Panasonic CF-19 Toughbook | Touch Panel Calibration

panasonic-cf-19-toughbook

I don’t have loads of experience with using a touch screen interfaces on Linux but every setup to date has not required any fiddling around in any of the configuration files for proper operation. Thankfully, the folks at Panasonic made the CF-19 with some one-off technology to offer me that experience of understanding how to tweak and configure the touch panel interface.

The Problem

Everything about this machine configured perfectly from the openSUSE installer. Not a single component required extra prodding to use. Even the touch panel was recognized and somewhat usable, however the further away from the center of the screen you would touch, the further off the pointer was from where you touched.

Calibration Attempt One

Doing some searching on the webs, I came upon this tool called xinput_calibrator that creates a set of rules in xorg.conf.d folder (/etc/X11/xorg.conf.d/). It was a such a straight forward approach that I was sure it would work. Running it displays a screen with 4 cross-hair points of which you use the stylus to touch each of them. When it completes, you have a nice little configuration file to drop into xorg.conf.d. Unfortunately, it didn’t work at all.

Calibration Attempt Two

This method was not as easily understood or accomplished and brought with it a good share of trial and error.

First, I needed to find the input name of the touch panel. This was accomplished in my favorite terminal, Konsole:

> xinput list

⎡ Virtual core pointer id=2 [master pointer (3)]
⎜ ↳ Virtual core XTEST pointer id=4 [slave pointer (2)]
⎜ ↳ Fujitsu Component USB Touch Panel id=9 [slave pointer (2)]
⎜ ↳ ImPS/2 Generic Wheel Mouse id=11 [slave pointer (2)]
⎣ Virtual core keyboard id=3 [master keyboard (2)]
↳ Virtual core XTEST keyboard id=5 [slave keyboard (3)]
↳ Power Button id=6 [slave keyboard (3)]
↳ Video Bus id=7 [slave keyboard (3)]
↳ Power Button id=8 [slave keyboard (3)]
↳ AT Translated Set 2 keyboard id=10 [slave keyboard (3)]
↳ Panasonic Laptop Support id=12 [slave keyboard (3)]

Now that I identified that the touch panel was identified, I needed to find further information about the touch panel itself

> xinput list-props “Fujitsu Component USB Touch Panel”

Device ‘Fujitsu Component USB Touch Panel’:
Device Enabled (143): 1
Coordinate Transformation Matrix (145): 1.000000, 0.000000, 0.000000, 0.000000, 1.000000, 0.000000, 0.000000, 0.000000, 1.000000
libinput Natural Scrolling Enabled (280): 0
libinput Natural Scrolling Enabled Default (281): 0
libinput Calibration Matrix (282): 1.000000, 0.000000, 0.000000, 0.000000, 1.000000, 0.000000, 0.000000, 0.000000, 1.000000
libinput Calibration Matrix Default (283): 1.000000, 0.000000, 0.000000, 0.000000, 1.000000, 0.000000, 0.000000, 0.000000, 1.000000
libinput Left Handed Enabled (284): 0
libinput Left Handed Enabled Default (285): 0
libinput Middle Emulation Enabled (286): 0
libinput Middle Emulation Enabled Default (287): 0
libinput Send Events Modes Available (263): 1, 0
libinput Send Events Mode Enabled (264): 0, 0
libinput Send Events Mode Enabled Default (265): 0, 0
Device Node (266): “/dev/input/event6”
Device Product ID (267): 1072, 1282
libinput Drag Lock Buttons (288): <no items>
libinput Horizontal Scroll Enabled (289): 1

I had to modify the line containing the Coordinate Transformation Matrix:

Coordinate Transformation Matrix (145): 1.000000, 0.000000, 0.000000, 0.000000, 1.000000, 0.000000, 0.000000, 0.000000, 1.000000

Some of those comma separated values corresponded to specific properties of the panel matrix. What I learned about those nine numbers that seem to matter:

Touch_area_width, 0, touch_x_offset, 0, touch_area_height, touch_y_offset, 0, 0, 1

I used some trial and error to get this to line up correctly. The best way I knew how to accomplish it was to concentrate on one axis at a time. First adjust the offset and then the width or height.

This is what I ended up with:

1.115, 0, -0.073, 0, 1.14, -0.04, 0, 0, 1

Using nano, I created a little script and called it fujitsu_touch_panel.sh

#!/bin/sh

# Coordinate touch panel to screen

xinput set-prop “Fujitsu Component USB Touch Panel” –type=float “Coordinate Transformation Matrix” 1.115 0 -0.073 0 1.14 -0.04 0 0 1

Saved it and made it executable:

chmod +x ~/bin/fujitsu_touch_panel.sh

Then I moved it to the root directory in a location that seems to make sense… to me:

sudo cp ~/bin/fujitsu_touch_panel.sh /usr/local/bin

I tried several things to get this script to start as soon as the login screen manager, SDDM, started but that was without success. I was advised to try this location: /usr/share/sddm/scripts/. I tired several things, all didn’t work. Perhaps it just may work for someone else and if they are successful, I would be more than happy to edit this post with a better way. Feel free to comment below or contact me.

What I ended up doing was to add a script on startup of KDE Plasma.

System Settings > Startup and Shutdown > Autostart

Select Add Script… and entered the location of the script:

/usr/local/bin/fujitsu_touch_panel.sh

Screenshot_20180422_093443Next, I needed an onscreen keyboard to use. Not that I am a fan of those, as I think they are all terrible, I needed one just to be functional.

sudo zypper in kvkbd

I had to change the color scheme to Dark, because the default was not to my liking, nor was it usable.

Screenshot_20180422_093912.png

It is kind of fun putting this computer into tablet mode and poking around on it with the stylus and also makes me think about how nice KDE Plasma works with a touch interface. It certainly would have been much more fun to play with this if it were a multi-touch interface instead but still, fun and very usable. I certainly prefer a real keyboard but I see the value of this setup.

Final Thoughts

This is a fine little machine that is great for taking to less hospitable (to electronics) type of environments. The keyboard is just a bit cramped for my liking and the touchpad is a bit on the small side. The touch screen, once properly calibrated works wonderfully and even better with a stylus. I will find out this year how well they hold up in a “field” type environment and perhaps blather about that experience.

This is yet another fine case of where openSUSE just works on hardware with very little fussing about. Aside from the touch panel calibration, everything else about this machine works perfectly.

External Links

https://wiki.archlinux.org/index.php/Calibrating_Touchscreen

https://wiki.archlinux.org/index.php/Touchscreen

https://forums.opensuse.org/showthread.php/429517-Can-t-calibrate-touchscreen

HP TouchPad in 2018

HP_TouchPad_Title.png

I purchased two HP TouchPads a few years ago when they were fairly inexpensive. I wanted a larger tablet that wasn’t built cheaply. They worked great for a while but started to act up. I used them less and less until they just stopped working all together. I put them on a shelf and forgot about the for quite a while.

A buddy of mine who is still seemingly a huge fan of the HP TouchPad diagnosed that one had a main board and battery failure while the other just a battery failure. I put them back on the shelf and that is where they sat, once again. He followed up with me wondering if I bought a battery yet (keeping me accountable) to which I did not. He told me he had an extra battery and dropped it off along with the needed tools to disassemble and make the repair.

HP_TouchPad-01The guide I looked at made it seem like it would be easy to take the tablet apart, just work your way along the sides, as described and carefully separate the two halves. What seemed to be missing from the article was that you have to shim the screen from the backing to keep it from clipping itself back shut again.

Once the tablet was apart, I disconnected the halves and started the process of removing more pieces until I could get the battery out. I only ended up taking out 3 of the internal components.

Upon removing the HP_TouchPad-02.jpgUSB board, I noticed that one of the wires for the little vibrator motor had somehow broken free from the board. A fine explanation for why this unit didn’t have haptic feedback. Thankfully, my soldiering skills were adequate enough to correct the issue.

HP_TouchPad-04

There were only 4 screws retained the battery and it should be noted that once the screws have been removed, the battery will not come out easily as it is also adhered to the device. Very careful and slow removal of the battery was warranted as I learned my lesson about removing a lithium polymer battery years ago on another project. I didn’t want to rupture the sells and have a little fire or at least lots of heat and smoke.

Once I freed the battery from the case, I noticed that I could take a shortcut and remove the battery without disassembling all of the components as outlined in the guide. I freed the battery from it’s compartment, set it aside, took the new battery and using a flat tipped screwdriver, was able to insert the connector of the new battery into the board and fasten it to the tablet body.  I effectively skipped the last 15 steps of the guide I used and reassembled it.

Success… but it didn’t turn on.

I figured that the thing needed to be charged so I let it charge overnight. It still didn’t turn on and I felt obligated to let my buddy know that this TouchPad is dead and asked if he wanted the battery back. Then, he asked if I did the hard reboot, hold power and volume down for 30 seconds.

HP_TouchPad-06-Boot Loader.jpg

I did just that and immediately it went to the ClockworkMod boot loader menu. I selected the CyanogenMod image already installed on this TouchPad and I was very pleased to see that it was fully functional.

Since I wasn’t going to leave this with a 2 year old version of Android on it, I began my search for an updated ROM. There are several options out there and some of the newer versions of Android seem to have Bluetooth or camera issues. I didn’t want to have any hardware issues so I ended up going with this version here. Everything works but it is an older version of Android with security patch updates.

 

Another requirement I made is that I wanted to ensure that there were no Google Services on this tablet as I didn’t want to weigh it down with all the data scraping and mining services. All I want from this tablet is to do causal web browsing, reading ebook and PDF documents so there is no need to install the Gapps package. I also wanted to see how useful a simple de-Googled tablet would be.

F-Droid-siteSince I did want to have access to applications on this device, I installed F-Droid. F-Droid is similar to the Play Store, an available catalog of FOSS (Free and Open Source Software) Android applications. Most of the applications I want to run are available there and anything else it is possible for me to sideload or install using Yalp.

The applications I installed:

  • KDE Connect
  • Telegram
  • Syncthing
  • Fennec F-Droid, a Mozilla based web browser
  • Barcode Scanner
  • Book Reader
  • Yalp, allows you to download apps directly from Google Play Store as apk files.

Installed Using Yalp:

  • Discord
  • ASTRO File Manager

HP_TouchPad-05-apps

Modifications to improve my usage experience

I turned off the KDE Connect Telegram Notification. Not because I don’t like Telegram but because I don’t want multiple notifications on my Desktop Linux machine for the same message.

To do so, withing the KDE Connect Application on the paired device Menu > Plugin settings > Notification sync configure button, scrolled down to Telegram and uncheck it.

HP_TouchPad-07

Next, I made the KDE Connect Keyboard an input option by going into System Settings > Language & Input and checked KDE Connect Remote Keyboard

HP_TouchPad-08-Input

I set up a folder on the Tablet called Sync and using Syncthing have it tied to two of my openSUSE desktop Linux machines. It is an easy and efficient drag and drop method of putting files on the tablet instead of using KDE Connect. I figure, more options are better than fewer options for sharing data.

HP_TouchPad-10-syncthing.png

Using Dolphin in KDE Plasma to drag and drop files right on the HP TouchPad file system is such a fantastic feature. This, combined with having a folder that I can use to sync between all my systems and a shared clipboard gives me the truly practical form of desktop/mobile convergence.

HP_TouchPad-11-file manager

What I like

HP_TouchPad-09The size of this tablet is perfect for how I intend on using it. I can check things, look up things, and use it for accessing references in either PDF, ebook or my favorite resource, the openSUSE Wiki. To copy and paste from the tablet is made super easy, thanks to KDE Conenct. Copy on the tablet, paste on the Desktop. This tablet has such a nice weight and feel about and the protective folio-style case is great. I have all the functions and features I need to do what I set out with this 2011 built tablet. Sure, it is old and well past a tablet end of life but it is fast, very snappy and responsive.

What I Don’t Like

I have an outdated version of Android but with the security patches back-ported though, I do like the dark look of the older Android UI, so lets call this point a wash. The downside is, it doesn’t allow for certain newer KDE Connect features as noted here by one of the developers.

I also may have done something to disconnect the internal speakers as I don’t hear sound unless I plug into the headphone jack or Bluetooth speaker. I am not really using this for multimedia and the workaround is satisfactory.

I am not a fan of the rear facing only camera on the tablet. It also distorts the image during the “live view” but the picture itself has the proper aspect ratio. Unless if I want too take some awkward selfies, I don’t see this as a terrible issue.

Final Thoughts

I am very glad to have a working HP TouchPad once again. Is it indeed limited but I am not using it like a brand new tablet, I am using it closer to how a tablet was used 7 years ago. I am also not using this tablet like I would a proper computer as that would require a keyboard and mouse and once I have added those items, I may as well use a laptop. This fantastic little device does just what I want it to do, superbly.

Using KDE Connect and Syncthing, I can have the proper mobile/desktop convergence with my openSUSE Linux desktops in a highly practical manner anywhere I go, without the need for a third party service.

I am not sure what I will do with the other tablet now. This one is just so great, I might have to get the other one working just to keep in my cubicle. Would I recommend this tablet to someone else? For most people, probably not, unless they like to noodle around with technology.  Was it worth taking the time to fix it? Also, probably not but the satisfaction for me out of making this older yet perfectly usable hardware functional once again makes it more than worth the time and effort.

Further Reading, useful links and such

I Fix It Guide for the HP TouchPad

Tenderloin Android ROM I have installed on my HP Touchpad

openSUSE Wiki

KDE Connect Developer Nico’s Blog Post

KDE Connect Community Site

Wii U Pro Controller on openSUSE Linux

e6440-WiiU-Pro-Controller.pngI don’t do much serious gaming on Linux but I do like to play the occasional Steam or older games in an emulator. I have historically liked the PS3 controllers in Linux. There is nothing you have to do to get it to work. Plug the dongle in a USB, pop in some batteries and away you go.

The Wii U is now a deprecated gaming console, which makes me much more interested in it. I have had one for a little while but the Gamepad digitizer has been broken for some time. I originally set out to fix the game pad but the issue with some of the buttons not working along with the digitizer, it had me thinking I should just replace the whole thing so I can start using the console. On the hunt for the replacement Gamepad, I also acquired a couple of these Wii U Pro Controllers. I wanted these in order to play this “New Super Mario Wii U” game and compare it against my favorite of the franchise. I think putting “New” in the title is a bit silly because it isn’t new now.

Upon holding the Wii U Pro Controller in my hand, it felts so good… almost perfect for my somewhat long and gangly fingers. I wanted to try out these Wii U pro Controllers on Linux, play some Steam games but fully expecting the process to be a headache; you know, because Nintendo. I made the assumption that I would have to install xwiimote to get it to work but upon reading and some further understanding of all the work some incredibly smart people have done, I only need that for the Wii Remotes. The machine I tested this on is running openSUSE Tumblweed Kernel 4.16.0 and it is my understanding that the wiimote kernel drivers have been in place since 3.1.

Setting up the Wii U Pro Controller

Screenshot_20180402_122527Nintendo chose to use Bluetooth technology in the Wii and Wii U so I started off by Pressed the Sync button on the controller and it showed when selecting Add Device on the KDE Plasma Bluetooth configuration tool. It connected, the lights stopped flashing on the controller with one solid light glowing. I checked the capabilities of the controller, to see that it was usable, in the System Settings > Input Devices > Joystick. It was just as I would expect from any other controller I own.

I opened terminal to see the kernel messages concerning this device by running: dmesg

[86905.904160] wiimote 0005:057E:0330.000B: hidraw1: BLUETOOTH HID v0.01 Gamepad [Nintendo RVL-CNT-01-UC] on 80:00:0b:82:a8:1f
[86905.904169] wiimote 0005:057E:0330.000B: New device registered
[86905.981821] wiimote 0005:057E:0330.000B: detected device: Nintendo Wii U Pro Controller
[86906.011799] wiimote 0005:057E:0330.000B: detected extension: Nintendo Wii U Pro Controller
[86906.011889] input: Nintendo Wii Remote Pro Controller as /devices/pci0000:00/0000:00:1d.0/usb2/2-1/2-1.5/2-1.5:1.0/bluetooth/hci0/hci0:34/0005:057E:0330.000B/input/input33

Now I was excited.

I opened up Steam and started the game, “River City Ransom: Underground”, completely bypassing any of the configure input device to see what would happen. To my shock and blissful amazement, everything worked as expected. I hopped out of the game to see the controller settings and it was recognized it as a Wii U controller.

Detected Controller Wii U

I also checked out this “Desktop Configuration” setup with Steam. As long as Steam is running, I can use this Wii U controller to as an input device for controlling my Linux Desktop. I like this particular interface because I can define what each button does. This is a feature that KDE Plasma doesn’t seem to have built in and I don’t want to create an Xorg configuration for this either.

Desktop Configuration

This truly is a lot of fun to play with. Sure, it is probably just a novelty for now but I am thinking that I might want to make this a controller for my living room media machine along with the wireless keyboard/touchpad device as that is almost overkill when you just want to browse and watch some Netflix.

Final Thoughts

I really was expecting to do so more to do to get this working. On one hand I am very pleased on how easy it was to get working. On the other had I am a bit disappointed as I expected a bit of a project out of this and I was going to make the whole process “easy” and simple in a short write up. Instead, I get to tell you that the Wii U Pro Controller works great in Linux and is a great choice for modern (what little I do) and retro gaming. Best of all, no USB dongles to worry about losing!

External Links

XWiimote open-source Linux device driver for Nintendo Wii / Wii U Remotes

Wii U Pro Controller

openSUSE Linux on a Lenovo ideapad 110S Laptop

Lenovo 110S Transparent Title.pngI have a Chromebook that I have been using for causal browsing and occasional writing but the problem with ChromeOS is that is is so limited and restrictive. I installed Crouton to get a more genuine Linux experience out of it but the performance was a bit lack luster and frankly, the keyboard layout on Chromebooks is terrible. Why Google decided on such a design is beyond me. Delete, Page Up, Page Down, Home and End are nowhere to be found. When the Chroot environment is working, it’s fine but it is an Ubuntu based environment and I didn’t like the limitations that came with it. All this has lead me into the desire to get a simple, low cost but reasonably capable machine of which I would have more control. Since I have perfectly fine working netbooks, albeit a bit long in the tooth, I had no real strong demand for anything new. So, I waited for something to present itself, and it did.

I walked into Best Buy on a whim, I had some time and thought I would just see what they had available. There were several acceptable, low end machines machines between the $150 to $200 range. Specifically, a Dell that was real tempting, as it had better specifications than I really needed for my purposes but had a nice keyboard (for the price). I just wasn’t prepared to spend $200 on something I didn’t NEED. I asked the nice folks there if they had any small Nuk like computers so we walked over to the “Geek Squad” area to the returns cage (the place they keep the bad computers?) where there were a couple out of box laptops. Some where display models of discontinued models that had been re-baselined to be sold. One was marked “$86” and I was VERY interested. I asked the employee if I could just type on it, you know, to see how the thing types, as that is what I plan to do with it… type… things… He said it was against policy to power it on but they had an identical machine behind the counter running Ubuntu on it. It booted up, albeit rather slowly but the screen looked good and if Ubuntu runs on it, openSUSE would certainly run on it. The keyboard wasn’t spectacular but typed well enough to be in my “acceptable” range.

I was sold.

Lenovo 110S Scary Message-transparent
Scary Windows message

When I got the machine home, I wanted to run Windows 10. You know, see what I had been missing out on. I did a series of updates, started browsing the web with the Edge Browser, played in the control panel and so forth. I also had the opportunity to test out the Microsoft store and install a few things. Unfortunately, nothing I wanted would install. I could also only effectively do one thing at a time and it ran all herky-jerky. It was not an enjoyable experience at all, but what can you expect from an $86, discontinued computer. I would say that this laptop was not the right machine to show off what Windows 10 has to offer… But how would it run openSUSE Linux?

Specifications of this machine:
– Intel Celeron CPU N3060 @ 1.60 GHZ
– 2 GiB RAM with 1.81 GiB Available
– 32 GB SSD which ends up being 28.5 GiB
– 11.6″ – 1366 x 769 screen
– HDMI video out
– 1x USB 3
– 2x USB 2
– Micro SSD slot
– 1x 3.5mm Analog input/output

Recommended System Requirements for openSUSE:
– 2 Ghz dual core processor or better
– 2 GB system memory
– Over 40GB of free hard drive space
– Either a DVD drive or USB port for the installation media
– Internet access is helpful, and required for the Network Installer

This laptop meets 4 out of 5 requirements.

Regardless, I decided to go with openSUSE Tumbleweed as my distribution of choice for this machine and because this is not a “mission critical” machine, I also decided to play it just a bit more risky and went with the defaults of BTRFS on root and XFS on /home. Based on some discussion in the openSUSE IRC, I should use ext4 to be safe… but what fun is that. I’ll use the safe recommendations on machines I set up for other people.

Installation

To start, I accessed the Bios by pressing F2 rapidly as it started up from a cold boot. I left the machine on EFI and Secure boot. I modified the boot parameters to boot from USB
first, save and exit then completed the install process with all the defaults with KDE Plasma.

Here is the default drive layout set up by the installer:

/dev/mmcblk0p1 256M /boot/efi
/dev/mmcblk0p2 16G /
/dev/mmcblk0p3 11G /home
/dev/mmcb1k0p4 2G swap

After installation, I added a few additional packages and applications to enhance my experience: Oxygen5 (for the window decoration), Telegram Desktop, Insync (Google Drive synchronization) and Synergy. Outside of one X crash that seemingly happened out of nowhere (while writing this using Nano), I have had no issues with this machine. I want to see if I have issues with BTRFS snapshot with limited memory as I was warned about it and should I have problems or should I be problem free for an extended period of time, I will let it be noted on this review at a later date.

What can you do with an $86 laptop

More than you might expect. Since I am running KDE, which is fairly lightweight, I have a lot of memory left over with which to work. Under Windows 10, after it settled from booting up, I had about 240MB available of physical memory to do work. Nothing ran smooth, except for the menu button, that fancy Windows 10 menu popped up quite nicely and is, frankly, very pretty and fun looking. I would find it terribly annoying after a while. On KDE Plasma 5.12 with openSUSE Tumbleweed, before I installed my extras, I had about 1,458 MiB of physical memory available, according to KinfoCenter. It fluctuates a bit when it just sits so that is an approximation.

I use the default choice of Firefox for the browser as I am sure that this machine cannot handle the Chrome bloat. Watching local and streaming media is without any issue though, when streaming Netflix, the machine does dip fairly significantly into the SWAP partition. It’s nice to know this machine can handle Netflix tho that is not the reason I bought it. Running any native Linux application doesn’t seem to really tax this machine. Where I do seem to have issue is when running any multimedia heavy web site. Hopefully, browsers do indeed become more memory efficient as to make this better in the future (not holding my breath). My only real criticism of this machine is the amount of RAM. If it only had 4GB of RAM, it really could have been a great laptop for just about anyone.

Build Quality

I like how this machine is put together. It it is light but has a heavy enough of a feel that gives the impression of being sturdy and of decent quality. The keyboard doesn’t flex
under my typing and is most certainly rigid enough. The Screen articulates a full 180 degrees and doesn’t have that cheap creek or pop sound you would expect on a lower end machine. The The ports all feel like they will hold up when peripherals are inserted. The case is made of some sort of high durometer rubbery plastic that feels sturdy. I really cannot complain at all on the build quality.

Lenovo ideapad 110S_guts
Unused Mini-PCIe

It is easy to disassemble 11 screws and a few clips hold the bottom cover in place. Not much you can do under the hood. It appears that the onboard SSD is a soldered component but there appears to be what looks like an unused mini-PCIe slot. I may investigate that some other time.

The keyboard meets my needs. It is not as nice as my Dell Latitude E6440 or my Latitude D630 laptops but this will do well enough. I have experienced much worse keyboards on higher end machines so I am calling the keyboard a win. The only thing I don’t really care for is the function key row. Instead of F1 actually being F1, it actually mutes the sound. I have to hit Fn + F1 to get F1. I am sure that there is a Bios switch for it but I haven’t taken the time to look. This is only an annoyance. I am glad that F5 is refresh, regardless if you are pressing Fn.

The touchpad has two physical buttons which is a huge win. Ideally, having three physical buttons is best but having none makes for an unacceptable setup and I consider button-less touch pads utter garbage. The caps lock has an LED indicator. I can’t tell you how many times I have used laptops that only have on-screen software indicators… terrible…

Lenovo ideapad 110S 180The screen is very acceptable. Not as high resolution as I would like but how many dots do you really need? For my purposes, it is perfectly acceptable. I can see text very well in the terminal. The screen hing articulates 180°, which can be handy.

Final Thoughts

opensuse-logo2No buyer’s remorse here, I’m glad I bought it. It has almost become a daily drive for me as the thing is light and small. I can take it on the couch without worry of it falling or being inadvertently crushed by one of my kids. It doesn’t have a fan or even vents on the underside so the airflow requirements are evidently not very stringent.  The fact I can go 6 to 8 hours on this machine is fantastic.

After running this machine on with BTRFS on root, I did end up having issues with the snapshots filling up the root partition. I don’t want to do snapshot maintenance on this rather small machine so I ended up using XFS for root as well as /home. The automated openQA hasn’t pushed any updates that have killed any of my Tumbleweed machines so I am comfortable with XFS as root. One might say I should run Leap instead but I just like rolling release model very much.n

Putting openSUSE Linux on this machine made it very usable and I can’t help but think how great it is that Linux gives under-powered hardware a great lease of extended life. I would recommend this machine with openSUSE Linux on it to anyone that needs a simple Chromebook-like ++ machine.

External Links

Lenovo ideapad 110S Review

 

KDE Plasma 5.12 on a Dell Latitude 2120

2120-transparent.pngYou will often hear or read about how great a new release of KDE Plasma or MATE is on a new piece of hardware but rarely will you read about how it is on older hardware. I have had this Dell Latitude 2120, a 7 year old Netbook that I continue to use for a specific purpose. I have chosen to run openSUSE Tumbleweed because I like the new shiny it offers, the upgrades just don’t break my machines, I won’t have to bother with reinstalling, it is not a “heavy weight” distribution and is extremely easy to manage from the terminal.

This is my experience using KDE Plasma 5.12 on a Dell Latitude 2120. It has an Intel Atom N455 Processor, 2 GB of RAM, screen is an impressive 1024×600 resolution and the built in Intel GPU (Renderer: Mesa DRI Intel Pineview M). I don’t expect much from it, but I don’t need much from it.

What do you do with a 7 year old Netbook running an Atom Processor?

This computer isn’t used for much, actually. I have a few specific purposes of which it does a fine job. All of which don’t require much of the machine as the majority of it are native Linux applications. Desktop, VLC with the needed Multimedia Codecs to watch local media, and Syncthing-gtk. I use this computer primarily for the assistance of educating my kids through locally stored multimedia files, audio, video or images. Due to the semi-rugged nature of this machine, I can toss this machine in my kids bag and not worry about it much.

2120-8bitGuy.jpg

Should I need to do some browsing, I have just left this system with its openSUSE default of Firefox. I can watch YouTube with it fairly well. To test this, I went to the 8-Bit Guy’s YouTube channel and watched his latest video on The C64 Mini, a modern remake of the Commodore 64. There is no annoying jittering or lagging. The sound is loud and clear enough on this machine as well.

The other web pages I visit loaded fast enough but I didn’t test this against any pages that are advertising heavy. It was all very usable and trouble free. CubicleNate.com loaded fast enough as well as software.opensuse.org. I also didn’t open too many tabs as after 4 or 5 tabs it started to use some Swap space.

2120-TuxRacer.jpgI also tested a Classic Linux Game, Extreme Tux Racer. I find that my kids enjoy this game from time to time and it keeps them engaged for a bit. This Latitude 2120 played it smooth as butter. No complaints, whatsoever! I was actually quite impressed but as I thought about it. It ran great, 14-ish years ago on Pentium 4 hardware so I should have expected it to run well.

Some statistics

I often think that many statistics are kind of dumb. Sure, I do enjoy reading them but often, I could care less about a fraction of a second difference. The real question is going to be: Is it so slow that I am annoyed using it. And, for the specified tasks of which I am asking this “long in the tooth” machine to perform, it does well enough.

At the time of this writing, this machine is running Kernel 4.15.13, the latest from Tumbleweed. Also note, Syncthing-gtk launches at startup, which requires more libraries to be loaded.

Cold boot to usable desktop time

Starting from the GRUB menu to the settled desktop: 2:24.9

I realize this seems rather slow, especially compared to my Dell Latitude E6440. Perhaps replacing the traditional Hard Drive to an SSD might be worth it just to run these tests once again and see how much of a difference it makes.

Memory usage

Measured after the settled desktop with no applications running (except Syncthing-gtk): 1.2GB out of 1.9GB available

Taken from terminal by running: free -h

Dolphin

Started from the menu to settled: 4.48 sec

Konsole

Started from menu to settled: 2.94 sec

Playing the media on VLC

Settled to ready for VLC: 3.2 sec

Starting VLC from Dolphin by selecting 12 small media files I use for “memory work” with my kids’ education: 7.9 sec

Starting Firefox

From click to settled: 24.2 sec

GlxGears

To test the video card, and I realize this is NOT the best test but it is just a test for fun: 60.235 frames per second

Resume from Suspend

From the time I hit the power button to when I can input the password: 6.1 sec

Conclusion

Is this machine at end of life? Yes, but more accurately, past end of life which makes it perfectly suited for how I am using it. Overall, it performs satisfactory. I can’t complain much for something for which I only paid $40. Unless this machines completely dies or there is some unforeseen change in architecture support, I will continue to employ this machine. It does everything I need it to do. I am grateful for all the work of the developers, packagers and the related organizations like openSUSE and KDE for allowing this old technology to continue to be useful. It is great to see that just because something is old, doesn’t make it obsolete.

External Links

openSUSE Tumbleweed – The operating system running on this machine

KDE Plasma – The chosen desktop environment

Dell Latitude 2120 Review from CNET

Dell Latitude E6440 mSATA Upgrade

When I purchased my Dell Latitude E6440, almost a year ago, I planned on doing some upgrades to it, post-purchase, no real timetable on when to do the upgrades, just eventually. My first real upgrade was maxing out the RAM to 16GB. My next purchase was to take advantage of this mSATA slot in this computer and move my root and swap partitions to it.

The computer came with a 512 GB SSHD. Some people have mixed opinions of the SSHD, I haven’t had any issues with them and do appreciate the increase in speed from the traditional “spinning rust” only drive. I wasn’t sure if there would be any special configurations required in running an SSD verses a regular hard drive and from what I could find as well as talking to some folks on IRC and Telegram, there wasn’t anything I really had to do.

I found on Amazon.com a 128GB mSATA SSD by MyDigitalSSD for $50.00 and thought this was a great deal and a great way to dip my toes in using SSDs for the first time. The specifications seemed in line with what I should look for and it was a bit more space than I have ever had for a root partition. I was pretty excited to give this a try.

Installing the Hardware

Installing the drive was really very easy. One of the features I appreciate most about Dell Latitude machines is how easy they are to work on, upgrade and repair. They are built well and serviceable but you do pay a bit more for them.

The E6440 has a 14″ chassis and has a slot for an mSATA drive as well as the more common 2.5″ SATA drive. There is also a removable optical drive (not common on a laptop of this size anymore) where I can pop in another SATA drive.

 

In order to add the mSATA drive, I removed the bottom panel, which is retained with 3 screws, that easily pops off. There is another cover, in the upper left-side (as looking from the bottom of the machine) that is retained by 2 more screws. Removing that reveals a spot for a WWAN card as well as uncovers the location of the mSATA slot. Insertion of the mSATA card is identical to that of any wifi cards, insert at angle and push down then retained with one screw. There was a bit of work to get the antenna wires in such a position that it would not cause issue with reassembly.

Reassembly was just as effortless as disassembly with the exception of taking care to ensure that none of the wiring was shifted or out of the routing channels that they belong.

I hopped into the BIOS to see that the storage device was recognized and also re-enabled the UEFI to see how openSUSE Tumbleweed dealt with that. The good news is, openSUSE works with UEFI just as well as the legacy boot system so they have [thankfully] taken the “fun” out of that hurdle as well.

Installation

Like any openSUSE installation, there was no real effort required. I did take the time to ensure that I partitioned the drive as I wanted: EFI – 250MB, Swap – 18 GB (which I realize I may not even use), and the / (root) partition of what was left which ends up being about 101 GB of usable space. I mounted my existing /home partition appropriately. My “excuse” for leaving a large swap space is based out of a recommendation I have seen about leaving a 10% chunk of an SSD unused to extend the life of an SSD ensuring better “wear leveling” of the cells. I figured, I will not likely use my Swap partition so that is my “unpartitioned” space. I have also read contrary information that states manufacturers take this into account and have extra provisions to ensure more optimal wear leveling and it is a total waste to leave anything unpartitioned.

The only issue I really had was some confusion about what was needed to get the EFI partition to be recognized by the installer. For those manually setting up their partitions you have to ensure you format it as FAT and mount it under: /boot/efi

Experience

Boot time is MUCH quicker than with the traditional spinning drive. Also, upgrades happen a lot quicker too. I am amazed by how fast each package installs now. I must say, that my weekly sudo zypper dup is a fun day, just watching it happen so quickly makes me grin ear to ear.


I tested a few applications, before and after and below are some of my raw numbers, note that I did this with a stop watch on a smart phone so there is some human error involved. Also note, the fact that I am going from an SSHD to an SSD some of those programs might have been cached in the SSD portion of the drive. I loaded the applications after a cold boot to ensure that nothing was cached and didn’t start any of the programs until after the system settled.

 

 SSHD  SSD
 FreeCAD 8.6 sec 4.2 sec
 LibreOffice 11.7 sec 2.8 sec
 Firefox 1.5 sec 1.2 sec

I now have 56 more GiB of storage available to work with on my SSHD for whatever. Though, I think that will be short lived as I intend on upgrading the SSHD to an SSD of larger size, I’m not in any hurry, so eventually.

Final Thoughts

My Dell Latitude E6440 is much more peppy now that I have this fresh, shiny new mSATA drive tucked in the corner of it’s bowels. After running this machine for several weeks with this new configuration, it only further underscores the benefits of having an SSD for my /home partition as well. Unfortunately, SSDs are still quite pricey but I can certainly see the benefits.

I don’t notice any benefit of the EFI secure boot vs Legacy booting or resuming from either suspend to disk or suspend to RAM. I have read that there are efficiency improvements but it may be outside of my ability to notice.

Since the E6440 is the last of the 14″ chassis laptops that are so expandable and flexible, I plan to keep this machine going as long as feasible. I am not ready to give up that E-series dock system of which I have a battery slice and E-Legacy Extender. It is the best machine I have ever used and I am probably the biggest, if not only, fan of it.

External Links

Dell Latitude E6440
Dell Battery Slice
Dell E-Legacy Extender
openSUSE Tumbleweed