openSUSE Leap 15.1 | Upgrade and Fresh Install Successes

openSUSE review titleEvery review I do is from a biased lens as an openSUSE user and this will be no different. I will be taking a biased look openSUSE Leap 15.1. I’d like to say this will be completely objective… but it won’t. openSUSE is the operating system of choice for nearly every aspect of my life for its technical merits as well as the awesome community that supports it.

This is my experience installing and upgrading openSUSE Leap 15.1 on physical hardware and a Virtual Machine. The applications on each machine vary based on their purpose so feel free to look at specific machines I have set up with openSUSE here.

Fresh Installation

I performed one fresh install of openSUSE Leap just to see if the installer has had any noticeable changes. The biggest and most welcome difference I could spot was the side bar installation step. This is something I have seen on many other installation tools and I am quite pleased to see it with openSUSE. It takes the mystery out of where you are in the process.

For a full, step-by-step walk through on installing openSUSE here.

I want to make one other note about a positive, remarkable change in the installer that I appreciated. Before committing to the installation, there is an option to adjust the CPU mitigations based on your needs. I left it at “Auto” to let the smart folks at SUSE and openSUSE determine what is needed for me.

Offline Upgrade

The first and recommended method of performing an upgrade to an existing system. I performed the upgrade on three systems so far without any issue. All of these were upgrading from 15.0 to 15.1. A wonderful trait openSUSE has is that the upgrade process is very straight forward.

On the boot screen, select Upgrade instead of Installation.

openSUSE Leap 15.1 Upgrade 0.png

Upon starting up the installation, you are greeted with the License agreement. Should you agree to it, next will begin the process of System Probing

Next, unless you have a tremendously complex system setup, you will be presented a location to perform the update. The installer will parse through the previously used repositories and give you the option to edit and or toggle the status for the upgrade.

The easy thing to do would be to let it automatically remove the old repositories and start fresh. For one two of the upgrades, I decided to go in there and change out any references in some of the repositories from 15.0 to 15.1 and toggle the repository active.  I had to resolve one set of conflicts that required a change from the Packman repository to the openSUSE official repository. Just reading the prompt will easily guide you through it. It should also be noted, even if you make the “wrong decision” it can easily be fixed at a later time.

If the installer recognizes an active network connection, you will be asked if you want to add online software repositories. No is an option but if you say yes, you will be given a list of suggestion online repositories.

After you select Next you are given a final installation summary with the option to make some tweaks and adjustments and a final opportunity to bail out.

Very nicely, this installer is the most verbose and wonderful output I have ever seen. It gives a fantastic, current status of what exactly is going on and how many packages with an estimated time left broken down by source.

After a reboot all three systems were functioning without a single glitch. It was simply fantastic.

Online Upgrades

I have one machine that I neglected to update to 15.0. It wasn’t a machine that was heavily used. Mostly just for my kids’ education activities that don’t require Internet access. A summer went by and I didn’t really think much about that old laptop. When I turned it on and realized it was still on 42.3 and had NOT been updated, I thought I would do an Online Upgrade. Since I really had nothing to lose and only smiles to gain. I went into the YaST module to manage the Software Repositories to change out any repository references that had “42.3” to “15.1”. Then, I ran the command in terminal

sudo zypper dup

After some time, this crusty 13 year old Dell Latitude D830 completed the Distribution UPdate, I rebooted the computer and it was, without a single glitch. I was rather impressed that it worked so well. I mean, of course it worked well, this is openSUSE but to be without a glitch or having to “faff” with it at all was quite surprising.

What I Like

The sheer durability of Zypper as a package manager and how it handles all the packages is absolutely astounding. I will concede, that APT, DNF or EOPKG may be just as good but that hasn’t been my experience with APT and I haven’t tested DNF or EOPKG as thoroughly. What I can say with the utmost confidence is that Zypper can do pretty amazing things when it comes to system package management. The interactive nature of it allows me to make the best decision upon any conflicts that may arise. Zypper is simply fantastic and has, as of recent become one my favorite applications.

Going from openSUSE Leap 15.0 go 15.1 was nothing special our outstanding. They both look the same, outside of some performance improvements. Visually, it’s the same, it functions the same.

When performing a fresh installation, I appreciate that you can choose your CPU mitigations depending on what you see as your threats. This is of course an expert function and for shlubs like myself, “Auto” is probably the best choice.

What I Don’t Like

Setting up the network with the openSUSE installer for wireless is a bit of a challenge. Not an issue for me because I prefer to plug into a proper Ethernet port. It is becoming more common to buy laptops that do NOT have a proper port due to whatever silly reason like cost reduction. Oh, sure, Ethernet on consumer grade machines is probably a complete waste for most but I am very much a fan of a “hard line” so perhaps I am the minority. I would prefer a more automatic process or something that presents itself for the user more approachable. This would eliminate some complaints I have heard about the installer.

The partitioning tool would be improved if the summary gave you a graphical representation of what was going on along with the written summary and perhaps some sort of easy buttons for new users. It should also be noticed that this is quite possibly the best tool for setting up a more complex arrangement of partitions just not the best for new users.

Final Thoughts

openSUSE 15.1 is an incredibly boring and unremarkable update to 15.1 or even 42.3 for that matter… which is fantastic, absolutely fantastic. True to form of openSUSE, nothing radical happens from version to version, just steady improvements to the underpinnings of the operating system.

The overall experience with installation and upgrades and using openSUSE, in general, is very positive and thanks to the Open Build Service along with the openQA, the experience of installing and upgrading openSUSE uninterestingly consistent. With this fantastically predictable behavior, openSUSE is most certainly where I want to stay. The operating system remains a reliable partner in your computing experience allowing you to do more interesting things on top of it. openSUSE frees you up to make, produce or develop to your hearts content.

References

openSUSE 15.1 Release Notes

Download openSUSE Leap

openSUSE Open Build Service

openQA

 

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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

Flashing Linksys E2000 Router with DD-WRT

No Network.png

When it comes to home networking, I have lost some “Geek Points” in the last few years. In general, I don’t find all the bits that go into networking all that interesting, I know the basics, have had my network doing what I want it to do and have basically neglected it for some time. If I need real help I will lean on my brother in-law to help me sort out the netmasks or routing tables or whatever else by which I am less excited. To the level I have come to understand I have gotten what I needed working so why think about it… That was until my router, already running DD-WRT, started to give me some problems.

Using Speedtest.net I was only getting 12 Mbps on the Wireless and around 70 Mbps on the wired Ethernet. This was becoming increasingly annoying as most of my work requires reliable internet connection so I started running CAT5 to each computer in my SuperCubicle plus one extra for a future project.

Productivity had been restored, so long as I was wired. Then one morning the wireless just stopped altogether. The wired Ethernet was still routing but the traffic on the wireless just stopped routing traffic all together.

Hardware

Linksys E2000.png
Linksys E2000

Not a very complex network and would have been something great 8 years ago for a home network but today, the idiom “long in the tooth” would be an understatement. I have a DOCSIS 3 Modem, which is new and trouble free that is connected to a Linksys E2000 router running DD-WRT. Attached to that is a Linksys 16-port EZXS16W switch. From that switch there are about 10 ports used up.

 

Linksys EZXS16W
Linksys EZXS16W 16-Port Switch

In order to bring the wirless back up, I tried to adjust some of the settings and nothing seemed to save. It was like it was working and not working in the same stroke. Rebooting the router didn’t change anything, it was still in a kind of undead state. I was unsuccessful with everything I tried. I saw only one option, factory reset the router and upgrade the firmware.

Firmware Flashing Complications

Using the DD-WRT Router Database I searched for the Linksys E2000 and downloaded the latest “Mega” firmware. Based on my understanding and referencing the wiki page, I just needed to update the firmware with the latest “Mega”. I did the initial attempt at flashing the firmware with the Falkon browser, it didn’t take. I got the “Flash Failed” error. I did it again but disabling the Ad Blocker thinking that might have been the problem but it still didn’t work. I tried Firefox and the Konqueror browser. All failed.

I downloaded the “Big” version and tried it again but with no success. What finally worked was upgrading with the DD-WRT: Factory Flash dd-wrt.v24-37305_NEWD-2_K2.6_mini-e2000.bin (at the time of writing, November 2018).

This flash was successful a since I didn’t need any of those extended features, the Mini was plenty good for what I need to do with it, at least for the short term.

Features I use

I don’t have a whole lot of requirements for my router at this time. What is important to me are the following features less common in typical consumer wireless router / switch / firewall / gateways:

DNSMasq

DNSmasq is a local DNS server. It will resolve all host names known to the router from dhcp (dynamic and static) as well as forwarding and caching DNS entries from remote DNS servers. Local DNS enables DHCP clients on the LAN to resolve static and dynamic DHCP hostnames. This is especially important when communicating with computers through the terminal or doing SFTP transfers. Rather than typing out the IP address, I can just type the computer’s hostname.

DHCP Static Lease

I have a few devices on my network that it is important that the IP address doesn’t change, specifically my HP OfficeJet All-In-One printer and my server.

DHCP LAN Domain

I like to set a LAN domain, not really a necessity but I like to have one for fun and fashion.

Next Steps

My home network hardware is aging and needs several upgrades. I think I am going to start with a pfSense Box probably use some sort of older x86 machine with a couple NICs, use the current router as a Wireless Access Point then look at changing out my 16-port switch to some sort of Gigabit Switch with about the same number of ports. Judging by my cursory review of the setup and features, I will have to make a significant time investment.

Network Cable Nest.jpg

Final Thoughts

It is remarkable how quickly one’s morning priorities can change when the network becomes largely inoperable. It is also remarkable how quickly it seems like your network components age when you are not thinking about it.

This little “breakdown” has inspired me to begin making the changes to my network. Future blatherings to come from this as I make the upgrades and figure out what works best for my home network.

Further Reading

https://wiki.dd-wrt.com/wiki/index.php/Linksys_E2000

Linksys E2000 DD-WRT Wiki page

https://www.pfsense.org/

 

HP TouchPad in 2018.1 Update

HP_TouchPad-19-Title.pngEarlier this year, I repaired and updated my HP TouchPad with the latest firmware I could find. I have used it regularly since for numerous tasks and even tried to shoe horn it into other tasks to see if it would improve my workflow. Was all that effort worth it? Did I really need to take the time to fix and update a device long past it’s end of life date? Here is what I can tell you about its usage.

Issues with the HP TouchPad

It’s old and a bit slow, really but it has a fantastic screen, especially since it is 7 years old. My expectations are not real high for its reliability but overall, it has surprised me. Every so often, the thing will lock up and shut down but I haven’t been able to determine the cause, just random fluke.

Updating The HP TouchPad

Unfortunately this process isn’t automatic but, it isn’t exactly difficult. Really, if you have done this much to your HP TouchPad, this shouldn’t be that much of an issue. The latest firmware can be downloaded from here, which is the same source for firmware I used earlier this year. To install the update, it required a reboot into the bootloader and install it from there. There were no issues installing the update.

HP_TouchPad-11-Update

Unfortunately, this is an older version, LineageOS 11 which is still Android version 4.4.4. It doesn’t appear to be a problem for the applications I am using.

Applications

There are several basic applications I use on a regular basis. They work great and I use them reliably on a near daily basis. Outside of the vanilla LineageOS applications, these are what I have installed to enhance the capabilities of this Tablet.

KDE Conenct

For the media player controls over my main machine. I use this often to start and stop media I use for helping in Home Education as well as a remote control over the living room computer so I can stop the Netflix. Great for those Saturday mornings when the kids need to take a break from relaxing and knock out some chores. Also, very conveniently, copying text to the clipboard on the computer or the tablet will allow me to share its contents back and forth. So, I can copy a URL from the computer and paste it into the browser, sit and read the page on the couch as if I were curled up with a good book.

Syncthing

Only synchronizing the “Default Folder” as I don’t take pictures with this so the “Camera” folder which I don’t use on this common share. The primary purpose is to quickly share something with the tablet, like a PDF or a screenshot from my Linux machine for convenient portability.

Ghost Commander

My  new favorite file manager on Android. It is reminiscent of the “Midnight Commander” file manager from times

HP_TouchPad-13-Ghost Commander.png

Fennec F-Droid Web Browser

This is a build of Firefox for Android that works very nicely

Document Viewer

A fine little application to view PDFs. Probably the most used application on this tablet as I do reference a lot of PDFs

LibreOffice Viewer

For viewing “office documents” that are not PDFs. I have used it for the open formats as well as the proprietary office formats of which we are all so familiar.

Telegram

To so much for writing messages as reading messages. I don’t really enjoy the touch screen keyboard as compared to the real thing but I’ll use it in a pinch.

All of these applications are available through F-Droid. Updates are convenient enough but you will have to approve the permissions of the updates of each application individually.

Regular Usage

HP_TouchPad-17-Touchstone Charger.png

I primarily use this tablet as a document viewing device: PDFs, Office Documents and images. I also use it for casual web browsing, as a second screen for displaying a reference when I am away from my Cubicle. I have a very convenient inductive charger for the tablet called the HP Touchstone Charger that allows me to just set the tablet in it, with the case and it will just charge. No fiddling with the Micro USB cable to get the thing to charge. It is an incredibly convenient accessory for this tablet. I can’t help but wonder if there are other tablets so nicely designed. It really is as if HP really thought through the design of this tablet very well.

Final Thoughts

This 7 year old tablet is still a fantastic piece of hardware. I still think that if this machine were to be running a full fledged Linux Desktop, it would be much more useful and possibly run more efficiently. I am a bit concerned that I cannot find a well functioning, more modern version of Android which is why I am increasingly more interested in a more open Linux OS for it.

For as long as this device lasts, I will continue to get squeeze every penny of use out of it. When it does finally give up, I will miss it as it has been an incredibly useful tool that has made daily life just a bit easier.

Related Links

HP TouchPad Tenderloin LineageOS Firmware

https://f-droid.org/

HP TouchPad in 2018

HP Touchpad with Plasma Mobile and openSUSE — Fall Time Blathering

Upgrade Reliability of openSUSE Tumbleweed

AspireOne_TumbleweedFor fun… or maybe negligence… I hadn’t updated one of my openSUSE Tumbleweed netbooks. As a rolling distribution of Linux, it is generally considered in bad form to not keep it updated as it will likely break the installation. Not so with Tumbleweed.

The System

Acer Aspire One D255E Netbook

  • Intel Atom CPU N455 @ 1.66GHz
  • 2 GB DDR3 Memory
  • 250 GB HDD
  • Intel GPU with 1024×600 screen resolution
  • Runs openSUSE Tumbleweed with KDE Plasma
  • Last updated 02 May 2018,
  • Kernel 4.16.7
  • KDE Plasma 5.12.4
  • KDE Framework Version 5.45.0
  • QT Version 5.10.0

sudo zypper dup

After updating the repositories and some churning a couple repository switches for two packages, there were a total of 2902 packages to be downloaded and installed. This included:

  • Kernel 4.18.0
  • KDE Plasma version 5.13.4
  • KDE Frameworks Version: 5.48.0
  • Qt Version 5.11.1

After about two hours of that little netbook cranking away, downloading and installing, the upgrade was complete. The machine rebooted without a single incident. Not a bit of strange behavior or fiddling required to use the computer. It just worked.

I was curious to know, how many snapshots were released since the last update. According to this page,  there were 54 snapshots released by the Tumbleweed team. That means there were enough changes to spin up a new ISO of Tumbleweed 54 times!

How does it run?

Upon the system settling, I wanted to check the memory usage. A total of 489 MiB was being used by the system. Since Firefox and Chrome tend to be a bit heavy to use, I installed Falkon Web Browser and started to dink around a little bit. The machine is obviously a bit slow but runs well enough to be useful. Monitoring CPU usage, there were few spikes or periods of the CPU maxing out. I am impressed by how few resources that are actually being used.

As far as how performant this machine is? It’s not. Not at all nor do I expect it to be. I don’t know that this machine is any slower than when it originally Ran Windows 7 Starter but comparatively to other systems, it can be just a bit painful to use outside of casual web browsing but it does play Tux Racer quite well.

Final Thoughts

I am impressed by how well openSUSE Tumbleweed can tolerate not being updated for an extended period of time. Two major kernel revisions, Qt version jump, and a KDE Plasma version jump and not a single things is broken even after missing 54 snapshots. Truly a testament to the hard work of all those involved in building and maintaining openSUSE Tumbleweed.

As far as the hardware goes. I really like the size of this netbook; the keyboard is almost full size and it is preferred over a tablet for most purposes and it stands up on its own without any special case. The battery life is still good after 8 years of use and although it feels a BIT flimsy, the build quality is as such that it has survived more than one drop without any catastrophic damage. When this finally goes, I would strongly consider another of the same form factor and build quality.

As with anything, your mileage may vary. Not everyone has the same successes and failures in their cases. I have pretty ordinary hardware so I seem to have constant success with openSUSE Tumbleweed as a very stable and robust platform to run on my machines.

References

Tumbleweed Changes and ISOs

Acer Aspire One D255E Netbook

Falkon One-Click Install for openSUSE

Wii Console Repair and Homebrew Hack

Wii_console_Hack.png

The Nintendo Wii, in my belief, was the best video game console ever created. It was a very popular family-unifying gaming counsel. Instead of the typical behavior of the gaming system monopolizing a single person’s time, this brought family together much like you would have on family game night. A vehicle of interaction. The Wii moved game night from from the dining room table into the living room.

I have had a Wii since… I think 2009 or 2010 and at some point in time the Optical Drive stopped reading discs. The machine was relegated to streaming Netflix and Amazon Prime videos only, but that changed recently as I wanted to crack open those dusty Wii game cases once again.

After doing some research I found that there are two types of drives that can be used in the Wii; One that is Wii discs only and the other that does Wii and GameCube discs. The latter being more expensive but regardless, I purchased a drive that was GameCube compatible of approximately $20 on eBay.

I have yet to play a GameCube game on the Wii but I plan to give one a spin, eventually.

If you would like to repair your Wii, see this video, it worked very well for me. Lots of little steps but nothing complex. To put it back together, just reverse the steps. My advice on taking it apart is to take a piece of tape, place it sticky side up and use that as a kind of timeline for screws you remove so when you go in reverse you don’t grab the wrong screw.

The only real issues I had with the disassembly / assembly process were screws in precarious places.

DSC06582.JPG

And ensuring that the rubber grommet for the DVD drive was properly assembled onto the chassis. Rubber has a way of doing what it wants which isn’t always what you want.

Wii Repair-03.jpg

Once the machine was back together, it was working just as expected but since Nintendo has abandoned this piece of hardware, it was time to make some improvements to it.

Expanding the Capabilities

Since I do like the Wii very much, it makes me a bit sad about it’s state of abandonment but that is the way of things. I set out to expand the capabilities beyond what Nintendo envisioned so that I can do more with this machine. Very clever people have made it easy to add homebrew software to the Wii through what is call the Homebrew Channel.

The first step was to do a non-hardware modification. Using LetterBomb to enable the Homebrew requires only an SD Card and some way of transferring data to it. In my case, a Linux Laptop. Once you extract the contents and put it on the SD Card as outlined here, put it back in the Wii. There you will have a new message in the Message system on the Wii. Upon opening the LetterBomb in Messages, the system will drop down to a console and run a script that will add the Homebrew capabilities. It’s pretty simple and it sets the system up without any further user intervention.

Wii Media Center

There is no point in having the Homebrew Channel without homebrew software. My first task was to add the capability to Watch DVDs. A feature that Nintendo, irritatingly, decided not to include. To install the Wii Media Center follow this link:

http://www.wiimc.org/documentation/

I chose the New install of the WiiMC and simultaneously installed the WiiMC Channel 2.0. I downloaded the files to my Wii project folder on my computer and extracted the Zips.

Since I am using KDE Plasma, I extracted the zips as such using the Dolphin File Manager:

  • Right-click > Extract > Extract Archive Here, Autodetect Subfolder
  • That created a folder called apps and two subfolders: wiimc and wiimc-channel-installer
  • Copy the extracted folders into the apps folder on the SD Card used for the Wii.

On the Wii, Open the Homebrew Channel run the applications you just copied over. Just that simple.

WiiMC Start Pic

Now, I am able to play DVDs, seemingly without any issues. I have played a few DVDs, yes, I still buy DVDs. So far, I have only noticed one DVD with an issue. When I popped in “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”, I did get some herky-jerky playback, I am assuming due to the encryption used on the disc.

I can now play media files directly from a USB Drive or SD Card but it has proven itself to be a bit touch-and-go. Some files played very well and others not so well. I will have to investigate further about which files played better than others. At this point, I don’t know if it is the file format or the resolution of the video.

Next Steps

I intend on expanding my Wii’s capabilities into more of a retro gaming console. I have purchased a few games from the Wii Store back in the day but as of today, the selection has become very limited they have already stopped accepting payment for more credits on the Wii Shop Channel. The only solution I see is fit, going forward, is using the Homebrew Application method of adding emulators and games. I have been told that the Wii makes a great retro gaming station and I plan to follow up on that portion of my exploration of the Wii Homebrew Applications.

Final Thoughts

Looking at the dates of many of the Homebrew software titles, it looks like much of it is not being maintained or at least hasn’t been updated in several years. My guess is that the Wii is falling out of popularity, even for the homebrew scene. It is unfortunate because I believe to still be a very capable entertainment platform. I do hope that Netflix continues to support the Wii as a platform for streaming as I know Amazon Prime is planning to discontinue their service sometime in 2018. Very soon all that will be left to use on the Wii will be the original optical media titles and the large array of Homebrew software. As it goes with technology, this too has been superseded by the new and shiny so this fine piece of hardware is slowly being abandoned.

External References

Disassemble Wii YouTube Video

LetterBomb Homebrew Exploit

WiiMC Documentation

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

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