Category Archives: Hardware

If thou beest he — but Oh how fallen! how changed. …

Day by day things get a little more busy, and the month of March will be a real grind for me. And so as small tragedies unfold and develop, I have to make quick mental notes and hope to tack them here as time allows.

For example, a week or two ago, this machine suffered the same fate as this one, with the simple act of opening the lid resulting in a thousand tiny shards of plastic bursting in a thousand directions.

And to add insult to injury, the torque of the splintering bent the LCD, and a fine prismatic web enveloped the lower right quadrant. So not only was the casing and chassis on the verge of complete collapse, but the display was suddenly valueless too. Fate — or the gods or whatever deity you prefer — had made its decision, and I was left with the pieces.

I blame the natural deterioration of plastic, which must, I suppose, slowly decay with age and give way to the laws of physics. It doesn’t dry my tears, but that is the way of all flesh, I suppose.

Ironically, not a day later, I’m handed a 700Mhz Thinkpad T22 with most of its components in working condition. A little elbow grease, a few memory chips, and the EzBook is mostly forgotten. Or at least transplanted into a new host. :roll:

And call me crazy, but just about any Thinkpad from pre-2012 or so is now a definite keeper, and that’s the real point of this little speech today. The golden era of the Thinkpad came to a thundering halt only days ago, with the revelation that Lenovo was preinstalling laptops with the faulty certificate tied to Superfish.

Any crudware so bad that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security tells you to uninstall it is an honest-to-god, plain-Jane screwup of colossal proportions. Not that the U.S. government has any real integrity on the subject of computer security, but you couldn’t sell me a new Lenovo now for holding shut the screen door to my back yard. I don’t think it could handle that much responsibility.

Of course, the slow decline of Lenovo machines was something I had sensed earlier than this week. The newest Thinkpad I have now is a T410 that’s already pushing four or five years old, and it’s only so-so in my mind. The newer Lenovo-branded laptops I’ve seen were even more disappointing.

A friend’s Y560 had so much bounce in the keyboard plate that I thought I was typing on a trampoline. And at a time when it was barely two years old, he’d already lost sound in one speaker, torqued the earphone jack so badly he couldn’t insert a plug to it and had a lot of play in the hinges.

I’ve seen a few Yogas and some high-end “Thinkpads” in the past year too, and nothing enthused. Most were not far off from mid-grade department store machines.

Sad, really, for the line that once held the mighty T61p, which was a solid full-size performer with fantastic graphics at a fantastic price. Or the X60, which is still available in resale and is probably one of the best portable dual-core full-feature laptops ever made. I’ve had one of those and an X61 too, and I’d be willing to part with cash — actual cash — to find another one in decent condition.

And that from a person who gets most of their machines for free or as trade.

I’d even be willing to reach back to the X120e, or the X31 or even the i-Series for positive experiences. In fact, I can think of only one Thinkpad I’ve had in the past decade that didn’t leave me smiling, and that one dated back to the early days of Pentiums, and the rise of the brand. From my perspective, the arc of the Thinkpad started around the Pentium II, tapered off four or five years ago, and came to a crashing halt last week.

Of course that does mean any Thinkpad you’re holding that wasn’t built post-2012 is a winner, at least in my book. I really don’t mind if it’s a Pentium, a II, a III or a 4; what you have is a bona-fide slice of computing history, made at a time when the Thinkpad was trustworthy, dependable, flexible and powerful. I’ve got more than my share right now, and I’ve had an even broader array in the past — and I’d still be inclined to invest in one that had potential.

I have to draw the line when the plastic shatters and tiny black splinters fly across the room, though. :| That is the way of all flesh, I suppose.

The seven-year itch

I haven’t posted much here lately, mostly because of the holiday season but also because the flux of hardware through my house is either feast or famine — either I’m suddenly swamped with four or five new machines that depart equally quickly, or I sit and tap my fingers at the lack of something new to try.

But a week or two ago I thought through some small difficulties that arose with this machine, and made a change that is … rather unconventional.

If you know or remember much about the 8000 line of Inspirons, you’ll understand that the 8200 was really the capstone of the C-series. You could argue that the C840 and the M50 were its counterparts, and I wouldn’t disagree. But the home market (by my estimation) embraced the 8200 in a way that I feel outstripped the Precision or Latitude versions, even if they were compatible even down to the BIOS.

In that sense, the nVidia GeForce4 440 Go in its 64Mb renditions was about the best video card you could implant into an 8000-line machine. I’m not counting the Quadro4 700 Go GL mostly because I’ve never been able to find one — I saw one for sale on ebay early last year, and the price reached a level that could only be described as ludicrous. It’s too rare to compare, so to speak.

Point being, the nVidia card has always — even almost a decade ago, when I was rocking Crux Linux in a souped-up 1Ghz 8000 machine — been the card of choice. And even more so now, since the cards themselves are under US$20 used, and the lesser cards are basically giveaways.

There was an analogue in the ATI Radeon Mobility 9000. It had 64Mb of memory as well, but as we all probably remember as mantra from bygone days as lowly Windows users, if you want good graphics, you have to stick with nVidia. Or at least that was the rule a decade ago. Nowadays … I couldn’t tell you. It may or may not be the case. I’ve been out of the loop for a while, and I still think Neverwinter Nights is great fun in my spare time. :roll:

Back in October I think, I started having difficulties updating the kernel and keeping it in sync with the now dusty 96xx proprietary driver from nVidia. I’m not a newb when it comes to that driver; I’ve been building and installing it by hand pretty much since 2007, and while I can’t call myself an expert, I at least know when I’m up against a wall.

And that was the case for more than a few days, particularly when the switch to 3.17 came into Arch core (I think that was October, but I might be wrong). Nothing would build. Errors on anything after 3.17. 3.16.4 would build fine for me in Arch, but I wasn’t having much luck after that point. Something had changed, but I couldn’t see what.

The Internet, despite its unimpeachable pedigree as a clean and honest repository of truth, information and justice >:( :roll: , wasn’t much help. It may be that I am the last surviving user of a 440 Go card that prefers Linux, and I’d be comfortable with that. nVidia of course wouldn’t be interested in my issues, and if there were others in the same boat, I couldn’t find them. Or a solution.

So I did what any competent Arch user would do when confronted with a seemingly insurmountable inconsistency between hardware and new kernel — I added linux and linux-headers to the list of ignored packages in /etc/pacman.conf, and went about my business with the older versions I knew would work.

I should add a caveat to that though: I say “work,” but I should say “work acceptably.” Even with the last happy combination of proprietary driver and kernel, I would sometimes see tearing in gradients, corrupted edges on images or other tiny graphic defects. The nouveau driver, in case you’re wondering, was always worse — there, I got corrupted icons (icons? why only icons? :???: ) horrible redraws and a host of other issues. The proprietary driver wasn’t perfect, but between the two, it was the better.

And add one other thing to that — something that I didn’t even notice until last week: System resources were almost always pegged. Fans at full bore except at the lowest of moments, system load hovering around 50 percent even when untaxed, and a lagging sensation at the best of times. It was never a dealbreaker, but the issue was there, and I hardly realized it because that’s the way it had always been.

I mentioned before that the underlying motive to the press for online-everything is what will eventually drive a stake into the heart of any contemporary PC. This was different. I can compare the machine’s performance with others from the same era, and see a drag or a burden that wasn’t present in its peers. Something just wasn’t working right.

Fast forward to about two weeks ago. I saw the jump to the 3.18 kernel and thought, maybe my time has come. Booted to a console environment, updated the kernel, tried to rebuild the video module and … was left with the same error messages that had been cropping up for months.

At that point, I had a little soul-searching to do. I like the machine very much. I’m comfortable using older kernels, but there must come a time when other issues begin to build because I’m stranded on a three- or four-month old kernel. And the ancillary software (and here I admit I’m thinking about things like systemd) is growing at a breakneck pace, so at some point I’ll have to untangle other issues that are related to hanging back at an earlier kernel. Maybe not today and maybe not tomorrow, but someday soon, and for the rest of its life.

I could switch distros. But other distros generally performed worse with that hardware combination. And in any case, I’d be stepping back in software unless I went with something totally wild. So I’d do just as well to … not update at all.

It was the nuclear option really, but not a terrible idea. But still, it seems overblown, to run a machine (a perfectly usable machine) deliberately on out-of-date software (perfectly usable software) because of a failing in the proprietary software that runs the hardware.

And then the answer appeared to me, in a blinding spray of light, sort of like a Hollywood action movie. And I went to an online auction, and dropped about US$19 on the 440’s counterpart, the Mobility 9000.

It got here last week, and life changed immediately.

No more proprietary drivers. No more rebuilds at every kernel update. No more convoluted xorg.conf files. xf86-video-ati does everything I need, and with no more effort than typing out the name and hitting enter.

No more taxing the system resources. No more torn gradients or sluggish page draws. Yes, that Internet drag is still there, and it’s still annoying, but there’s nothing to be done about that. It’s like death and taxes — regardless of your machine, eventually bad code and deliberately obtuse web content will engulf and extinguish your machine.

But it’s amazing, really, and I wish I had changed the card out seven years ago. The logic is bulletproof: I don’t need the decade-old edge of nVidia-over-ATI any more, since I don’t play Windows games on this machine and desperately seek out that sliver of advantage in framerates. The 3D acceleration that might have tipped the nVidia cards a dozen years ago is pointless and irrelevant to me know, in a different operating system and with different needs.

And so there you have it — the epiphany of my past decade. After trading out one-dollar network cards at the local recycling shop because they had Broadcom chipsets, or setting aside entire decade-old laptops because they required too many screws to open conveniently, or abandoning a machine to the wheels of fate over something as trivial as a noisy fan … I finally set aside that ingrained prejudice against the second-place finisher in the graphics card duels of more than a decade ago.

And the world is a better place for it. Who would’ve thought. ;)

P.S.: 60fps with glxgears, and I’m satisfied with that. :D

Remembering the twins

I waited this long to recap the two Dell Latitude LMs I had as guests last month because I couldn’t find the pictures I took while I was poking and prodding. This doesn’t usually happen where I lose photos of something, but I did find one leftover on my camera, taken the day they left.


That at least proves it wasn’t a dream. :roll:

The picture, of course, shows the ironclad and eternally trustworthy DSL running in its most basic form on the prettier of the two machines, replete with a wireless network connection courtesy of an old WPC11v3 b-only card. That was not my most successful attempt — and I really wish I could find those other pictures :evil: — but DSL did at least tell me that the guts of the machine were working.

I don’t have a picture of DSL’s graphical desktop on that unit because I never got one. DSL isn’t picky when it comes to hardware, but I have seen more than one computer over the years that is less-than-visual. In this case, both the vesa and VGA attempts, in every variation, resulted in a scrambled video display.

Some of my other attempts were also less than successful, but a few bore fruit. I had better luck with early, early versions of Debian and Fedora, but some very bad experiences with … anything after 2002 or so (which thanks to this machine, did not come as a surprise). :\ And of course, I managed to get a blinking cursor on a Crux 2.4 installation, which I count as a flawless victory. :lol:

The biggest difficulty in working with these machines (I say “these,” but I did almost everything on the one you see in the picture) was twofold: First, these computers were not intended to boot from CD — only the primary hard drive or the floppy drive, of which I had none (and by that I mean the owner had none). Don’t even talk to me about a USB port. You know better than that. >:(

That’s a huge complication, but not something I haven’t had to work with before. I’m not above creating an entire system in an emulator, writing out the image file to a hard disk, and transplanting it physically into a target machine.

In that sense, these are great designs for that task. I’ve run into machines that were a bit curmudgeonly in that respect, but the drives on these laptops pull out of the front left corner like a drawer, connect firmly in a dedicated tray, and are more or less exchangeable in seconds. What’s more, there’s plenty of space in the tray for an IDE-to-whatever converter, which in my case was an SDHC adapter.

I did run into an additional mystery though, which constitutes Biggest Difficulty Part Two: a hesitance to boot from some systems, and I’m not sure why.

It may have been some sort of partitioning inconsistency, between the BIOS and the installation. Occasionally a system wouldn’t boot that I had written out via dd, but other times preinstalled or original installations wouldn’t boot either.

I don’t suspect hardware issues; instead, I suspect either (a) the old BIOS drive dimension limit, cropping up again decades after its relevancy, causing problems again in its passive-aggressive way of suggesting you should get a new computer, or (b) some misalignment between the way GRUB or LILO worked two decades ago, and what the BIOS expected.

I’ve seen machines — in fact, this EzBook 800 has it — that have a BIOS-switchable option for Windows-esque drive arrangements, with the other option as … “other.” :\ I know of one or two machines in my past that couldn’t boot an “other” system if the BIOS was set to Windows-ish, or vice versa. This old warrior was one of those.

I don’t have any way to document that, and I don’t know how or why it happens, but that’s my underlying suspicion. Since the BIOS in these Latitudes doesn’t have an option to switch, it was a crap shoot to see what will boot and what won’t.

Both of these issues, and their underlying problems, are magnified by the glacial pace of working at 133Mhz, and with the added time of swapping drives and bouncing between drive caddies. Plus, the constant risk of snapping or bending a 20-year-old pin array, or the natural brittleness of aging plastic. … I imagine even that caused a little hesitation on my part.

I can say with some honesty, if these were my personal machines, I’d probably be a little more aggressive in seeing what they were capable of. I tend to be a little antsy around other people’s computers though, for no other reason than general courtesy.

In any case, I gave them back a few weeks ago after giving each one a quick cleanup, and they returned to their home of record.

The irony of their departure is that the owner, when he came to pick them up, hinted that I might be able to keep them if I were inclined, and if my offer came within the range of what he thought they were worth.

I declined politely, partly in fear of bringing more wayward laptops into the house on a permanent basis, but also because I know he feels the pair together, with the power supply and a Dell-branded PS/2 ball mouse (woohoo!), are worth close to US$100. I put them around a quarter of that, maybe a little more. I doubt we could come to compromise, even if he were a little more realistic.

But if I were to find one of these in the recycling dump, I wouldn’t pass it over. It would be almost impossible (by my cursory research) to find replacement parts now, and even if you did, you’d likely be paying incredibly inflated amounts for something worth a fraction of the price tag. So you’d have to find one complete, unadulterated and in pristine condition to really appreciate it.

There are better machines of this era to experiment with. But treading the 20-year-mark on hardware this old, perhaps this exhibit machine and its “scavengee” comrade are a good investment. Maybe his offer isn’t far off the mark after all. :|

(And in a worst-case scenario, it’s reassuring to think that Dell actually still has Windows drivers for machines of this pedigree. That, in itself, is amazing, even if the nightmare of running Windows 95 on those machines is only partially massaged by the thought of rehashing a few sessions of Age of Empires.)

Who knows? Junk — ahem, I mean, vintage computing is nothing if not an unpredictable hobby. :mrgreen:

Ghosts of the machines

I haven’t taken the time to update much here, but I seem to still devote most of my time to following trends in text-based software. It consumes a considerable amount of the day.

There are a few things I should mention though, even just as updates to my trials and tribulations with outdated hardware and modern software.

First, the CTX EzBook 800 I mentioned a few months ago is not much closer to a full working state, but it was never very far off. Most distros, aside from Crux, either miss a beat with the hard drive or the optical drive, or sometimes both.

An added complication is that there seems to be no response from the PCMCIA port whatsoever. Every attempt to even acknowledge a card there comes up dead, regardless of card or distro.

As a troubleshooting measure — strictly for troubleshooting, I swear — I swallowed my pride and installed Windows 98SE from a friend’s CD (try and find one of those these days :shock: ). No life, no lights, no response.

Which leads me to believe the port is damaged or dead. It’s reassuring in a way, since it means it’s not necessarily a configuration error on my part, so much as a hardware defect that may or may not be fixable.

In any case, I could conceivably use it un-networked, as some sort of offline data storage device, and transfer files on and off via USB. It’s not an appealing option, but it’s possible.

Second, in the Thinkpad realm, I’ve allowed the ’41s to move on to new owners. I enjoyed my time with them but I am overburdened with laptops these days and need to make space.

The T41 will be a low-strain home PC for a local friend, but — even better — the X41 is going to be part of a business IT department, monitoring server performance. How exciting! :mrgreen:

The aforementioned Inspiron 4000 turned out to have far deeper problems than I suspected. A new power supply wasn’t … supplying power :roll: for some reason, so I finally pulled the entire business apart to see what could be done.

And it appears someone else had already had that idea, and “repaired” it with cyanoacrylate. The machine must have been dropped at some point, and the cracks and seams resealed. Most of the casing was in shards by the time I could get to the motherboard, at which point I made a command decision and pronounced a time of death. Its usable parts are now awaiting transplants into other hosts. A sad ending. :|

Next, I feel obligated to mention that I’ve run through a stream of Dell machines in the past month or so. I spent a short time with an Inspiron 5150, which was an interesting experience. On almost every front it outstripped my in-house 8200 machine, but was almost dull by comparison. That machine has moved on to a Windows fan, who wanted a native XP environment for classic 3D games of the 2002-2005 era (one of the FIFA games, I think).

I also came across two D610s, one in mediocre condition but the other in pristine shape, to include the carrying bag, CDs, cables, batteries, etc. It was a very nice gift.

D610s are strictly business though, and most of the internal hardware is unappealing — a lot of Broadcom network interfaces, which I hold in high disdain. Both are viable Linux candidates, but would probably require as much in supporting hardware (i.e., replacement MiniPCI wireless cards or PCMCIA network cards) that it might not be worth my effort to keep them.

I understand that the 3.17 kernel has better Broadcom support, so I might keep them around until that reaches the Arch core repos, and see if it’s true. I’ve been promised that before though, and in this day and age, there’s no need for me to cling to a Broadcom-based machine.

I also should mention a rather battered D810 that made its way to my doorstep. It was more a curiosity than the D610s, because the hardware seemed comparable, but the widescreen aspect threatened to bog down the desktop. Perhaps 1680×1050 is a bit big for a 32Mb ATI X300 card. …

What else … ? A couple of Thinkpad R50p‘s, which together were in such bad shape that there wasn’t enough left to make a single working computer out of them. And one had a password lock at the BIOS, and I’m not going through the trouble of reading EEPROMs just to start up a 10-year-old laptop. >:(

I also got an old Gateway 6518GZ that was DOA … an HP dv6000 with an unseated video card that probably would have needed a reflow to bring to life. … A couple of other lesser creatures. … :|

But the real score of the month was permission to tinker with a pair — not just one, but a pair — of truly ancient Dell Latitude LM machines. I can’t keep them but I’m allowed to poke, prod and pick at them for a while, provided I return them in original condition. Here’s one in action, with its original Windows installation.


These are true 133Mhz Pentium machines with 40Mb of RAM apiece, NeoMagic video cards and 1Gb hard drives (one completely error-free, after all these years!). Otherwise standard arrangements of PCMCIA slots and sound cards which are undoubtedly ISA components. I haven’t had a challenge of this level since … oh, probably this machine.

I have to return them to their owner in a couple of weeks, but I’m enjoying the opportunity. The biggest threat at this point seems to be their complete inability to boot from CD, and neither has a working floppy drive. Luckily they were designed with the hard drive in a pull-out tray at the front of the machine, accessible with only two screws. And even better — my IDE-to-SDHC adapter works well. :D

I’ll put up some more pictures and maybe a full post sometime in the next week or two, if I can. They have to return to their owner at the end of the month but I have free reign for a while yet. If I can make any progress, I’ll make a note of it here.

Odd, the things I think are fun. … :???:

P.S.: A very special thank-you to my online donor, who provided some of the machines mentioned above, but asked to remain anonymous. ;)

One existential crisis at a time, please

Not everything I keep around the house is an absolute winner. I do feel like I can pick and choose the machines that stay with me, and which ones go on to new owners and new lives. But sometimes there are machines that really test my principles.

Here’s one. This is a lowly Dell Inspiron 4000. And it’s definitely not a model specimen.


Quite to the contrary. This machine is a veritable best-of list for everything that can possibly go wrong with an old laptop. When it came to me,

  1. It had no memory.
  2. It had no battery, and no power supply.
  3. It had a CD player, but the door mechanism is broken, and if you don’t hold it in, it doesn’t read the CD.
  4. It had a floppy drive, but I shook so much dust out of it that I’m seriously concerned about jeopardizing one of my few remaining floppy disks by testing the drive.
  5. It has no rubber feet left, and what remains causes it to rock on a flat surface.
  6. The screen is in good shape, but takes a while to warm up. Until then, the display has a red tint to it.
  7. It has one — only one — USB port, and that’s a version 1.1 port, so it’s phenomenally slow. To make matters worse, it feels like the port is losing its grip on the motherboard, because the port flexes when you push in a drive. Scary.
  8. About a fourth of the keys — mostly in the upper right quadrant — don’t work. Either the keyboard is on the fritz, or the signal isn’t being caught by the machine. I guess the former.
  9. The CMOS battery is dead, so you have to set the date each time the machine boots. Which is tricky, because again, a quarter of the keys don’t work.
  10. It has no built-in network port, or rather, this particular model has a plastic shield over the ethernet port, which usually was a sign that the board didn’t carry that port.
  11. It has more than its share of cracks, dings, scrapes, gouges, split seams, broken corners, busted lips, scuffs and scratches.

It looks a great deal cleaner now than it did when I got it. It still needs a complete disassembly and scrubbing — if it stays, of course.

And that’s where the existential crisis comes in. Because in spite of all that damage and all those deficiencies, it still works. Its saving grace is the the fact that it belongs to the Dell C-series, which means that laptops from about five or six years before and five or six years after it all used compatible parts — including this one.

So, after calling in some favors for a 256Mb stick of PC100, then borrowing the battery and a modular DVDRW drive from the 8200, I turned it on, and it came back to life. The Windows 2000 installation was still in place and functional, even if it was hideously slow. The touchpad is in good shape. And the screen is clear and free of flaws.

I gave it an Atheros-based PCMCIA wireless card, and started it up with a PLOP CD and the Arch Linux install ISO on USB. From there I could ssh into it and work up a system, for as long as the battery would last. And as you can see, after some slight delays, it’s functional again.

But from here it becomes a question of worth, because at its core, it’s still a 600Mhz Celeron, with only 256Mb of memory, a lowly 30Gb hard drive … and all-over barely functional. Sure, it has all-Intel guts and an ATI Mobility card. But it’s not something your day-to-day computer user, circa 2014, wants to take home to meet the family.

So the jury is still out on this machine. I still haven’t tried it with a proper power supply, and I need to know for sure that the keyboard issues are just in the keyboard. I have a feeling that it will cost me more than the value of the machine just to find that out, which is why I’m debating disassembly for parts.

I hate doing that, but sometimes you have to make difficult decisions. :|

The masses have spoken: The ’41s

I wasn’t expecting the avalanche of replies and e-mails asking — sometimes demanding — to hear more about the hardware I have in the house right now. I’m flattered, and just for the record I wasn’t being self-deprecating or fishing for compliments when I said reading about my old junk would be boring. I honestly thought it would get a bit tedious.

But apparently not. So I might as well drag out a couple more basement dwellers, and show them the light of day. Here are a couple I refer to obliquely as “the ’41s.”

2014-08-19-kl-mkc96-t41 2014-08-19-lv-c5551-x41

Through some twist of fate I came up with two Thinkpads from the same release era: the X41 tablet on the right and the stock T41 laptop on the left. Every picture tells a story, so here’s a little background for each.

The X41 was a deliberate purchase that coincided, ironically, with my plan to transfer all my personal electronic documents to an encrypted live system. This is a true Centrino, with the 915 graphics card, a 1.5Ghz processor and PRO/2200 wireless.

00:00.0 Host bridge: Intel Corporation Mobile 915GM/PM/GMS/910GML Express Processor to DRAM Controller (rev 03)
00:02.0 VGA compatible controller: Intel Corporation Mobile 915GM/GMS/910GML Express Graphics Controller (rev 03)
00:02.1 Display controller: Intel Corporation Mobile 915GM/GMS/910GML Express Graphics Controller (rev 03)
00:1c.0 PCI bridge: Intel Corporation 82801FB/FBM/FR/FW/FRW (ICH6 Family) PCI Express Port 1 (rev 03)
00:1d.0 USB controller: Intel Corporation 82801FB/FBM/FR/FW/FRW (ICH6 Family) USB UHCI #1 (rev 03)
00:1d.1 USB controller: Intel Corporation 82801FB/FBM/FR/FW/FRW (ICH6 Family) USB UHCI #2 (rev 03)
00:1d.2 USB controller: Intel Corporation 82801FB/FBM/FR/FW/FRW (ICH6 Family) USB UHCI #3 (rev 03)
00:1d.3 USB controller: Intel Corporation 82801FB/FBM/FR/FW/FRW (ICH6 Family) USB UHCI #4 (rev 03)
00:1d.7 USB controller: Intel Corporation 82801FB/FBM/FR/FW/FRW (ICH6 Family) USB2 EHCI Controller (rev 03)
00:1e.0 PCI bridge: Intel Corporation 82801 Mobile PCI Bridge (rev d3)
00:1e.2 Multimedia audio controller: Intel Corporation 82801FB/FBM/FR/FW/FRW (ICH6 Family) AC'97 Audio Controller (rev 03)
00:1e.3 Modem: Intel Corporation 82801FB/FBM/FR/FW/FRW (ICH6 Family) AC'97 Modem Controller (rev 03)
00:1f.0 ISA bridge: Intel Corporation 82801FBM (ICH6M) LPC Interface Bridge (rev 03)
00:1f.2 IDE interface: Intel Corporation 82801FBM (ICH6M) SATA Controller (rev 03)
00:1f.3 SMBus: Intel Corporation 82801FB/FBM/FR/FW/FRW (ICH6 Family) SMBus Controller (rev 03)
02:00.0 Ethernet controller: Broadcom Corporation NetXtreme BCM5751M Gigabit Ethernet PCI Express (rev 11)
04:00.0 CardBus bridge: Ricoh Co Ltd RL5c476 II (rev 8d)
04:00.1 SD Host controller: Ricoh Co Ltd R5C822 SD/SDIO/MMC/MS/MSPro Host Adapter (rev 13)
04:02.0 Network controller: Intel Corporation PRO/Wireless 2200BG [Calexico2] Network Connection (rev 05)

It’s a good combination for Linux in particular; I haven’t seen a thing on this computer that required more than the tiniest measure of configuration. About the only hiccup I ever see is a recent hesitation by the 2200 card to keep connections under Arch Linux. I see this in other machines though too, so it’s not specific to this computer.

Courtesy of inxi:

System:    Host: lv-c5551 Kernel: 3.13.0-32-generic i686 (32 bit, gcc: 4.8.2) Desktop: Gnome Distro: Ubuntu 14.04 trusty
Machine:   System: IBM (portable) product: 18665GU version: ThinkPad X41 Tablet
           Mobo: IBM model: 18665GU Bios: IBM version: 75ET34WW (1.05 ) date: 09/07/2005
CPU:       Single core Intel Pentium M (-UP-) cache: 2048 KB bmips: 1197.1 clocked at 600.00 MHz 
           CPU Flags: acpi apic bts clflush cmov cx8 de dts est fpu fxsr mca mce mmx msr mtrr 
           nx pae pbe pge pse sep ss sse sse2 tm tm2 tsc vme 
Graphics:  Card: Intel Mobile 915GM/GMS/910GML Express Graphics Controller bus-ID: 00:02.0 
           X.Org: 1.15.1 drivers: intel (unloaded: fbdev,vesa) Resolution: 1024x768@60.0hz 
           GLX Renderer: Mesa DRI Intel 915GM x86/MMX/SSE2 GLX Version: 1.4 Mesa 10.1.3 Direct Rendering: Yes
Audio:     Card: Intel 82801FB/FBM/FR/FW/FRW (ICH6 Family) AC'97 Audio Controller 
           driver: snd_intel8x0 ports: 1c00 18c0 bus-ID: 00:1e.2 
           Sound: Advanced Linux Sound Architecture ver: k3.13.0-32-generic
Network:   Card-1: Broadcom NetXtreme BCM5751M Gigabit Ethernet PCI Express driver: tg3 ver: 3.134 bus-ID: 02:00.0
           IF: eth0 state: down mac: 00:0a:e4:3b:c5:b2
           Card-2: Intel PRO/Wireless 2200BG [Calexico2] Network Connection driver: ipw2200 ver: 1.2.2kmprq bus-ID: 04:02.0
           IF: eth1 state: up mac: 00:13:ce:86:7f:18
Drives:    HDD Total Size: 40.0GB (9.0% used) 1: id: /dev/sda model: HTC426040G9AT00 size: 40.0GB temp: 31C 
           Optical: No optical drives detected.
Partition: ID: / size: 36G used: 3.4G (11%) fs: ext4 dev: /dev/sda1 
           label: N/A uuid: 01e3748a-7b12-457b-b480-32d25b36afa8
           ID: swap-1 size: 1.60GB used: 0.00GB (0%) fs: swap dev: /dev/sda5 
           label: N/A uuid: f1d61a8b-cd4a-4d44-8acd-b1accc79dd11
RAID:      No RAID devices detected - /proc/mdstat and md_mod kernel raid module present
Unmounted: No unmounted partitions detected
Sensors:   System Temperatures: cpu: 46.0C mobo: 39.0C 
           Fan Speeds (in rpm): cpu: 0 
Info:      Processes: 152 Uptime: 10 min Memory: 334.2/1499.9MB Runlevel: 2 Gcc sys: 4.8.2 
           Client: Shell (bash 4.3.11) inxi: 1.9.17

Yes, that does show Ubuntu 14.04 on it; the photo is a much more agreeable Arch Linux system. But I’ve never used a tablet computer for any length of time, and I have talked down the Unity interface for so many years, I figured I should at least test it in a tablet/smartphone style before continuing to deride it.

It’s more or less what I expect: It’s completely unintuitive for me as a regular desktop user, the application search tool is particularly obtuse, and I really, really dislike the injection of so much Amazon and online searching crap. But it’s not intended for me, so my complaints are moot point. Perhaps some other time I’ll tell you what I really think about it.

Here’s it’s bigger brother, the T41:

00:00.0 Host bridge: Intel Corporation 82855PM Processor to I/O Controller (rev 03)
00:01.0 PCI bridge: Intel Corporation 82855PM Processor to AGP Controller (rev 03)
00:1d.0 USB controller: Intel Corporation 82801DB/DBL/DBM (ICH4/ICH4-L/ICH4-M) USB UHCI Controller #1 (rev 01)
00:1d.1 USB controller: Intel Corporation 82801DB/DBL/DBM (ICH4/ICH4-L/ICH4-M) USB UHCI Controller #2 (rev 01)
00:1d.2 USB controller: Intel Corporation 82801DB/DBL/DBM (ICH4/ICH4-L/ICH4-M) USB UHCI Controller #3 (rev 01)
00:1d.7 USB controller: Intel Corporation 82801DB/DBM (ICH4/ICH4-M) USB2 EHCI Controller (rev 01)
00:1e.0 PCI bridge: Intel Corporation 82801 Mobile PCI Bridge (rev 81)
00:1f.0 ISA bridge: Intel Corporation 82801DBM (ICH4-M) LPC Interface Bridge (rev 01)
00:1f.1 IDE interface: Intel Corporation 82801DBM (ICH4-M) IDE Controller (rev 01)
00:1f.3 SMBus: Intel Corporation 82801DB/DBL/DBM (ICH4/ICH4-L/ICH4-M) SMBus Controller (rev 01)
00:1f.5 Multimedia audio controller: Intel Corporation 82801DB/DBL/DBM (ICH4/ICH4-L/ICH4-M) AC'97 Audio Controller (rev 01)
00:1f.6 Modem: Intel Corporation 82801DB/DBL/DBM (ICH4/ICH4-L/ICH4-M) AC'97 Modem Controller (rev 01)
01:00.0 VGA compatible controller: Advanced Micro Devices, Inc. [AMD/ATI] RV200/M7 [Mobility Radeon 7500]
02:00.0 CardBus bridge: Texas Instruments PCI4520 PC card Cardbus Controller (rev 01)
02:00.1 CardBus bridge: Texas Instruments PCI4520 PC card Cardbus Controller (rev 01)
02:01.0 Ethernet controller: Intel Corporation 82540EP Gigabit Ethernet Controller (Mobile) (rev 03)
02:02.0 Ethernet controller: Qualcomm Atheros AR5212 802.11abg NIC (rev 01)

And from inxi:

System:    Host: kl-mkc96 Kernel: 3.15.8-1-ARCH i686 (32 bit gcc: 4.9.1) Desktop: N/A Distro: Arch Linux
Machine:   System: IBM product: 2375FU1 v: ThinkPad T41
           Mobo: IBM model: 2375FU1 Bios: IBM v: 1RETDRWW (3.23 ) date: 06/18/2007
CPU:       Single core Intel Pentium M (-UP-) cache: 1024 KB bmips: 3191 clocked at 1600 MHz
           CPU Flags: acpi bts clflush cmov cx8 de dts est fpu fxsr mca mce mmx msr mtrr pbe pge pse sep sse sse2
           tm tm2 tsc vme
Graphics:  Card: Advanced Micro Devices [AMD/ATI] RV200/M7 [Mobility Radeon 7500] bus-ID: 01:00.0
           Display Server: N/A drivers: ati,radeon Resolution: 145x55
Audio:     Card Intel 82801DB/DBL/DBM (ICH4/ICH4-L/ICH4-M) AC'97 Audio Controller
           driver: snd_intel8x0 ports: 1c00 18c0 bus-ID: 00:1f.5
           Sound: Advanced Linux Sound Architecture v: k3.15.8-1-ARCH
Network:   Card-1: Intel 82540EP Gigabit Ethernet Controller (Mobile)
           driver: e1000 v: 7.3.21-k8-NAPI port: 8000 bus-ID: 02:01.0
           IF: enp2s1 state: up speed: 100 Mbps duplex: full mac: fc:1f:19:e1:a9:0d
           Card-2: Qualcomm Atheros AR5212 802.11abg NIC driver: ath5k bus-ID: 02:02.0
           IF: wlp2s2 state: down mac: 00:05:4e:47:fd:c4
Drives:    HDD Total Size: 30.0GB (94.1% used) ID-1: /dev/sda model: IC25N030ATCS04 size: 30.0GB
           Optical: /dev/sr0 model: MATSHITA UJDA755zDVD/CDRW rev: 1.20 dev-links: cdrom
           Features: speed: 24x multisession: yes audio: yes dvd: yes rw: cd-r,cd-rw state: running
Partition: ID-1: / size: 28G used: 27G (96%) fs: ext2 dev: /dev/sda1
           label: N/A uuid: dcff29f5-b72d-40dc-9535-704e57eea88e
           ID-2: swap-1 size: 0.21GB used: 0.03GB (16%) fs: swap dev: /dev/sda2
           label: N/A uuid: f93b41a6-efd1-4cc1-9248-ed09f27d26b0
Info:      Processes: 71 Uptime: 6 days Memory: 139.1/498.4MB Init: systemd Gcc sys: 4.9.1
           Client: Shell (bash 4.3.221) inxi: 2.1.29

The T41 has a little more interesting history: I literally pulled it out of a trash heap a couple of months ago. The hard drive had been physically ripped out, taking with it a chunk of the palmrest, and there was no power cord. But the battery was there, and everything else was intact.

I took it home, diagnosed its shortcomings and checked on replacement parts. A meager US$16 later, it had a new palmrest, a new drive caddy and cover, and a compatible after-market power supply. Reborn, from the ashes of its previous self.

It has a few eccentricities though; most recently it has become somewhat hesitant to start. The normal Thinkpad lamp test finishes, the battery light illuminates, but the BIOS logo screen never appears. It’s a little disappointing, but the problem seems to revolve around using the power cord and battery together — start from battery alone and it’s fine; start from power cord alone and it’s fine; connect both at the same time and there’s some sort of unhappiness in there.

But I’m still pursuing that. I am a patient person; if it is suffering through the last of its short life, I’m willing to work with it and offer palliative care. ;)

That’s about it for now. Machines come and go in this household; I divested myself of two dual-core Latitude machines just a week or so ago. Don’t ask about those; I’m doing my best to keep you up-to-date, and a week makes a big difference around here. :mrgreen:

The trailing edge of the wave: The CTX EzBook 800

For as many times as I’ve introduced old laptops on this blog, you’d think I’d have a formula or a template page tucked away somewhere.

But I don’t, and here we are again with another underdog to report. I hope it’s not too dull for you; if it’s any consolation, I have three or four other laptops that I haven’t bothered to mention, because I imagine it to be terribly boring for you.

This one though, I feel is noteworthy. Not because it’s a cherished acquisition, like this one is, but because it’s such a curmudgeon that I have a feeling someone, somewhere down the line — probably me — will need information about it in the future. So I put it here, to avoid slogging through all the quirks again. And because that’s what this site was originally for. ;)


This is a CTX EzBook 800, the top-of-the-line model for EzBooks of 15 years ago. It’s a pure K6 machine, meaning it lacks a lot — and I mean a lot — of the requisites that most people saw in the computers of a decade ago, let alone now.

I got this as a castoff from a friend, who is also a bit of a technophile and prefers to work with out-of-date machines for a number of reasons. My friend is primarily a Windows person though, and I have a feeling this was such an underperformer that he was glad to see it go. I know he considered putting Linux on it and even asked a few questions online, but was out of his depth and didn’t see much future in it.

Apparently he paid about $1 in an online auction for it, plus the cost of a new power adapter. Not bad.

This is not my first EzBook, and that was one of the reasons I agreed to adopt it. I have had 700 and 700E models in the past, and if I remember right, that 700E was one of my first test runs with Linux. It didn’t go well, but I lacked the experience then to make it work.

And it seems that I still lack some experience now, given my rather lackluster success at getting the 800 version to sing along. Not that I have terrifically high expectations, but I do have a reputation to preserve. :???:

Here’s a rundown on the guts, and I can explain the implications later.

00:00.0 Host bridge: Integrated Technology Express, Inc. IT8330G (rev 03)
00:10.0 VGA compatible controller: Neomagic Corporation NM2160 [MagicGraph 128XD] (rev 01) (prog-if 00 [VGA controller])
00:12.0 ISA bridge: Integrated Technology Express, Inc. IT8330G (rev c1)
00:12.1 IDE interface: Integrated Technology Express, Inc. IT8330G (rev 11) (prog-if 0a [SecP PriP])
00:12.2 USB Controller: Integrated Technology Express, Inc. Unknown device 1234 (rev 03) (prog-if 10 [OHCI])
00:18.0 CardBus bridge: Texas Instruments PCI1131 (rev 01)
00:18.1 CardBus bridge: Texas Instruments PCI1131 (rev 01)

The hard drive is a Fujitsu MHD2032AT, and the optical drive is a TEAC CD-220EA. My friend maxed out the memory at 128Mb, which complements the 300Mhz K6 quite nicely. I’ve had good success with NeoMagic cards (better than the Tridents, that’s for sure >:( ), and having USB ports on a machine this old makes it an absolute treasure. Phoenix made the BIOS, which is important because the USB ports and a few other things are enabled or disabled through that.

There are some critical points in there, if you’re fighting with a similar machine or one from this era. Please bear with me, and I’ll work through them slowly.

My friend said he could get no modern version of Linux to work on it, and even though I suggested both Slackware and Debian, he still claimed no success. I can attest to that now: Both Debian 7.x and Slackware 14 ran into problems either locating the CDROM or hard drive, or both. You can add these to that list:

  1. Alpine Linux 2.7 for x86, which boots and will configure itself to the live CLI environment, but can’t find the hard drive.
  2. Puppy Linux, slacko in the non-PAE version, which spit out errors demanding a CPU with cmov.
  3. TinyCore, in its newest version, which reached text mode but couldn’t find the hard drive or CDROM.

In most cases, those were dealbreaker attempts, because the live or installation environment couldn’t find hardware I would need to move forward. Here are some others that fell flat, but for slightly different reasons.

  1. Crux Linux 2.7, which was the last i586 rendition. Refused to boot past connecting to the CDROM and ended in the jaws of the mythical “can’t access tty; job control turned off” error.
  2. Debian 5.1, which installed but boots into a soft lockup and seems content to spend eternity reporting its hopelessly frozen state at 90-second intervals.
  3. *buntu versions after 6.10, which usually didn’t get so far as Debian 5.1, and reported no hard drive or no CDROM or both.
  4. Slitaz, the 4.0 release, which booted into text mode and would allow me to install, but locked on boot.

Just out of curiosity, I also tried:

  1. ReactOS 0.3.16, the live rendition, which amazingly worked better on that machine than any other I’ve tried in recent years. I reached a Windows-esque blue desktop and a brief show of some wallpaper, but then it hung and became unresponsive. That may have been a low-memory complication.
  2. FreeDOS 1.1, which took an exceptionally long time to install, and would boot with the assistance of the installation CD. From there it would need the obvious additions of useful software and perhaps a graphical desktop.
  3. Clonezilla in recent 486 versions couldn’t find the hard drive, which is only important because it means any system I build on there will have to be dd’d off via USB1.1 for backups. :shock: Oh well, it’s not the first time. …

The real plot twists come here:

  • Ubuntu 6.06.1 and Xubuntu 6.06, both of which would find the hard drive and CD drive, and install over the course of an hour or so. The resulting desktop was forced into 800×600 (on a 1024×768 screen), and was marginally useful. I tried hand-editing the xorg.conf file but only managed to bork the display so badly as to require starting over. No network access through the PCMCIA port, which sounds familiar.
  • DSL 4.4.10 would of course work, but I ran aground again with the system freeze on wireless insert bug, which I blame on the 2.4 kernels. I used to suspect the PCMCIA-to-CardBus switchover for that, but it seems even CardBus PC cards inserted into a CardBus bridge will trigger it. My only orinoco-based card just doesn’t respond with DSL. :(
  • Crux 2.4 for the i586, which includes kernel by default but could have a newer one implanted. Booted, found CDROM, found hard drive, and installed without major incident.

For me, what is at issue here is the evolution of PC hardware away from ISA-based components to the standards which are more common now. Along with that, there was the shift away from the old kernel support for PATA hard drives to the newer SATA-style code. Add to that an ATAPI CD drive, and it’s easy to see why some distros just didn’t work, and others worked reasonably well.

You can almost pick out a month and year when the trailing edge of the wave fell away. This machine seems to have ridden the far edge of that crest, and as a result finds itself drifting on the other side. :sad:

My proof for this is in the kernel configuration for Crux 2.4, where the old-style ATA options are enabled and all the drives are found. That should correspond to the mid-2000s versions of Ubuntu, where the last support for those same drives is found. After 6.10 or so, the machine falls off again.

I can’t account for Lenny’s soft lockups though, and I don’t see much help online for that particular issue. I tried the old noacpi gimmicks from a decade ago, but whatever plagued the 5.x versions of Lenny persists.

But all is not lost. If I absolutely gut Crux’s kernel, I can compile it in about 45 minutes at 300Mhz, and best of all, I can boot to a graphical desktop with blackbox, which comes by default. (Now you understand my recent affection for blackbox. ;) )

In fact, short of getting a CardBus network adapter to respond, the entire machine works fine.

And depending on how CDs I’m willing to burn, I could conceivably hopscotch my way up from 2007 to circa 2011. The bulk of those packages is precompiled and available on the ISOs, with the exception of the contrib ports. And I have time these days to babysit it, as it churns away at the code.

There’s a little voice in my head that keeps telling me to yank the hard drive and install it externally, and then replace it. Usually there’s another little voice right after that one though, that says I’m too clumsy to get the case open on this without cracking or scratching the body somehow, and it’s too pretty as it is.. And of course, there are no service manuals online any more. … :(

So while all is not lost, this is definitely on the verge of falling through the cracks. And let’s be clear: I have no aspirations of bringing this machine into the 21st century, or for that matter, playing a YouTube video with it. Those days are over, friends. We have the Internet to blame for that.

I can’t deny it’s a terrific challenge though, and I am enjoying smacking my head against the screen for hours on end. But it does feel good when I stop. ;)