Random Ramblings

August 28, 2009

Gateway FX6800-01E

Filed under: Computer — Tags: , — camotop @ 9:41 am

I broke down and bought the new (well, refurbished) Gateway Core i7 desktop.  This computer is Fast!

Recovery Disks

At the advice of a colleague (and a note in the box), the first thing I did was create Recovery Disks. It took quite a bit of time, and burned 3 DVDs (there was an option to use 16 CDs as well). While I was doing that, Windows Vista was downloading many updates and installing them.

Anti-virus

My next job was installing (free) anti-virus software. I chose AntiVir. Filehippo, by the way, is a great site for free software. I use the Filter feature top right to show only Free software.

BIOS Update

I went to Gateway’s support site, and downloaded the latest BIOS update. To get this to work I unzipped the file, started a Command Prompt in Administrator Mode (by right-clicking the Command Prompt icon in the Start menu), and ran flash.bat.  Took a few minutes and rebooted the machine. I don’t think anything actually got updated, but it all worked, and I’m up to date.

Partitioning

I run Kubuntu Linux most of the time, switching to Windows only for gaming. Hence, I needed to create a dual-boot setup. The machine was setup with a 10 GB recovery partition, and the remaining 740 GB was for Vista, as one big NTFS partition. Vista comes with a built-in Shrink function. This worked fast, but has a limitation: it could only shrink the partition in about half — 370 GB, while I really only wanted 150 GB for Vista. After much searching, and trying defraggers like the built-in Defrag and freeware MyDefrag, shrink still wouldn’t let me make the partition any smaller.  MyDefrag shows a visual representation of the drive and indicated that some file was sitting at the very end of the drive, blocking the resize. At first I thought this was $MFT — an NTFS system file, that normally cannot be moved. I was wrong, and the file really was $bitmap, also a system file. The only program that I found could move this was Perfect Disk.  I tried many others, because I didn’t want to get into Trial versions, but none worked. Perfect Disk has a feature to run on bootup, and in that mode can move system files when optimizing free space.  This worked flawlessly. After the run, Vista’s partition Shrink worked again, bring the size to again half, or about 170 GB. This sufficed for my needs, and I left it at that.

Dual-boot Vista and Kubuntu

I downloaded Kubuntu 9.04 AMD64 version (since I wanted to run in 64-bit mode, and AMD64 means “for AMD CPUs and for AMD/Intel 64 bit CPUs). I inserted the CD and booted the computer. I had to press F10 on startup to get a Boot Menu and select the CD. The Kubuntu install was smooth, although the formatting of the 500 GB partition took a while.  In the partition section I chose to use up all free space. After installation completed, I rebooted, and the Grub Boot Loader let me boot into Linux, the Recovery Partition, or into Vista — very nice that this worked out of the box!

KDE 4.3

After booting Kubuntu a KDM login screen greeted me. I didn’t log in though, as I didn’t want to get my home directory cluttered with new config files for the old KDE version. Instead, I pressed CTRL-F1 to switch to a console. I went into super user mode, and updated /etc/apt/sources.list to point to the latest KDE 4.3. An apt-get update && apt-get dist-upgrade (which took some time), I rebooted and logged into a fresh KDE 4.3 install. Everything worked, including high-resolution video. In the system tray I clicked the Hardware manager and enabled the proprietary ATI drivers (FGLRX). After another reboot Compositing, Wobbly windows, etc. all worked.

64-bit Firefox

Next I wanted to install Firefox. The download from Mozilla didn’t work — gave me library not found errors (looking for libgtk). I also ran into some ELFCLASS64 errors. Turns out that on 64 bit linux there are three lib directories — /usr/lib32, /usr/lib and /usr/lib64 (symlink to /usr/lib). The Mozilla download was 32 bit, hence looked in /usr/lib32 and didn not find the libraries it needed. After a couple of dead-ends, I learned that I should have just done it the Kubuntu way: apt-get install firefox-3.5!  That worked wonderfully.

Flash

The standard flash plugin installer worked fine. I tried the 64-bit alpha from Adobe Labs, but it hung the browser, so I went back to the stable version. Flash worked, but no sound!   Other sounds in KDE worked, just not in Firefox / Flash movies. Once again internet forums helped, and after I followed the advice to turn the PCM volume in ‘alsamixer’ up, I had sound.

Conclusion

I’m pretty happy with the setup after 1 day. The Vista partition resizing took the most time and frustration of trial and error.  The machine is nice and fast, KDE 4.3 looks great, and just flies on it.

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June 27, 2009

Intel Core i7 desire

Filed under: Computer — camotop @ 1:24 pm

One of my colleagues recently purchased a new Core i7-based desktop computer from TigerDirect. He’s been raving about the machine ever since. “It’s so fast”, “It shows up as 8 processors”, “I’m ripping a DVD, watching a movie, and running 3 VirtualBox instances and I still cannot slow down the thing”.  My frugal self dismissed those comments at first, though I was happy that he was happy. My old machine stills runs fine for what I do most of the time.

But then I started dreaming — what could I do with a newer, faster computer ?  For one, I wouldn’t have to put all of my Kongregate flash games to Lowest Quality.  I’d be able to play some of my older games at their highest resolution. JAlbum would be a lot faster generating my photo albums. Manipulating photos in Gimp would be a lot smoother.  And I would also be able to run some things in VirtualBox, so as to not mess up my host system to try something out.

Having not been on the market for several years, I had no idea of what is out there. I soon learned that I should stay away from AMD, that Intel’s Core i7 is the fastest by a mile, and that Intel’s Core 2 Duo and Quad are coming down in price nicely.  I’d want at least 4 GB RAM, which puts me in 64-bit Operating System territory, but it seems that Kubuntu support is pretty much there. So I’ll take that risk. If I do come across a critical program that I need that is only 32 bits binary, then I’ll run it in a VirtualBox VM, on a 32-bit Kubuntu install.

For Core 2 Duo, I decided that I need and x8200 or greater, for a Quad Q9xxx, or any Core i7. I based this on features in the processor listed in http://www.intel.com/products/processor_number/chart/core2duo.htm

With Core i7 performance so far ahead of the rest, I may go with the i7, but I’ll of course be paying for it. Especially since there is no competition at the moment (AMD has not matched it yet). The cheapest i7 goes for around $750 at the moment from Dell. http://www.dell.com/home/desktops#subcats=&navla=&a=55103~0~2869930

Between $750 and $900 there are several options from Dell, NewEgg,  HP, and TigerDirect.

I’ve set a maximum price for myself of $600. This means I’ll have to wait out the summer at least, or get lucky and find a good Mail In Rebate or special for a certain configuration.  I’m checking several deal sites almost daily now to see how close those prices get to my level. Some sites:

http://www.dealsofamerica.com/desktop_deals.php

http://dealnews.com/categories/Computer/PC-Computers/PC-Desktop/48.html?filter=c:48;&e=0

It’ll be worth it. I purchased my current, 5-year old machine for about $300, cheap even at the time. I figure that $600 may not last me 10 years, but at least it will last 5 years, and it will give me truly top line performance. I’ll enjoy that. Note also that this is still only a fraction of the cost of a Mac!  I have no Mac envy, since Kubuntu looks so nice, and KDE 4.3 appears to be just that much easier to use.

Also, my current computer can be re-purposed. I haven’t decided if it should be a dedicated computer for my children, or if I should use it as Media Center (perhaps running MythBuntu ?).

June 8, 2009

mp3 ID3 tags with Kubuntu Linux

Filed under: Computer — Tags: , — camotop @ 10:18 pm

Finally. After years of dinging around with EasyTag, a manually patched AlbumArt-qt, and lots of trouble, I finally have a working setup. With KID3’s support for album covers in its April release, I finally have one tool to do the job.
My workflow for organizing music files:

  1. start with a directory of mp3 files
  2. directory is named “artist – album”
  3. each song is named “track title”, where track is always 2 digits (meaning leading zero’s for those under 10).
  4. After the Naming step, I tag each file with KID3. I usually do several directories (albums) at once.  With KID3 now, I can search for album covers from the File menu. In the dialog that follows I typically pick Google, but sometimes Amazon gives a better result. Clicking Browse in that window opens a Konqueror browser, with the search results. I pick the imagine I like, view it at full size (I usually go for around 500×500 for album cover, not sure why), and drag the image in the drop zone in KID3. Make sure all files in the directory are selected, and the image is applied to each. If you make a mistake, simple click the picture tag in the ID3V2 section, and click the Delete button on the right.
  5. Once done, I save the files, which tends to take some time on my old computer.
  6. Now it is validation time. I’ve tried to get Amarok to see the covers, but no luck. I think they still do not support the APIC ID3 tag, or perhaps not with an empty description. Although I generally like what Amarok is about, this is a showstopper. Luckily Songbird has come of age, and proves to be a great album cover browser, especially with its MediaFlow add-on.  To view my newly tagged files I copy them to Songbird’s library directory, and view them in Songbird. If all looks good, I move the files to the “Done” directory that contains all my neatly organized music.
  7. I haven’t done any genre or year population. Not sure if I would use that, and it seems more hassle than it’s worth. Automated download of the info is available, but sometimes overwrite other tags incorrectly.

So check out KID3 and Songbird!  Both work great on Kubuntu 9.04 (Jaunty).

March 6, 2009

Window effects on old desktop

Filed under: Computer — Tags: — camotop @ 11:44 pm

My desktop computer is about 5 years old. It has an old AGP graphics card slot. Years ago I upgraded the card to an expensive ATI AGP card because I wanted better performance for Need For Speed: Most Wanted.
On Linux I never really got the card to work to its full potential — X never seemed to want to do all the acceleration and after many hours of fiddling (at several different occasions) I gave up on it.
Then I got a new machine at work. Any new computer that replaces a five year old one seems fast. And it had a good graphics card. So I have KDE 4.2.1 with all the nice wobbly windows, shadows, transparency effects, desktop cube and so on.
Of course at home I was envious. And I realized that I never tried installing the latest ATI driver after upgrading to Kubuntu 8.10 and KDE 4.2.1. There’s now a cool “Hardware Drivers” program under Applications->System. It lists proprietary drivers that previously were tedious to install, even for a seasoned Linux user.
After backing up important data to the external drives, I clicked “Activate” in the Hardware Drivers program. It said it downloaded and installed the driver and asked for a reboot. I rebooted, and it worked! That’s been the least painful install ever. Surprisingly the effects are very smooth. Sometimes they take up to a second to kick (when moving a large window), but it all feels great. So I’m actually smiling and happy again with my old desktop that feels new again. Thanks Kubuntu!

1TB external disk under $100

Filed under: Computer — Tags: — camotop @ 4:07 pm

New digital cameras have 10+ megapixels and high definition video capabilities. With exotic trips and young children there is always ample opportunity to capture those moments.
But the back-end of photo and video taking is that there is a growing need of digital storage. With a large digital music collection and 12 years of digital photo’s and videos we needed more space.
I already owned a 500GB MyBook, that works well, but filled up quickly. I looked for the 1TB drives to drop below the $100 mark. When the Fantom drive did (after mail in rebate) I bought it from Buy.com. I was worried about the brand, as I had not heard of Fantom. It turns out they just make the casing, and there’s a Western Digital drive inside.
It is well made, feels very solid, is quiet and as fast as needed.

Some deal sites helped me find this deal (and many others):
SlickDeals, DealsOfAmerica, Deals2Buy, DealMac.

Bottom line – I love the drive, and deal sites are a great tool to find a good price.

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