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 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, 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

Which version of Linux Mint 8 Helena should I run?

There are several different editions of Linux Mint 8 Helena. I decided to try the 32-bit and 64-bit Gnome and KDE edition. The following are my opinion.

32bit vs. 64-bit Edition

Linux Mint 8 comes in 32-bit and 64-bit editions. In the old days, it was risky to run a 64-bit Linux because there would be no drivers available and flash wouldn’t work, and there weren’t that many 64-bit applications. Today, 64-bit Linux works pretty much out of the box and there is 64-bit flash. Is there a reason not to go with 64-bit?

64-bit Pros

  • Can address over 3 Gb of memory (32-bit OS can address 4 Gb of memory, but part of it gets used up by the ROM and I/O so you only see 3 to 3.5 Gb).
  • Some programs, particular rendering programs and compression program can run quite a bit faster.

64-bit Cons

  • 64-bit program may take up more memory than 32-bit programs because of the larger pointer. Supposedly, the size increase is around 15 to 30% but will vary from program to program.
  • WMAP encoded audio (used in some window audio and movies) doesn’t run on 64-bit. You can probably get around this by installing 32-bit player, but you can’t play WMAP audio out of the box.

I decided  to stick with 32-bit Linux Mint. I only have 2 Gb on the laptop so I don’t need 64-bit to maximize my memory. With normal usage, I don’t think I’ll notice performance differences between the 32-bit and 64-bit. If I encode a lot, then may be 64-bit would be better, but not being able to play WMAP seemed like a loss of functionality even though WMAP audio isn’t all that common. If they ever fix the WMAP issue, I’ll go with 64-bit since give me the flexibility to run both 32-bit and 64-bit program, but there are currently no 64-bit program that I must use.

Gnome vs KDE

Gnome vs KDE has long been a religious issue. In a nutshell, KDE proponents tout KDE’s configuration flexibility, while Gnome proponent cite Gnome’s usability. Frankly, you should try out both to see which one you like. Since I tend to leave everything on its default settings, one would assume that I would pick Gnome. After using both, I decided that I like KDE better. The following are my brief observation of both:

  • Mint KDE looks better than Mint Gnome, but that is of course purely subjective.
  • I like the Mint KDE’s menu better than Mint Gnome. I find it navigating Gnome menu’s third level menu items.
  • Gnome seemed slightly faster and more responsive, but then again this could be my imagination. They are fairly similar in performance and memory.
  • Gnome is more stable. When I was using KDE, Dolphin would occasionally die and I would get these mysterious Plasmoid errors.
  • I like Gnome’s resource monitor. KDE has several resource monitors but none seemed to display the information in a manner that I find useful. Actually, I find a lot of the KDE widget not to be all that useful. What does that bouncing ball do?
  • Gnome’s mouse control has a touchpad control that allow you to turn off touchpad tapping. and disable touchpad during typing. I was unable to find a touchpad control in KDE. By editing some fdi files, I was able to disable touchpad during typing, but couldn’t figure out how to turn off touchpad tapping in KDE. In Linux Mint 5 / Ubuntu 8.04, you can do this by editing the xorg.conf, but there was no xorg.conf in Linux Mint 8.
  • Mint Gnome doesn’t come with a graphical remote desktop client and I can’t find one in the mint portal or mint’s software manager. To install a graphical remote desktop client, I had to launch synaptics and install tsclient. KDE comes with krdc, which doesn’t work as well as TSClient, but at least it’s installed by default. You can probably install TSClient in KDE any way using synaptics.

I eventually settle on Gnome even though I like KDE better. While KDE 4.3 is vastly more stable than the first KDE 4 release, it still some stability issue. The KDE GUI is still changing. Even though I like KDE 4 more than KDE 3.5, I like to jump on the KDE train when it isn’t travelling so fast. Another factor is the touchpad tapping, which I really want to turn off.

Obviously, since your needs are different, your final choice will most likely be different than mines. I just wanted to give you something to think about.

February 25, 2010 at 10:02 pm Leave a comment

Tips on Moneydance

How do you set up a 401K
Suppose you have an existing 401K, you can go back and enter the last x number of years of history, but that would be time consuming. Since you do not need to track the buy and sell prices of an asset in the 401K, you can start from scratch using your last statement.

  1. Create an investment account to house your 401K. Enter as the initial value, the value on last date of your statement.
  2. Create and add security to the 401K.
  3. Now, start buying all of the shares listed at the last day of the statement at the prices listed at the last date of the statement. Select the transaction buy and list your account as the category.
  4. When you are finish, you should have a cash value of zero in your account (unless you had cash in their before), because you “purchased” all of the assets listed in your statement.

How do you set up a Mortgage

Mortgages consists of a loan account and an escrow account. When you pay your mortgage, some of the money goes into the escrow account, which is then used to pay off the taxes, insurance, and other fees.

  1. Create an asset account and name it something like “House Escrow”.
  2. Create a loan acount and name it something like “House Mortgage”.
  3. Enter the loan amount into the principle (ex: 250000).
  4. Enter the loan interest rate into the APR (ex: 5.25).
  5. Enter the points on your mortgage into points.
  6. Enter the number of payent per year (probaby12).
  7. Enter the total number of payment for the life of the loan. (ex: A 30 year loan that is paid monthly would be 30 year x 12 month = 360 payments).
  8. Set the interest category. I used the built-in category Bills:Mortgage Interest.
  9. Enter the amount being transferred to the Escrow account monthly. This should be in your mortgage statement.
  10. Set the Escrow account to the escrow account you created earlier.
  11. If you’re lucky, the payment calculated should your payment on your bill. If not, you select the specify payment radio button and enter your payment.
  12. Enter the start date of your loan.
  13. Press OK.
  14. At this point, I am prompted if I want to transfer the amount from another account. Since the loan has been around for a while, I didn’t need to track where the money came from, so I answered No.

What’s the difference between liability and loan?
Loan account is a special type of liability account that allows you to specify the number of payments, APR, escrow account, etc. Generally loan accounts are used to track mortgage and car loans. A liability account can be use for simple debts such as an interest free loan from a family member.

February 10, 2010 at 6:53 pm 3 comments

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 5 comments

La Crosse WS-9016TWC Wireless Sun/Moon Forecast Station is not displaying outside temperature

My mother recently received a gift of a La Crosse WS-9016TWC Wireless Sun/Moon Forecast Station, which consists of a outdoor thermometer and a display unit. The unit worked perfectly the first time it was setup but failed to display the battery after changing the battery. We even change the battery in the outdoor thermometer, but this did not fix the problem. Here’s what we need t solve it (it’s in the manual somewhere, but the manual is not exactly easy to read).

  1. Remove the battery from both the outdoor thermometer and the display unit.
  2. Let it sit for a few minutes.
  3. Place the thermometer and the display unit next to each other.
  4. Install the battery in the thermometer.
  5. Wait at least 10 minutes and then install the battery in the display unit.

This should get the outdoor temperature to appear again.

April 9, 2009 at 6:55 pm 1 comment

Problems upgrading from CentOS 5.2 to 5.3

CentOS 5.3 has recently been released and the update appears to automatically upgrades my machine to 5.2 to 5.3. the problem is that the update ends with the following error:

kernel - 2.6.18-128.1.6.el5.i686: failure: RPMS/
kernel-2.6.18-128.1.6.el5.i686.rpm from updates: [Errno 256] 
No more mirrors to try.

This error usualy indicate that there is a problem with the yum cache. I took a look at the release notes and it indicated that we may need to update glibc first. Here’s what I did.

  1. In CentOS, start a terminal window.
  2. su to root.
  3. Run the following commands:

    yum clean all
    yum update glibc
    yum update

The first command clears the cache and all of the stale packages. I am not sure why you need to install glibc first, but it’s in the release notes.

April 3, 2009 at 4:05 pm 1 comment

HP Solution Center failed to open

Recently, the HP Solution Center suddently stop working. When I launch HP SolutionCenter, nothing happens. In the error log, I see the errors:

Product: SolutionCenter -- Error 1904. 
Module C:\WINDOWS\system32\Macromed\Flash\Flash9b.ocx failed to register. 
HRESULT - 2147220473. Contact your support personnel.

What seems to have happened is the following:

  1. Adobe Flash is updated to version 10. This cause Flash9b.ocx to be deleted from C:\Windows\Flash
  2. HP Solution Center is apparently dependent on Flash9b.ocx, so it stopped working.

Here’s how I got rid of the error.

  1. Uninstall HP solution center because HP do not allow you to reinstall the HP Solution Center. Instead, we have to uninstall so we can install the HP Solution Center again.
  2. Reinstall HP Solution.

If you examine C:\Windows\System32\Macromed\flash, Flash9b.ocx is back even though we have Flash10.ocx. If you examine the event log, there is the same registration error again (you can’t register Flash9b.ocx because there is a later version), but HP solutions apparently works.

March 24, 2009 at 5:52 pm 7 comments

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