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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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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