EeeTop Computer – Part 2

Posted 2009.05.26 17.00 in Computers/Internet/Technology by Stephanie

So I had my new EeeTop up and running with my Debian “Lenny” version of Linux, and things were working well, except for getting a graphical screen driver. Every time I tried going into the GUI the screen just went blank. 🙁 I hit Google and the forums, and quickly found the first solution…

It seems that the chipset, or the way it was hooked up, was just new & different enough to befuddle the intel drivers for X. 

I found a post at the Eee User forums which not only told me how to get the screen to work in X, but also contained detailed instructions on getting the touchscreen to work too! This wiki page had all the answers!

So far, so good! I could get a nice GUI running, and the touchscreen was working well. All was good… for a while.

The generic vesa drivers made the screen go, but performance was underwhelming. Not that I planned to do a lot of (or “any”) gaming, but games wouldn’t work. For that matter, ultimately the plan was for this thing to run with the display off. Still, I was unhappy having to settle for a sub-par graphics driver. Back to the forums.

This time, a helpful new member at EeeUser suggested I have a look at this French website, saying that they had solved the intel driver issue there. Now I can’t speak French, but I’m pretty good at reading technical stuff in a number of languages. And this site was very straightforward with information. It detailed exactly which drivers / versions were needed, and how to configure them. Only problem – they were using Ubuntu, and I was on Debian.

Still, I gave it a shot. I downloaded the Ubuntu drivers and tried it out. Fail. Unmet dependancies (i.e. the drivers needed other things to be updated before they’d work.) I then looked at updating the other things, but then those things needed still more things to be updated, and finally I could see it was going to spiral out of control. My research did help me learn more about the different philosophies, between Debian and Ubuntu: Debian development tends to be slow and careful, with very stringent requirements about stability and not releasing things that don’t work. Ubuntu is more about progress and advancements, with a tight release schedule of putting out a new version every 6 months.

Consequently, a platform built on the stable Debian tends to be very stable, however it won’t have the very latest of anything, whereas a platform built on the latest Ubuntu might still have glitches in it, but will have more up-to-date components.

I looked at the unstable version of Debian (named Squeeze) and installed it, but it was too unstable – it had the intel drivers I wanted, but nothing else worked. In the end, I opted for the latest (version 9.04) version of Ubuntu. Although Ubuntu is available in several ‘flavours’, including one designed specifically for netbook-style systems, I opted for the Server version. The versions that are designed for normal users tend to come with too much extra fluff that I spend days getting rid of, so this time I decided to install the bare minimum then see how long it would take to add the rest of what I needed/wanted.

Answer: Not long. I prefer the IceWM window manager, which no version of Ubuntu uses, so rather than going with Gnome or XFCE etc, the Server version let me just install the required X / xorg stuff, and then run my own build of IceWM – compiled from source with a few minor mods. From there it was pretty straightforward to get everything else going – I almost always use the latest kernel from Kernel.org, instead of whatever comes with the package (whether Debian or Ubuntu) because I like to customize the kernel to include only exactly the components I need/want. The only gotchas that messed me up for a bit were in getting the sound and webcam to work – I had to add myself to the audio and video groups manually. Presumably had I done a normal Ubuntu install, that would have been done for me.

Anyhow, after all that, I was now running my EeeTop with Ubuntu 9.04, and I added the server software I needed – sshd and pure-ftpd. I didn’t realize that pure-ftpd was available through apt, so I just downloaded the latest source and compiled it myself.

While doing all of this, I also found time to upgrade the RAM from 1GB to 2GB. In fact the BIOS will support 4GB (2 x 2GB) which I tested. However, nothing I could do would enable Linux to access the full 4GB. It seems that the additional RAM address space is being used already. 2GB is plenty anyways so I didn’t worry about that. I also swapped out the stock 160GB 5400rpm hard drive for a 320GB 7200rpm drive, because I could. (i.e. for no good reason.)

The USB hub is the square black chip under where the red wire comes out of the battery.

The USB hub is the square black chip under where the red wire comes out of the battery.

Finally, I wanted to add a built-in Bluetooth adaptor, because I think they’re neat. Examining the EeeTop’s motherboard revealed a 4-port USB hub was already incorporated onto the motherboard. This is in addition to the 8 USB ports that are available through the intel chipset. (The EeeTop has 6 external USB2.0 ports). Examining the output of lsusb and /proc/bus/usb/devices revealed that of the eight ports on the chipset, one was used for the touchscreen, a second was used for that 4-port hub, and the remaining six were used for the external USB ports. On the 4-port hub, one port was taken for the webcam and a second was taken for the SD/MMC card reader. But two ports were unused and ‘available’…  maybe I could grab one of them for my bluetooth adaptor!

(to be continued)

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