New computer: Hardware & OS

8 March 2010, 18:28

Part one: hardware and OS installation

I once again possess a desktop computer at home:

New computer!

…and the packaging:

...and its packaging

For a number of years I was convinced of the superiority of laptops. But finally the cramped typing and viewing made me reconsider.

I ordered a system built by Scorpion Technology, with a few modifications:

  • plus keyboard
  • plus monitor
  • plus wireless card.

The keyboard is a Logitech Ultra Flat Keyboard and I naively thought there wouldn’t be too much different amongst keyboards, but that was before I realised some people might think it was a good idea to A) remove the empty area above the arrow keys, and B) move the page up/page down to the bottom row, and C) move the home/end above the numpad. Being able to find the arrow keys by feeling the empty space is a very useful part of psuedo-touch typing. Not sure if I will get used to it or if this keyboard will need to be moved-on.

Keyboard layout fail

The monitor is an LG Flatron W2053TQ, 20inch widescreen. It’s very nice; nice standard 16:9 ratio, and I can use it in a room with natural light coming in (not overly reflective, unlike my laptop). My desk is pretty narrow so anything bigger would be too big I think. It tilts back and forward but doesn’t move up and down. The controls are OK by me; I can swipe across the power without tilting the whole screen (unlike my Samsung monitor at work), but apparently not everyone agrees.

Under the “fun” option it can even display in 4:3, which I never thought would be useful, until I tried to install Ubuntu 9.04 and it didn’t recognise my monitor! At least putting it in 4:3 meant I could read stuff without getting a headache. More on that in a minute.

Neither the case nor the monitor come with built-in speakers, which is something I didn’t consider. My desk is fairly small to always have speakers on it. Also neither the keyboard nor monitor have USB ports, which can be nice, although at least this case has USB ports at the front! Unlike my last machine from 2002…

So I got all this and eagerly plugged it in and set about installing Ubuntu 9.10. I happen to have install disks for both 9.10 and 9.04 available. My laptop is still running Xubuntu 8.04 and while I thought at the time sticking to LTS releases would save me work, I think it only delayed it, so I now plan to upgrade progressively as releases come out.

So I popped in the install disk and went click-click-click, and it all seemed to go swimmingly. Until I logged in, and within seconds, the keyboard and mouse would stop responding.

Hmm. Time to fire up the laptop and hit Google. It seemed to be a known bug, relating to some ACPI setting. According to this, “Once the system is installed, a kernel from the updates will fix the problem.” So I learned how to jump to a terminal log-in from the GUI log-in page (Ctrl-Shift-F1) and back (Ctrl-Shift-F7). Based on this I modified /etc/default/grub

from

GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX_DEFAULT=“quiet splash”

to

GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX_DEFAULT=“acpi=off”

and then ran sudo update-grub. This meant I could login to the GUI without a freezing mouse and keyboard, and I could check that the screen resolution looked fine and the wireless worked (two Linux bugbears of mine). OK. So now all I needed to do was update the kernel and I could restore that ACPI setting, and all would be good.

Updating the kernel… easier said than done. My wireless broadband was having a particularly bad day, and in a fit of impatience, I decided to use the Ubuntu 9.04 disk and install that instead. And it worked, with no peripherals-freezing, and with wireless, but wrong display aspect ratio. I persevered along this route for a little while before realising it was even more silly, reinstalled 9.10, and went to bed hoping for better connectivity tomorrow. (That’s the great thing about a new machine. You feel unconcerned about installing new OSes on it at a whim.)

Luckily the next day internets were flowing much more freely, and I easily updated to kernel 2.6.31-19 (from -14). Rebooting gave me a new error about failing to contact the configuration server something-something gconf daemon. Sounds bad, but some more Googling showed there was an easy fix: delete some ~/.blah settings.

OK. Ready to go. All should be good. Except…the freezing returns. When I edit the grub commands explicitly, the “quiet splash” is still there, and the “acpi-off” is not, so it seems it is not reading my instructions, or something.

So more work is needed, but I at least feel confident enough to start installing my extra packages and copying over my data.

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  1. Gah! Keyboards!

    No one makes keyboards with a standard layout anymore. They all need to be Special in the own Special way. I guess it had something to do with venduh lockin – you can never buy anything other than a SomeCrappyKorp keyboard anymore because you’re used to our Special layout.

    TimC · Mar 8, 10:12 PM · #

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