pfSense Box Setup for Home or Small Office

A piece of hardware that is often overlooked in many homes and businesses is the the “edge device” or often just called a router. Many Internet providers will supply their own edge device. This is the first line of defense from those that would do you harm from the Internet to your home or business. I look at it as your first line of security to protect yet give you access to the machines or devices on your network.

I have two reasons for setting up a pfSense box. Since I have heard great things about it, I wanted to try it for myself on my own network to give me confidence to set it up for use in a small office setting. Nothing too large, just a moderate size.

Hardware

I had to start with an adequate piece of hardware to run pfSense. Since it requires a 64 bit system, I am using one of my newly inherited Dell Optiplex 745 machines. As far as specifications go, it is at the bottom end of the recommended specifications to run pfSense but the plan for this isn’t anything real intense.

Specs That Matter

  • CPU Intel Core 2 Duo 6300 @ 1.86Ghz
  • 2.0 GB of DDR2 SDRAM
  • 160 GiB HDD

 

Since this machine only comes equipped with a single Ethernet port, I had to purchase a half-height Gigabit Ethernet adapter to put in the one available PCI slot in this machine. The slot will only accept a PCI or PCI-X card which was actually more difficult to find than I originally anticipated. Full height, easy, half height, not so much.

ethernet card 1 gb

This particular unit came with two plate options. Changing out the plate consisted of removing two screw, separating the plate from the card and replacing it with the other plate. There wasn’t a bit of complexity to it.

 

The machine has one PCI slot in it but there was a card with a COM port and PS/2 port on a card attached via ribbon cable to the main board that had to be removed first. I inserted the card, started it up and jumped in the BIOS to make sure it was recognized.

ethernet registered in pci slot

Since it was recognized, I was ready to move on to the software portion of this little tech adventure.

There really wasn’t much to do in configuring the hardware. The only major change I made to the configuration, outside of adding the second Ethernet card was to ensure that the machine would boot upon being powered. This is assuming that should the machine loses power due to power failure, it will boot upon power being restored.

Downloading the Software

From the pfSense download page I chose the AMD64 memstick version to put on a Dell Optiplex 745. It should be noted that the memstick version cannot be written using SUSE Studio Imagewriter. For more information on writing images:

https://www.netgate.com/docs/pfsense/hardware/writing-disk-images.html

Conduct Checksum on the Downloaded Image

Since the the time of installation, the version I downloaded to install was: pfSense-CE-memstick-2.4.4-RELEASE-p1-amd64.img.gz. The key point here is it is the amd64 version to correspond with my hardware.

Next I downloaded the corresponding sha256 file from here so that I could do the appropriate checksum action and ensure that it is a good download. I have noticed on most sites, it seems as though that is just an expected understanding without much explanation, outside of the openSUSE download page, that is.

I Put the downloads in the same folder and ran this:

sha246sum -c  pfSense-CE-memstick-2.4.4-RELEASE-p1-amd64.img.gz.sha256

The response was:

pfSense-CE-memstick-2.4.4-RELEASE-p1-amd64.img.gz: OK

Which means that it was good to go. I haven’t seen anything other than OK so I couldn’t tell you what it’s like to not have an OK. Then either your image or the sha256 is not right and need to be downloaded again.

Writing to USB Drive

The instructions recommended erasing the disk partition table before writing. I haven’t done this step before writing to a flash drive but who am I to argue with the developers?

sudo dd if=/dev/zero of=/dev/sdX bs=1M count=1

In my case, the drive is sdd, be very, VERY careful to not wipe out any of your other drives so pay close attention to what you are doing. To find out what the device name is of your USB drive, insert the drive into a USB port and run in terminal

dmesg

Look for the latest entry corresponding to the USB device you just plugged in. It should read /dev/sdb or something of that nature. If you are unsure, ask somebody. There are plenty of helpful folks out there. Feel free to contact me directly and I’ll do my best to help you out.

The next thing to do is to install the image onto the USB drive.

sudo gzip -dc ./pfSense-CE-memstick-2.4.4-RELEASE-p1-amd64.img.gz | sudo dd of=/dev/sdX bs=1M

Replace /dev/sdX with the appropriate drive identification. Also note the version of pfSense is a moving target, so an exact copy from above is probably not going to be valid for long.

Installation

The installation is very straight forward on pfSense. Just like any Linux distribution, once you have it on the USB media, and the machine boots from the drive, follow the directions. In this case, I am getting a warning about my system battery voltage which I will address later. Once it boots into a nice ASCII art menu, select 1 to Boot Multi User, which is default.

On a kind of funny note, the legal notice, pfSense is a federally registered trademark of Electric Sheep Fencing LLC.” I’d like the background story on that LLC name. After you accept you are given 3 options. Install being the key option here.

Next you will set the keymap and you will be asked how you would like to partition your disk. I chose to use the Guided Disk Setup because it’s my first time and this is a reasonable course of action.

Since I have no reason to use the disk for anything but pfSense, it was reasonable to select to use the entire disk. Graciously, you are warned that this will erase the disk and wants a confirmation to proceed.

Next you are asked for the partition scheme of which I chose MBR as this is “Bootable on most x86 systems. You are then given another opportunity to review the disk setup and make any modificaitons. Since I have no experience with pfSense and altering any preferences. I left the defaults be.

Once you select Finish you are given one final warning to Commit with a clear warning of your actions.

The installation will proceed, first, “fetching” the distribution files than extracting them.

After the installation is complete you are asked if you want to make any further changes, the selection defaulted to No so I just proceeded from there and rebooted.

I was again reminded about my low voltage system battery before the boot screen to which the default works perfectly.

The boot process is much like what I am used to seeing in Linux so it was interesting to watch and see the slightly different syntax.

On the initial boot, you are given a series of questions to define the interfaces. One which faces the scary internet (WAN), and the other that faces the internal network (LAN). The first question is to set up VLANs, I have no need for such a thing so I entered, N.

Next I selected the interface I wanted to be the WAN. Since I know the hardware I installed, I selected the appropriate NIC. Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter on this setup. If I had more than one NIC for the LAN, that would change things.

Next, I set up the LAN and confirmed the configuration.

When that is complete, it will write the configuration to disk.

When the configuration was completed, I decided I wanted to change the LAN side IP address. This can be done by selecting 2. You are then asked which interface you want to configure, in my case, the LAN is option 2.

I set the IP address then the subnet mask per my network preference.

I didn’t set an IPv6 address because… why? Then the DHCP Range. In my case 192.168.10.51 to 192.168.10.200. 150 DHCP addresses is more than enough for my purposes… for now.

pfSense will ask if you want to reroute the webConfigurator protocol, which YES to that seems like the most reasonable answer. Then you will be dumped back into the main menu.

I reset the Admin password for the webConfigurator, mostly because I didn’t remember setting it to begin with and wanted to get into it.

pfSense-37-Reset webConfigurator Password

My first order of business when logging in to the web configuration utility was to change the theme to a dark theme. I just don’t care for how light the default theme is. Of course, this is just my personal preference.

pfSense-41-Dark Theme

That’s it, you now have a functional pfSense box, but there was one more bit if business in order to be satisfied with the system. Local DNS name resolution.

Configuring DNS

A feature that is absolutely required for me is the ability to have local hostname resolution within my network. All my machines are named something I can remember so I can easily access them ussing SSH for remote access or file transfer. It is not quite as straight forward to do in pfSense as it is with DD-WRT but here are the resources I used to figure it out:

https://www.netgate.com/docs/pfsense/dns/dns-forwarder.html

https://www.netgate.com/docs/pfsense/dns/unbound-dns-resolver.html

There was some fiddling to get it to go but here are the take aways:

pfSense-40-Disable DNS Forwarder

On the General Setup page, you have to Uncheck Disable DNS Forwarder. Save your changes. Then navigate to Services > DNS Forwarder.

pfSense-39-DNS Forwarder

There you need to Enable DNS forwarder and Register DHCP leases in DNS Forwarder. Be sure to save the changes. If not you will have to repeat your steps.

I was able to test that the local DNS name resolution worked as I would expect and was thrilled that something I touched actually worked and without banging my head against the wall.

pfSense-38-Testing Network

Adding a Wireless Access Point

A working edge device is great but who wires anything up these days? I had to put in a wireless access point. I took the previous edge device my Linksys E2000 and set the device to DHCP Forward to the IP address of the pfSense box. I plugged the ethernet port from the switch into one of the LAN (not the WAN) port of the E2000 and it worked as expected. You can turn the WAN port to be on the same VLAN within the Linksys E2000 but that is a discussion for another blathering or you can search that one out yourself.

Final Thoughts

pfSense is a really quite easy to set up and use. I will say,the hardest part of the project is writing the installation media. I have power cycled and added other users as administrators and it all works fantastically well. This truly is a fine BSD based operating system distribution.

If you have home or office networking requirements that a consumer grade edge device cannot handle, this is a low cost way of implementing one. I didn’t end up using this device for my house. After using it, I saw a greater need for this to be at my church and I ended up using IPFire for home, which is also quite good but I think in many ways, pfSense is a more polished and professional product and possibly better suited for a larger environment. I am not a network professional so take that opinion for what it’s worth.

This project has spurred on a few other future projects for the network in which it sits. More to come on that.

Further Reading

https://www.netgate.com/docs/pfsense/hardware/writing-disk-images.html

https://files.pfsense.org/hashes/

https://www.pfsense.org/download/

Flashing Linksys E2000 Router with DD-WRT

IPFire | Open Source, Linux based, Firewall, Install and Configuration

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KDE Plasma 5.15.0 on openSUSE Tumbleweed

There has been quite a lot of buzz in the news about the first stable release of Plasma in 2019, version 5.15.0, released on 12 February 2019. It came to openSUSE Tumbleweed a few days later and a few days after that, I started updating my various systems running Tumbleweed. I am not going to cover all the changes and improvements, there is plenty of that available to read. Instead, this is my experience with the upgrade process on the first three Tumbleweed machines.

My primary machine isn’t generally first to get the latest updates, because I am using it nearly all the time so I will begin the updates on other machines, incidentally, all of which are Dell. The first machine that I performed the updates is a Dell Latitude E6440. There isn’t a whole lot of software on this one as it’s primary focus is for educational related activities. There aren’t any community repositories on this machine so the update required no intervention at all. The next machine, a Dell Inspiron 20 3048, does do a lot for me but doesn’t have too many community maintained repositories. It too went without incident. Lastly, my primary machine, also a Dell Latitude E6440 but with more memory, storage and a dedicated AMD GPU.

This machine has quite a bit of software on it. I do try things out but I don’t always remove the applications or community maintained repositories. It took it as an opportunity to start trimming out some additional repositories, thankfully, zypper makes that process easy. My primary machine was trimmed down to 36 repositories. Then I performed the update.

sudo zypper dup

Zypper ran through, did its thing, asked me about a couple python packages an one package I installed that I already knew was “broken” by not having a dependency. After Zypper calculated everything out and I agreed to the update. Just as every other Tumbleweed update goes, this one proceeded without incident.

All three machines had but only one small issue. They didn’t want to leave Plasma to reboot, specifically, selecting “reboot” or “halt” and even “logout” did not actually perform those actions, Instead, I ran in terminal:

sudo systemctl reboot

There may be a better way of doing a reboot, if you are aware of such, please let me know. A few moments later, the machine started up without incident and what I may be most excited about is that, everything still, just works.

KDE Plasma Upgrade 5.15.0 KInfoCenter

I did receive one pleasant surprise, my Bluetooth keyboard, for the first time communicated that it was low on power instead of just going unresponsive. I was able to see a “10% Warning” pop up notification. I thought that was pretty slick. I have been enjoying the status and warnings with wireless Logitech devices for years but this was the first for Bluetooth. Very well done.

Final Thoughts

Nothing is ever perfect but my experience with using openSUSE Tumbleweed has been pretty fantastic for the last two years. I don’t have to worry about an update breaking my system or crossing my fingers when the operating system base iterates to a new version. Not a single piece of software has broken or had any regressions. The two applications I check for issues, Kdenlive and the Open Broadcaster Studio, continue to work just the same. I experienced zero appreciable downtime with this update which is another tribute to all those involved with openSUSE, KDE Plasma and ever other application so many graciously pour their energy into and permitting me the use of this finely engineered, fantastic distribution of Linux.

Further Reading

KDE Plasma 5.15.0 Announcement

Tumbleweed Snapshots News Announcement for 21 February 2019

PeppermintOS | Review from an openSUSE User

peppermintos review title

PeppermintOS is a bit of a different distribution that I have become aware of in recent months. Peppermint is built with the LXDE interface that is very nicely customized. It can be downloaded from here in both 32-bit and 64-bit versions. The latest version, Peppermint 9 Respin can be downloaded in both to see how they would perform on both old hardware and in a virtual machine.

So it is understood from the very beginning, I am a huge openSUSE fan and a member of the project. I am fantastically satisfied with the distribution, nothing is perfect, but this distribution and its culture fits me well. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t other fantastic projects that work fantastically well for other users. I also primarily use KDE Plasma as my desktop. There are many other fantastic desktop environments out there but Plasma just happens to work best for me by catering to my preference. With my biases clearly stated, I will now get into my experience with PeppermintOS, as an openSUSE user.

Installation

Using the SUSE Studio Imagewriter, I burned a 32 bit image onto a USB flashdrive and installed it into a Dell Inspiron 10 with 1 GB of RAM. It was stated that Peppermint will work with older hardware, so that is exactly what I used. I also installed this on a Virtualbox Virtual Machine so that I could capture some better images.

For starters, I really appreciate that I am able to install Peppermint right from the boot menu. This is one of those features that is important to me when I install a Linux distribution. I am glad that they give the option to try it live but that particular feature is not as important to me.

peppermintos-01-installer boot menu

The next two steps are basic but necessary questions of your language and keyboard layout. It’s good to knock this out immediately.

Next you are asked to specify the installation type. In this case of this Dell Inspiron Netbook, I chose to erase the entire disk and let the the defaults reign. Next you asked if you would like additional software such as downloading and installing updates immediately and to install third-party software for graphics, wifi hardware and such. I did notice a minimal installation option, I did not try this out but from my experience, distributions often offer a ‘minimal’ set of applications. I wanted to see what I was specifically given with Peppermint.

After you confirm the updates and other software, you are given a warning about how the partition tables are going to be written. Maybe this is better than what I am used to with openSUSE but I do prefer stepping through and setting all my options before I am given the final warning. Peppermint warns you in the middle of the install. After the whipping of the drive, you are asked to identify your location. I am puzzled by the sequence of steps here a bit.

After you enter your user information and set your log in preference, the installation begins.

I have to give much credit for the Peppermint team in their theme and graphics with the installer. I do believe that this is the first distribution of Linux I have ever installed that I didn’t have to fuss around at all with the theme. The installer just looks great and the logo fits right into the color selection. Fantastic!

peppermintos-10-installation complete

Once you get the happy message that the installation is complete, the computer will restart when you give it the push.

First Run

Right from the very beginning, Peppermint looks pepper-minty fresh. It has the kind of dark theme I can work on that doesn’t cause me undue stress on my eyes. The coloring the soft lines, just looks great.

peppermintos-11-login screen

Immediately upon starting Peppermint, I had to look at some of its included tools. One particular tool that I found particularly useful was sakura. It gave me a very thorough listing of system information about the installation, the machine, state of the battery, hardware information and package repos. It can be run it on a machine to get a detailed snapshot of a system configuration. I also was glad to see neofetch was included by default with the option of turning it’s output on and off from the Peppermint Settings Panel upon opening the terminal. This tool not only gives you another detailed snapshot of the system but gives you some fantastic ascii art of the distribution logo.

Ice Web App Integrator

A fine feature included with Peppermint that may also be somewhat of a hindrance to its adoption is a tool called Ice. If you are unaware of this, it is a web application integration kit that allows you to easily integrate web applications into the menu as though they were native applications. I have been doing this with Chrome but as of late, with the Chrome bloat, just haven’t been using those menus I have previously created. This is a fantastic way to use some of those “web apps” like native apps without being tied to Chrome.

I was so enamored with this, I had to try it out. I decided I would see if I could create a “Netflix App”. As I could see this very handy in possibly using this as a media set-top box distribution. After all, the theme is already fantastic looking. It has that “theater ready” look about it.

What is nice about Ice is that you can specify, right from the dialog, where you want the application to live on the menu tree. In my case, Netflix is a multimedia app… maybe it should be in the Internet section… In any case you can put it where you want

peppermintos-17-star trek on netflix

Default Applications

I wanted to see what kind of applications are installed by default. Upon doing some clicking around, I thought it to be rather lean but that is really a non-issue as far as I am concerned. I actually would prefer that for several use cases.

What I found particularly interesting was the choice for office applications. This is a first, as far as I have ever seen, Microsoft Office 365 is your default office suite. I would never have thought I’d ever see Microsoft Office products by default in any Linux distribution.

peppermintos-18-office suite

It’s a different world we live in these days…

PeppermintOS-21-Microsoft Word.png

The updater tool on Peppermint is everything I want in an updater tool. Nice and verbose. Although, I do seem to prefer doing it all the the terminal these days, this gives me a find blend of the friendly approach of a GUI with the verbose readout of the terminal.

It should also be noted that doing updates does require a password. I have come to the conclusion that this is the norm for Linux distributions.

Logout

Lastly, after you have had all your fun and want to put your PeppermintOS machine to sleep, you have some options when you go to log out. It’s nice to see it laid out so incredibly clear. A well branded dialog with the Peppermint logo, typeface and reminder of what version of Peppermint you are running.

peppermintos-14-shutdown.png

All-in-all, in my short time on Peppermint, I truly enjoyed it.

What I like

Right from the very beginning, Peppermint OS has the best theme and installer graphics for those, like me, that are not happy about light themed interfaces and bright lights. The tone this distribution sets with me is that it understands my struggles and knows they are real when it comes to bright lights. It gets me.

The menu in Peppermint is laid out very well. and is snappy, even on old hardware. It looks good, works well and thankfully has a “recent applications” and and “Favorites” section.

The Peppermint Settings Panel is a great tool that has just about everything I would need as a desktop user. The System Information Tool, sakura gives me more than what I need but will happily accept. Interestingly, one of the tools is a system wide Ad Blocker that you can set. Sure, that’s not so good for cubiclenate.com but since there are so many websites out there that, in my opinion, misbehave in their advertisement exposure, this is good to reduce a lot of that unwanted traffic and distractions.

Ice could possibly be my favorite PeppermintOS feature that I wish I had on openSUSE. Everything else is basically there but I haven’t come across a “Web Apps” integration outside of using Chrome. I wanted to not emphasis this but I really can’t help it.

Lastly, I was able to install from the boot menu. That is a huge win for me. I do appreciate this as an option.

There are a lot of great features of PeppermintOS, like many distributions, this is put together very well and I can see many use cases for it. In an effort to not turn this into a novel, I will leave it here as my top likes.

What I don’t like

I prefer to to have the final commit button at the end of the installation, just as openSUSE does it. From my estimation, once you commit to the writing of the disk partitions, you have already committed and there is no turning back. I could go through the entire process on openSUSE and still back out at the very end after I am given a rollup of all the changes and such. Truly, this is not a criticism of the Peppermint team in choice of installations steps, this is purely a preference. In the end, this really doesn’t matter much.

I am not sure how to think about having Microsoft Office 365 as the default office suite but this can be easily changed. I shouldn’t put this under “What I don’t like” as it is something I just don’t know what to think about.

Final Thoughts

Peppermint OS is certainly with giving a try. I need to take some more time on it and I am putting this distribution of Linux as one of my top, smile-producing Linux distributions. It is certainly worth the time to try out, especially on older hardware. Was fascinated by the inclusion of Office 365 as the office suite. This could almost be the antithesis of a Chromebook, which is nice to see.

For more on what other Linux enthusiasts think of PeppermintOS, check out this meeting of the minds from the BigDaddyLinux community.

I thank the team that has created Peppermint for the effort they have put into this, there has been a lot of time taken on the look and feel of Peppermint and it shows.

Further Reading

https://peppermintos.com/

https://software.opensuse.org/package/imagewriter

neofetch | Command-Line System Information Tool

VirtualBox.org

BigDaddyLinux Community Chatter

BigDaddyLinux.com

openSUSE Linux on a Dell Inspiron 3646 | Low Budget Multimedia Configuration for a Small Church

Churches generally have no budget for technology and frankly, I don’t think that a church should really avoid spending on technology as much as possible. I’m sure this isn’t a view many people share but it is my view. I believe it using whatever is available whenever possible and only making upgrades or purchasing new hardware when it is absolutely necessary.

There are several pieces of equipment in varying states of age and functionality. I haven’t sorted out everything, yet, and it is also not completely on my shoulders, as another tech and audio enthusiast in the church, Phil, has taken care of the audio equipment. It is all a work in progress.

My focus, for now, is to restore multimedia capabilities of the computer, Dell Inspiron 3646 and even improve it somewhat. Upon my initial assessment, I knew what my first steps were.

The Problems

Dell Inspiron 3646-04-System.jpgThe machine originally came equipped with Windows 10 which would annoyingly upgrade at the the most inopportune time and using it on under powered hardware is often problematic. The few times I spent any amount of time on the machine, it didn’t perform very well but it was working and I wasn’t really interested in thrusting the greatness of Linux on those not ready for it.

At some point in time, the system fell into disarray and I was recently asked to see what I could do to make the computer functional. Phil had already made the sound system functional enough to be used so it was my turn to make the computer functional.

Like it or not, sometimes your volunteers have things come up and just don’t make it in one day leaving the available workers short handed. Back in my days of childhood, multimedia meant slide show or overhead projector, but it’s hard to convinced a 20 something pastor that the right investment with no budget is a slide projector…

The Limitations

A budget of zero, or rather, whatever I am willing to dig up to make improvements. Since I had already been informed there is no budget for any upgrades or equipment, I was only going to do what was necessary to make the computer system as functional as possible. I already knew, with the power and capabilities of Linux, I could make substantial improvements very easily.

Here is the hardware I have to work with:

  • Dell Inspiron 3646
  • Intel Celeron CPU J1800 @ 2.41 GHz
  • 4GB RAM
  • Single Head Video Output
  • A bunch of other audio equipment with which to integrate

Preparing the Installation

I prepared a USB drive with openSUSE Leap 15.0. I downloaded the ISO from here and put the image on an ISO using SUSE Studio Imagewriter. Once the image completed writing, I inserted the drive into the Dell Inspiron 3646 and powered it up.

In order to access the BIOS, when the machine is going through the POST process and you are greeted with the Dell Logo, press F2. Since openSUSE is capable of handling secure boot without issue, I didn’t have to change anything. I just wanted to be sure that the BIOS was picking up the USB drive and I wanted to see the main screen so I could record the main bits of the hardware.

Dell Inspiron 3546-01-BIOS

I set this machine up with KDE Plasma because, is there really another choice? I mean, yes, of course there is but I didn’t want to have to fiddle with anything to get the features I wanted so my only real choice was of course going to be Plasma.

Since I like what I like when setting up the partitions, I did it manually to my preferences. I prefer the swap partition over the swap file and I am using BTRFS on root with snapshots enabled. BTRFS has been a rock solid performer in this capacity. I use XFS on /home. I was going to use Ext4 but the only reason for that would be for Dropbox compatibility and frankly, I just stopped using Dropbox due to their technical shortcomings.

Dell Inspiron 3546-02-partitions

After boot up, the system was all set. It required a few more software packages, firstly, the Plasma Browser Integration. In terminal:

sudo zypper install plasma-browser-integration

It actually may not be necessary to have to explicitly install this software package as the desktop it is supposed to automatically ask you if you want it installed.

Next I installed the Plasma Add-on for Firefox.

Plasma Integration Add-on

Finally, I installed all the Codecs and VLC into this machine using my multimedia codecs and VLC player instructions for Leap 15.0.

The last bit to configure was KDE Connect. Initially just with my Android phone, mostly for demonstration purposes. I also was presented with an opportunity to do a “live test” as well.

After some tests, it all worked just as expected and the machine performed much better than it did previously… exceptionally better… Not to belabor the point but before the machine was rather sluggish and I didn’t expect anything fantastic but this machine really does perform fantastically well.

Changes and Upgrades

This machine has only one VGA output and it was previously set up with a splitter cable that when plugged into both the monitor and the projector, the output would shut down. I don’t know if that is how it has been used or not but I determined it needed a proper splitter. I picked one up, hooked it up and I now have a unified output between the screen and projector.

VGA Splitter.jpg

I actually thought that this machine was going to require more memory to function well enough but it isn’t necessary at this time. This machine isn’t being taxed at all. KDE Plasma, even with all the fun I was running did not tax the machine at all.

How it’s working now

I am sure that there are a few more “bugs” to be worked out, mostly with the human to machine interaction. Mostly, I need to properly document the process of turning it on and off the system properly as well as how to pair Android phones or tablets to allow other workers to use the KDE Connect features. I have helped two people completely unfamiliar with KDE Connect, use it and it be impressed with it.

The feature that stood out the most was the ability to share a YouTube URL from the phone directly to the computer to have it open immediately and play. A feature I have enjoy for quite some time and have become quite accustomed was new and exciting to the unfamiliar. The multimedia controls, also quite handy and when I demonstrated the ability to use the phone to switch slides on LibreOffice Impress using only the volume keys, all well received

I still need to create some documentation to allow anyone to be able to use it without my direct intervention. For now, I am going to make myself available to help people become accustomed to this “new” system.

Future upgrades

Since some of the volunteers do Add a dedicated “burner” tablet so that volunteers don’t need to install KDE Connect on their phones. After I was reviewing some of my photographs, I noticed that there is an HDMI port on this computer. I am going to see about adapting that port to VGA and for multi head capability. The next upgrade would be a memory upgrade. 4 GiB of RAM, although good enough for now it would be nice to to have just a bit more. I haven’t opened the machine up but I am guessing there are at least 2 slots and one of them filled and the other is open. Of course, I need to check for certain before I start buying hardware.

Not directly related to this computer, there is a need to make further refinements to the attached sound system and determine what the issue is with the lighting control system.

Final Thoughts

The Dell Inspiron 3646 is a fine machine that, in my estimation has many years of service ahead of it. I have to say, once again, how amazing it is how much more efficient Linux is than Windows on less capable machine. The  computer’s functionality would greatly improved with a second display.

The sound system to which it is connected and the lighting controller are going to need a bit more attention. I am not sure exactly where to start or if I should even be the one to touch it. There is an annoying 60 Hz hum that needs to be eliminated. Then there is the matter with the lighting controller. Currently, it does nothing, no lights work. I am not sure yet where the breakdown is but I will figure it out eventually.

This is only the first in many steps to slowly making the information system situation in the church better. This is not the “main effort” in the church which is perfect for me. No budget, no attention and no one else that interest in finding solutions.

External Links

openSUSE Leap Download

http://philoangelo.blogspot.com/

https://software.opensuse.org/package/imagewriter

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Power-on_self-test

Multimedia Codecs Terminal

 

BunsenLabs Linux | Review from an openSUSE User

BunsenLabs review title

Until last Saturday (15 Dec 2018), I hadn’t heard of the BunsenLabs Linux distribution. Immediately, I like the name as makes me think of one of my favorite Muppets. I was immediately intrigued by this distribution for the system requirements. RAM minimum is 256 MiB with 1 GiB recommended. Storage requirement is only 10 GiB. It is available in both 32-bit and 64-bit architectures. (see here)

BunsenLabs is based on Debian Stretch and has a fantastic post-install custom configuration script that made quick work of setting up the desktop.

This is a biased review from an openSUSE Tumbleweed user running the KDE Plasma Desktop Environment. I am very happy with openSUSE and Plasma and this is not a review to consider switching my primary machines but rather just see what else is out there and have fun playing in unfamiliar territories.

Installation

BusnenLabs has a fine installer that reminds me of my early days on Linux. Not sure if it is the font or the color scheme or just everything together, the installer brought a smile to my face. It’s very easy to understand what is going on and you do not have to be an expert to set it up. I do think that it could be a little overwhelming to the technically adverse but with just basic system knowledge, this is a breeze to install.

BunsenLabs-02-Grub

I was initially very happy to see that I could skip the Live version and go right into the Installation. Not having that option is really quite annoying.

The first three pages is all all very easy questions, what language, what country and what kind of keyboard. Afterward it loads more installer components.

It should be noted, you must be connected to the internet for the installer to succeed. More on that later.

The next two screen ask you to enter the machine name and domain. It probably could have been combined onto one page but this isn’t a bad design choice. It’s perfectly clear and allows for the user to not be overwhelmed.

Next you will enter your username and password (some screenshots omitted) then your timezone.

To this point, all the questions have been non-technical, in nature, very simple and straight forward. Now the installer gets a bit more involved: The partitioning of the disks.

This is the only area of the installer that I think could get complicated for the user. It took a bit for me to understand as it felt a little cumbersome but ultimately, it does its job very well. I selected the guided partitioning and perhaps there is an even easier way.

Next, select the drive (in the case of this VM, there was only one option) then how you want the layout of the drive to be. I think doing anything other than a separate /home partition on an installation a bit silly.

If you are forced to “nuke and pave” your installation of Linux with either a new distribution or a new version, not having a separate partition means you are going to go through the process of copying your data back onto the computer.

The installer gives a real nice readout of how the drive is going to be set up and gives you a chance to change your mind.

After setting the location of the Grub Boot loader, your installation is complete.

First Run

BunsenLabs boots pretty quick, which is actually pretty typical of Linux distributions today. The login screen pops up pretty quick with a pleasantly offset login dialog box.

BunsenLabs-19-Login Screen

The Desktop Environment starts up quick, mostly because there is not much there and you are greeted with this terminal Welcome Screen. This is the first welcome screen I have seen with a terminal which gives this distribution a whole lot of bonus points.

BunsenLabs-20-Post Install

This 15 page post-install script makes installing all the extras and backports, Java and Flashplayer if you wish super easy. Once done, I was able to use YouTube and other Flashplayer sites like homestarrunner.com.

Interface

I don’t know that I am such a fan of the OpenBox interface. It does its job. The theme is okay but it doesn’t really excite me. It appears to be incredibly stable, despite this environment feeling like it is a patchwork of components.

BunsenLabs-22-Applications Menu

The only things I am not real crazy about are the way you access the application menu. The only option I see is the Super Key (Meta Key, Windows Key, etc). The menu style is actually what I like, for the most part. Applications arranged in categories based on what it is, not just a mess of applications akin to what you see on Android and iOS, so huge points there. This menu is better than most “modern” menus.

BunsenLabs-23-Application Menu 2

Accessing the application menu is fine for computers with keyboards but those that are touch screen, probably not a good setup. However, I do not think that this Linux distribution is targeting that kind of hardware. Which got me thinking.

Second and Third Installation

I have some 10 to 15 year old Dell Optiplex desktops that I wanted to see how well BunsenLabs Linux would work. I started with this Dell Optiplex 745, Core 2 Duo machine. It has 4 GiB of RAM and an 80 GiB hard drive. The installation of BunsenLabs was fantastic. One note of caution, should you install BunsenLabs, unless I missed something, it will require a working network connection. I had to start the installation over to provide network connection this time. It completed without issue. Following the post-installation, of BunsenLabs, I was blown away by how well the system ran. I can’t stress to you enough how fast it was. I opened up Firefox and hopped into YouTube and it played movies without any problems at all. It is quite smooth at 720p in full screen mode (I didn’t have a full HD screen).  I tried a few other things, kept a terminal open to run free -h to see how memory usage was and I had a lot of wiggle room.

Dell Optiplex GX620-3So then I thought… could BunsenLabs, with a modern Linux Kernal run well on a Pentium 4 HT machine? I pulled out of my stash a Dell Optiplex GX620, 2.5 GiB of RAM, and an AMD X600 series GPU. The installation and post-installation when just as smooth. I ran the same kind of test, wondering, can I do YouTube on this. The answer is a resounding YES, albeit at 480p to not get the annoying skipping. To me, this was impressive. A machine released in 2005 is still capable of being a decently functional machine. Certainly not great but not exactly obsolete.

I was very impressed with what BunsenLabs could do with this substantially dated hardware. It makes me think about the possibilities.

What I Like

I like so much about BunsenLabs. It is a fine distribution of Linux that harnesses the vast array of software from the Debian project and makes installation friendly for pretty much any user. Sure, the are a few things that are not my favorite but certainly not impossible to navigate. Giving the option to install from the Grub menu was a huge win for me.

BunsenLabs is fast and efficient. It appears to be tailor made for aging hardware and really makes what could be thought of as junk to being a really pretty terrific piece of equipment. Immediately, I can think of many uses for these old computers just because of what BunsenLabs provides so easily.

What I Don’t Like

Sigh… I am just not a fan of the OpenBox + XFCE that BunsenLabs uses. Don’t get me wrong, it is not bad but I just couldn’t use it full time. I think it would work great for specific use cases, appliance or kiosk type work but for me and my desired workflow, it just doesn’t meet the mark. It is not bad and probably great for a great number of people but misses a few features that I just don’t want to do without.

Final Thoughts

BunsenLabs Linux is a fantastic project that really needs a little more love from the community. It is not given the credit it deserves. I am thinking of many applications for BunsenLabs now. It is based on Debian, which isn’t my favorite base but because it is Debian, I have access to pretty much any software that I want. I don’t have many requirements, especially for these older machines but his opens up a whole world of capabilities for this hardware that is well past end of life. More to follow on what I do with these derelict machines on another date.

Further Reading

https://www.bunsenlabs.org/

Homestarrunner.com

openSUSE Tumbleweed on Dell Inspiron 20 3048 All-In-One Desktop

Dell Inspiron 20 3048-00-Title

For quite some time, I have been noodling around an idea about adding a “new” Linux machine to my home with a specific purpose and requirements in mind. The primary purpose of this machine would be to enhance my organization and reduce wasted time. I also had a very specific form factor requirement for my use case, an all-in-one computer with a touch screen interface and VESA mount capability. I needed it to be new enough but it didn’t have to be too new. I did months of searching and watching and finally ended up with the Dell Inspiron 20 3048 All-In-One Desktop.

Why?

I have a smaller kitchen and I spend a lot of time in it. I had a laptop or Chromebook taking up valuable counter space which had at times become problematic. Generally, that laptop or Chromebook would be tied into my CoolVox, a refrigerator sound system. I stopped using the Chromebook for this because it would do crazy things with the audio such as play at maximum volume and not allow me to adjust it. The openSUSE Linux machines were far more reliable with Bluetooth audio. The kitchen machine would be used for entertainment purposes, music, podcasts, YouTube videos or Netflix while I am doing what needs to be done.

I have been using the KDE Personal Information Manager, Kontact, for keeping my life organized for quite some time. I have several calendars some Google, some iCal and they are used for different purposes. As much as I like Kontact and Akonadi for managing this data, they can get a bit resource intense from time to time so one of my 2 GB machines would not be adequate. I tried the paper calendar trick but it just wasn’t as sustainable if I changed something, I wouldn’t always put it back in the digital calendar or I would forget to print a new one… it was too clumsy.

e6440-01-smI was not satisfied with any of my current solutions as they made the kitchen feel cluttered and taking my Dell Latitude E6440 in the potential harms way of kitchen messes just wasn’t a good idea. Getting an All-In-One that I could mount to the wall would clean up my kitchen and be a focal point to keep better organized.

Interestingly, this machine came preinstalled with Windows 10. I wanted to see how well it worked on this machine before blowing it away and installing openSUSE Tumbleweed. Unfortunately, it didn’t even successfully boot.

Dell Inspiron 20 3048-02-Windows Fail

The Hardware

I didn’t want to spend a lot but I didn’t want to go too cheap. I also didn’t want a big project fixing anything. This used, Dell Inspiron 20 3048 was close enough to meet my requirements. I think the screen is just a bit small at 19.5 inches diagonal and the resolution is only 1600×900 but it is adequate. What it does have is a VESA wall mount which many of the newer Dell all-in-one machines do not seem to have.

Dell Inspiron 20 3048-01-Back.jpg

Specs that matter

  • CPU Pentium G3240T 2.7 GHz
  • Upgraded to 8 GB RAM
  • 1 TB HDD
  • Touchscreen LED 19.5″ at 1600×900
  • Built in speakers
  • SD Card reader
  • 6 USB ports
  • 3.5mm Line out
  • 3.5mm Headphone / mic jack
  • Atheros AR9565 Wifi b/g/n + Bluetooth

Upgrades

The machine came with 4 GB Upgraded the memory to 8GB. I used the two 4 GB  DDR3 SODIMMS from my E6440 when I upgraded its memory. Accessing the memory on this machine is a bit of a headache. The back panel is held on by snaps. I used a plastic separator tool to pop the snaps and remove the back cover. The memory is behind another panel on the right, viewing from the back.

Installation of openSUSE

openSUSE Tumbleweed has been so rock solid and reliable on everything so far, I decided that I was going to use that instead of Leap. I will have regular, daily interaction with this machine and running sudo zypper dup in terminal once a week or so is hardly a hassle. The installation went as one would expect, flawlessly. I set up the partitions as such:

  • /boot/efi: 250 MiB
  • Swap: 8 GiB
  • / (Root): 40 GiB – BTRFS
  • /home: 883 GiB – XFS

Added Applications

In order to fully utilize this machine, I need a series of applications added to this machine. Here is my short list:

Telegram – Because most of my communication happens here.

Franz – I have been using this quite happily since I first installed it on my other machines, it only made sense to use it to stay properly connected to work functions.

Falkon – I am liking this web browser right now

Syncthing – It should be noted I amusing Qsyncthingtray on this machine

Insync – I am still using Google Drive pretty heavily and this is the best Google Drive Sync application I have used to date

kvkbd – This is the best on screen keyboard I have seen in Linux to date. It does need to be switched to the dark theme to look right. I used this keyboard previously on a Panasonic CF-19 Toughbook with much success.

Teamviewer 13 – Just in case I need to get into this machine remotely

Setup and Tweaks

KDE Plasma looks best, in my opinion, with a openSUSE dark theme and I added the Oxygen5 Window Decorations because it just looks right to me.

In order to play media, I added the needed codecs and VLC using my own little guide I set up. The terminal instructions are way better.

I set up KOrganizer with the appropriate calendars and two of my email accounts. I don’t foresee myself using this much for emails but I do have a need to be able to stay on top of some higher priority accounts.

The default notification sound in KDE Plasma are not to my liking. I have a bunch of Star Trek The Next Generation sound effects that I prefer use instead.

I opened up a few ports in the firewall for KDE Connect, Syncthing and SSH.

I have made this machine a nearly complete mirror of my primary machine using Syncthing. It took a few hours to synchronize about 200 GB of data but it was much quicker than pulling down my files on Google Drive.

Hardware issues

The only issue I had was with the SD Card reader. It seems to read some cards fine but not all. I don’t know if it is an issue with the device, the drivers or the SD Card itself. I rarely use SD Cards so this is not an issue right now.

How it is currently working out

So far, it’s been working out well. Using Kontact to display my calendar has been beneficial to not only in keeping me on task but also in keeping the kids involved in activities and time frames. Using this machine tied in with my CoolVox to play music or entertain myself has also been fantastic. I also use it with the kids education for displaying relevant educational materials or playing songs to help with memorization of facts. The wall mount is almost perfect for positioning the screen as I like and I also appreciate it being a bit higher than normal. Forces me to stand straighter…

The only real issue I have with this system is it feels quite a bit slower than I would like. Upgrading the CPU is an option and I just may do it in the future. It’s really fine for now, it just hiccups a bit when I make it do too much.

Final Thoughts

Overall, I am very happy with this purchase. I like how it has made my kitchen more functional, improved efficiency and organization of day to day activities. This machine will obviously not do much when it comes to gaming and probably not too much when it comes to generating data. It will, however be used a lot to display information and consume content. Kontact works fantastically well on and is very touch screen friendly. As I have been interacting with it, I have found little “paper cut” issues with the machine using the touch screen. I will be filing bug reports on the little issues I discover to hopefully further improve user experience on KDE Plasma.

This computer was a great purchase and I have a few other tasks in the works for it but that will be for another blathering.

Further Reading

C|Net Review Dell Inspiron 3048 all-in-one

Whirlpool CoolVox

openSUSE Tumbleweed

Crazy Awesome KDE Plasma Desktop Bluetooth Audio on openSUSE

CPU Pentium G3240T 2.7 GHz Benchmark

Telegram on Mobile and openSUSE

Franz | Chat Messaging Unification Application on openSUSE

Falkon Web Browser on openSUSE

Syncthing on openSUSE

Insync, the Google Drive client for Linux

Panasonic CF-19 Toughbook | Touch Panel Calibration

TeamViewer 13 on openSUSE

Multimedia Codecs and VLC Player

Dell Inspiron 20 3048 All-In-One Desktop

Dell Latitude 15 3000, Laptop Screen Replacement

ICanFixIt

Recently, a coworker asked if I could repair their brand new laptop. I get a bit uncomfortable with repairing other people’s things because I worry that I am going to make things worse. All too often when I repair something for myself, it turns into a mess and takes longer to fix and more money than originally estimated. I help my coworker searched Ebay for a suitable replacement. She said she would order the part so long as I would fix it.

I agreed.

Fast forward a week and she, had the screen and asked me if I could install the new screen. In my lack of preparedness, I didn’t read up or search YouTube ahead of time on how to fix it. Luckily, I found this video which was very short and I could skip through to understand the steps.

This laptop is quite possibly the easiest screen repair I have ever done. The bezel removes just by puling it away.

Inspiron 15 3000-02.jpg

This will reveal the four screws needed to unfasten the screen from the lid. I placed the screen against the keyboard and disconnected the the tiny LVDS cable from the panel.

Inspiron 15 3000-04.jpgTo install, reverse the steps… 4 screws, not hard.

After turning it on, I found that I didn’t connect the cable firmly enough. It started out just fine but as it started to boot up, there appeared a vertical line then just this blank gray screen (yeah, not hard).

Inspiron 15 3000-06.jpg

Initially, I had that cold sweat where I was afraid I did something terribly wrong. Without panicking, I took the screen back apart and re-seated the connector, ensuring that it was firmly in place. This time tested that it was indeed functioning before installing the bezel.

Mission accomplished

Inspiron 15 3000-05.png

Lessons Learned

Be prepared before staring a fix-it project, especially for someone else. Have the proper tools and do the research ahead of time. Sure, this on-the-fly fix turned out fine but I have had laptop screen replacements be a giant pain and this could very well have become one. Also, pay close attention to the connector and ensure that it is seated properly and route any cables in the proper pathways in the screen assembly. That will make reassembly much easier

Final Thoughts

This computer is fairly nicely equipped for a basic machine. It has 4 GiB of RAM which is plenty for most users. I did observe that this thing is dreadfully slow in just about every measurable sense. Although brand new, it ran horribly slow. I know that Dell doesn’t just pump out garbage so my guess is it that this is a Windows problem. I will try to convince this coworker they need openSUSE installed. I am quite certain it would run much better.

Reference Links

Dell Inspiron 15 3000 Screen Repair video on YouTube

Dell Latitude 15 3000

Docks and Bays, Accessorizing the Dell Latitude E6440

e6440-01-smI have been using the Dell Latitude E6440 since March of 2017. Since day one, it has been running openSUSE Tumbleweed. Initial production of this laptop was in 2014 and the model was discontinued sometime in 2016. I don’t buy things brand new because I have no need to stay on the “cutting edge” of technology and running Linux substantially extends the life of hardware. Even though it is an older machine, I have to say that the Dell Latitude E6440 is quite possibly the best laptop I have ever used. It really isn’t the best in any one metric of a machine I have used but the cross-section of capabilities and expandability of it makes me appreciate it the most. I will be hard pressed to find something comparable.

It took me 9 years before I replaced my Dell Latitude D630 as my primary machine. I still use the D630 regularly, but it just stays home now in its dock station. From the time I decided that it was time to replace the machine to the moment I committed the cash for a new machine, took me about 18 months. I am slow to make a decision on buying new hardware. I have to really process it out, make sure it is what I want because I am committing to this piece of hardware for a significant period of time.

Serviceability

Inside bottom e6440-02.png

Whatever machine I buy, it has to be serviceable. That means, I need to see screws and the design intent of the manufacturer was that it is mean to be in service for an extended period of time. Since I have been using Dell for quite some time and they tend to be slow to change basic components, like the power supplies, I intended on sticking with the Dell brand and specifically with their Latitude line which is generally certified on some distribution of Linux.

The whole bottom panel of the E6440 removes with only a few screws and leaves everything accessible on the underside of it. Once the panel is off, you have access to the memory and one of the mini-ePCI, one more panel in easily freed up reveals the last two mini-ePCI slots. I am very pleased by how easy it is to work on this machine. I am not sure what I will do with the WWAN labeled slot, maybe nothing, but it’s there.

Inside bottom e6440-02-sm

Dock Station

I like a good computer with a hardy dock station. I realize that this is quickly becoming a thing of the past but a good dock station that I can drop my computer onto that has all the ports on the back that works reliably is a must for me. I like having the dock supply power, access to two other monitors and peripherals all available to me in one simple, quick action. This dock station has worked flawlessly for multiple dock and undock cycles in a single day. The monitors always appear just as they are supposed to and I don’t know if it is a Dell thing or an openSUSE / KDE Plasma thing but this process just works and has worked 100% of the time. I have seen some Thunderbolt docks on Windows 10 work very poorly but it was also not on a Dell.

Dock Station.jpg

My dock station has USB 3, this is not available on all E-Series docks.

Battery

Two options that I know of, a 9-Cell battery and using the dock system, I can add a second 9-cell battery called a “battery slice” which also gives the computer a nice comfortable tilt. The downside, it does make it a bit heavy, especially if you are packing more than one laptop in your bag. Regardless of the added weight, having this capability gives me a very welcome 9 to 10 hours of battery life under low loads. If I am encoding video, that changes things

e6440 Batteries.jpg

Legacy

I do a number of things with older hardware. Just because something has been considered “end of life” by the masses, doesn’t mean that it is obsolete. The most important legacy port, for me, is the serial port, and secondly, the parallel port. PS2 is not as big of a deal but nice to have for testing old hardware. I have a few uses and since I do keep around a lot of old tech, it is handy to have a trusted device for testing the hardware.

Legacy Extender.jpg

3 Drive bays

Can I call them drive bays? Maybe slots? There is an mSATA SSD slot, 2.5″ SSD and I can swap out the optical drive for another 2.5″ mass storage drive. This is very convenient and keeps me from having anything hanging off of the computer when I go mobile. I use the 3rd drive in the caddy for storing my virtual machines. I still use my optical drive because I still buy DVDs. I realize that that this a less common activity for people but I am more than happy to do entertainment this way.

e6440 3rd Drive.jpg

Final Thoughts

There are more powerful, more capable machines that are lighter and newer but this one hits all the reasons I want to drive this one into the ground of uselessness or at least a few more years yet. Heck, maybe longer as the rate of speed increase hasn’t been as dramatic as it has been in the past. Looking at CPUbenchmark.net in the top 10 CPUs available on this site, it is still in the middle of the pack.

This machine really only really lacks one thing and that is a Thunderbolt port. If I could have all these features, plus a thunderbolt port, this computer would be everything I need. Sure, the CPU is a few generations behind and the AMD GPU is not top of the line but for my purposes, it does a fine job. I realize that the traditional dock port is becoming less popular since USB-C / Thunderbolt became a thing. I think it is unfortunate but I largely understand why. For now, I will enjoy my newer yet aging tech and appreciate the capabilities of the E-Series dock system running openSUSE Tumbleweeed nice and reliably.

Related Links

Dell Latitude E6440

Dell Latitude E6440 all on SSDs

Dell Latitude E6440 mSATA Upgrade

openSUSE Tumbleweed on Dell Latitude E6440

Dell Latitude Dock Station

Dell Battery Slice

Dell Legacy Extender

CPUbenchmark.net Intel Core i7-4610M

openSUSE Leap 15.0 Early Adoption Experience

Dell Latitude D830 openSUSE Leap 15.0-sm

I have a “sidekick” machine in my cubicle that has been happily running openSUSE Leap since I started using it. It is a recovered Dell Latitude D830 with an Intel Core 2 Duo T9300 CPU at 2.50 GHz, 4 GiB of RAM and the Nvidia Quatro NVS 140M. It just has a standard hard disk drive for storage. I put this unit back together 3 years ago only expecting to get a year or two of use out of it. Thankfully, the way Linux, and specifically openSUSE rolls the distribution, I have far extended the life of this machine.

Since this hardware is older everything is generally supported out of the box without any tweaking. I have decided, for now, to not use the proprietary drivers and see if Nouveau will work using KDE Plasma and not lock up on me.

Installation

I downloaded the DVD Image (now released as an official version) and used SUSE ImageWriter to write it to a USB. Like virtually every other openSUSE installation, it was pretty uneventful. I did choose to do a “Nuke and pave” for this installation as I wanted to set everything up from scratch. There have been a number of changes in openSUSE since the last static release, namely, the BTRFS subvolume structure, the location of the RPM Database move and SuSEfirewall2  migration to the new firewalld. I also experimented with a number of applications on this system and just wanted to have a fresh start.

Outside of the warning of the usage of Nouveau drivers with KDE Plasma, there as nothing to note on the installation process.

First Run

To start out, I needed to ensure that I covered my bases for my preferences. Since I like to add a little Oxygen Theme into the Breeze Theme I immediately ran this in terminal:

sudo zypper install oxygen5

I also like Konqueror and one of it’s specific features, the File Size View.

 sudo zypper install konqueror konqueror-plugins

Then I added the Multimedia Codecs along with VLC Player.

So far, everything seems to be working just as expected and the Nouveau drivers are holding up. I will continue to use them until I have any issues

Dell Latitude D830 Leap 15.0 20180523.png

One Week Later

I have since updated the machine to the current release version and I am still operating, trouble free. The System seems to be humming away well with the Nouveau drivers. I have tested many things I know would have caused the graphics drivers to bug out and crash X. At this point, there hasn’t been any weirdness whatsoever. The compositor is running just fine without any glitching. I have been using this machine in the same mannor as I had previously used it under openSUSE Leap 42.3 with the propriatary Nvidia drivers. Should I have an issue, I will see if the propriatary drivers fix it.

What I Like

After installing the necessary packages, all of my system settings were just as I wanted them to be. I didn’t have to fiddle around with any settings. KDE Plasma 5.12 is the Long Term Support version of the Environment and I know that from my expeirience with the transition to 5.12, it is more memory efficient than previous versions. In only one week, I haven’t run into any issues where Swap Space was needed. In monitoring the memory usage, I fluctuated between 2.8 GiB to 3.4 GiB in usage with Firefox being biggest memory hog. This has prompted me to start playing around with the Falkon web browser which I downloaded here. So far so good but I need more time to use and play with it before I can say more.

What I don’t Like

So far, I haven’t found any issues, but it has only been a week that I have been using it. Maybe, I could say, I don’t like that openSUSE doesn’t have wider adoption as it is technically very sound and very stable. I am hoping with the release of openSUSE Leap 15.0 that it will reach a wider audience.

Conclusion

openSUSE Leap 15.0 has been polished up very nicely. It it very much an incramental improvement over 42.3. The software selection meets my needs and if the software you want is not in the official repository, there is likely a repository available on the Open Build Service.

Since most of my systems are pretty low-end, I have them generally set up for specific purposes. Although I can happily run openSUSE the way I want with 2 GiB of RAM, I have come to the conclusion that in order to have a real positive experience, you need to have at least 4 GiB of RAM.

This Dell Latitude D830 is now 11 years old. It is far past it’s end of life but thanks to the all the fine engineers involved from kernel development, the applicaitons all the way to package maintainers and testers, this computer still remains very useful and not quite obsolete. I am impressed with the stability open source Nouveau graphics drivers which gives me a lot of confidence that as Nvidia abaondons the older hardware, I have options. I just may get several more years out of this machine.

Further Reading

openSUSE Leap Download

SUSE Imagewriter

Falkon Web Browser

Falkon Web Browser Download for openSUSE

Multimedia Codecs along with VLC Player

KDE Breeze Theme with Oxygen Enhancements

Dell Latitude E6440 all on SSDs

e6440-01-sm

I have wanted to upgrade the 500 GB SSHD hybrid drive in my Dell Latitude E6440 since I purchased it but i just wasn’t prepared to spend the asking dollars for a new SSD. The only adequate solution I determined reasonable was to go with a used SSD and just accept the risk that goes with used.

After much searching and bidding, I purchased a Micron M500 with 960GB SSD which ends up being 894GiB of storage. When it comes to SSDs this is NOT, by any stretch, considered top of the line. Here are the specs that many seem to be fixated.

  • Sequential 128KB READ: Up to 500 MB/s
  • Sequential 128KB WRITE: Up to 400 MB/s
  • Random 4KB READ: Up to 80,000 IOPS
  • Random 4KB WRITE: Up to 80,000 IOPS
  • READ/WRITE latency: 5ms/25ms (MAX)

Not the most performant drive but certainly much faster than the SSHD that I was using. If you are interested, here are the full specifications from Micron on this line of drives.

Since I already put the root and swap file system on a 128 GB mSATA SSD with very positive results, I was encouraged about how this upgrade was going to go. I could expect better performance with less power usage.

s-l1600

In preparation for upgrading, I did what any reasonably prudent, Linux using, data conscious, user would do. I backed up the contents of my home directory, well, another snapshot using Back In Time.

Performing the Modification

The great thing about every Dell Latitude I have ever owned is the ease of serviceability of the machines. No crazy tools are needed or long list of instructions to perform a simple modification. Just a small Phillips screw driver.

IMG_20180512_081253811.jpg

Two screws and the drive can be removed from it’s bay. The drive is held in place by these isolation rubber rails and a caddy cover. I appreciate this design, it is easily assembled, the rails have a nice, snug interference fit, and the caddy cover is held in place with a clip and screw.

SSD drive assembly

Troubles I Had

I am not sure what I did wrong but I couldn’t get the system to not look for the, to-be-replaced SSHD. I tried unmounting the drive before a reboot but still, it would continue to wait for the drive. The system would get stuck looking for the old drive and fsck didn’t correct the issue. I became impatient so I just decided to do a complete re-installation of the openSUSE Tumblweed, because I was too lazy to keep searching for a solution. There is probably a great simple solution that just escaped me.

Restoring the Data

There was a bit of a struggle in understanding how to restore the data from Back In Time into my home directory but once it was done, everything was back to normal. It took a bit longer than I expected but everything restored, all the files and settings. Like it never even happened…

A quick check of the SMART monitoring tools:

smartctl -a /dev/sda

=== START OF INFORMATION SECTION ===
Model Family: Crucial/Micron MX1/2/300, M5/600, 1100 Client SSDs
Device Model: Micron_M500_MTFDDAK960MAV
Firmware Version: MU05
User Capacity: 960,197,124,096 bytes [960 GB]
Sector Sizes: 512 bytes logical, 4096 bytes physical
Rotation Rate: Solid State Device
Form Factor: 2.5 inches
Device is: In smartctl database [for details use: -P show]
ATA Version is: ACS-2, ATA8-ACS T13/1699-D revision 6
SATA Version is: SATA 3.1, 6.0 Gb/s (current: 6.0 Gb/s)
Local Time is: Mon May 21 10:10:56 2018 EDT
SMART support is: Available – device has SMART capability.
SMART support is: Enabled

=== START OF READ SMART DATA SECTION ===
SMART overall-health self-assessment test result: PASSED

My favorite line is the last one that says the test result: “PASSED.”

Experience

I am running openSUSE Tumbleweed with KDE Plasma as my desktop environment. The aAverage energy consumption before the upgrade, using the SSHD plus the mSATA drive was 21 watts; under similar loads with the mSATA and the 2.5″ SSD, I am consuming about 17 watts. These numbers, are of course, just estimates at approximate similar loads. It is not a very well controlled power study. Between the two drives I now have a total of 945 GiB of storage available; the most I have had on a laptop.

Opening up Steam is much quicker than before. Starting a game does indeed load a lot quicker than it did on the SSHD. I didn’t take any before and after benchmarks but there is most certainly the feeling of increased speed in everything. The computer was no slouch before but now there is an increased sharpness in using it.

The computer is oddly quite with only the fan left as a moving part. However, the only time I notice there is a fan is when my hand goes past he vent and I can feel a little warmth coming from it. Logging in isn’t quite instantaneous, I do have to wait a few moments but I blame much of that on the fact I heavily use the Akonadi storage service for personal information management. I have more information than most people likely save but suffice to say, the machine starts very quickly.

I didn’t take any external thermal readings from the computer before the upgrade but it feels like the thing does operate a bit cooler. It is only an impression.

Final Thoughts

This Dell Latitude E6440 seems to have an extra boost of speed, as to be expected. What I didn’t expect was how much I notice the censorial changes of using this laptop now. I have used other solid state only machines before and didn’t think much of them. Perhaps their less than stellar keyboards out weighed the silence of their operation or possible that I use this machine more than most. Regardless, I appreciate the change.

Was the upgrade worth the price I paid for the drive? So far, yes, very much, indeed it was worth it, but as I did buy it used, and although it passed the health self-assessment, I don’t really know how long it is actually going to last. For now, it’s pretty great and I don’t think I would want to go back to “spinning rust” for storage.

External Links

Micron M500 Specs

Back In Time

128 GB mSATA SSD

My Dell Latitude E6440