Posts filed under ‘Vista’

Mandriva 2008 vs Suse 10.3 vs Ubuntu 7.10 on an Averatec 2370

When I purchased Averatec 2370 last year, I thought I was getting a good deal on an ultra-portable laptop. Two warranty repairs later, I no longer think the same. To pour salt in the wound, Averatec 2370 does not work properly with Vista. Due to a BIOS incompatibility, Vista only runs at the processor’s lowest speed. When I close the laptop lid, the laptop’s screen goes blank and never comes back from sleep. How can anyone claim to be Vista compatible with these problems? Both Averatec and Microsoft should be ashamed! Annoyed, I had a thought; can Linux succeed where Microsoft and Averatec have failed?

I had previously failed to install Linux on the Averatec 2370. The two areas that all distros failed in were the wireless and suspend to RAM. Now that Suse 10.3, Mandriva 2008, and Ubuntu 7.10 have recently been release. It was time to try again.

Unlike the other reviews, I will mostly concentrate on hardware detection and support. Based on past experience, Averatec 2370 is not a particularly Linux friendly machine. What I am interested is to install the Linux on the laptop and have all of the hardware working with a minimum amount of configuration. In all cases, I put in the install CD and default install overwriting everything on the hard disk. I then get access to the internet and do an update.

Mandriva 2008.0 (KDE)

Mandriva installed quickly with a graphical wizard. The distro detected the screen properly and automatically install the Nividia proprietary display driver and offered the choice of none, Metisse, and Compiz. I chose Compiz. The wireless card was detected properly and I was able to select the WPA-PSK options. Unfortunately, the wireless driver did not actually work.

There are two annoying problems with the installer. Some of the screens wizard screens do not have a back button, so if you make a mistake, you cannot go back. When the installer ends, it doesn’t reboot the machine but leaves you at the command line. You have to press CTRL-D to logout (most people will probably just turn off the machine).

When I did reboot the computer, it boots into a blank screen. After playing around, I realized that it’s freezing on the splash screen. Turn off the computer and boot again. When you see the startup menu (grub), press F2 for options and remove from the end of the boot line “vga=788” to get past the splash screen. Next we need to remove the bad vga entry from the boot parameter. Login and click on the Control Center icon at the bottom task bar and click on the Boot tab. Click on the choice “Set up boot system” and wait. Click on the next button. Click on modify button to modify the default grub menu. Expand the Advance options and set the options to 640×480 16 bpp and press OK. Press the finish button and reboot the laptop.

The touchpad was correctly detected, but I could find no GUI option to configure it. I ended up editing the xorg.conf file manually to remove the tap click.

Suspend to RAM and Suspend to Disk both failed. In both cases, suspend were both successful, but when we wake from RAM, we get a blank screen. When the laptop wakes from disk, flicking garbage appears on the screen. The wireless driver was able to connect to a public network, but I was unable to connect to a WPA-PSK router.

All in all, I am impressed by Mandriva but found that the disto isn’t completely compatible with my laptop.

SUSE 10.3 (Gnome)

SUSE is the only distro without a live CD. Unlike Mandriva or Ubuntu, you cannot test the disto on your machine before you install. The installer was easy to follow but took over an hour to install everything. I suspect that it was because it was downloading packages from the net. Installation would probably be faster if I had use the DVD instead of the CD. The installer correctly detected the 1280×800 LCD. The installer initially detected the RT73 wireless card, but the drivers failed so I had no wireless.

After the installation, I attempted to fix the wireless problem but it appears that I would have to download and compile a new drivers. To make things worse, neither suspend to RAM nor suspend to disk works. In either case, the laptop would appear to suspend, only to drop back to the enter password screen. Attempts to run s2ram with different parameters all failed. In each case, suspend is always halted.

The touchpad was correctly detected, but I could not find the configuration screen to turn off the touchpad tap clicking. I ended up editing the xorg.conf file manually to remove the tap click.

Unlike the other two distros, it isn’t quite that easy to install 3D desktop effects. Video files do not play because codec is missing.

All in all, I am not impressed at all with the SUSE 10.3 release. Suse used to be the best distro for laptop because of their laptop management support. It appears that they have fallen way behind the other two distros.

Ubuntu 7.10 (Gnome)

Ubuntu comes on a live CD that you can test before you install. The installer was easy to follow and install the disto quickly. Like the other two distros, the screen was detected correctly at 1280×800. Surprisingly, the wireless worked right out of the box with WPA. On the downside, there is a bit of instability to the wireless drivers. I have had a few cases where the wireless driver lost the connection.

Unlike Mandriva, the proprietary driver is not installed by default. You have to install it using the restricted driver. If you want 3D, you have to go to a different screen to enable it. In this case, you should install the proprietary driver because suspend to ram will not work properly without it.

The touchpad is correctly detected and there is a GUI option to turn off the touchpad tap. The product does not come with any codec, but the OS automatically prompt you to install it if attempt to use a codec that it does not have.

Conclusion

The clear winner is Ubuntu. It is the only distro that seems to work mostly out of the box. It is the only distro where wireless and suspend worked even though I had to install the proprietary driver to get it to work.

I have to admit that Ubuntu has never been my favorite distro. From my point of view, it’s one of the ugliest distros and is heavily hyped. Yet there is substance behind the hype, the distro over the years have always managed to be just a little bit better than its competitor especially in its laptop support. It’s managed to won me over despite my dislike of it.

Note that all distros were much easier to install than Vista. Unlike Linux, I had to search and download drivers from the manufacturer to get Vista to work. Even when all of the drivers were installed, the computer ran at half the clock speed and had broken power management.

Linux is not perfect. There are still some problems, particularly with the wireless. None of the distro have drivers for the modem. The difference between Vista and Linux is that one day; the problems I encountered with my laptop will most likely be fixed. The problems I have with Vista will most likely not be fixed, so I am saying goodbye to Vista on the Averatec 2370.

 

Mandriva 2008 KDE Suse 10.3 Ubuntu 7.10
Dual Core support

Yes

Yes

Yes

Display      
  Detect 1280×800 LCD

Yes

Yes

Yes

  Detect Video card

Yes

Yes

Yes

  3D Desktop effects

Yes

No

Yes

Audio

Yes

Yes

Yes

Touchpad

Yes, but can’t figure out how to turn off tap without editing xorg.conf

Yes, but can’t figure out how to turn off tap without editing xorg.conf

Yes

Power Management      
  Suspend to RAM

No

No

Yes, but only when using Proprietary Nvidia drivers.

  Suspend to Disk

No

No

Yes

Modem

No

No

No

Ethernet

Yes

Yes

Yes

Wireless      
  Public

Yes

Yes

Yes

  WPA-PSK

No

No

Yes

Play Flash

Yes

Yes

Yes, but autodownload of codec was needed.

Play mp3

Yes

Yes

Yes

Play Xvid

Yes

No

Yes, but autodownload of codec was needed.

Play DVD

No

No

No

October 31, 2007 at 3:16 pm 16 comments

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

Why can’t I unzip files in Vista?

In Windows XP, you can unzip files by double-clicking on it or by right-clicking on it and using the context menu. When I tried this on Vista, the menu was not visible? Did Microsoft remove that feature?

Apparently, I installed ZipGenuis 6 recently but uninstalled it quickly after it had difficulty with some self-extracting archives. When the program uninstall, it did not restore the default association for Zip files. As a result, I can no longer unzip files!

In most cases, you can restore associations by selecting open and the picking the program you want to associate with that file type. Unfortunately for you, the Windows zip file is not a program, but a shell extension. If you type in a command line:

ftype | more

You will see an entry for CompressFolder and it calls a shell extension dll.

To restore the functionality, you need to do the following:

  1. Select the Start Menu, select Start->Accessories. Right click on the Command Prompt and select Run As Admin. You need to be admin to change the association. You will be prompted to enter your admin password. Enter it and press return.
  2. In the command line window, type in the following command

assoc .zip=CompressedFolder

Now when you right-click on a zip file, you should see the familar extract menu again.

September 12, 2007 at 9:29 am 48 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


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