1TB File Server Complete

After many hours of configuration and frustration, my 1TB RAID 5 file server, named felix, is now complete (but not without some assistance). To gain maximum control over the server, I choose Gentoo as the OS, but perhaps the most prominent feature of the server is the 3ware 9650SE-8LPML controller being used. The 8 ports will make adding more space a breeze (do I hear 2TB by year end?) and a quick look around the 3ware website shows the the company fully supports Linux. There is a driver built into the kernel, however I compiled the newest driver from the 3ware website as it is open source. The next steps are to add CUPS functionality to share my printer, and add FTP to give me off-LAN access to the data.
Full server specs:

  • AMD Athlon FX-55 processor (overpowered, but better than sitting useless in a box)
  • 3ware 9650SE-8LPML RAID controller
  • Gentoo 2.6.20
  • 3, 500GB Western Digital RE2 SATA II hard drives in RAID 5

Ubuntu on a Dell

I was excited to learn that a major PC manufacturer is finally deciding to offer a Linux distribution on their machines and actually support it, however, there are some very disappointing aspects to the new offerings from Dell. Since I build all of my computers, the only PC’s I would be interested in are the laptops. My Thinkpad T30 is great, but theres a lot of times that I feel the need for a little more power, usually in the realm of a faster video card. So when I started to look at the Ubuntu laptops that Dell is offering, it was a bit of a letdown to see that only one model is available, the Inspiron E 1505N. The worst part about this offering is the lack of choice in terms of the video card that is installed, which is limited to a Intel integrated chip. This is made worse by the fact the the Windows version of the laptop has the option of a 256MB ATI chip. Hopefolly, this is just temporary, because limiting the graphics system in such a way does not place the system on an even footing with other products.

EDIT:  It seems that Dell has changed the system and now allows  the selection of a 256MB GeForce Go 7300 graphics chip.  I’m glad to see that they choose an nVidia chip over an ATI because of the far superior Linux drivers available.  So most of this post is now useless, but I still wish that they offer Ubuntu on more models.  I imagine the main issue with expanding the product line is lack of drivers for the hardware.  This, I hope, will change over time.

Windows is Back

Now that I’ve had some time back from vacation, I decided to do a full investigation into what could be causing my primary Windows machine to fail. After a few hours of experimentation, I’m quite certain that the power supply is what was causing the issues. I currently running it from another 500 watt power supply that was being used in a different machine. The old power supply works, but doesn’t seem to be able to output the same amount of power that it used to, thus causing the problem.

Since I enjoyed using Ubuntu with my flagship hardware, I instituted a dual boot setup on my primary machine, using different hard drives for each OS.

On a different front, I’m contemplating buying a decent video card for the Myth box so that I can get that up and running again with decent hardware. Looking at current prices, one of the fanless GeForce 7600 cards looks appealing. Depending on how the cash situation turns out (aka need a car), that may not happen anytime soon.

Bye Bye Windows!

The motherboard in my one and only Windows machine (aka ompy) has threw in the towel after a few months of agony. The Asus A8N-SLI Premium motherboard has had problems coming online from a cold boot. When I try to turn the machine on, it only stay on for about 5 seconds and then shut off. It will keep doing that , but once in a while it will start. Once the computer boots, everything is dandy, which makes me wonder if theres a flaw in the motherboard itself causing a short early in the boot sequence. Its also possible that the system is drawing too much power too quickly, causing an in-rush current spike, and tripping the built in short circuit protection. I haven’t had the time for do a proper investigation of the problem, but from what I’ve been reading on various forums its a problem with one of the motherboards power regulation transistors.

Since that machine is down and out, I decided to give my main Ubuntud Linux machine (aka gizmonic) a little boost with the EVGA GeForce 7900GT video card that was in my Windows machine. Gizmonic was using a very old PCI video card that was laying around, but after experiencing Beryl with a good video card, I may just have to buy a new card for Linux use only.

Of course the main reasion I was anxious to get a computer up and running was the fact that I just bought Supreme Commander and was really looking forward to playing. Wine was the next best thing, but the install would error after about 95% with the cryptic “Error 25”. I’ve looked around Google, but no one else seems to have tried to get it working under Wine. The only good news is that I sucessfully got Counter Strike Source working.

Since I don’t know when I will have a Windows machine running again, I’m going to take this opportunity and work exclusively with Linux. At the very least, I’m going to turn my main desktop into a dual boot machine so that Linux too can bask in the glory of dual core FX-60 goodness. I plan on putting all my media onto a network storage machine, so that my music, movies, and other fun stuff will be available to both systems, as well as my servers. I want to implement RAID 5 for my network storage, but the good RAID adapters go for $350+. More on my homemade NAS in a later post.

Philips SPC900NC Camera On Linux Is A Go

In researching information about using a webcam as a low cost camera for astrophotography, many people recommended the Philips SPC900NC camera due to its use of a good quality 1.3 megapixel CCD sensor at a decent price. I bought mine from ebay, but its also available on Amazon and Newegg. My first attempt at playing with this camera was on my main desktop running Windows XP x64. This proved useless, however, as the drivers will not work. The Philips software will install fine but it cannot recognize the camera. Windows detects that a USB device is plugged in but can’t do anything with it because of the incompatible driver. I currently do not have a 32 bit version of Windows XP, so the next course of action was obviously Linux.

My laptop currently runs Ubuntu (was running Xubuntu until yesterday, just did a little swap of GUI’s) and was a prime choice. The camera did not work “out-of-the-box” as can be expected, but a little searching netted me a working driver for the camera, known as pwc. The pwc driver works for many Philips cameras, including the SPC900NC that I’m using. Installation is very straightforward for anyone who has compiled programs. Once the driver was installed, Camorama didn’t have a problem detecting the camera and capturing images from it. Next step is to work on capturing video from the camera, which mplayer may do for me.

Since the camera is working, I took a few pictures to test it out. Image quality is pretty good and should work perfectly for my astrophotography plans. Here is a picture of my Tele Vue Pronto refractor that I’ll be using for this project:

tele vue pronto hires


I had bought a Hauppauge PVR-500 a few months ago with the plan to build a MythTV box.  My first attempt at this resulted in a 866MHz PIII with a 10GB hard drive running xubuntu being converted into my first MythTV machine.  As you can imagine, the computer was a bit too slow for it to work well and the hard drive was far too small to be useful for recording programs.

I’ve finally gotten around to making a good effort into the myth box, due primarily by this deal on Tiger Direct.  The price ($400, plus $24 shipping) was excellent, considering the AMD Athlon FX-60 processor alone is $399 at Tiger Direct, and $525 at Newegg.  The Tiger Direct package deal included an OEM Athlon FX-60, Ultra CPU cooler, Ultra V-series 500 watt power supply, Asus A8S-X motherboard, and Ultra X-blaster case.  My main desktop machine has an FX-55 chip in it currently, so I stuck the FX-60 into my main machine and am using the FX-55 for the MythTV box.  This just leaves me to buy RAM and another hard drive to have a very nice MythTV box.  The old MythTV box has been retired, and will most likely spend the rest of its days crunching SETI@home work units.  The case that came with the deal is useless to me since I have everything rackmounted… to ebay it goes!
The only snafu with the new FX-60 in my main machine is that my BIOS doesn’t know what processor it is.  I have a Asus A8N-SLI mainboard, which supports the chip.  Its not a significant issue, as the processor runs the way it’s susposed to, however the BIOS reports it as “AMD Athlon: Model Unknown”.  I checked for BIOS updates, but there are none… oh well.  Its a lot faster than the FX-55, so I’m pleased with the purchase.

The MythTV install on the new box is great, definitely runs better than with the old PIII machine.  Its running on Xubuntu and once I get a bigger hard drive, I’ll reinstall and do a more detailed analysis.

Battery Life

Now that I’m safely at my destination, I can continue where I left off.  Recently I’ve been trying to see how long I can extend my battery life on my Thinkpad T30 (aka darkstar, running xubuntu).  One of the methods I’ve been trying is not starting x (and thus not starting xfce).  Of course there are a lot of variables that determine battery life, but so far under normal use I seem to get about 30 more minutes.  Normal use would be internet (elinks vs firefox) and typing (nano vs open office).  I’m going to continue to track battery life over time to get a better estimate over longer periods of time and for different amounts of CPU usage.


In an airport just doing a test of elinks. Working better than I expected on wordpress, glad to see that they’ve included text only support. I’ve discovered that my battery life is extended when I don’t start X on my laptop. More on this later, they just called my flight.