Archive for the ‘Hardware’ Category

Laptop or Desktop?

Here in the USA it is tax time once again, and once again, the federal government owes me money. It’s funny how they don’t have to pay me interest on monies they owe me, but the reverse is not true, but I digress.

I have, on occasion, mentioned that my current desktop machine is a piece of junk. I have been using it for about 5 years now and I believe it is in dire need of a replacement. Since I am due a little scratch soon, I have given a little thought to replacing it. The real question, though, is whether to buy another desktop machine, or get a laptop that I can use as a desktop replacement. I am just not sure where to go on this one.

Generally speaking, desktop machines are or were faster and better equipped. They had better processors, more ram and bigger hard drives. Recently, though, I have been noticing that this is no longer the case except maybe in the case of multiple processors. I have seen some very reasonably priced multi-core laptops with 4gb of ram and very large hard drives for the same price as their comparably equipped desktop counterparts.

So, what are the pros and cons? Laptops as a desktop replacement can still be mobile if need be. Laptops as a desktop replacement really need a dock or stand and a separate kb/mouse imho and this is already the standard for desktops. Desktops can be not only multi-core, but multi-processor as well, so you can get access to more computing power. Desktops have separate components that are more easily replaceable/urgradable should the need arise, however, these days laptops are a rock-solid technology. Laptops do not need a separate display although they benefit as a desktop replacement from a secondary display as much as a regular desktop system does.

What is the answer? I really don’t know and would love to hear your opinions on this one. I am actually leaning towards a laptop as I spend most of my time on one already. My work desktop is actually a laptop in a dock with dual 22″ lcd screens. It’s a fantastic machine and has no problems even though I have left it running for well over a year now 🙂 Do I really need another laptop though? I have 4 already, but none of them are beefy enough to really be my desktop machine, with the exception of my macbook, which does not like Linux so that doesn’t count.

Monday, February 22nd, 2010

Kudos Amazon!



Quite a while back, in September in fact, I ordered a big honkin battery for my Acer Aspire One. I bought the 9 cell version through Amazon from a place called NewMP3Technology. The battery came, I charged it right up and used it on the upcoming Ohio Linux Fest. My only note on it was that Allan bought a similar battery, obviously from a different place and seemed to get a bit more battery time out of it, but all in all, I was happy with it.

Fast forward to Christmas time. I took the family to my parents house for Christmas this year and brought a couple laptops with me for some recreational surfing while there. They live in upstate NY where there is little else to do 🙂 While using my AAO there, I let the new battery completely drain. When I plugged it back in, it would not charge. I googled around for similar problems and found that there was a bios update that fixed some of these, so I updated the bios and, you guessed it, that didn’t work either. After I got back home, I checked the original battery which charged fine.

I checked my paperwork for the new battery and found that the original listing on Amazon had a 1 year warranty on the battery. Elated, I wrote the seller through Amazon’s contact form and asked them how I would go about getting a replacement. Well, long story short, I wrote them 5 times over 3 weeks or so and never received a response other than a form email stating that the exchange time limit on the purchase had expired (30 days). Now Amazon has an A-Z guarantee that is 30 days as well, but I had passed that too. I looked the seller up in the Better Business Bureau’s website and it said they were probably out of business. Frustrated, I sent off an email to Amazon anyhow, explaining the saga and telling them that these guys were still listed as active sellers on Amazon’s site. I figured I had done my good deed for the general populace and that Amazon would remove the seller and at least nobody else would get bit. To my complete surprise, Amazon, *extended* their A-Z guarantee for me and completely refunded my money (including the shipping!) I, of course, ordered another replacement battery from a different seller through Amazon.

It’s just so uncommon these days to find a person or a business with some integrity that I just had to pass the story along. And especially so with the anonymity that the web provides. Many thanks and kudos go to Amazon. I know I’ll keep buying from them. If you are going to buy things online, you can’t find a better place to do so.

Oh, and stay away from NewMP3Technology.

Tuesday, January 19th, 2010

Ubuntu 9.10 and Grub 2

Yes, another post about Ubuntu 9.10. I know I tried it out before, but I put it on this new (old) laptop and am giving it a little better run this time. I still believe 9.10 (Karmic) to be a fine running distribution and this time I got to test out my method of installing all the codecs I want on there, along with messing with Grub 2 a little bit.

When you are travelling abroad where it’s legal to do so, as i was just the other day, you might want to have access to all those codecs that make life worth living on a linux box. Things like listening to your mp3s and watching your dvds and miscellaneous media files are very dificult without them.

I realise that Ubuntu has, for some time now, been able to detect that you need so and so codec to play so and so media and ask you if you really want it installed, but I find that particularly irritating. I like to already have that functionality there when I want to use it. To do that, I have a little script that I use that generally takes care of that for me, along with installing most of the programs I need to make my day to day use hassle free.

sudo wget -O /etc/apt/sources.list.d/medibuntu.list
sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get install medibuntu-keyring && sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install mozilla-thunderbird php5-common php5-cli php-pear subversion openssh-server clusterssh imagemagick vim synergy smbfs curl vlc libdvdcss2 ubuntu-restricted-extras w32codecs mplayer mencoder build-essential sqlite dia expect mysql-client

Feel free to modify and use this, but basically I derived this from paying attention to the programs I need and use and making a list. It really does save a lot of time to do this.

The other thing I wanted to mention is Grub 2. For some reason, someone decided it was time to move from the original Grub to Grub 2. Time alone will tell whether that was a smart move or not. I know I certainly had a tough time of it for a day or two. Everything has moved and the methodology has changed as well. The short of it is you have some config files in /etc/grub.d that you can now manipulate, along with issuing a “update-grub”, that will build your /boot/grub/grub.cfg, which is pretty much the equivalent of the old /boot/grub/menu.lst file. The fun part is figuring out how all this works because, as it happens with open source many times, the documentation sucks.

What I needed to do was to add another linux distribution to grub so I could dual (or multi) boot it. This is accomplished in that /etc/grub.d directory. Now it’s worth mentioning here that if you do multiple OS installs on your machine and just issue a “update-grub” on your base Grub 2 enabled OS, it will (or at least mine did) auto detect this installation by default and add a boot option for it into the grub boot menu. The problem is, like mine, it probaly won’t boot your other OS.

The way to fix this is to go into /etc/grub.d and “chmod -x 30_os-prober”. After that you won’t be auto-genning entries. Next you can make a copy of the 40_custom file (I named mine 41_centos) and edit that file to have the correct boot parameters to boot your other OS. This is especially fun without having a good grasp of the correct syntax. For instance it took me hours to figure out that the “kernel” line that the old Grub used has been replaced with a “linux” line now. Other than that, though, just make sure that if you are booting another linux to use the correct root label and kernel and initrd image names and locations. My correct and working CentOS entry looks like this for reference:

exec tail -n +3 $0
# This file provides an easy way to add custom menu entries. Simply type the
# menu entries you want to add after this comment. Be careful not to change
# the ‘exec tail’ line above.
menuentry “CentOS 5.4” {
set root=(hd0,3)
linux /boot/vmlinuz-2.6.18-164.el5 ro root=LABEL=/ rhgb quiet
initrd /boot/initrd-2.6.18-164.el5.img

Have fun!

Tuesday, December 1st, 2009

Saved by Stuart

This is the final chapter in the saga of my broken Thinkpad T23.

Many of you know that I have been using my T23 for testing distributions lately, and before that for a headless server. The reason for that is that the machine has this flaky video problem where sometimes it works, sometimes it does not and other times it “sort of” works. As you can imagine, that is not very conducive to testing out desktop distributions. I certainly has been problematic lately.

I have been lamenting what to do with this especially this month as I have been trying to generate some content for the blog. How am I to do distro testing and such without a desktop machine to test on? The solution came the other day in an email from an old LUG member.

It seems that Stuart, a member of my old LUG, who’s mailing list I am still subscribed to, had a couple spare laptops he was offering up. He posted them to the list and I just happened to be watching my email when the post went through. I jumped at the chance to replace my old beater with something almost as old but fully functional. I arranged to go pick up my new(old) machine that very night.

For a measly $25 and 4 hours worth of drive time I picked up a nice little Thinkpad X31. It has 1.5gb of ram, 120gb hdd, internal wireless B and G and will make a great little laptop to do multitudes of testing on. It even came with Windows 7.

Now I didn’t keep Windows on the laptop, in fact it got a clean Linux install the second it hit my house, but on the way home, I did get a change to check out W7 a little bit. Honestly, I think XP was windows done in crayon and 7 is windows done in maybe sharpie or something. In my opinion, Windows 7 is trying very hard to be a rip-off of OS X, except they have this cartoonish interface. It’s not very professional looking (to me anyway) and I can tell you for sure that Linux on the same machine completely blows it out of the water. In two words, I found it cartoonish and clunky.

Just to tantalise you a little, since I brought the machine home I have attempted to install 5 concurrent distributions on it and actually put 2 of them on. I also learned a lot in the process about Grub 2, but all that is for a different post on a different day, so keep watching and reading!

Monday, November 30th, 2009

More CentOS

I know, I know. I wrote earlier about how the T23 was suffering some sort of display death again and would undoubtedly end up on While that is definitely true, I was looking at it today and thought I’d start it up again and let it do it’s updates. I did and the display was working the whole time, so I thought I would play with it a little more….:

I wanted to test getting some multimedia playback on this distribution. You see, RedHat based distributions are notorious for following the letter of the law and not letting you have access to any of those nasty codecs we all like to use. You know the ones I am talking about, mp3, wmv, dvd, etc.. Well, since I just happened to be traveling abroad in europe for a few minutes where this is completely legal, I decided to have a go at it.

A quick search brought me to this website and the directions looked pretty thorough so that’s where I started. The only thing I added to the process was adding vlc, my favorite media player, and everything else worked beautifully. To recap, follow these instructions, taken from the previously mentioned website and only edited to add vlc.

rpm -Uhv
rpm -Uhv
yum -y install libdvdcss libdvdread libdvdplay libdvdnav lsdvd mplayerplug-in mplayer mplayer-gui compat-libstdc++-33 flash-plugin gstreamer-plugins-bad gstreamer-plugins-ugly vlc
wget ; rpm -ivh mplayer-codecs-20061022-1.i386.rpm
wget; rpm -ivh mplayer-codecs-extra-20061022-1.i386.rpm

Now a couple notes….

Although I have not yet rebooted to check if that has any effect, the default media player, Totem, still does not play very much. While slightly dissapointed, I never really liked Totem anyhow and found that to be the case on almost every distribution. VLC, however, works exactly as expected, which is, perfectly.

I also took pains to install xmms, my favorite mp3 player on the T23 as well and, although it installed fine from the Dag repos, it doesn’t play a dang thing. VLC to the rescue again. In fact, I hadn’t realized that VLC actually makes such a good audio player!

It is important to also note that I still really feel that this CentOS desktop runs quite well – very snappy. I know I keep saying that, but it really is quite noticeable on this older laptop.

Saturday, November 28th, 2009


Short post today. More of a memorial post than anything else I guess.

As if on queue, my thinkpad laptop has realized that I have been using it and has decided to make with the funny video problems once again.

This sort of puts a damper on my rolling distribution reviews as it was quite convenient for me to run them on that laptop and I really don’t have anything else that’s comparable.

Perhaps it’s time to switch tactics a little and do some book reviews? We shall see… In the mean time I think the T23 will end up on, so keep watch there for this historic piece of computing equipment there.

Thursday, November 12th, 2009

Ressurection of an old friend

I think one of the things that is going to help me post a bit more this month is my ThinkPad T23. This was my most favorite laptop some 4 years ago maybe and the display just stopped working one day. I held onto it for a few months and then landed my new job and moved where I pressed it into service as a server to run my home computer infrastructure. It performed admirably under Ubuntu 6.04 and 7.04 for some 2 and a half years hardly being touched until I recently replaced it with some real server hardware.

Sunday night, I finally dug the thing out from the shelf underneath my TV for the first time since I initially set it up. I blew the dirt, hair and dist off of it and, just for giggles, opened up the lid and hit the power button. To my complete surprise, the display fired right up and my old Ubuntu 7.04 server started coming to life. Don’t ask me why the display started to work after 3 or 4 years, but hey, when in Rome right?

I decided to take advantage of the moment and I grabbed for my Mint 7 cd and ran a quick install. I figured I was going to have to format the computer sometime anyway before I threw it out or gave it away and this would allow me to play a little. Well, in no time I have Mint running on this little beastie and it looks and runs very nice! The only real problem I have is that the pcmcia network card I have does not seem to support wpa. This means I will have to find a long ethernet cable somewhere in order to play on it. Bummer.

The great part about this, though, is as long as the display keeps working, I can use this as an excuse to play with a bunch of different Linux distributions and post the results here!

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009

Pukwudgie roars into life

Last night I finally finished cutting all my server services to their new residence on Pukwudgie (my spectacular CentOS 5.3 based server VM). I turned off my old Thinkpad server, which has been doing the job reliably for over 2 years, rebooted pukwudgie just to make sure everything starts up correctly unattended and that was that. My first impressions are that everything seems to run faster. I really expected that, though, because there are a lot more resources available to Pukwudgie than there were to the old server. I am loving it so far and it sure is nice to have an up-to-date server. The old server was running Ubuntu 6.10, which was so old I couldn’t even get security patches for it anymore and this new CentOS server is completely current.

Hopefully this is a move for the better, and I can probably offer the old lappy/server on too!

Friday, August 28th, 2009

A real Woot!

Wow, for those of you still looking to get a netbook, has the Acer Aspire One 10.1 inch 6-cell netbook for $259 right now. As with, you never know how long that deal is going to last, so hurry over there. A good while ago, I purchased the Acer Aspire One 9 inch version (Linux w/ the SSD) and I absolutely love it. This 10 incher gives you a little more viewing area and fixes the one irritation I have with the smaller version. It puts the touchpad keys on the bottom instead of on the sides. Like I said, great deal, go get one!

Thursday, July 9th, 2009

More servers available

A little while back I picked up a couple Appro servers from for an outstanding price and also managed to convince Dann to do the same (after making a public plea on TLLTS to raise the moolah). Shortly thereafter, the deal was a bust and there were no more of those servers available. Well, today, Tyler, a listener of TLLTS, sent me an email letting me know that there were more of them available at and they are only $109 a piece! Well, what better blog post to break the no-blogging ice with than a great deal like that! Let me say that these servers, are referbished and work GREAT. I have been using mine as a VM server for months now and it works flawlessly. Thanks again for the heads up Tyler!

Need some great and inexpensive servers? You can pick yours up if you hurry at:

Sunday, July 5th, 2009