Poll – Linux Pre-loaded Notebooks

Edit Wed Jan 14 19:18:07 UTC 2009: The poll has been removed as it served its’ purpose.

Hello Linux community, you can help us decide on an item to offer in our on-line store. Please feel free to paste a URL to this article or directly to our Poll to your friends and acquaintances on the ‘net.

Please take the time to take our poll on shopping.eracc.com about notebook personal computers with Linux preloaded (Voting expires in 4 weeks from today.). Since switching from osCommerce to Drupal + Ubercart, we are in the process of deciding what we will offer in our on-line store. The poll is open for anyone to vote. Comments are allowed to those that create an account on our shopping site. Also, one may come back to this article and post a comment without needing an account if that is preferred.

We will definitely offer Linux notebook pre-loads if there appears to be sufficient interest in purchasing these from ERACC. We are aware there are many other shops, including Dell, which offer notebooks pre-loaded with Linux. Our offer will be to pre-load any of the top 20 major Linux distributions from DistroWatch.com instead of just one or two distributions. We will also offer the commercial versions of Red Hat and SuSE. We would need to require prepayment since these would be customized per customer. So, we are asking the Linux community to respond with a vote in our poll before we make our decision on this offering.

If there appears to be little to no interest in this then we will continue offering only tower PC systems as in the past. Regardless of how you vote, we want to thank you in advance for your participation.

Edit Thu Oct 30 15:13:47 UTC 2008: fix typographical error.

Multiboot PC for FreeDOS, Linux and eComStation

Here is another great system for an eComStation user that is similar to the previous system I wrote about. There have been requests from several people for me to document these builds to help promote eComStation (demo CD URL) and I have agreed that is a good idea. Here are the specifications of this system as agreed upon by the end-user:

  • Thermaltake Armor Series VA8000BWS Full Tower Case w/Side Panel Window (Black)
  • ENERMAX EG465P-VE-FMA 460W Power Supply
  • Asus M2N-E nForce 570 Ultra Sempron/Athlon 64(FX)(X2) SktAM2 DDR2 ATX Motherboard w/Audio, Gigabit LAN, RAID/Serial ATA (includes added internal parallel cable)
  • AMD Athlon 64 X2 Dual-Core Processor 4000+ Socket AM2 (65W)
  • Kingston KVR800D2E5K2/2G 2GB Kit DDR2-800 PC2-6400 ECC Memory
  • Adaptec SCSI Card 29160N
  • HIS H165PRF512N-R Radeon X1650 PRO 512MB GDDR2 PCI Express x16 Video Card
  • NEC 1.44MB 3.5in Internal Floppy Disk Drive (Black)
  • LITEON DH-20A4P-08 20X IDE DVD Burner Black Drive
  • FUJITSU MBA3147NP 147GB SCSI-320 (68 pin) 15,000 RPM 8MB Buffer Hard Drive
  • Logitech Media Keyboard (PS/2)
  • Logitech Marble Mouse (PS/2 + USB)
  • ViewSonic Q241wb 24in 16:10 6ms LCD Monitor 1000:1 300 cd/m2 (Black)
  • eComStation 1.2MR upgrade from eCS 1.1 (ESD)
  • Labor to install eCS on new PC
  • eComStation Subscription Services with eCS (ESD)
  • Novell openSuSE 10.3 (ordered from Novell for the end-user)
  • Installed FreeDOS on first primary partition

We at ERACC installed FreeDOS and eComStation for the end-user. We offered to install the Linux as well but the end-user wanted to install the openSuSE 10.3 Linux himself. There is space set aside on the 147GB SCSI hard drive for him to install a /boot near the start of the drive and the rest of openSuSE 10.3 after the eComStation partitions.

The Radeon X1650 PRO based PCIe graphics adapter was ordered with the other parts and arrived with them but before this system was built we at ERACC discovered there is a flaw in the graphics handling for many ATI video cards under eComStation. I contacted the end-user and offered to replace the Radeon X1650 PRO with a nVidia based PCIe card at our expense. He agreed so we ordered a GeForce 7300 LE based PCIe card to replace the ATI based card. This worked out quite well with the included SNAP Graphics driver that is included in eComStation 2.0rc4. I imagine it will also work with the Panorama VESA driver but we did not try that since SNAP worked “out of the box”.

The 24 inch Q241wb ViewSonic monitor is a very good choice here. It works perfectly with the eComStation graphics system and is run at its’ native resolution of 1920×1200 dpi. I personally want one of these monitors now.

I have also never used a trackball “mouse” myself. I found myself liking the Logitech Marble Mouse while working on the setup of this system. That is another item that may find its’ way onto my desktop in the future.

The original dual IDE DVD?RW drives were a matched set. When building the system it was discovered that one of the drives would not spin up. So it was replaced with a “PIONEER DVR-212DBK 18X SATA DVD” burner which works quite well with the updated eComStation mass storage chipset drivers from Daniela Engert.

The audio was problematic as we downloaded the latest UNIAUD drivers and installed those. This caused a very nasty hard hang on the desktop whenever the second system sound tried to play. The only out was to push the reset button. After several hours of trial and error research I discovered that installing UNIAUD from uniaud114RC5.zip and then replacing the uniaud32.sys file with the one from uniaud32-1.9.2.zip “solved” the hang problem. These are both older versions of UNIAUD files but they work here. NOTICE: This is a specific fix for the audio on these ASUS M2N-E motherboards and may or may not work on other motherboards with eComStation.

Several folks have asked me for pictures of this build so here they are:

The Entire System

From the Top

From the Side

Yup, it is a Q241wb.

1.44MB Floppy, IDE DVD?RW and SATA DVD?RW

Storage drawer included with the Thermaltake case

OOOoooo! Shiny!

I also took a video with my digital camera of the system booting into eComStation 2.0rc4 and then rebooting to FreeDOS. The video is rather large (319,581,796 bytes) and is 640×480 resolution in AVI format. I attempted to convert it to MPEG-2 but the results were even worse than the original AVI so I deleted that. It is only of the PC booting with roughly the first half of the ~6 minutes showing the system counting the 2GB of RAM and waiting through the IBM Boot Manager 30 second count down to boot eComStation. In my opinion it is not all that exciting but I went ahead and included the video here to be complete.

(This was still uploading as of the time of this post. ETA to finish uploading is 4.5 hours from the time on this post. I want ISP people to just give us the same uplink speed as downlink speed without the unnecessary huge extra fee for that.)

Multiboot PC Video – AVI format – 640×480 – 319,581,796 bytes – Removed until resized

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Embedded Mandriva Linux in Samsung Network Printers? Maybe Not.

Update Thu May 22 01:31:26 UTC 2008: (NOTICE! I’m not sure what I got but it apparently was not the printer on my LAN with embedded Mandriva. Any incorrect URL typed with 10.10.10.25 on my lan still returns that error shown below. Now to track down what system is returning that … Please see the comments at the bottom.)

Recently our networked Lexmark T520 printer ran out of toner in the original cartridge after light use for three years. We do not print much here as the printer is for those times that a PDF document in e-mail or a faxed document from OpenOffice.org Writer is not enough to satisfy whoever is receiving the document. So I was in the market for a new toner cartridge. I got a bit of sticker shock when I saw the best price I could get for the replacement toner was about $100.00/US. If I was going to have to spend $100.00/US I decided to get a new network laser printer that would have less expensive replacement toner cartridges.

I had looked for an inexpensive network laser printer last Fall (2007) for one of our local Linux server clients (they are running Mandriva Linux for their business desktop and to serve as a VM host for XP Professional to run Quickbooks Professional). During my printer research I ran across the Samsung ML-2571N printer for around $170.00/US including shipping. Which meant for the ~$100.00/US I would pay for Lexmark toner and an additional $70.00/US I could have a new printer. For that price I could pretty much buy a new laser printer every time it ran out of toner and sell the old one on eBay. This printer also has a ~3000 page toner and drum replacement cartridge I can get online for around $48.95/US plus shipping.

I ordered a ML-2571N from our distributor and it came in last week. I unpacked it today, put the pieces together, attached it to our LAN and went to my Linux box to set up the ML-2571N using its’ built-in web interface. I changed the IP address settings from DHCP to static and then changed the hostname. After changing the hostname I lost access to the web interface. I saw this result when I typed in anything other than the base IP address of 10.10.10.25 (caveat, obviously this part is incorrect but I am leaving it in as an object lesson for myself):

Object not found!

The requested URL was not found on this server. If you entered the URL manually please check your spelling and try again.

If you think this is a server error, please contact the webmaster.
Error 404
10.10.10.25
Apache/2.2.4 (Mandriva Linux/PREFORK-6.4mdv2007.1)

Notice, it is running embedded Mandriva Linux and Apache! I began reading the troubleshooting and FAQ pages at www.samsung.com but could not find out how to fix what I figured was user error (mine). After about an hour of fruitless searching I called the Samsung USA service center. The first level technician tried his best to help me but my problem did not show up on any of his “standard answer” screens. He ended up sending me to level 2 technical support where I got a nice young lady named Sarah. After explaining what I had done (changing the hostname) Sarah informed me “you should not do that”. I am happy to say she did not laugh at me and damage my frail ego. Sarah also did not know the answer but she had more freedom to research it than the poor level one technical guy I had stymied. After waiting on hold for about five minutes Sarah came back and said I could fix it by running their “Set IP” tool. I asked if they had tools for Linux and was told essentially “we do not support Linux as there are too many versions to support”. Ok, fine. I know and you know that is a non-issue but apparently Samsung still does not know that. Maybe we should write them and call them about it … http://www.samsung.com/us/info/contactus.html. (Yes, I have already written them an e-mail using one of the web forms on that page)

The Problem with Sarah’s answer is we do not use Microsoft operating systems here. All I have is an old Windows 98 CD and license that had never been installed. I asked Sarah if the tool would work on Windows 98 and was told “it should”. VMware to the rescue. I have had VMware installed here for a while to play with other operating systems. This time I broke open that Windows 98 set and installed it on VMware. After installing the Samsung “Set IP” tool I was able to access the printer, reset the IP address and get into the web interface again:

ML-2571N Web Interface

After I had access I finished checking out the printer and setting it up for our SOHO business LAN. Samsung has “drivers” for these printers that can be downloaded and installed from the CLI. However, I know that all I really need is CUPS running and a .ppd file for CUPS. I downloaded the Linux *.tar.gz “driver” for the printer and accessed the file with mc to get at the .ppd files. I found the ML-2570ps.ppd file, extracted it to our file server NFS shared directory and told CUPS to use it when I set up the printer (BTW, CUPS “saw” the printer as soon as I fired up the CUPS web interface, pretty cool). I printed a test page, saw it was good and was done.

So, if you are a Linux user with a parallel port, USB port or LAN and need an inexpensive laser printer these Samsung laser printers work with Linux and work well with Linux. The only thing I could ask of Samsung is that they create their tools for Linux.

Where to Get Pre-installed or Barebones Notebook Computers for Linux

Notice: As of April 2011 ERA Computers & Consulting now carries a line of laptops that can be customized and ordered pre-installed with Linux, FreeDOS and FreeBSD. Laptops with bare drives are available as well. See this press release: Linux, FreeBSD and FreeDOS Laptops from ERACC

I was recently involved in a conversation on the IRC network chat.freenode.net in the #ubuntu channel about notebook computers for Linux. The young lady that was seeking the information is a college student who wants to get a notebook computer to run Linux. However, she did not know where to find a notebook computer for running Linux and asked for recommendations. She received some suggestions from others but I directed her to Dell's open-source n Series laptops page. Dell offers these notebooks with bare hard drives and ship them with FreeDOS (likely to satisfy the letter of their contract with Microsoft that probably says, and I paraphrase, "Thou shalt not ship thine personal computers without an operating system"). As of the time of this article it appears that Dell does not offer notebooks with Linux installed (corrections welcome, please use the comments).

Edit Thu May 15 21:57:27 UTC 2008: I received a private correction about Dell and pre-installed Linux. See this Dell PCs Featuring Ubuntu page. Oddly enough, now that I see the page I recall seeing it before.

After my involvement in this IRC chat I wondered if there were any companies that sell "white book" or "barebones" notebook computers to end-users. I also wondered if any of these companies offer configuration of the notebooks. Finally I wondered if they offered Linux preloaded. All this wondering led me to do some web searching for well known barebones laptop brands, mainly ASUS and MSI. I found two companies that seem to get the latest models from ASUS and MSI, RK Computers and AVADirect, Inc. I contacted both by phone and asked for a person I could e-mail that could answer some questions about their barebones notebooks and Linux. I was given that information and sent a set of questions to both contacts.

Here are the questions and the answers (RK Computers responded first and is listed first here, this is not an endorsement. AVADirect, Inc.'s contact said he had to send the questions off for review before he could respond. I presume he has to clear it with some internal legal department. After no response for three days I had to go ahead with this article and put in public information anyone could find from AVADirect, Inc.'s web site. While this is a disappointment to me it is not a reflection on AVADirect, Inc.'s responses to actual customers. They appear to get good reviews at resellerratings.com.):

  • What is your company name and sales contact information?
    • RK Computers, 866-760-4998, 845-942-8568, sales@rkcomputer.net, support@rkcomputer.net
    • (AVADirect, Inc.) No response within three days of contact. See their Contact page.
  • What brand(s) of barebones notebook computers does your company carry?
  • Can these notebook computers be purchased from your company unconfigured (no CPU, etc.)?
    • (RK Computers) Yes, they can be purchased as just the "barebone" or any combination of components up to a completely configured model. By default complete or partial systems are assembled & tested. If the customer does not wish the notebook assembled they should put "ship as parts" in the order notes.
    • (AVADirect, Inc.) No response within three days of contact. It does appear that they do offer the notebooks unconfigured, however one should Contact them to be sure.
  • Does your company provide configuration of the barebones notebooks?
    • (RK Computers) Yes, all models can be configured online with many of the most popular components available. Orders/configuration can also be done by phone, if there is a request for a component(s) not listed we can get just about any compatible component the customer desires.
    • (AVADirect, Inc.) No response within three days of contact. It does appear that they do offer the notebooks pre-configured, however one should Contact them to be sure.
  • Does configuration cost extra? If yes, what is the average cost?
    • (RK Computers) No, all notebooks are assembled and tested prior to shipment at no extra cost. All notebooks purchased with a cpu installed are bios updated prior to shipment. Barebone models or models purchased without a cpu may require a bios update. All driver and bios links are available on our site (URL).
    • (AVADirect, Inc.) No response within three days of contact. I could not determine this information with a search of their web pages. Contact them to find out.
  • Can a configured barebones notebook be purchased from your company without an operating system installed?
    • (RK Computers) Yes, all our barebone and partially configured models are available without an O/S.
    • (AVADirect, Inc.) No response within three days of contact. It does appear that they do offer the notebooks sans operating system, however one should Contact them to be sure.
  • Does your company offer any barebones notebook models with distributions of Linux preloaded? If yes, how long has Linux been offered and which Linux distributions?
    • (RK Computers) Currently no, we do not offer linux pre-installed.
    • (AVADirect, Inc.) No response within three days of contact. It does appear that they do offer some notebooks with Fedora, Red Hat Enterprise and Ubuntu pre-installed, however one should Contact them to be sure and to find out which notebook models have this offer.
  • Do you recommend any specific barebones notebook models for use with Linux? If yes, please provide at least one example (more would be better).
  • Do you have any end-user success stories with your notebook models running Linux? If yes, please share one or point to a URL where this is documented.
    • (RK Computers) We have spoken with customers, and received emails in the past but no url I can point to.
    • (AVADirect, Inc.) No response within three days of contact.

Additional information supplied outside of the questions asked:

  • (RK Computers) We also have a section "notebook photos" which helps when ordering online as most manufacturer's photos do not show all angles and high resolution photos.
  • (AVADirect, Inc.) No response within three days of contact. However, looking at their configuration menus it appears they offer custom paint jobs for notebook computers purchased from them. Contact them to find out about this option.

Granted there are more questions I could ask. I simply wanted a short list that I could post here to get people started when looking for a Linux capable notebook personal computer. If one is currently in the market for a notebook computer to run Linux then any of the companies mentioned in this article will be able to supply one's notebook needs. Contact these companies for any information not covered here.

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Building A Modern eComStation (OS/2) Personal Computer

My company, ERA Computers & Consulting, builds personal computers and servers to customer specifications for customers that want pre-loaded eComStation, specific Linux distribution, FreeBSD, other operating system pre-installed or no operating system installed. These personal computers and servers are all x86 type systems with one or more AMD single-core or dual-core processors. We do not sell nor do we usually install Microsoft operating systems. There are plenty of Microsoft shops to choose from already.

This article is to showcase a PC we just completed for a customer wanting an eComStation pre-installed system. Here are the specifications for the build taken directly from the quote approved by the customer:

Thermaltake Armor Series VA8000BWS Full Tower Case w/Side Panel Window (Black)
ENERMAX EG465P-VE-FMA 460W Power Supply
Asus M2N-E nForce 570 Ultra Sempron/Athlon 64(FX)(X2) SktAM2 DDR2 ATX Motherboard w/Audio, Gigabit LAN, RAID/Serial ATA
AMD Athlon 64 X2 Dual-Core Processor 4000+ Socket AM2 (65W)
Kingston KVR800D2E5K2/2G 2GB Kit DDR2-800 PC2-6400 ECC Memory
Adaptec SCSI Card 29160N
HIS H165PRF512N-R Radeon X1650 PRO 512MB GDDR2 PCI Express x16 Video Card
NEC 1.44MB 3.5in Internal Floppy Disk Drive (Black)
LITEON DH-20A4P-08 20X IDE DVD Burner Black Drive
Fujitsu MAW Series MAW3073NP 73.5GB 68pin U320-SCSI 10,000RPM Hard Drive w/8MB Buffer
eComStation 1.2MR upgrade from eCS 1.0 (ESD)
eComStation Subscription Services with eCS (ESD)
Labor to install eCS on new PC

The customer has his own mouse, keyboard and monitor that will be used with this new system. The customer prefers SCSI for storage (so do I as a matter of fact) so we provided him with an Adaptec SCSI controller and Fujitsu SCSI drive. The ThermalTake case was not on the original quote but was substituted on a new quote when the case quoted originally went out of stock. The internal hardware parts were chosen, specifically the ASUS M2N-E motherboard, because they all have drivers for eComStation and fulfill the customer’s specifications. Since the customer wanted ECC RAM the Kingston KVR800D2E5K2/2G RAM was chosen to fill that request. The ASUS M2N-E motherboard has an on-board 10/100/1000 NIC that is driven by the nveth driver found on hobbes.nmsu.edu OS/2 and eCS file repository (thank you “nickk” for nveth!). The on-board sound is driven by the latest port of the ALSA driver called Uniaud (thank you Paul Smedley for Uniaud!). The Radeon X1650 PRO graphics chip is driven by the latest release of the Panorama VESA driver (thank you eCo Software and Mensys BV for Panorama!). There is currently no 3D capability for eComStation so there is no need to run any driver that provides 3D. This may change in the future, especially with the Voyager project porting its’ GUI to multiple operating systems.

During the build and setup of this system it was discovered that when ECC was enabled in the BIOS the system became “flaky” and would not go past the P.O.S.T. process. Several frustrating hours of testing later the latest beta BIOS file for the M2N-E was downloaded and applied. This solved the problem with ECC and the system was finally finished with eComStation 1.2MR installed and running.

Here are some pictures of the system prior to shipping.

Upper Case Exhaust FanClick To View Full Size This is a picture of the inside, upper case exhaust fan. This fan is shipped detached and is installed by the builder.
Case Side View With Panel OffClick To View Full Size This is a picture of the finished system with the side panel removed. All cables tied off, or routed to allow better air flow inside the case.
Side View With See-Through Panel InstalledClick To View Full Size This is a picture of the finished system with the side panel installed.
Shot Of The Back Of The PCClick To View Full Size This is a picture of the back of the PC.
Front Of PC With \Click To View Full Size A picture of the front of the PC with the “wings” closed.
A Picture Of The PC Front With \Click To View Full Size A picture of the front of the PC with the “wings” opened.
A Picture Of The PC Case Top Exhaust GrilleClick To View Full Size A picture of the PC case top exhaust grille.
A Picture Of The PC Case Top Access PortClick To View Full Size A picture of the PC case top access port for 1394 jack, USB jacks, headphone jack and microphone jack.

In this build the 1394 jack is not connected as there is no 1394 pin header on the motherboard. The access cover is not spring loaded which I found to be a surprising and irritating oversight. Otherwise I found it quite pleasant to build with this ThermalTake case. I have been a strict Antec guy in the past. Now I will be an Antec and ThermalTake guy.

Edit Wed Mar 11 19:36:51 UTC 2009: Fix old URL for custom computers from ERACC.