Daily Archives: September 9, 2007

Building and Configuring Ubuntu Linux on the ASUS Terminator T1-C3 Intel Socket 370 VIA C3 800MHz On-board VIA CLE266 Barebone Computer

In a previous post On Building, Buying, or Recycling a Computer to Run Ubuntu Linux I described several ways to get the hardware needed to run Ubuntu Linux.

I’m writing this on a ASUS Terminator T1-C3 Intel Socket 370 VIA C3 800MHz On-board VIA CLE266 Barebone computer that I built myself to run Ubuntu Linux.

Here are some pictures of it:

ASUS Terminator C1-T3 Side ViewASUS Terminator Side View,with 8 1/2 x 11 paper attached

ASUS-Terminaor C1-T3 Interior ViewASUS Terminator Interior View

This post is on my experiences buying and configuring this “barebone” computer, using parts from my favorite supplier, Newegg.com. (See On Buying and Building Hardware: Break a Leg with Newegg for some suggestions on buying hardware from this wonderful company.)

I started down this path when I decided it would be useful to have a dedicated server in my home so I could share files, printers, and such amongst the various machines in my house, which include my own work-related Windows laptop, my wife’s Windows laptop, and my Linux boxes, all of which now run Ubuntu. I also wanted a machine I could use to backup files.

I wanted a server in that I wanted a machine that could always be on, so I could schedule backups without having to power up the machine. Knowing that the machine would always be one, I wanted to keep the power consumption to a minimum. Such machines just do routine work. They don’t need high-performance processors to do that work, as you have to buy the electricity to that enables that high performance.

I had originally planned on building a machine from scratch using an AMD processor, but when I looked into Newegg’sbarebone computers, I noticed that among the cheapast was the ASUS Terminator T1-C3 Intel Socket 370 VIA C3 Barebone for $70 for the box and another $15 for the shipping.

Though not the cheapest, and now AMD, the ASUS was especially attractive. The cheaper boxes were of the usual sort in that they did not include the processor or any video support. But the ASUS included an Intel-compatible processor and fan from VIA, as well as onboard video, so I wouldn’t have to buy or reuse a video card. There were several reports from customers who were running Ubuntu on this box, and also comments that pointed out it only drew about forty watts, much less than the power requirement of a typical desktop.

There was one apparent drawback in that the processor ran only at 800MHz and so was much slower that current processors, but I felt that would be more than adequate for a server.

So I took the plunge. I had an old hard disk at hand. I also was fortunate in that didn’t have to buy memory chips in that I had recently upgraded another AMD box to use a motherboard that supported Socket AM2 instead of the older type I was previously using, and the older type happened to use the same memory type as the ASUS.

So I decided the ASUS barebone and take it for a spin:

If I hadn’t used old parts I would have had to buy memory and a hard drive. The following would have been more than adequate:

This brings the complete system cost, including shipping, to just under $200. All you have to do is plug in the memory chips, the hard drive, and an optical (cd/dvd) drive. Once you’ve closed the case you then need to plug in a network cable, monitor, mouse and keyboard. Then, away you go!

I had no problem installing Ubuntu 7.04 desktop on the ASUS box. I tried both the standard disk and the “alternate” disk. Each worked well, though it took more than the usual time due to the slower (800Mhz) VIA chip.

The fun seemed a bit noisy but I found that if I entered the BIOS and went to Power->Hardware Monitor->Q-Fan Function and changed the value from its default of “Disabled” to “Enabled” then there was a noticeable reduction in noise with little change in temperature.

As an experiment I unplugged the case fan to see if the processor fan would be enough to cool the whole box but abandoned that experiment after temperature had risen several degrees.

I initially set up the machine as a “headless server” in that I disconected the keyboard and mouse, but then noticed that it wouldn’t boot up. I change went into the BIO and went to Boot-> Boot Settings -> Configuration -> Halt On, and changed the setting there from “All Errors” to “All, but Keyboard.” (By default the boot process fails if no keyboard can be found.

The VIA chip is only 800Mhz, which is certainly adequate for a file server. To see how it compares with a more conventional desktop, I noted that I had the same 38GB archive of my digital music files on both the ASUS box and another machine I build recently that has a AMD Athlon 64 3000+ Orleans 1.8GHz 512KB L2 Cache Socket AM2 Processor (and also a faster bus, newer motherboard, and so forth). Here are the results of “time md5sum audio.tar”, where all times are in seconds.

ASUS: 1298 elapsed, 653 user, 288 system; Athlon Orleans: 615 elapsed, 128 user, 43 system. The most relevant times are the elapsed (wall-clock) time to perform the command, and the ASUS takes twice as long as the Athlon box.

I expect folks could do light desktop work on that box without minding the delay, as on this box as is the case with most boxes, the real bottleneck is accessing web pages, not the processor chip. Indeed, the performance is comparable to that I noticed on an e-machine with a much faster processor that one of my children bought to run Windows Vista Basic. Thing is, that chip only came with 512MB of memory, and Vista can barely run at that speed. [1]

Though I haven’t yet configured it completely, I’ll write more about that when I have time. But it’s good to know you can a brand-new box to run Ubuntu that costs unde $200, and doesn’t use much power either.

Notes:

1. I bought a 1GB chip for the Vista machine and the performance improvement was dramatic, but that cost over $50. (By the way, Linux is much more efficient in using memory than Windows, especially with memory sizes less than one gigabyte.)

On Building, Buying, or Recycling a Computer to Run Ubuntu Linux

Suppose you want your own desktop computer to run Ubuntu Linux. There are several ways to do this.

You can use old machine that you have at hand. It will probably have Windows on it, but you want to try Ubuntu. You install Ubuntu on it, either as the sole operating system or in “dual-boot” mode where you can run either Windows or Ubuntu, but not both at the same time.

You can buy a new machine that comes with Windows pre-installed, and then run Ubuntu stand-alone or in dual-boot mode.

Part of the cost of this new machine will be the money the manufacturer will have to send Microsoft’s way to pay for a copy of Windows. This money is known as the “Windows tax.”

You can buy a new machine that comes with just Ubuntu, thus avoiding the need to pay the Windows tax. Dell now provides such machines; see for example Dell PC’s Featuring Ubuntu.

You can buy a used machine or refurbish an old machine with some new parts.

You can build a machine from scratch, buying all the parts you need yourself, perhaps reusing some parts you may have on hand such as a keyboard, mouse, or display.

You can buy a “barebone” computer and the additional parts needed to make a full machine.

To start from scratch you need to buy a case, power supply,case fan, motherboard, processor chip, processor cooler, video chip/board, and hard drive.

You will usually want an optical drive, either cdrom or dvd, though you can use one temporarily just during installation if you don’t need the ability to read or write optical disks once the machine is up and running; for example, if you want to use the machine as a server.

Some cases come with the power supply and/or case fan included, or you can buy the case, the power supply and fan separately. I favor cases that include both the power supply and the fan. Though many cases support multiple fans, one fan is enough for the typical desktop system.

Some processor chips come bundled with the processor cooler, usually in the form of a fan. These are called “Retail.” The other kind is “OEM.” It just includes the chip and you have to buy the fan separately. I recommend the “Retail” approach; the manufacturer has picked a fan to work with processor and you also get the paste needed to join the chip and its fan together when you assemble the machine.

Some motherboards come with a built-in video chipset that will drive a monitor. Most don’t, and in this case you have to buy a video card separately. I favor using built-in chipsets as this is more cost-effective. However, if you have a free video card then you have more flexibility in choosing a motherboard.

The “barebones” computer is an interesting option between starting from scratch and buying a complete machine. As noted in Wikipedia’s Barebone computer, a barebone comes with case, power supply, motherboard and cooling system, and some barebone’s include the processor and/or video chipset.

Once you have the hardware, lots of information on how to install and configure Ubuntu Linux can be found at the Ubuntu Team Wiki and if you run into problems you can usually get an immediate response by posting a question to the Ubunto Forums.

I’ve done all of the above except that I have yet to buy a new machine with Ubuntu pre-installed. While this is the easiest approach for most folks it is not the cheapest approach, and Ubuntu easy to install and have found the other options cost less. However, there is an advantage for buying a machine with Ubuntu pre-installed. You know the machine will support Ubuntu and you can take advantage of the manufacturer’s support, such as it is.

The key component is the motherboard. You want a motherboard that is known to support Ubuntu. Working with a motherboard that is known to have problems is just asking for trouble, though it can be an educational experience. Google and the Ubuntu Forums are great resources for sorting out motherboard problems, and of course any other problems you might run into bringing up your Ubuntu machine. Indeed, that’s one of the main reasons to use Ubuntu instead of other Linux distributions. Ubuntu provides a wealth of online information, and there is a great community standing behind Ubuntu.

I’ve posted reports on some of my experiences building these machines and installing Ubuntu Linux on them, and plan to write some more, starting the with my next post, on my experience building a barebone computer.

Serve your time, then do the crime.

We all know the line. It’s usually said near the end of some TV show where the jury has just rendered its verdict and we know the defendant will be sent off to the slammer as punishment:

You did the crime, now serve the time.

It will probably be said yet again in the near future, not as dialog in a TV show but in a real courtroom somewhere in New Jersey. Today’s New York Times has a report Lawmakers Accused in Bribery Sting Poised to Quit that begins as follows:

Under pressure by Gov. Jon S. Corzine and other Democratic leaders in New Jersey, two assemblymen, the highest ranking of 11 current or former public officials charged with taking bribes in a federal sting investigation, signaled yesterday that they would resign from the Legislature tomorrow.

The assemblymen, Mims Hackett Jr., 65, of Essex County, and Alfred E. Steele, 53, of Passaic County, will step down four days after they and others were rounded up and accused of taking thousands of dollars in bribes for promises to steer government contracts to undercover operatives posing as insurance brokers.

The two men made no formal announcements, but several state Democratic officials, who asked not to be named because they were not authorized to speak, confirmed that their resignations would take place tomorrow and that both would be replaced by other Democratic candidates in the November elections.

Corruption is not a new issue. It’s been around a long time and will continue to occur, and not only in New Jersey.

But there is another approach to dealing with it that I first heard expressed over forty years ago. I had just moved to New York to start my graduate studies and was visiting the family of my roommate, who lived in New Jersey.

The New Jersey political machines were running like a well-oiled armored car, delivering the money to those charged with the public’s trust. I mentioned a then-current scandal and one of the people there, a woman who was active in New Jersey politics, responded:

“Politicians should serve their time before running for office. At least then we would know what to expect and they could serve out their terms without the distraction of a trial.”

Though said tongue in cheek, using this approach could result in some refreshing news stories.

Mayor Tom Smith Announces Bid for State Assembly

Mayor Tom Smith held a brief news conference at the gates of the County Jail after finishing a voluntary one-year sentence. Accompanied by his wife and family, Tom said, “I’m well rested after my year in the slammer. I also learned a lot from some of my fellow politicos who were serving their time only after being caught, and so feel fully able to apply my skills at the statewide level.

So I’m proud to announce to you that I am running for office in the State Assembly.

Or

State Assemblyman Tom Smith Announces Bid for U.S. Senate

Former State Assemblyman Tom Smith today completed his voluntary five-year sentence in the New Jersey State Penitentiary.

Surrounded by his wife and family, Tom spoke from the front steps of his new five million dollar McMansion in surburban Trenton. Known affectionately to his friends and family as “Porkopolis,” [1] it was paid for with some of the millions of dollars Tom has made from pork barrel politics. “No subprime mortage for me,” said Tom. “I paid cash, lots of cash. There was too much of it just sitting around in the state treasury.”

Tom said, “I felt five years was enough time to prepare me for national office, so I could continue the proud tradition of our state.”

Tom went on, “I’m proud of my record in the State Assembly. I served the full term, and with the support of my colleagues was able to change our state’s motto to reflect our open political process. The old motto, ‘Liberty and Prosperity,’ didn’t reflect the current reality.”

Tom concluded by saying, “I hope the voters will support me in the next election. I’ll be running for the U.S. Senate.”

The new motto?

Serve your time, then do the crime.

Notes:

1. Cincinnati, Ohio, was once known as “porkopolis.” See History of the Flying Pig.

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