Monday, November 17, 2008

Mint 6 RC1 on the Acer Aspire One

Mint 6 RC1 on the Acer Aspire One

Codenamed "Felicia",Mint 6 is due to arrive this month, and RC1 is already available over at http://linuxmint.com.

Mint 6 is built off the solid basis of Ubuntu 8.10, and inherits most of its goodness, and layers on the extras that make Mint my favorite Distro right now. I'll have a post up soon over at TalkBMC about using Mint 6 as the main office distro. This one is about Mint on the Acer Aspire One (AAO) though..

When we last left the AAO I had just added more memory and was experimenting with Puppy Linux. Since that time I have found that the power supplies for my Compaq M300's work on the AAO: Not great: the Compaq PS plug is slightly smaller in exterior diameter, but it fits well enough I can leave the real AAO power cord in the "car 11" DVDplayer" bag I bought to act as the AAO's case. I can have a power station on my desk, and another by the bed, and don't have to unpack the cord. Very handy. Kind of ironic, since the M300 sort of fit the same slot of computing hardware the AAO does.

A friend of mine told me that Mint 6 RC 1 was out, so I went and downloaded it to the MS Windows side of the AAO. The reason for this is that I have some handy tools for making bootable USB fobs over there on MS WIn that I got from the following tutorial on PenDriveLinux:

http://www.pendrivelinux.com/2008/11/15/usb-boot-cd-for-ubuntu-810/

There is a sort of beauty to using MS Win to create Linux boot media.

I booted the AAO back over to WinXP SP 3. There I created a mint6 directory on the NTFS partition, and downloaded all the bits noted on the tutorial link above, plus the mint 6 .iso to the new mint6 directory. Next I modified the batch file there (inside the .zip download) and renamed it mint6.bat. The modification was just to change the two places inside the batch file that it refers to the .iso by name to point at the mint6 rc 1 .iso instead.

Then I inserted my USB fob.. that one that had Puppy 4.1.1 on it... formated it, and ran the new mint6.bat. This calls 7zip (7zip also is included in the .zip download) to unpack some stuff from the .iso {handy that 7zip understands .iso}), copies it to the USB fob, and makes the fob bootable with 'makeboot' (also included in the .zip download). It is clean and easy. Whoever created that .zip did all the work.

I have the AAO set to boot USB first by default, so I booted the USB key, and Mint 6 RC1 flew up. Fast. Amazing how much faster USB keys boot than CD's. I then clicked the install icon, and started the install process.

If you have ever installed Mint or Ubunbtu, there will be no mysteries on the install. Same set of screens. Same annoying graphical time zone setter (although it does seem to work a little better than it did, but not by much) When I got to the disk layout, I did the usual manual definitions since this system dual boots. Disk layout on the AAO looks like this in 'fdisk':


The number of cylinders for this disk is set to 19457.
There is nothing wrong with that, but this is larger than 1024,
and could in certain setups cause problems with:
1) software that runs at boot time (e.g., old versions of LILO)
2) booting and partitioning software from other OSs
(e.g., DOS FDISK, OS/2 FDISK)

Command (m for help): p

Disk /dev/sda: 160.0 GB, 160041885696 bytes
255 heads, 63 sectors/track, 19457 cylinders
Units = cylinders of 16065 * 512 = 8225280 bytes
Disk identifier: 0x11a8ba38

Device Boot Start End Blocks Id System
/dev/sda1 1 637 5116671 12 Compaq diagnostics
/dev/sda2 * 638 4285 29302560 7 HPFS/NTFS
/dev/sda3 4286 5258 7815622+ 83 Linux
/dev/sda4 5259 19457 114053467+ 5 Extended
/dev/sda5 5259 5501 1951866 82 Linux swap / Solaris
/dev/sda6 5502 19457 112101538+ 83 Linux

I really love that the AAO has a 160 GB hard drive. Since the Acer's box said that it was a 120 GB unit, I resent less that MS Win is taking up part of the space.

  • SDA1 is the restore partition defined by Acer and more than likely made useless by this system being dual boot. 5 GB that will probably never be of use.
  • SDA2 is MS Win XP SP3.
  • SDA3 is '/'.
  • SDA6 is 'home'.

I had Mint format sda3, and just told it to mount up the rest as is.

The installer then formated SDA3, and took less than 3 minutes to install the software, and less than three more to download language packs, and then it was time to reboot the system. Total install time was less that 10 minutes.

Up to this point, other than everything having the Mint theme, this was all like the Ubuntu 8.10 install before. This changed with the reboot. Ubuntu 8.10 and the wireless card.

Ubuntu required that I *unload* the Athero wireless drivers before the Atheros wireless card would work. Seems counter intuitive, but that is what worked.

With Mint 6 booted, it could not 'see' the wireless card, and so I assumed that the same thing would work for Mint. Nope. I unloaded and rebooted and Mint 6 still could not see the wireless card. I went round and round. It was odd. The hardware was clearly visible to lspci:

03:00.0 Ethernet controller: Atheros Communications Inc. AR242x 802.11abg Wireless PCI Express Adapter (rev 01)


No drivers would work. This is not good, because Atheros is one of the good guys/companies when it comes to Linux, having fully released Open Source versions of their hardwares drivers.

http://www.atheros.com/news/linux.html

Weirder, this all worked under Ubuntu 8.10. If there was ever any doubt Mint is not the same Distro as Ubuntu, it is erased by things like this. This *is* RC1 though. I have no doubt that this will be fixed by GA, or shortly after: If nothing else, I have read the Ubuntu will be fixing the Atheros drivers in the hardware manager and Mint should pick that up.

This presented me with an opportunity though. Previous to this Mint had always supported my wireless cards so well I have never had a chance to play with their MS Windows driver install tool (System / administration / Windows Wireless Drivers). I know that NDISWrapper is the secret sauce behind this tool, and that is a little controversial in Linux circles. I agree that I would rather the Atheros native stuff be working, but it isn't, and I either need wireless to work, or I need to go back to Ubuntu 8.10. I decided to do NDISWrapper for now.

I pointed the tool at the Windows driver over in the MS Windows partition (cleverly mounted as /windows), and it does *not* activate the wireless card.

/windows/WINDOWS/system32/netathw.inf

It says that it see the hardware, but it does not create the wlan0 device.

Humm.. I grabbed some Atheros Drivers from here:

http://download2.dvd-driver.cz/atheros/drivers/ar5008/xp32-6.0.3.85.zip

And these worked. In fact, wireless seems every bit as crisp with NDISWrapper and these as Ubuntu 8.10 did with the native drivers... if not *better*. That just seems wrong at so many levels. But it is true as far as feelings can measure things. How long it takes to find the WAP and sync up seems to be 1/3 of the time that it used to be under Ubuntu 8.10.

The other malfunction of Mint, and Ubuntu had this as well, is that when I suspend the unit (and it suspends quickly and without drama) and then return to service, I have no sound. The new-fangled PulseAudio sound server does not appear to like suspend / resume operations.

To test out the speed and efficiency of the AAO unit running Mint, I went over to MSNBC and started to watch an episode of Rachel Maddow's show (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/26315908). It herked and jerked something fierce. Sound was smooth though. I had done the same exact thing with the same exact computer under MS Win: I knew the AAO with is hyperthreaded 1.6 Ghz processor and 1.5 GB of RAM had the resources do this. I suspected that Mint had a weird default for the Flash player, or that at the very least this was not Flash 10. Adobe had recently release Adobe 10 for Linux, bringing it to Flash player parity with the rest of the computing platform world. I know it is not Open Source, but I still have hope that one day Adobe will see the light here. Or that one of the Open Source Flash players will catch up enough to play Rachel without digital jitter.

Looking in Synaptic, the flash player installed was called "Flashplayer-nonfree" and was labeled as being "10.0.12.36ubuntu1". Right next to that was one labeled "Adobe-Flashplugin", and it was at version "10.0.12.36-1intrepid2". I flipped them, and sure enough, Rachel was now playing smoothly. That was the main thing. I love my Linux and all, but don't be messing with the "Rachel Maddow" show. I won't go back to MS Windows or anything, but I would start using my Mac for everything Rachel if need be.

The irony that Rachel is on MSNBC is not lost on me either. Rachel, like our new, actual, real president (to be) is a Mac user. And I watch her from Linux... It is a multi-computer-cultural world these days.

Next I fired up an .mp4 rip of a DVD, to see how that would work, and here there were no problems. In fact, the AAO makes a fine little digital show viewer. It's fabulous LED backlit LCD screen is just perfect for watching a programme late at night while the SO snores on.

OpenOffice.org stays at 2.41 in Mint. I had hoped that Mint 6, being released just enough after Ubuntu 8.10 that OOo 3.0 was out would pick up the new OpenOffice, but Clem and company decided to stay with 2.4.1. it may not be that big a deal though. The main reason I wanted OOo was to be able to read MS Office 97 documents, and it turns out Ubuntu and therefore Mint have reached forward with a mod to their copy of OpenOffice 2.4 and grabbed 3.0's ability to read and write to MS's new format. I tested that at the office the other day with a Mint 6 / OOo 2.4.1 install I have there, and it worked great. I am not a fan of the MS for4mat, but I realist enough to know that interoperability is going to be required for a while yet.

I installed OOo 3.0 on a different, Ubuntu 8.10 based computer at the office, and am sort of sorry I did. For now, 2.4.1 is more stable, at least on Ubuntu and probably Mint.

Wrap up: Mint 6 stays on the AAO even in RC1 form. I have the wireless problem worked around for now, but will keep trying to get the real drivers going every time a new kernel point release comes downstream in MintUpdate. In fact, I will reach ahead and install all kernel related stuff ahead of when MintUpdate classifies then as '3's. I really want native Atheros drivers. I also hope the sound / suspend problem gets fixed by a kernel update.

13 comments:

Michal said...

Came across this http://wiki.debian.org/DebianAcerOne .

Don't know if it is useful to you :)

Will be getting an Acer One soon (or maybe a Lenovo S10, still googling for confirmation on whether the wireless chipset is supported in Linux).. wish me luck

Cheers

Steve Carl said...

Good Luck!

The S10 looks like a beautiful machine. have not seen one in person yet. Just be careful! I tend to leave this little puppy behind. Left it on the table at lunch the other day! Doh.

If nothing else, you should be able to get the Broadcom chip in the S10 going with NDISWrapper, although I have not had any problems with the Linux native drivers on older Broadcom chipsets. Broadcom is not as friendly as Aytheros to the Open Source worls, which is one reason I really liked the AAO. The other is that the AAO came with a bigger hard drive and more RAM by default.

I might have felt differently had I been able to see one in real life: Since the form factor is slightly larger, the keyboard may be that much better than the AAO's.

That link is a handy reference point: Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Thank you! I had exactly the same problem with my emachines E520 (not a netbook by any stretch of the imagination), and had the same experience with the other solutions you tried.

Rene said...

I've tried a liveCD of Linux Mint 5 Elyssa on my desktop some time ago, I had no guts to install it for I had no knowledge of Windows and/or I wanted to play some aftermarket games.

I bought an Aspire One, I quickly decided to uninstall the Linpus Linux Lite modified by Acer as this distro lacked ALOT of things that Ubuntu, Mint, Debian did have. I tried Fedora 10 XFC4 Spin first since it was what Linpus was based on I thought this would be the best choice, and it was going great, almost everything ran out of the box until somebody decided to release a new dbus on the official update that was not supposed to be released (http://forums.fedoraforum.org/showthread.php?t=206797). Fedora 9/10 users were affected if they updated; this error would make the update system, wifi, and many other things not work. Anyways, Fedora 10 has a thing with propietary software so I decided to unload that system.

It got in my nerves, so I downloaded Ubuntu, and I saw that there were thousands of posts in aspireoneuser forum's as well as for Ubuntu forum's.
Installed it, it didn't convince me since I needed a full fledged system to work out of the box, DivX, flash, etc..

So then.. I decided: "Why not give Linux Mint a try? There are plenty of updates and the community is very strong" although I didn't see any Linux Mint tutorials for installing on the SSD version of the Aspire One, I said "Linux Mint 6 is based on Ubuntu 8.10," Seeing that this release was extremely stable and could update it from rc1 to stable-version with only a 14 MB download made me eager to get this distro on my little "One".

After seeing that you succesfully installed, I did so too, but on the SSD. The configuration is a bit different, I have no swap activity, and the whole filesystem is mounted in a ext2 partition. It runs very smooth, boots up faster than Ubuntu 8.10, the compiz is great on this little machine.

SD Card, Sound, Volume and Brightness shortcuts, work out of the box.

The Gnome backend sort of eats my battery, but i'm sure disabling some daemons will better it.

Thanks to you and the link you provided now I have my wifi up and running with ndiswrapper, and let me tell you that it's true that my little One's wifi range goes far beyond my desktops. Wifi range with the wrapped windows drivers is better than the madwifi drivers I used with Fedora 10. I hope you make a post on how to install future madwifi official drivers, to get a fully working wifi card (auditing, mac addressing)

Anyways, thank you for this post! It made me get Mint and install it succesfully on my Aspire One!

Regards, from Spain
Rene

Steve Carl said...

Rene: Wow! Glad that my post was able to help you in some small way (though it sounds like you were pretty much on the right path as far as getting the hardware going without it!)

I have to admit the AAO with Mint has been a really useful little machine. So useful in fact that I rebuilt my IBM X30 and will be giving it to my brother. Oddly that post will be about the second time I had a problem installing Mint... should be up in a day or two.

Meantime, I am watching the Atheros chain like a hawk. I expect that Ubuntu 9.04 will be where it is first fixed, and therefore Mint 7.

Daniel [Diesel] Mitchell said...

I haven't tried out Mint on my AAO,cheifly because I am currently happy with it running XP until Ubuntu 9.04 is released in a few months when I expected the driver issues to be sorted. I also read that it would be more friendly for netbooks smaller screen res's.

I have tried several OS's since getting my AAO. It started life as the Linpus/512MB/120GB model,but received an upgrade from 512MB to 1.5GB within a day. I expect to upgrade the HDD to 250GB within the next month too.

I first installed Ubuntu upon release day of 8.10 after reading MANY articles about the wifi (and other issues) and spent many hours configuring it to run to my satisfaction.

But there were issues with the screen res, the missing 168pixels (vertical) madesome button's impossibleto see.
This annoyed me, so on went XP for the first time.

XP was fine, but I thirsted for Vista as that is what I use on my main PC and my work PC - it just made me happier.

Vista was fine, and the battery life extended to almost 4 hours of light use (net, email, WP and blogging with WLW).

When I came across the6801 build of Windows 7 i gave that a blast too, and the battery ran a little longer, but the memory was managed much better.

I then stepped back to XP since I liked the lightness of the OS (small HDD footprint) and lower memory requirements, plus it was a bit punchier.

So, while I await Ubuntu to come good with a AAO compatable release I will stick with XP.

Good article, I'll be back for another look in soon.

Steve Carl said...

Daniel,

As I noted, I still have XP SP 3 spinning away on 30GB of the hard drive. I rarely use it but it is there if I need it. With the Grub boot manager it is easy to go back and forth.

I too am looking forward to better 1024 x 600 screen support in Linux... I can grab the screen and slide it up to click on the buttons if needed (an operation much more easily done with a mouse than with the track pad) but it can be a hassle.

When you ran Vista, I assume it was the non-Aero mode: I can't see this video hardware running Areo's composited effects at all well. It does fine for Compiz, but Aero would probably bury the AAO's graphics subsystem.

In the meantime, the AAO has saved the day for an old MS Windows program: New post coming up about that. And the first AAO hardware failure is.... My wifes AAO's trackpad. Deader than a doornail. That happened on my Acer 5610 laptop too: Acer must not buy very good trackpad hardware.

Daniel [Diesel] Mitchell said...

Actually Carl, the AAO manages quite happilly with the full gamut of Aero effects, once an updated driver is downloaded from Intel (neither the standard Vista driver, nor the XP driver provided by Acer work).
The same applies to Windows 7.

Believe it or not, the AAO handles 3D graphics rather well, with XP optimised properly it is more than capable of half decent frame rates in games such as Half-Life 2, Counter Strike Source and Max Payne (1 & 2), oh, and even modern releases such as Spore run well at native res!

The AAO has surpised me on so many levels, its a fantastic piece of tech.

Steve Carl said...

Daniel

I am glad to hear that Aero works! Color me surprised. I would not have thought the Intel 945 chipset with only 8M would work. Everything I have read says Aero needs far more than that.

I actually like many things about Vista better than XP: I wish it was faster and more reliable and did not have all the MS registration / genuine advantage stuff though. There are also things about it (like all MS Windows) that drive me crazy. But that is just me. With Mint working, I don't have to worry about or deal with them though...

Daniel [Diesel] Mitchell said...

8MB?
That's the minimum RAM made available to graphics. The 945 chipset takes only what is needed from RAM, and the minimum it utilses is 8MB - the maximum i've seen in use was 224MB.

Steve Carl said...

During init I see a message saying it is stealing 8MB. If it later grabs more, that event is not logged. I'll have to poke at that and see if there is a better way to see thast dynamically. What you say makes sense though. I read through the 945 chipset specs a while back and missed that dynamic allocation specification. Thanks!

Daniel [Diesel] Mitchell said...

Carl, just nip into Control Panel (XP) and look at "Intel(R) GMA Driver For Mobile", then click on the button labelled Information where it states Minimum Graphics Memory 8MB / Maximum Graphics Memory 224MB / Graphics Memory In Use ~MB.

The In Use figure will change as required by the currently running apps. Currently, while browsing the web and typing this comment it measures 8MB.

I think I read somewhere, when I ownedand Acer Extensa 5620 laptop, which used the same chipset, that the 945 is eeven DX10 compatable, but I wouldn'tlike to even think of trying that out!

I'd never suggest the AAO is a gaming laptop, but it is capable of some amazing 3D feats when you take into consideration it's size, spec and price! That little Atom really is a great CPU, and I cannot wait for the arrival of a dual core Atom next year.

Steve Carl said...

Daniel

I will try and find a similar statistic for the AAO when it is running Linux (probably somewhere in /proc, if nothing else). I am curious how much memory is being used by Compiz under Mint6.

Knowing it can get as much as 256MB of RAM, and that it only has to drive 600k pixels, it makes sense that the color depth and frame rates would actually be pretty good. If nothing else the 945 chipset is driving nearly 20% fewer pixels than on a standard 1024x768 screen. Should make all the graphics operations faster.

The Atom is a nifty little processor too. If there is an AAO with a dual core out next year, I have a fealing someone else in the family will be getting my current unit!