Inspiron 530n a Year Later

Well, technically there is still one and a half months to go, but it is close enough.

What has changed from the original configuration?

  • Upgraded memory to 4GB
  • I bit the bullet and reformatted the hard drive to upgrade Ubuntu from the original 32-bit Feisty 7.04 to 64-bit Hardy 8.04
  • Updated BIOS from 1.0.3 to 1.0.15 to utilize all of the available memory – without the update, it reported only 3.2GB

64-bit Hardy feels faster and it took care of the minor annoyances I had with the original setup. It takes about 40 seconds between grub showing up and being able to click on something on the desktop.

I initially tried to upgrade Ubuntu to 7.10 and then to 8.04. The first upgrade went flawlessly, but the second choked up on some package dependencies that wouldn’t resolve, which made GUI unusable and after poking around for an hour or so I decided that fixing it was not worth my time: I wanted to upgrade to 64-bit system anyway, and I felt that even if I eventually fixed the problem there might still remain small glitches that could make life difficult. So I made a backup of my files, took a deep breath and made a fresh install of 64-bit Ubuntu 8.04, which was uneventful except that I had to add irqpoll kernel boot option.

BTW, I also installed Hardy on my little Fujitsu P1120 laptop, and it automatically installed drivers for the touchscreen and Linksys PC-card wireless adapter! Although the touchscreen needs calibration, the mere fact that it’s supported is huge. The laptop is almost 5 years old now and Hardy is too heavy for its 800MHz Cruzoe and 240MB of RAM, and I need a replacement. The manufacturers finally woke up and smelled the coffee, and Fujitsu squandered a wonderful opportunity to jumpstart the market. As far as I know P1120 was the first in the form factor of current Netbooks (feels nice to be ahead of the curve by 4 years :) and it has always been a conversation starter. Now I am waiting for the perfect device to take its place.

Find Total Size for All Files in a Directory in Linux

In Windows, if you right-click on a folder and select Properties, one of the useful things that you get is the sum of sizes of all files contained in the folder and its sub-folders. It may take a while if there are a lot of files and folders. This number can be very useful in certain situations. For example, when copying a large hierarchy of files from one place to another during backup or relocation, it helps to check that all files were copied successfully, and one of these checks is to compare the total size of data in source and destination.

When copying between Windows and Linux, the problem is that while Gnome does provide a similar feature,  the size reported is not precise and it includes sizes of folders as well. To get the same size as reported by Windows, go to command line, change to the root of the directory hierarchy you need the total file size for, and type

find -type f -printf "%s\n"|awk '{sum+=$0}END{print sum}'

Thanks goes to ghostdog74 and others at

Run As Root From File Browser

Ubuntu – suppose you need to make changes to a file which is not user-editable. Or you have an installation script that must be run as root. The most commonly offered solution is to fire up a terminal, change into the directory containing the file and type

sudo gedit filename



However, there is a solution that does not involve the terminal at all. Continue reading Run As Root From File Browser

16 GB Maximum File Size

While recovering data from a friend’s hard drive that has developed some bad clusters I ran into an unpleasant surprise: VirtualBox refused to create virtual drives larger than 16GB or so, producing “file too big” errors. The drive is 60GB in size and I used dd_recover to save a raw copy of the partition into a file on a NTFS-formatted external USB drive, which I then planned convert into a virtual disk so I could run recovery tools against it from a virtual machine without touching the drive itself.

I tested the file system and indeed all attempts to create a file larger than 16GB produced the same “File is too big” error. I found that on ext2/ext3 file system, the maximum file size depends on the block size, so I had the bad luck of having a system partition with 1K blocks.

I really don’t like the idea of repartitioning the drive and reinstalling everything, but maybe I will shrink the current partition and use the extra space to create a new one for my files.

Configuring VirtualBox Host Interfaces

Among all the advice on how to configure host interfaces on Ubuntu Linux, the most useful information is missing – how to make the configuration persistent across reboots, and how to make only the required changes to make it work. It turns out that the proper configuration is trivial – all you need to do is to make some changes to /etc/network/interfaces file. Unfortunately, this method is not compatible with Network Manager – I will leave this research for another day. Continue reading Configuring VirtualBox Host Interfaces

Four Months With Ubuntu – So Far So Good

Compiling and installing Nvidia binary driver solved the problem with DVI and made the screensaver run smoothly.

I already had a first-hand experience with one of the drawbacks of a monolithic kernel: even minor patches may break kernel modules which were compiled and installed separately from the kernel itself. After I downloaded and installed an updated kernel, all of a sudden there was no sound (I had installed the latest version of ALSA) and an OpenGL screensaver was crashing Gnome. Could have been worse. Recompiling and reinstalling both the Nvidia driver and ALSA module resolved the problems, but it has to be done every time I install a new kernel version through Update Manager. I’m still considering my options.

External hard drives is another headache – drive manipulation can only be done by root, but after creating and formatting a partition regular users have read-only permissions on it, and I cannot find a way to fix that without firing up the terminal window.

These are minor details – I can deal with them, but for an average Windows administrator could be a show-stopper as in “Where’s the checkbox??!” BTW, Linux adoption is picking up – check this out.

Acer Monitor Resolution

Here’s how I resolved the issue I had with Ubuntu not detecting the full 1680×1050 resolution of my Acer 2016W monitor. Continue reading Acer Monitor Resolution

The Ubuntu Inspiron is up and running!

I finally got around to unpacking the boxes and installing the new computer. Pretty much everything worked out of the box, but I had to tinker with screen resolution as only the default set of 640×480, 800×600 and 1024×768 was available initially, and in the end I had to connect the monitor via VGA – DVI was giving me problems I could not resolve at this point. More later.

Got a Dell Inspiron 530n with Ubuntu pre-installed

I finally splurged on a Dell Inspiron 530N with Ubuntu. I need a computer for my music workstation, and with the latest developments in good quality multi-track recording software for Linux I felt it’s time to give it a serious try. I was thinking of building one myself instead of buying a ready made one, but did not feel adventurous enough. I guess I’m getting old :) This is actually my first brand name PC purchase!

I’ve received it very quickly – placed the order last Friday, and yesterday it was here! I’ve ordered the cheapest configuration without the monitor for $379, $410.74 with tax, with free shipping.

As for the monitor, Dell needs to get real: $170 is too much for a Viewsonic VA1703wb – a widescreen 8ms 1440×900 monitor with no DVI, 500:1 contrast and 250 nits brightness, so for just $10 more plus shipping I’ve got a superb 20″ Acer AL2016WBbd with 1680×1050 resolution, 5ms response time, DVI, 800:1 contrast and 300 nits brightness from NewEgg. Dell should consider partnering with Acer on monitors – Viewsonic is a good brand but Acer beats it hands down.

Stay tuned as I get it into production, and post questions if you are considering a Dell computer with Linux but still undecided – I will try to answer them here.

Linux Hardware Question

Here’s the situation. I’ve installed Ubuntu 7.04 on my Fujitsu laptop, and it works well for the most part. The two buttons on the touchpad that serve as a scroll wheel do not work as expected – one is dead and the other works as the middle button. But that’s probably because the pointing device is recognized as a 3-button mouse without a scroll wheel.

Now, I plugged in an external mouse, and I expected for it to get recognized and start working seamlessly but alas! there seems to be no plug-n-play capability installed by default. Can anyone lend me a hand with this? What do I need to do in order to get functionality similar to Windows XP which automatically recognizes any hardware plugged in and if it does not already have a driver for it, at least I can go to the manufacturer’s web site to download the driver and then install it either through New Device wizard or through Device Manager. At least when it comes to simple devices like mice and keyboards I would expect the drivers to be present – it is not uncommon especially for laptop users to use either embedded pointing device or an external mouse depending on the circumstances.

The WPA-PSK issue I mentioned earlier got resolved once I installed the system onto the hard disk. But another problem that I’m now having is that it constantly tries to access the CDROM drive, every second.