Category Archives: Hardware

Don’t Buy Albatron

My MythTV box has an Albatron KM18GPro motherboard in it. Last week, the Ethernet port on it went dead. I can plug in a known good cable, and don’t even get LED activity on the port. Plug the same cable into any number of other machines, and it works fine. (This is repeatable across different cables and switches, too.)

So I submitted an online RMA request to Albatron. Despite their claim of “instant confirmation” when an e-mail address is supplied, after submitting the form, it says to call them if there’s no response after 48 hours. I also submitted the proof of purchase as they requested.

Since there wasn’t, I called them and got a voice mail box. Left a voice mail. It was never returned. I also e-mailed their RMA team. No response. I’m sure this has nothing to do with the fact that my warranty expires in a few weeks.

It’s now been days since I first contacted them. This is absolutely the worst hardware support I’ve ever received from any vendor — taking days to even *respond* to a problem. I recently had a problem crop up with my Sipura SPA-841 phone, and got a replacement on its way to me within 12 hours. That’s right, a *phone* got better service than this motherboard.

I’ll never buy from Albatron again.

Their site says “Capturing the spirit of the albatross.” I think they got it wrong. It should be “capturing the spirit of the weasel.”

Unsolved Tablet Mysteries

Things I’m not sure how to do yet:

  1. Adjust the brightness of the tc1100 screen in Linux
  2. Display xvkbd (or another on-screen keyboard) when the display has been locked via xscreensaver or KDE’s screensaver
  3. Make sure the ACPI thermal settings are correct
  4. Find a journaling filesystem that behaves well with laptops

About the ACPI settings… it seems like the fan is running more than it ought to, and also that the unit is warmer than it should be at times. Out under (from memory) /proc/acpi/thermal/THRM, I can find the current temperature and also the temperatures at which different things (fans, I guess) are supposed to be turned on. Strange thing is, that file that shows the temperature zones shows different temperature zones at different times. Also, the /proc/acpi/fan area never says that any fan is on, even when I can hear them.


On the filesystem front — back when ext2 was about as good as it got, I used to tweak the kernel cache flushing code so that writes would only be flushed to disk every 30 minutes or so. My laptop was plenty reliable, and it would always do a sync before I’d close the lid anyway, so that saved on the disk usage. But these days, I’m not so sure how to do that, with either ext3 or reiser4. Any suggestions?

Tablet PC So Far

As I mentioned earlier, I purchased an HP tc1100 tablet PC. It arrived earlier this week and I’ve been playing with it. Here are some of my initial impressions:

Debian stable (sarge) installed easily. The tc1100 has no optical drive, and I have no USB optical drive either. It also wouldn’t boot from a CF card in my USB card reader. So I did a PXE (network) boot. I had never known that Debian’s installer can boot over the network. VERY slick work, d-i team. During the installation, I noticed letter “Q” appearing on-screen periodically. I eventually determined that it would happen whenever I’d bump one of the mouse buttons. It also went away once I was using my own kernel, for whatever reason. The basic install was easy, no troubles at all. I was particularly impressed with the integration of ntfsresize these days. Being able to shrink down the XP partition to a very small size and then install Linux — very nice indeed.

There are lots of pages about the tc1100 under Linux, so I won’t rehash them all here. There are a few patches to the kernel to enable wireless support and the touchpad. All fairly straightforward. My unit uses the ipw2200 instead of the ipw2100 that everyone else seems to have, strangely enough.

The main thing I don’t have yet is suspend-to-memory (ACPI state S3). Standby (ACPI state S1) doesn’t have any noticable effect. With S3, the system will suspend, but crash on recovery. Can’t quite figure it out.

I did get hibernate (suspend-to-disk) working. I just have to shut down PCMCIA and unload the b44 Ethernet driver before engaging it, and then it’ll work fine. Not as nice as a true suspend, but still better than powering down all the time.

As far as apps go, the one that I really must mention so far is Jarnal. It’s an awesome program. At its simplest, it’s just a set of pages you can draw on on-screen. But there’s a lot more to it under the hood. First, it saves your work as a zipped set of SVG files, one per page. So you can load up your drawings into other programs later. Secondly, you can load up PDF files as the background, effectively letting you mark up documents and jot notes on them. Finally, there is a collaborative network mode that I haven’t even tried yet. Jarnal is GPL’d, but it requires Java 1.4.x. If if weren’t for that, I’d be uploading it to sid in a heartbeat.

I’ll keep posting as I have more thoughts.

Going Back to School and Tablet PCs

Back in 1999, due to changing employment situations, I moved to Dallas, and then to Indiana. I’m back in Kansas now, and figure it’s about time I finish my computer science degree. I’ve got a full-time job now, though, so this means evening classes. Not all that much fun, but hey, it works.

One thing I’ve noticed is that there is far less available for part-time students as far as financial aid and scholarships are concerned. It’s almost as if we don’t exist.

Along with that, I’ve also been toying with the idea of purchasing a tablet PC that runs Debian. But I don’t really know where to go to learn about the different models. I found a comparison from last year, but I’d really like something more current. Acer seems to have a nice model, but it’s almost impossible to find it for sale in the USA anymore.

Any suggestions for a lightweight (around 3 pounds), decent tablet PC that doesn’t cost a huge amount of money? I’d like one that’s convertible (has a keyboard that can optionally be used).

Today’s Reading

Apple: iPod Domination Or Just Another Fad? at The Register.

Various SELinux material from Gentoo. Also, Getting Started with SELinux and Writing SELinux Policy. SELinux looks very complex. I think I’ll just use vserver instead.

The System Rescue CD and Partimage pages. The system rescue C looks like it can pretty much eliminate the need for spending money on Partition Magic or Ghost because of its inclusion of qparted and partimage. Nice!