and libraries just to play back dvd and multimedia files. Linux mint will play just about everything. Since it’s based on Ubuntu, you are likely to have your application in a supported package.

Installation experience

According to uname -a, my machine is running kernel 2.6.31-19-generic. The initial kernel version on Linux Mint 8 is 2.6.31-14-generic.

Hardware Component Status under OS Notes
Intel Celeron M520 1.6 Ghz CPU Working Note that there is no frequency or voltage scaling on this Celeron.
Intel 943 GML Video Working Compiz seems to work perfectly.
14 inch LCD Working Brightness function keys works.
Intel 82801G HDA Audio Working Correctly detected headphone and disable speaker.Volume function keys work. For some bizarre reason, you can set your volume control to 150%, which makes the laptop speaker actually audible (this laptop has terrible speakers).Mute function key works.

Pulse audio seems to be working without issues unlike in Linux Mint 5.

2 Gb RAM, DDR2 Working The full 2 Gb ram is available.
Western Digital WD800BEVS 80 Gb SATA Hard Drive Working
Optiarc CD-RW CRX880A Working
Keyboard Working Many of the Hot keys works.
Synaptics Touchpad Working If you use the KDE edition, there is no controls to turn off touchpad tapping.
Marvel 88E8038 PCI-E Ethernet Working
Atheros AR2413 802.11bg Wireless

(Keep in mind that Acer used several different type of wireless, so your hardware may be different)

Working with modifications The default ath5k is unreliable, Attempts to use the latest ath5K from March 1, 2010 failed. Ath5K does work, but transfer rate is less than 1 Mps and randomly drops out.

Linux Mint also allow you to select the windows drivers. However, the windows drivers do not appear to work with WPA.

I have managed to get reliable wireless using Madwifi. I used the Feb 1, 2010 snapshot at http://snapshots.madwifi-project.org/madwifi-0.9.4/.In addition, the gnome network manager is unreliable even under Madwifi. The wireless would disconnect and reconnect once every 10 min or so. You should use synaptic to install wicd, which does not have a disconnect issue.

Note that if the kernel is upgraded through mint update, you will need to get the new kernel header and recompile the driver.

Battery Working
Modem Untested I can see the soft modem driver, but did not test it.
USB Working
TI 5-in-one Card Reader Working Tested only with SD card
TI Cardbus Untested Probably works
Sitecom Bluetooth (third party install) Working This is a USB module that plugs into the Acer 3680′s internal bluetooth connector. Note that this is a third party module.
Laptop Power Management Working Note that Celeron do not have frequency scaling. Sleep and hibernation works properly.
Suspend to RAM Working with Modification Suspends works fine with ath5k. Too bad ath5k doesn’t work with the wireless. Need to add ath_pci to the unload modules list.
Suspend to Disk Working
Multimedia playback Working Note that if you use the 64-bit version of Linux Mint, WMAP audio playback will not work.

Initially, the laptop would mysteriously crash. The screen and control would be frozen and there is no error logs and the caps lock would be blinking indicating a kernel panic. The problems have gone away, I haven’t figure out which of my actions fix this problem. It’s either:

  1. Upgrade from 2.6.31-14-generic to 2.6.31-19-generic kernel through Mint updates.
  2. I minimized my Compiz animation settings.
  3. Change to Madwifi and wicd.

Other Distros

I have also tried the following distro with this machine

  • Fedora 12 – Although previous version of Fedora worked before, this release had numerous problems. During install, I had a mysterious error when it attempted to load the storage. This happened numerous times until it mysteriously went away. There were madwifi and wicd rpm on the http://atrpms.net/dist/f12/madwifi, but neither  rpm  installed properly due to dependency issues.
  • Opensuse 11.2 – Installed without an issue but you’ll need to install madwifi and wicd. Unlike Linux Mint, the soft modem driver is not displayed during install.

February 25, 2010 at 10:09 pm 1 comment

The maximum amount of memory on a Dell Inspiron e1505 / 6400

Dell states that the maximum capacity for a Dell Inspiron e1505 (and its clone 6400) is 2 Gb (1 x 2Gb). Several people online have stated that they have managed to install 4Gb (2 x 2Gb). However, many complain that they only get about 3.3 Gb of memory even when they are using 64-bit OS like Vista, Window 7 or Linux.

Actually even a 32-bit machine can address a maxmium of 4 Gb (2 to the power of 32). However, you don’t get the full 4 Gb because part of it is mapped to the ROM,. I/O devices, and other hardware. If you use a 64-bit OS, it’s suppose to remap the memory address so you get the full memory space. The problem is that the e1505 BIOS does not support memory remapping, so even if you install a 64-bit OS, your Dell e1505 will not give you the maximum 4 Gb. I don’t know if this is because of the BIOS or if the Intel 945 chipset that e1505 is just too old to support memory remapping, but this Microsoft article seems to state that you need a later chipset.

So save your money, don’t get 4 Gb for your Dell. The 4 Gb will work with your Dell e1505. You just won’t the full capacity no matter what OS you use.

February 5, 2010 at 4:25 pm 4 comments

Installing Ubuntu 7.10 i386 on an Averatec 2370

The following are instructions to install Ubuntu 7.10 on an Averatec 2370. I am installing the i386 of Ubuntu. While Averatec 2370 is a 64-bit machine, the laptop can only address 2 Gb of memory any way, so there is very little advantage in using a 64-bit OS.

  1. Boot the laptop using the Ubuntu CD.
  2. Press the first menu option to start Ubuntu.
  3. When the CD complete booting, click on the Install Icon.
  4. Follow the instructions. The options I would stop at is at the disk space, I change my drive to make the entire drive “/” except for a 1 Gb swap space. Since I have 2 Gb of memory, I don’t see a need for more swap space. After the installation is complete, click on the reboot button. Remove the CD and reboot. Login as the user you created in the install (WARNING: the splash noise will be set to maximum volume).

Most of the items will work just out of the box.

Post Installation Customization

Enabling the Software Repositories

Before you continue, enable all of the necessary software repositories:

  1. Login as a user with Sudo rights.
  2. Select the menu System->Administration->Software Sources.
  3. Check the option for main, universe, and restricted.
  4. Click on the update tab.
  5. Check the security update checkbox.
  6. Click on the close button.

Switching off the Synaptic’s Touchpad’s tapping

I do not like tapping, since it often cause me to click on something that I did not intend to click.

  1. Select Preference->Mouse.
  2. Click on the Touchpad.
  3. Uncheck the Tap to Click.

Setting the time to Local time

Actually, I prefer to use UTC, but I also plan to run Windows OS in Virtualbox. Even Vista does not support UTC properly, however Linux has no problems supporting both formats so I went with local time.

  1. Login as a user who can sudo.
  2. Right-click on the date and select Preference.
  3. You will be prompted to enter your password, enter it.
  4. Uncheck the checkbox for “Use UTC”.
  5. Right-click on the date and select “Adjust date & time”.
  6. Change the time to the local time and date.

Enabling Nvidia binary driver

Since I don’t do any gaming, I don’t really need 3D. Unfortunately, neither the VESA nor the “nv” dirver will allow suspend on this laptop. The problem appears to be the Nvidia hardware. When the computer suspend to disk, the Nvidia display adapter does not turn off. This problem cannot be fix until Nvidia release specs on how to turn off the display adapter. To get suspend, you must use the binary driver.

Before you start, make sure you have access to the internet, since Ubuntu must download the driver.

  1. Login as a user who can sudo.
  2. Select Administration->Restricted Driver Manager.
  3. Click on the enable checkbox and press Close.

Fixing a problem with display shrinking

Whenever you supend or hibernate, resume and then logout. The screen shrinks. To fix this problem, see the following blog.

Things that still does not work

  • Modem
  • When you plug in the headphones, the laptop speaker does not mute.
  • Wireless will occasionally drop connection and die.
  • When you suspend, the laptop will occasionally fail to wake up.

November 21, 2007 at 4:33 pm 7 comments

Ubuntu 7.04 on Averatec 2370 – a failure for now

The following post should applied to Linux Mint 3.0 as well. I attempted to run Ubuntu 7.04 on an Averatec 2370 and it turned out mostly OK, but several essential functionality did not work.

Dual Core Support Pass
CPU Scaling Pass. Can run at 1.67Ghz unlike in Vista
Display-Open Source Drivers Requires editing to the xorg.conf to get 1280×800
Display-Proprietary Drivers Requires editing to the xorg.conf to get 1280×800
Audio Pass
Hard Disk Pass
Optical Drive Pass
Ethernet Pass
Wireless Requires downloading and compiling of open source drivers
Modem Not detected
SD Card Pass
Suspend to RAM Failed. Cannot be made to work without kernel upgrade
Suspend to Disk Pass

Display – Open Source Drivers

Ubuntu correctly identified and install the open source nv drivers. However, the screen defaults to 1024×768. To fix the probem, all you need to do is to add the resolution “1280×800″ to the Modes line in the file /etc/X11/xorg.conf.

In your display section, change the line in xorg.conf:

Modes            "1024x768"  "800x600"  "640x480"

with

Modes            "1280x800"  "1024x768"  "800x600"  "640x480"

Save the file and reboot the computer. You should be able to set the resolution to 1280 x 800 from the menu System->Preferences->Screen Resolution Preference. Note that PCLinuxOS 2007 actually detected the screen properly.

Display – Proprietary Driver

The proprietary Nvidia drivers can be activated from the menu System->Administration->Restricted Driver Manager. Mines failed to install until I updated the system. You need to add the following line to your Section “Device”.

Option "DynamicTwinView" "False"

The option needs to be set or the Nvidia driver will read the refresh rate incorrectly. For more info, see this launchpad entry.

Wireless

The Ralink RT73 chipset in the laptop actually has an open source driver, but unfortunately, the version that comes with Ubuntu 7.04 does not work. I downloaded the source for the latest RT73 Next Generation driver, but I was unable to compile it because it require a particular options to be compile into the Kernal. Frankly, I am not going to compile a new kernal.

Suspend to RAM

Currently, when you suspend to RAM, it puts the laptop into a coma that you cannot return from. There appears to be no way to get suspend to RAM to work. None of the distro I have tried will correct this issue. Users who want this feature will have to wait until they fixed the problem in future versions of the kernal.

Hope for the future

Just as an experiment, I upgraded to Ubuntu Gusty Gibbon and notice that wireless actually started working though it was still pretty unstable. Various post indicated that ACPI support is improving, though suspend to RAM still does not work. One of the nice things about Linux is that even though the OS does not work on your machine today, it may work in the future when they release future versions. In contrast, if your machine does not work with Vista today, it will not work with Vista tomorrow or ever.

September 23, 2007 at 3:42 pm 1 comment

Averatec 2370 is downclocked to 800 Mhz after upgrading to Vista (Averatec abandons customers)

I installed Vista on my Averatec 2370 and it became painfully slow. Vista sucks! On the other hand, may be we shouldn’t blame Vista without more proof. I ran Super PI and notice that performance has been cut exactly in half. That sounds more like there is an issue with the power management, since a laptop run at half the speed during idle to save power. I installed RMclock and discovered that my hunch was correct. The processor is running at 800 Mhz no matter which power profile I used. Vista has made my laptop lazy!

Death by Inaction

No only was my laptop running at half the speed, there were other problems. Normally, when the laptop screen is closed, it goes to sleep. I normally set the laptop to do nothing when when the lid is closed so I can carry it around without it going to sleep. Instead of doing nothing, the laptop screen goes blank and never comes back. There was no way to recover without reboot (though I did found a solution for that later).

Calling Averatec for some help

I contacted Averatec to see if they know a solution to the issue. They told me that no one has reported this issue and that I was the first person to report this. Averatec thought that there was something faulty with my machine and that I should send in it. I did not want to do this. During the warranty period, I had to send my laptop in twice for repair. The second time, Averatec kept the laptop for over 2 months waiting for parts. If I sent in it, I may never see my laptop for another couple of months. I decided to do some investigation on my own.

The Online investigation

If no one has reported this issue to Averatec, there are certainly a lot of people online who have the same problem who called Averatec. Many of the posters had gotten the free Vista upgrade that came with the Averatec purchase and encountered a drop in performance after the upgrade. To make things worse, Averatec also told them that since they upgraded their laptop, they were no longer eligible for technical support unless they revert to XP. Unfortunately for people who upgrade, they cannot go back since their XP license key had been invalidated by the upgrade.

The Linux kernel thread indicated that ACPI on Averatec 2370 and many of the AMD Turion machines were broken. At least for Linux, there were patches to allow the laptop to run at the full speed, but no such patch exists for Vista.

In addition, Everex makes a laptop name Everex StepNote ST5340T that’s identical to Averatec 2370, since both are rebadged Twinhead H12F laptops. Users of that Everex laptop owners did not report any problem with Vista. The difference between the two models is that Averatec 2370 has R1.05 BIOS and Everex has R1.09 BIOS.

The Cause of the problem

The root of the issue is a bug in the BIOS for version R1.05 and earlier. The ACPI implementation is broken in the BIOS. As a result, Vista is trapped into running at the lowest possible speed and the no action to fail. I don’t know why this doesn’t happen in XP.

Unfortunately, Microsoft did not created any patch for Vista to correct the BIOS issue, so it must be fixed in the BIOS for Vista to work properly. Since the Everex laptop did not have the same problem, one would assume that the problem has been resolved in the later release of the BIOS. I contacted Averatec to know if they have answers to my investigation and if they will release a later version of the BIOS that will solve the problem. Averatec promised that they will contact HQ for some answers.

Averatec invokes the Doctrine of Infallability

Averatec HQ’s response was highly unprofessional. I already told them that I know of others online who have called in with the same issue and Everex has resolved the issue with the R1.09 BIOS. If Averatec can just release a more recent version of the BIOS, we could be all happy. Instead their response was

  • I am the only person with his problem. Never mind that I already told them that I know of others who called Averatec with the same issue.

  • There is no later BIOS because the manufacturer did not release one. If they did, Averatec would have release it. However, since Everex gets the BIOS from the same manufacturer, this is not true. The most likely explanation is that Averatec has stop paying the licensing fee and so can’t get the later version of the BIOS.

  • There is no problem with Vista, if I can’t see the reality of this, then there’s nothing more they can do for me. These were their almost exact words. Apparently, HQ’s words trumps customer experience.

  • Vista is not a supported OS even though there is a “Window Vista Capable” sticker on the front of the machine.

 

What an interesting customer service strategy, tell the customer that their problem doesn’t really exist and point out that the problem only exists because the customer has no grip on reality.

Solving the problems on our own

I looked through the web and figured out a few solutions. I will post them in the order of difficulty in hopes of helping my fellow Averatec 2370 owner

     

  1. Stick with XP. This is the easiest solution since the computer does not have problems under XP. Of course, if you upgrade to Vista using the free Vista upgrade in 2007, you can’t go back.

  2. Install RMclock to get around the broken power management by replacing it with RMclocks’s custom power manager. RMclock is fairly easy to setup and it is a program so it is perfectly save. As soon as you quit the program, the laptop returns to its default behavior. The downside to RMclock is that it is a just a program. You cannot run it until you login. This mean when you first boot up the computer, it will run at half-speed until you login and run RMclock. Every time you log out, RMclock will quit and the computer will be slow again. In addition, you need to have admin permission to run RMclock.

    RMclock will not fix the problem No Action, so make sure that your Power button, Sleep button, and Lid isn’t set to “No action” or you may end up with a blank screen. If you managed to do this, you can get out of it by hitting the hotkeys for sleep (Fn+F4), which puts the laptop to sleep and then click on any key to bring it back out.

  3. Install an alternative OS like Linux. Under Ubuntu, my Averatec 2370 runs at the correct speed and CPU scaling worked properly. Amusingly, you can then install a virtual machine like Vmware or Virtualbox and run Vista in the virtual machine at speeds that are faster than the real machine under the broken BIOS. Unfortunately, after trying it for a few months, I decided that it was not feasible. I had initially tried several distro and found that only Ubuntu 7.10 seemed to work mostly out of the box, but not everything worked. The wireless had drop out mysteriously until I compile a more recent driver from sourceforge. The sleep and hibernate worked, but sometimes the laptop would not wake up. The audio jack didn’t automatically switch off when you plug in a headphone like in Vista.

    When Ubuntu 8.04 came out, I was hoping that more of the issue had been fixed. The wireless was now worked close to perfect, but now sleep and hibernate does not work at all even with the corrected BIOS.

  4. Install the Everex BIOS. Basically, we flashed the Averatec 2370 with a later version of the R1.09 BIOS from an Everex StepNote ST5340T machine. After the flash, the machine will work perfectly with Vista. The following instruction shows you how to do this. Keep in mind that I am talking about an Averatec 2370. There is a model out call Averatec 2371. I don’t know if 2371 is the same motherboard as 2370, so it may not work. I must warned you again that this method have a potential of bricking your laptop, though the chance is small.

Flashing the BIOS

Flashing the BIOS is dangerous. It’s dangerous not because we are flashing a BIOS from a different company (the machines are identical), but because the flashing process itself can turn your computer into a brick if interrupted. Some manufacturer will not warranty a flash failure. This is why you should only flash your machine if there is no other recourse. In addition, think about not doing this until your warranty has expired. I am pretty sure Averatec will void your warranty if the machines boots up with an Everex logo during repairs. You can reflash the BIOS with the Averatec BIOS before sending it back to Averatec, but if you’re probably not going to be able to this if your machine is broken.

The first problem we encountered is that there is no Everex BIOS to download. The Everex come pre-installed with the R1.09 BIOS so there was no reason for Everex to post it online. However, a clever person name Jackyl managed to grab a copy of the BIOS off a machine and posted it on the notebookreview site as a bunch of zip files. At this point, you may wonder if this is even legal. It is definitely questionable from a copyright standpoint. The only reason we are doing this is because Averatec won’t release the later BIOS and because we can’t even buy the BIOS from the manufacturer. If Jack Bauer crash through the door to arrest you, tell him that Averatec set you on this life of crime.

Go to this thread and download all of the Zip files. Unzip each of the files and unrar the file. I used the 7zip utility to both unzip and unrar the file. When you finish, you’ll have an R109.bin file that’s 512K. This is the BIOS file.

Now you’ll need some way of installing the BIOS, there are several ways of doing this. I will give detail description of how I did this in the past. I will also mention how other people online said they have perform the installation. You’ll have to google and ask them yourself on the exact details.

In all cases, make sure that the laptop is plugged in and that you have a fully charged battery. This is insurance to prevent a fail BIOS flash because there was a power outage.

Winflash method

In the old days, BIOS was flash by booting into a DOS floppy and then running a program to flash the BIOS. Most computers these days don’t even have a floppy drive, so most manufacturer these days uses WinFlash. Winflash allow you to install flash from within Windows.

If you go to the Averatec website and look up Averatec 2370, you’ll see two BIOS related files, one for R1.04 and one for R1.05. You actually want the R1.04 file because it comes with the Winflash utility.

Download XP_Bios_with_WinFlash_Utility_R1_04.exe and unzip it. Inside the folder is the BIOS file H12FA000.ROM. Rename your R1.09.bin file to this file and replace H12FA000.ROM with the renamed R1.09 file. What you have done is replace the 1.04 BIOS with 1.09.

Next, reboot your machine in case there’s something running in the background. Turn off your virus checker, your windows automatic update, scheduler and quit from all possible program. You do not want your virus checker or check disk to interrupt your BIOS flash. Follow the instruction and run the AFUWIN.exe utility.

Noted that I have only upgraded my computer under XP. I do not know if Winflash works properly under Vista.

The Floppy Method

If you download the R1.05 BIOS from the Averatec website, the readme file tells you to boot from floppy. This will leave most people scratching their heads since there is no floppy drive on Averatec 2370.

What you can do is buy or borrow a USB floppy drive and then create a boot floppy. Do the following:

  1. Create a boot floppy. You can do this by going to a machine with XP and a floppy drive and formatting a floppy with Boot disk option. This is the way I did it. If you don’t have access to such a machine, check out the boot disk site. There is probably a disk image you can use to create a start up floppy disk. All the disk do is to boot your command to a DOS command line so you can run the flash command.
  2. Go the Averatec site and download the R1.05 BIOS. Unzip the file, you will notice a BIOS folders with the following file H12FA105.ROM. Rename your R1.09 to H12FA105.ROM and replace this file with the rename R1.09. Copy everything in the BIOS folder to the floppy.

    Insert the floppy into the USB drive. Connect the USB drive to the laptop. Boot the laptop and press F11. This give you a list of devices to boot from. Note that if you can’t see the USB drive, turn off the machine and try again. If it still does not work, go into the BIOS and make sure the USB legacy option is set to true or auto.

    Select the option to boot from floppy. It should boot into a command line prompt.

    Enter the command FBIOS.BAT and follow the instruction on screen. Do not interrupt the process at this point or your laptop is toast.

Alternate Method

You can create a Boot CD with the BIOS files and boot from the CD. Creating such a disk is tricky, though admlam in the thread has done it.

You can also create a boot usb key. I have not tried this at all, but it should work.

Post BIOS flashing

After the BIOS has flashed properly and rebooted, you’ll get notice that screen now say “Everex”. Ignore this in the same way Averatec told you to ignore your own problems and press DEL. This takes you to the BIOS setup screen. Before the flash, the key to enter the BIOS was F12. It has now change to DEL from now on.

In the BIOS screen, select “Restore Optmized Default”. This clears out any outdated settings from the old BIOS, so you don’t get checksum errors.

Now the machine should work exactly as it did before, but now Vista actually works. Unfortunately, I still can’t get Linux to work perfectly enough (at least not with sleep and suspend working), so I have to stay with Vista or XP for now.

September 23, 2007 at 3:16 pm 11 comments

Laptop shutdown button changed on Vista

I recently purchased an Acer laptop with Vista Basic install. I noticed that my laptop power light is on after shutdown. It turns out that I haven’t shutting down the laptop at all, but put the laptop to sleep instead. On a laptop under Vista, the shutdown icon actually make a laptop goes into sleep instead of shutting down the machine like in Windows XP.

What is Vista Sleep

Putting a laptop to sleep causes the laptop to go into a ACPI S3 state. At this state, your computer goes into a minimum power mode.  The screen turns off, the hard drives stops, and the CPU goes into a sleep state that draws a minimum amount of power.

Because a computer in sleep state still draws power, the battery will still run out eventually. The computer will go into hibernation mode after a specific amount of time or when the battery runs low. In hibernation mode, the entire content of your computer memory is saved to disk and the computer is turned off. In hibernation mode, the computer draws no power. When you start the computer, it goes out of hiberation and loads the memory back from the disk so you can resume where you left off.

How is Sleep different than Standby

In XP, you can put a computer into standby and get the same benefits as sleep. By default,  the power management dump the computer into hibernation mode when the battery is low. How is Sleep different than Standby then?

Apparently, Microsoft has made some improvement on how quickly a computer goes into standby/sleep mode, so it is a few seconds faster. In addition, programs under XP can veto your standby, so a programs can keep your machine from going into standby. Now, Vista goes to sleep regardless of how loudly these programs complaint. Those program may crash under Vista, but I haven’t seen any program that has caused problems. I also notice that when I have an USB external drive attached, my shutdown icon now has an exclaimation mark.

Essentially sleep and standby are the same thing. Microsoft has made some improvement, that’s all.

September 12, 2007 at 8:50 am Leave a comment

Is it worth upgrading the CPU on Acer 3680-2633?

The Acer 3680-2633 comes with a Celeron M 520 CPU. The name Celeron have been synonymous with trash. On many forum there are articles asking if they can upgrade the processor.

Can you upgrade the processor?

Well, the question you should ask is if it can be upgraded at all. It is generally more difficult to upgrade a CPU on a laptop than a desktop. The CPU is hard to get to, and the cooling system may be design to cool a particular processor. Still, if your laptop comes in multiple configuration (your model supports Celeron M to Core 2 Duo), it may be possible to upgrade. Your upgrade path will depend on a couple of factors:

  1. Your CPU is a Zip socket, and there is another CPU that fit into this socket.
  2. Your chipset supports the CPU.
  3. Your BIOS can recognize the new CPU.

In the case of the Acer 3680, the CPU is socketed. I ran a program call PC Wizard to get the chipset. It indicate that the Acer 3680-2633 chipset is an Intel 943GML. A quick search through the Intel website indicate that it supports only Celeron M.

Can we upgrade to another Celeron M? According to Wikipedia, there is a Celeron M 530 that is faster than the 520. A quick check through google indicates that the CPU is selling for about $125 currently. However, the CPU is only 0.08 Ghz faster than the 520, so I am doubtful that you will gain much performance from the upgrade. The other processors that 943 GML support are the Celeron ULV, which are even slower than 520 and don’t even share the same socket.

Is Celeron M really a dog?

The first Celeron was release with virtually no secondary cache. As a result, its performance was so poor that the name become associated with cheap and slow. The Celeron M are essentially single core of the mobile Intel chips with half the cache. Currently, there are 3 series of Celeron M.

Celeron M Series Based On Difference
3xx Pentium M (Dothan Core) 1/2 Cache, no Speedstep
4xx Core Duo (Yonah Core) 1/2 Cache, no Speedstep
5xx Core 2 Duo (Merom Core) 1/2 Cache, no Speedstep, no virtualization

Performance-wise, the Celeron M is actually fairly close to its non-Celeron brother. Recently, another poster wrote an article benchmarking a Celeron M vs. its Pentium M brother.

However, the Celeron M’s biggest flaw as a mobile cpu is a lack of speedstep. This may explain the Acer laptop’s terrible 2 hour battery life.

Increasing performance using Dual Channel

One interesting difference between the 520 series and the old Pentium M is the effect of dual channel. On the Pentium M architecture, having dual channel has virtually no effect on performance as shown in the following article. However, when I ran SuperPI under single channel and dual channel, I definitely got improve results.

Memory Configuration SuperPI Benchmark 2M
1 DIMM, 512 Mb 2:19
2 DIMM, 2 Gb 1:39

As you can see, there is a 29% improvement. Granted, the test isn’t very through or scientific, but it appears upgrading your laptop to two matching pair of RAM will improve performance and RAM is cheap at the moment.

September 3, 2007 at 5:19 pm 99 comments

Laptop Battery Life: internal vs external battery

My Acer 3680 only last about 2 hours on a charge. Should I buy another internal battery or buy an external battery?

First, let’s examine the laptop’s battery and AC adapter:

  • Battery: 4000 mAh, 11.1 V, 44.4 Wh Li-ion.
  • AC Adapter: 19 V, 3.42 A, 65 W

The best way to measure a battery’s capabilities is Watt hour. The formula for Watt Hour is:

Watt Hour (wh) = Voltage x Amp-Hour

For the Acer battery, the Watt hour would be 4 A x 11.1 V = 44.4 Wh. So if you buy an external battery taht’s 44.4 Wh, you’ll get the same battery life as your internal? That depends on your internal voltage vs external voltage. If you look at the Acer battery specification, it list a voltage of 11.1 V, but if you look at the AC adapter, it list 19V. To get the same battery life on an external battery, you would need a battery with 4 A x 19 V = 76 Wh. Essentially, you need a much bigger battery because of the higher voltage.

Let’s compare the battery life with what is typically available on the market:

Capacity (Wh) Percentage from Baseline Est. Battery Life (Hours)
40 Wh 53% 1:04
50 Wh 66% 1:19
60 Wh 79% 1:30
76 Wh (baseline) 100% 2:00
80 Wh 105% 2:06
100 Wh 132% 2:38
120 Wh 158% 3:10
140 Wh 184% 3:41

Internally, the Acer has two battery options:

  • 4000 mAh, 11.1 V, 44.4 Wh Li-ion.
  • 7200 mAH, 11.1 V, 79.9 Wh Li-ion

So the battery life would be:

Capacity (Wh) Percentage from Baseline Est. Battery Life (Hours)
44.4 Wh 100% 2:00
79.9 Wh 180% 3:36

Amazon currently sale an 80 Wh external battery at around $205, which will give me another 2:06 of runtime. I could get the 44.4 Wh internal battery for $160 for the same amount of battery life. In the end, the internal battery almost always seem to be a better deal.

September 1, 2007 at 2:25 pm 3 comments

Installing an Aftermarket Internal Bluetooth Module on Acer 3680

All Acer 3680 have a bluetooth button on the front, but only some models of Acer 3680 actually have the internal bluetooth module. This has led people to spend hours trying to get bluetooth to work, only to discover that they don’t have bluetooth. This does mean that all or most model of Acer 3680 probably have a connector for the internal bluetooth module and an internal antenna. All we need to do is to find a compatible module to connect to the connector.

Acer does not sell the bluetooth module as a part. Since the connector is essentially a USB connector, I could have rewire a USB dongle if I can figure out the pin outs. However, I am not a hardware person and don’t really have the time to mess with solder and wires. I managed to acquired an aftermarket bluetooth module from a ebay vendor OldEgg Wireless. OldEgg mentioned that the part was not an original Acer part, but it was only about $34 with shipping. If it worked, the it was a much better option than USB dongle or PCMCIA cards. There are a few other vendors offering the part, but OldEgg at least was offering reasonable prices (one vendor wanted $150, why would I spend that much money for an accessory for a $400 laptop?)

The module arrived in a few days. The module is a tiny box size of a fingertip with a cable terminating in a 6-pin connector. There’s some double sided tape in the back of the box. I have no idea who the vendor is since the label on the box is in Chinese.

Internal Bluetooth Module

Installation is actually pretty easy for the Acer 3680. All you need to do is to remove the memory door panel, exposing a white 6 pin socket. All you need to do is plug the connector into the socket (it only goes in one way). You can remove the backing of the double-sided tape and stick it on some part of the motherboard. In my case, I just tucked into a crevice of the case.

Acer 3680 Memory Panel

To test it, I boot the laptop up and press the bluetooth button and the blue light lit up, indicating that it was working. After installing gnome-bluetooth under Ubuntu, I was able to scan and connect to my Motorola Razr from across the room. I assume that it probably works under XP and Vista, but I don’t have either OS on the machine to try it.

I assume that this trick will work on all models of Acer 3680, but you should open up your memory panel to make sure there is a 6-pin connector. I did notice that there seemed to be several models of Acer 3680, so there’s a small chance that this may not work with every model.

August 24, 2007 at 7:46 pm 74 comments

Installing memory on an Acer 3680 Laptop

The acer 3680 has two memory slots that takes DDR2-533/PC4200 or DDR2-667/PC5300. Because the Celeron M has a FSB of 533 Mhz, you’re limited to 533 Mhz even if you use DDR2-667. The computer typically come with a single 512 Mb module and can accept up to a maximum of two 1 Gb module for a total of 2 Gb. Since DDR2-667 and DDR2-533 are pretty much the same price these days, I chose a pair of G. Skill 2 x 1 Gb DDR2-667 from Newegg.

To install the memory, power off the laptop and remove the battery. Turn the laptop over. The memory module is located under the middle panel, the one with the Windows Product Key sticker. To remove the panel, remove the two screw on the bottom of the case. There is plastic washer underneath the panel holding the screw in. You will have to unscrew the screw all the way and then carefully use your fingernail to pry off the screw (be careful not to lose it).

Once you remove the screw, you will find resistance as you try to pry over the panel. The panel is actually being held in by plastic fingers that stick out to the back of the panel and some to the side. Pry open the cover gently so you don’t break the fingers. In my opinion, it’s a really bad design, since plastic get brittle with age and the fingers may break if you keep opening the panel.

Acer 3680 Memory Panel

After you remove the panel, you’ll notice 2 white plastic washers. Carefully remove them so they don’t get lost.

The memory module is toward the back. Examine the memory module carefully, you’ll notice that the memory module is being held by two clips. The clip fits into a notch on the side of the memory. Gently pry the arms of the clip outward, causing the memory module to flip up to about an 45 degrees angle. Remove the memory. Insert the new memory at an 45 degree angle and swivel the memory gently until it clicks into the clips. Since there is a notch on the connector, you cannot insert the memory in the wrong direction. Do not force the memory or you will break something.

Once the memory module is in, don’t close the memory door right away. Test it to make sure it works first. If you don’t get a BIOS welcome screen, then the memory is not installed properly. If you get a blank screen, don’t panic. Turn off the machine, remove the battery, and re-seat the memory. I find that I may have to re-seat the memory a few times before the memory works. If it still doesn’t work, try different combination of the memory module. You may have a bad memory module. Trying different combination allow you to discover which one.

Once everything is working, turn the laptop over again. Carefully put in the white washers on the screw hole. Reattach the memory panel door starting with the fingers in the back. Be careful you do not knock off the white washers. Once the panel is click in place, put the two screws back in.

Post Installation Booting Problems

After installing the RAM, I notice that occassionally, was unable to start up after a shutdown. Typically, I would turn on the machine. The power light would be on, but nothing happens. The problem is usually fixed by removing the battery and AC, killing all power to the laptop. After the power is restore, the laptop boots normally, only to have a similar problem again after shutdown.

After some research on the net, the problem is cause by a BIOS timing issue. According to Acer, the problem affects laptop with dual RAM. To fix the problem, download the BIOS 1.3505 or above (mines was originally 1.3502).

August 24, 2007 at 7:28 pm 36 comments


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