Discussion:
free software mini pc
(too old to reply)
green
2012-02-12 02:09:00 UTC
Permalink
I need a fanless mini PC; it will run Debian. It will be used in a
production environment. I need good Linux support to facilitate fast
deployment and low maintenance. Avoiding non-free software really helps in
that regard, so I consider non-free firmware barely tolerable, while
out-of-tree kernel modules and things like ndiswrapper are definitely
unacceptable.

I have been surprised how many devices tout Linux in various ways but have
partial mainline Linux support. Or instead, I am simply unable to find
itemized information about Linux kernel support. Just because they ship with
Linux (often Ubuntu) does not mean it is not a custom/tainted kernel.

The other requirements:
- ≥800 MHz processor speed (for x86, or equivalent for another architecture)
- ≥1 GB memory
- VGA (possibly using an adapter)
- ≥2 USB connectors
- audio, including a microphone port
- 1 ethernet port
- wireless: 802.11bg (PCI, PCIe, or etc, NOT external dongle; n is optional)
- >25 GB flash memory (on-board, mSATA, SATA with 2.5 inch mount, or etc.)
- no fans

I have looked at:
- Norhtec MicroClient JrMX
- fit-PC2 (custom kernel, GMA500 issues?)
- Linutop 4
- Trim-Slice H (custom kernel)
- D2Plug
- Aleutia devices (just mentions Ubuntu)

Comments appreciated!
Stan Hoeppner
2012-02-12 03:15:07 UTC
Permalink
Post by green
I need a fanless mini PC; it will run Debian. It will be used in a
production environment.
[...]
Post by green
Comments appreciated!
What type of comments, exactly, are you looking for? You've got 6
systems listed, 3 apparently meeting all your criteria--you listed no
red flags for those 3 anyway.

So what exactly are we supposed to be commenting on?
--
Stan
green
2012-02-12 04:06:59 UTC
Permalink
Post by Stan Hoeppner
Post by green
I need a fanless mini PC; it will run Debian. It will be used in a
production environment.
[...]
Post by green
Comments appreciated!
What type of comments, exactly, are you looking for? You've got 6
systems listed, 3 apparently meeting all your criteria--you listed no
red flags for those 3 anyway.
Sorry, I guess that mail was not quite ready when I sent it.

How about this:
- Norhtec MicroClient JrMX (only mentions "Linux", no other information)
- fit-PC2 (custom kernel, GMA500 issues?)
- Trim-Slice H (custom kernel)
- D2Plug (no information: "d2plug" only mentioned once in plugwiki)
- Aleutia devices (only pre-installs Ubuntu, no other information)
- Linutop 3 (uses Ubuntu rescricted modules)
Post by Stan Hoeppner
So what exactly are we supposed to be commenting on?
Basically like, "hey, here is a link for Linux mainline status on the
D2Plug." Or a suggestion for a different device. I have searched and
searched and have found lots of products but so far nothing with *real* Linux
(mainline) support.

Thanks lots.
Alex Hutton
2012-02-12 04:56:05 UTC
Permalink
I need a fanless mini PC; it will run Debian.  It will be used in a
production environment.
Hi,

I share your sympathies. I really hate fan noise! There are ARM
computers that run at 5 watts, and can be passively cooled.... but can
they be used as a 'desktop'?

I've been thinking about that question a lot. The main difficulty is
that I frequently use Iceweasel and it requires a lot of memory (or,
at least, it does the way I use it), so these computers with 1
gigabyte of RAM aren't really going to cut it.

What I could do is use one of these ARM computers as a thin-client and
use vnc or xwindows forwarding to run Iceweasel in the cloud
somewhere. The problem with that is, for me, since I live in
Australia, I'm going to need a cloud that is hosted in Australia due
to the latency. But cloud hosting in Australia is nowhere near as
affordable as it is overseas, this is due to economies of scale and
Australian hosting is always going to be more expensive.

So my next plan is to build a 'beowulf cluster' out of ARM computers,
and use that as my desktop. You've probably heard of Raspberry Pi?
Well that's a pretty nice system, and costs on $35, draws 3.5 watts,
but has only 256meg of RAM. I'm sure, in the not too distant future,
there'll be system's like this, at a similar price, with at least a
gig of RAM. Then I could buy 10 of them, for $350, and I'll have a
system with 10 gigabytes of RAM and drawing 35 watts. Plus a network
switch of course.

Anyway, getting back to the original post. I actually bought a Trim
Slice. One of the first ones they rolled out. Unfortunately I haven't
been able to spend much time playing with it, although I was using it
as a VNC client for a while, plugged into a TV. It did ok. The Trim
Slice kernel has been updated since then so some time I am going to
upgrade and see how it can perform. Actually my Trim Slice lacks a
couple of hardware features, for instance the power light doesn't come
on and the system cannot power-off unless you pull the plug out. I
actually need to send my TS back to CompuLab for that because it is a
problem with the first systems they produced.

If you have specific questions about the Trim Slice I'll try to help.

Cheers,
Alex
green
2012-02-12 13:57:06 UTC
Permalink
I need a fanless mini PC; it will run Debian.  It will be used in a
production environment.
I share your sympathies. I really hate fan noise! There are ARM
computers that run at 5 watts, and can be passively cooled.... but can
they be used as a 'desktop'?
That is an interesting question for me; I know that the requirements I have
set are modest, but it will be a small step down from the specifications of
the desktop system currently in use. But it certainly will not be used
heavily, and swapping on SATA SSD Flash will probably perform a bit better
than 7200 RPM drives in use now.
So my next plan is to build a 'beowulf cluster' out of ARM computers
Wow, that sounds like a fun project.
The Trim Slice kernel has been updated since then so some time I am going
to upgrade and see how it can perform.
So the Trim-Slice is not supported by mainline kernels?
If you have specific questions about the Trim Slice I'll try to help.
Thanks.
The_Ace
2012-02-12 14:26:56 UTC
Permalink
Post by green
Post by green
I need a fanless mini PC; it will run Debian. It will be used in a
production environment.
I share your sympathies. I really hate fan noise! There are ARM
computers that run at 5 watts, and can be passively cooled.... but can
they be used as a 'desktop'?
That is an interesting question for me; I know that the requirements I have
set are modest, but it will be a small step down from the specifications of
the desktop system currently in use. But it certainly will not be used
heavily, and swapping on SATA SSD Flash will probably perform a bit better
than 7200 RPM drives in use now.
Post by green
So my next plan is to build a 'beowulf cluster' out of ARM computers
Wow, that sounds like a fun project.
Post by green
The Trim Slice kernel has been updated since then so some time I am going
to upgrade and see how it can perform.
So the Trim-Slice is not supported by mainline kernels?
Post by green
If you have specific questions about the Trim Slice I'll try to help.
Thanks.
Doesnt thin clients & LTSP qualify for this ?
I have 2 WYSE S50 Thin client terminals running LTSP on stock debian kernel
with my laptop acting as the 'server'.
WYSE S series comes with its own version of linux with a GUI but it can
network boot LTSP just fine.
I believe there are some other Thin clients that has Wireless cards built
in as well (S50 does not).

I was able to get the same S50 with a wifi dongle added to work over wifi
but that was noticeably slow as that had to be booted with a trimmed down
linux os (knoppix in my case) off a USB thumb drive to get the wifi network
connected. As the device has only 128mb memory, this was not suitable for
actual work. i did it merely as an exercise than anything else.

It works fine with LTSP (with ethernet cable connection) and even packages
like LibreOffice works with very little 'slowness'. However apss that
requires Direct 3D access (tux paint in this case) did not work. I dont
know if its a case of mis configured Xorg settings or if the S50's graphics
system simply does not support it. IT has AMD Geode CPU/GPU.

For general Home office/office/school lab environments, its perfectly
usable as a production system.

Regards,
Mihira.
Regards,
Mihira.
green
2012-02-12 18:08:23 UTC
Permalink
Post by green
I need a fanless mini PC; it will run Debian. It will be used in a
production environment.
Doesnt thin clients & LTSP qualify for this ?
For my situation, this would result in maintaining 2 devices rather than 1;
not really a reasonable option.
Post by green
WYSE S series comes with its own version of linux with a GUI but it can
network boot LTSP just fine.
I will certainly look at the WYSE devices, but neither thin client devices
nor a custom Linux kernel are of interest.

Thanks for your input.
Alex Hutton
2012-02-14 12:26:04 UTC
Permalink
Post by green
So the Trim-Slice is not supported by mainline kernels?
As others said, the main issue is the Tegra 2 is a nvidia chip and
CompuLab are reliant on nvidia in order to get things working.

I haven't tried upgrading the kernel since I got the original unit.
Performance was ok with the original but generally it seemed to be
well below what you would expect given the specs of the Tegra 2.

There was an interesting article about the Trim Slice posted a few
days ago, I don't know if you saw it:
http://blog.sesse.net/blog/tech/2012-02-12-21-43_playing_with_the_trim_slice.html

To repeat Christofer's question though, what's the problem with a
non-standard kernel? I get the feeling that these ARM computers that
are coming out are going to be reliant on customised kernels for some
time. If the customisation of the kernel can be managed in a
standardised way, then it shouldn't be a problem.

Cheers,
Alex
green
2012-02-14 15:34:00 UTC
Permalink
Post by Alex Hutton
There was an interesting article about the Trim Slice posted a few
http://blog.sesse.net/blog/tech/2012-02-12-21-43_playing_with_the_trim_slice.html
Thanks, I had not seen that yet. Reading that certainly suggests that the
Trim-Slice is not ready for a production desktop system yet!

with custom kernel, assuming that blog is correct:
- slow transfers and frequent bus resets
- power saving not fully implemented
- DVI port trouble at high resolutions
- unstable wireless driver
Post by Alex Hutton
To repeat Christofer's question though, what's the problem with a
non-standard kernel? I get the feeling that these ARM computers that
are coming out are going to be reliant on customised kernels for some
time. If the customisation of the kernel can be managed in a
standardised way, then it shouldn't be a problem.
I am *not* looking for disposable hardware. I am *not* interested in
purchasing a maintenance burden. I need *rock-solid* *long-term* Linux
reliability on *rock-solid* hardware. Will Compulabs continue to provide
updated custom kernels a year or more from now? I doubt it, considering that
the custom kernel they provide for their product now does not work (strictly
speaking).

Frankly, I am surprised that comments here suggest apathy and even hostility
toward (that is, questioning the value of) a search for a strictly "free
software" device, especially considering Debian's social contract and the
purpose of reducing maintenance requirements. Do you or others here enjoy
purchasing a system on which Linux does not work correctly until months
later, if ever?
Tom H
2012-02-14 17:18:22 UTC
Permalink
I am *not* looking for disposable hardware.  I am *not* interested in
purchasing a maintenance burden.  I need *rock-solid* *long-term* Linux
reliability on *rock-solid* hardware.  Will Compulabs continue to provide
updated custom kernels a year or more from now?  I doubt it, considering that
the custom kernel they provide for their product now does not work (strictly
speaking).
Frankly, I am surprised that comments here suggest apathy and even hostility
toward (that is, questioning the value of) a search for a strictly "free
software" device, especially considering Debian's social contract and the
purpose of reducing maintenance requirements.  Do you or others here enjoy
purchasing a system on which Linux does not work correctly until months
later, if ever?
:)

The perceived hostility is an artifact of your own aggressivity;
basically "I want this", "I don't want that", "I refuse to compromise
on this".

If the DFSG or an equivalent philosophy gets in the way of my
installing Linux and using it easily, I ignore the DFSG.

I also reject your premise (as I've understood it) that the packages
in main are more stable than the packages in the non-main repos - and
I'm sure that the developers who maintain the latter packages would
prefer that you be more respectful of their work.
green
2012-02-14 17:56:23 UTC
Permalink
Post by Tom H
Post by green
Frankly, I am surprised that comments here suggest apathy and even hostility
toward (that is, questioning the value of) a search for a strictly "free
software" device, especially considering Debian's social contract and the
purpose of reducing maintenance requirements.  Do you or others here enjoy
purchasing a system on which Linux does not work correctly until months
later, if ever?
:)
The perceived hostility is an artifact of your own aggressivity;
basically "I want this", "I don't want that", "I refuse to compromise
on this".
Probably my refusal to compromise is from past experiences with troublesome
hardware on systems that needed to work ASAP. And a significant portion of
those was related to non-free, out-of-tree kernel modules.
Post by Tom H
I also reject your premise (as I've understood it) that the packages
in main are more stable than the packages in the non-main repos - and
I'm sure that the developers who maintain the latter packages would
prefer that you be more respectful of their work.
Hey, sorry. I am just trying to express the reason for my feelings, not
trying to bash anything.
Tom H
2012-02-14 19:27:23 UTC
Permalink
Post by green
Post by Tom H
Post by green
Frankly, I am surprised that comments here suggest apathy and even hostility
toward (that is, questioning the value of) a search for a strictly "free
software" device, especially considering Debian's social contract and the
purpose of reducing maintenance requirements.  Do you or others here enjoy
purchasing a system on which Linux does not work correctly until months
later, if ever?
:)
The perceived hostility is an artifact of your own aggressivity;
basically "I want this", "I don't want that", "I refuse to compromise
on this".
Probably my refusal to compromise is from past experiences with troublesome
hardware on systems that needed to work ASAP.  And a significant portion of
those was related to non-free, out-of-tree kernel modules.
Post by Tom H
I also reject your premise (as I've understood it) that the packages
in main are more stable than the packages in the non-main repos - and
I'm sure that the developers who maintain the latter packages would
prefer that you be more respectful of their work.
Hey, sorry.  I am just trying to express the reason for my feelings, not
trying to bash anything.
You were wondering why there hadn't been a more dynamic response to
your post and I just gave you my answer. I'm even happy for you to
call me apathetic for my attitude! :)

I forgot in my previous email to thank you for bringing up these
products because I've been asked to set up a Mac Mini as an intranet
server and I'm going to look at the boxes that have been mentioned in
this thread possibly to make a counter proposal. I'd previously only
glanced at Acer's Revo and Veriton offerings.
Alex Hutton
2012-02-14 22:59:53 UTC
Permalink
I am *not* looking for disposable hardware.  I am *not* interested in
purchasing a maintenance burden.  I need *rock-solid* *long-term* Linux
reliability on *rock-solid* hardware.  Will Compulabs continue to provide
updated custom kernels a year or more from now?  I doubt it, considering that
the custom kernel they provide for their product now does not work (strictly
speaking).
Fair points. I guess you would need to go with an Atom or other x86
system which would have a more mature architecture, rather than ARM.
For my personal needs I'm thinking of desktop usage, so I'm not
thinking of a mission-critical application, and ultra-reliability is
not a necessity, though it is desiable :). A custom kernel that
doesn't work is obviously going to be a problem, but if it works well
enough then it would be fine for me. But I guess it does make a
difference to something that might be mission-critical because the
changes to the kernel are not likely to be widely tested or reviewed
so it's a definite risk, even if it's a small one, that there are
undetected bugs or security flaws present. However that's just an
uninformed view on my part, I don't really know anything about linux
kernel development and how robust the system is against bugs that
might be introduced with the sort of customisation that Compulab are
doing.
green
2012-02-15 15:15:04 UTC
Permalink
Post by Alex Hutton
Fair points. I guess you would need to go with an Atom or other x86
system which would have a more mature architecture, rather than ARM.
Yes, x86 seems to be the architecture of choice at this point, with regard to
reliability.
Post by Alex Hutton
For my personal needs I'm thinking of desktop usage, so I'm not
thinking of a mission-critical application, and ultra-reliability is
not a necessity, though it is desirable :).
I am making reliability a requirement in my purchase. Reliability is
actually significantly more important to me than most of the other
specifications.
Stefan Monnier
2012-02-16 02:25:34 UTC
Permalink
not a necessity, though it is desiable :). A custom kernel that
doesn't work is obviously going to be a problem, but if it works well
enough then it would be fine for me. But I guess it does make a
The problem is: what will you do with your machine three year down
the road? Will you have to keep looking for some guy who keeps a custom
kernel up-to-date, or will you have to rely on an old version of the
kernel, and hence suffer from various "minor" problems as the user-space
code starts to rely on new features your kernel does not provide?

If your machine is supported by the stock kernel, all these problems are
pretty much absent: you can expect to simply "aptitude upgrade" for the
next ten years.


Stefan
green
2012-02-16 04:14:50 UTC
Permalink
Post by Stefan Monnier
not a necessity, though it is desiable :). A custom kernel that
doesn't work is obviously going to be a problem, but if it works well
enough then it would be fine for me. But I guess it does make a
The problem is: what will you do with your machine three year down
the road? Will you have to keep looking for some guy who keeps a custom
kernel up-to-date, or will you have to rely on an old version of the
kernel, and hence suffer from various "minor" problems as the user-space
code starts to rely on new features your kernel does not provide?
If your machine is supported by the stock kernel, all these problems are
pretty much absent: you can expect to simply "aptitude upgrade" for the
next ten years.
This is *precisely* why I prefer to purchase devices with full kernel
support.

The question is, how can I be reasonably sure before the purchase? In many
cases the information is unavailable or difficult to find.
Joe
2012-02-16 08:43:20 UTC
Permalink
On Wed, 15 Feb 2012 22:14:50 -0600
Post by green
Post by Stefan Monnier
If your machine is supported by the stock kernel, all these
problems are pretty much absent: you can expect to simply "aptitude
upgrade" for the next ten years.
This is *precisely* why I prefer to purchase devices with full kernel
support.
The question is, how can I be reasonably sure before the purchase?
In many cases the information is unavailable or difficult to find.
Because it mostly doesn't exist. If you were given one of these machines
and an Internet connection, how much time would you expect to need
before you were willing to issue a guarantee, on which other people
would base purchasing decisions, that *everything* worked as expected?

For how long would you issue the guarantee, given the slight but
non-zero chance that something is dependent on a bug which has security
issues, which might therefore change even in Stable?

When you do settle on something, will you test it exhaustively and
document the results on the Net? Because that's where the information
comes from which you're looking for at the moment, and you can help
future Debian users if you do. We'll get no help from manufacturers,
until they get desperate enough to scratch around for the last few
percent of potential customers.

Hardware compatibility happens in the MS world because the boot is on
the other foot, in that manufacturers have no choice but to engineer
their products to work with Windows, and modify them if problems are
found. No such incentive exists (yet) for Linux compatibility.
--
Joe
Andrei POPESCU
2012-02-16 09:55:04 UTC
Permalink
Post by Joe
Hardware compatibility happens in the MS world because the boot is on
the other foot, in that manufacturers have no choice but to engineer
their products to work with Windows, and modify them if problems are
found. No such incentive exists (yet) for Linux compatibility.
It would be enough for hardware manufacturers to stick to the relevant
standards, but more than often they implement them in various different
ways or simply ignore them and then release Windows drivers that work
around the issues.

Kind regards,
Andrei
--
Offtopic discussions among Debian users and developers:
http://lists.alioth.debian.org/mailman/listinfo/d-community-offtopic
Joel Rees
2012-03-10 02:01:27 UTC
Permalink
(You just sparked another rant.)

On Thu, Feb 16, 2012 at 6:55 PM, Andrei POPESCU
Post by Andrei POPESCU
Post by Joe
Hardware compatibility happens in the MS world because the boot is on
the other foot, in that manufacturers have no choice but to engineer
their products to work with Windows, and modify them if problems are
found. No such incentive exists (yet) for Linux compatibility.
It would be enough for hardware manufacturers to stick to the relevant
standards, but more than often they implement them in various different
ways or simply ignore them and then release Windows drivers that
sort-of
Post by Andrei POPESCU
work
around the issues.
But not really.

Unless you consider MSWindows-only-the-version-you-bought-maybe stable.

I have a Lenovo S100 which has some nice MSWindows-only features which
require drivers for, oh, wow, last year's version of MSWindows. And
didn't really work fully then. (And don't ask me about the QuickStart
that needs a kernel update but can't find the server.)

The problem is not the OS. It's the ridiculously hard level of
(business) competition being engaged in, to try to capture the pipes
for the coming century. It's very similar to what killed the railroads
at the beginning of the last century.

Too many people want the patent on the bridge that the whole world has
to cross, but don't want the responsibility of maintaining that
bridge.

As for your requirements, I've been looking and hoping for longer than
you, and now I think it's expecting too much. Think about cars at the
beginning of the last century. My father used to tell me about his
buddies who used hand-operated windshield wipers. (He was a teenager
between WWI and WWII.) As much as we would rather have off-the-shelf
stuff, that is not the state of the industry.

If you don't want to believe me, imagine you won the lottery, then go
check how much money and how much time and how many employees it would
take to set up a company to build and support the device you want.

(The venom beneath the surface is not towards you. It's towards
Microsoft, Apple, Intel, and, to a certain extent, Google, among
others. And I guess I could have been a bit more brief and just said,
yes, your expectations are a tad high for current reality. But if your
boss says, "Then Windows, ...," tell him he's living in a dream world.
Look for a little more DIY and a little more hands-on time keeping it
free and running.)

--
Joel Rees
Andrei POPESCU
2012-03-10 09:51:44 UTC
Permalink
Post by Joel Rees
As for your requirements, I've been looking and hoping for longer than
you, and now I think it's expecting too much. Think about cars at the
beginning of the last century. My father used to tell me about his
buddies who used hand-operated windshield wipers. (He was a teenager
between WWI and WWII.) As much as we would rather have off-the-shelf
stuff, that is not the state of the industry.
Not sure if you are talking about my requirements or the OP's, but if
this one had a DVB-C(2) tuner I'd buy one
http://www.asus.com/Multimedia/Digital_Media_Player/OPlay_TV_Pro/#specifications
(my TV already has DVB-T, which I can't use anyway)

This one
http://www.asus.com/Multimedia/Digital_Media_Player/OPlay_HD2/#specifications
is also great, but:
- the USB3 port is slave
- no Gigabit Ethernet

Looking around the internet it seems at least with the HD2 you get root
telnet access, so I'm guessing it shouldn't be to hard to install Debian
on it :D

Kind regards,
Andrei
--
Offtopic discussions among Debian users and developers:
http://lists.alioth.debian.org/mailman/listinfo/d-community-offtopic
green
2012-02-16 15:53:36 UTC
Permalink
Post by Joe
Post by green
The question is, how can I be reasonably sure before the purchase?
In many cases the information is unavailable or difficult to find.
Because it mostly doesn't exist. If you were given one of these machines
and an Internet connection, how much time would you expect to need
before you were willing to issue a guarantee, on which other people
would base purchasing decisions, that *everything* worked as expected?
You suggest that it would take an unreasonable amount of time, then later you
suggest/request that I do for the sake of other Linux users. Either way
(read on)...
Post by Joe
For how long would you issue the guarantee, given the slight but
non-zero chance that something is dependent on a bug which has security
issues, which might therefore change even in Stable?
I understand that Linux is a moving target. But is it really so difficult to
just say that "yes, we tested this device with Linux kernel version whatever
and tested the following items"?

There are several 100% free Linux distributions available (I have looked at
Parabola and BLAG); just running one of those and testing would do the trick,
correct?
Post by Joe
When you do settle on something, will you test it exhaustively and
document the results on the Net?
If possible, I will do so. Of course, one reason this discussion started is
that I do not feel that I have extra time to deal with hardware troubles, but
I will do my best to at least document what works, and more if possible.
Post by Joe
Because that's where the information comes from which you're looking for at
the moment, and you can help future Debian users if you do. We'll get no
help from manufacturers, until they get desperate enough to scratch around
for the last few percent of potential customers.
Hardware compatibility happens in the MS world because the boot is on
the other foot, in that manufacturers have no choice but to engineer
their products to work with Windows, and modify them if problems are
found. No such incentive exists (yet) for Linux compatibility.
So although niche markets exist and there are niche manufacturers to fill (at
least some of) those markets, you suggest that none exists to fill this one.
As I have said previously: I would be satisfied, but disappointed, to be told
that no, there is no vendor providing a reasonable guarantee of mainline
Linux support. Your message has come closest so far to doing that; thanks.
Joe
2012-02-16 19:50:18 UTC
Permalink
On Thu, 16 Feb 2012 09:53:36 -0600
Post by green
Your message has
come closest so far to doing that; thanks.
You're welcome, I wish I could offer more hope, but as users of an
operating system most people have never heard of, we get to suck it and
see.

Whichever way you go, I recommend keeping a recent version of Knoppix
handy. A lot of hardware troubles are due, not to missing or inadequate
software, but to limitations in hardware detection in standard Debian.
Knoppix is rightly famous for its hardware handling, and the Debian
installer developers will never have the time to apply the kind of
effort that Herr Knopper expends on this.

A lot of the time, Knoppix will run a 'difficult' bit of hardware, but
using mainstream modules that the Debian installer has not seen the
need for. It is (mostly) then a matter of tweaking the Debian
installation to match.

Joe
green
2012-02-16 20:56:44 UTC
Permalink
Post by Joe
A lot of the time, Knoppix will run a 'difficult' bit of hardware, but
using mainstream modules that the Debian installer has not seen the
need for. It is (mostly) then a matter of tweaking the Debian
installation to match.
Do you consider Knoppix hardware detection better than in grml?
Joe
2012-02-17 08:19:21 UTC
Permalink
On Thu, 16 Feb 2012 14:56:44 -0600
Post by green
Post by Joe
A lot of the time, Knoppix will run a 'difficult' bit of hardware,
but using mainstream modules that the Debian installer has not seen
the need for. It is (mostly) then a matter of tweaking the Debian
installation to match.
Do you consider Knoppix hardware detection better than in grml?
Don't know, I haven't tried that one. So far, Knoppix and the Debian
install CD have done everything I've needed. We move on when we find a
need to...
--
Joe
Stefan Monnier
2012-02-16 14:10:36 UTC
Permalink
Post by green
The question is, how can I be reasonably sure before the purchase? In many
cases the information is unavailable or difficult to find.
Agreed, it's a serious problem. E.g. for fit-pc2 I actually forgot to
mention that the video driver is not well supported by stock kernel and
Xorg since it's the infamous "gma500". It's actually reasonably well
supported by the KMS code now (since Linux-3.0, more or less) but there's
still basically no hardware acceleration support.

Of course, the manufacturer distributes the GNU/Linux version of the
product with a proprietary driver which is hell to get working on
anything else than that specific Xorg+kernel combination.
Fortunately, all I care about is mode-setting and the fbdev Xorg driver
is good enough for my needs, but for many people it could be a major
obstacle (e.g. can't use it as media-PC to watch TV).


Stefan
green
2012-02-16 15:59:22 UTC
Permalink
Post by Stefan Monnier
Post by green
The question is, how can I be reasonably sure before the purchase? In many
cases the information is unavailable or difficult to find.
Agreed, it's a serious problem. E.g. for fit-pc2 I actually forgot to
mention that the video driver is not well supported by stock kernel and
Xorg since it's the infamous "gma500". It's actually reasonably well
supported by the KMS code now (since Linux-3.0, more or less) but there's
still basically no hardware acceleration support.
I seriously considered a fit-PC2 until I learned about the trouble with
GMA500.
http://wiki.ubuntu.com/HardwareSupportComponentsVideoCardsPoulsbo/
Post by Stefan Monnier
Of course, the manufacturer distributes the GNU/Linux version of the
product with a proprietary driver which is hell to get working on
anything else than that specific Xorg+kernel combination.
I like to avoid that head-banging experience and the associated "why did I
ever purchase this garbage".
Stefan Monnier
2012-02-17 16:07:50 UTC
Permalink
Post by green
Post by Stefan Monnier
Of course, the manufacturer distributes the GNU/Linux version of the
product with a proprietary driver which is hell to get working on
anything else than that specific Xorg+kernel combination.
I like to avoid that head-banging experience and the associated "why did I
ever purchase this garbage".
So do I. FWIW the Fit-PC3 seems much more promising in this regard,


Stefan
Arnt Karlsen
2012-02-14 15:41:59 UTC
Permalink
On Tue, 14 Feb 2012 23:26:04 +1100, Alex wrote in message
Post by Alex Hutton
Post by green
So the Trim-Slice is not supported by mainline kernels?
As others said, the main issue is the Tegra 2 is a nvidia chip
...that doesn't work with nouveau? Uh-oh.
Post by Alex Hutton
and CompuLab are reliant on nvidia in order to get things working.
I haven't tried upgrading the kernel since I got the original unit.
Performance was ok with the original but generally it seemed to be
well below what you would expect given the specs of the Tegra 2.
There was an interesting article about the Trim Slice posted a few
http://blog.sesse.net/blog/tech/2012-02-12-21-43_playing_with_the_trim_slice.html
To repeat Christofer's question though, what's the problem with a
non-standard kernel? I get the feeling that these ARM computers that
are coming out are going to be reliant on customised kernels for some
time. If the customisation of the kernel can be managed in a
standardised way, then it shouldn't be a problem.
Cheers,
Alex
--
..med vennlig hilsen = with Kind Regards from Arnt Karlsen
...with a number of polar bear hunters in his ancestry...
Scenarios always come in sets of three:
best case, worst case, and just in case.
k***@strucktower.com
2012-02-12 14:28:18 UTC
Permalink
I'm glad to see this thread, because I hadn't heard of the Raspberry Pi
before- way cool!

But I'm curious about the original query- what's the need for such an
ultra-quiet machine? I too hate fan noise, but even when run hard I have
to _try_ to hear my laptop fan. Is there a special reason you need a
machine that's fanless other than noise level, or are you doing something
stealthy?

Keith
Post by Alex Hutton
I need a fanless mini PC; it will run Debian.  It will be used in a
production environment.
Hi,
I share your sympathies. I really hate fan noise! There are ARM
computers that run at 5 watts, and can be passively cooled.... but can
they be used as a 'desktop'?
I've been thinking about that question a lot. The main difficulty is
that I frequently use Iceweasel and it requires a lot of memory (or,
at least, it does the way I use it), so these computers with 1
gigabyte of RAM aren't really going to cut it.
What I could do is use one of these ARM computers as a thin-client and
use vnc or xwindows forwarding to run Iceweasel in the cloud
somewhere. The problem with that is, for me, since I live in
Australia, I'm going to need a cloud that is hosted in Australia due
to the latency. But cloud hosting in Australia is nowhere near as
affordable as it is overseas, this is due to economies of scale and
Australian hosting is always going to be more expensive.
So my next plan is to build a 'beowulf cluster' out of ARM computers,
and use that as my desktop. You've probably heard of Raspberry Pi?
Well that's a pretty nice system, and costs on $35, draws 3.5 watts,
but has only 256meg of RAM. I'm sure, in the not too distant future,
there'll be system's like this, at a similar price, with at least a
gig of RAM. Then I could buy 10 of them, for $350, and I'll have a
system with 10 gigabytes of RAM and drawing 35 watts. Plus a network
switch of course.
Anyway, getting back to the original post. I actually bought a Trim
Slice. One of the first ones they rolled out. Unfortunately I haven't
been able to spend much time playing with it, although I was using it
as a VNC client for a while, plugged into a TV. It did ok. The Trim
Slice kernel has been updated since then so some time I am going to
upgrade and see how it can perform. Actually my Trim Slice lacks a
couple of hardware features, for instance the power light doesn't come
on and the system cannot power-off unless you pull the plug out. I
actually need to send my TS back to CompuLab for that because it is a
problem with the first systems they produced.
If you have specific questions about the Trim Slice I'll try to help.
Cheers,
Alex
green
2012-02-12 15:29:42 UTC
Permalink
Post by k***@strucktower.com
But I'm curious about the original query- what's the need for such an
ultra-quiet machine?
Reason 1: no cleaning. A system with a fan requires cleaning. Frequency
of cleaning depends on the environment. The desktop that this will replace
is in a somewhat dusty environment.

Reason 2: I have seen (slightly) more fans fail than hard disks. So this
second reason suggests that a fanless system is slightly lower maintenance in
the long term.

Reason 3: yeah, noise. Really this is not a big deal, but quietness is nice.
Richard Owlett
2012-02-12 20:31:27 UTC
Permalink
Post by green
Post by k***@strucktower.com
But I'm curious about the original query- what's the need for such an
ultra-quiet machine?
Reason 1: no cleaning. A system with a fan requires cleaning. Frequency
of cleaning depends on the environment. The desktop that this will replace
is in a somewhat dusty environment.
To expand on the OP's reply:
If the unit is fan-less, it may also be a sealed unit.
Consider the case of humid &/or corrosive atmosphere.

Back in the 70's DEC had an enclosure for the LSI-11
irreverently dubbed the "Hitachi".
Five sides were cast aluminum with large fins o get rid of
~100 watts of heat. The sixth side was a heavily gasketed
piece of cast aluminum. Internally it was not fanless, but
it was definitely sealed against external nastiness ;/ IIRC
it was intended for industrial environments including
electro-plating.
Post by green
Reason 2: I have seen (slightly) more fans fail than hard disks. So this
second reason suggests that a fanless system is slightly lower maintenance in
the long term.
Reason 3: yeah, noise. Really this is not a big deal, but quietness is nice.
Bruce Ferrell
2012-02-13 00:56:52 UTC
Permalink
Post by green
Post by k***@strucktower.com
But I'm curious about the original query- what's the need for such an
ultra-quiet machine?
Reason 1: no cleaning. A system with a fan requires cleaning. Frequency
of cleaning depends on the environment. The desktop that this will replace
is in a somewhat dusty environment.
Reason 2: I have seen (slightly) more fans fail than hard disks. So this
second reason suggests that a fanless system is slightly lower maintenance in
the long term.
Reason 3: yeah, noise. Really this is not a big deal, but quietness is nice.
I was tempted to remain quiet, but here is the vendor I use for this calls of thing.

http://www.logicsupply.com/categories/fanless_systems

They have a FEW system they have marked as unusuitable for use with Linux. On checking as to why, they observed that they didn't do a clean shutdown on with Ubuntu 10.04... Which
was a know issue with that particular distro/version. I did my own testing and found them to be totally suitable for my environment. YMMV.
green
2012-02-13 16:11:52 UTC
Permalink
Post by Bruce Ferrell
http://www.logicsupply.com/categories/fanless_systems
Thanks for the link, they have some nice looking systems. Unfortunately I
was unable to find any mention of Linux kernel support status.
Post by Bruce Ferrell
They have a FEW system they have marked as unusuitable for use with Linux.
On checking as to why, they observed that they didn't do a clean shutdown
on with Ubuntu 10.04... Which was a know issue with that particular
distro/version. I did my own testing and found them to be totally suitable
for my environment. YMMV.
So they just try booting Ubuntu and if it works, then claim Linux support?

YMMV is exactly what I want the supplier/manufacturer to guarantee *against*
(within reason). Surely other consumers feel the same way?
Christofer C. Bell
2012-02-13 21:33:13 UTC
Permalink
Post by Bruce Ferrell
http://www.logicsupply.com/categories/fanless_systems
Thanks for the link, they have some nice looking systems.  Unfortunately I
was unable to find any mention of Linux kernel support status.
Post by Bruce Ferrell
They have a FEW system they have marked as unusuitable for use with Linux.
On checking as to why, they observed that they didn't do a clean shutdown
on with Ubuntu 10.04... Which was a know issue with that particular
distro/version.  I did my own testing and found them to be totally suitable
for my environment. YMMV.
So they just try booting Ubuntu and if it works, then claim Linux support?
Their testing methodology isn't outlined in the post here. The only
inference we can make is that "does the system shut down cleanly under
Ubuntu?" is one of the tests run. The units marked "not suitable for
Linux" failed that test. There is no other information on what
testing is done aside from the above. You cannot make a statement
about their testing methods if you have no information on the entirety
of their testing guidelines/checklist.
YMMV is exactly what I want the supplier/manufacturer to guarantee *against*
(within reason).  Surely other consumers feel the same way?
Other consumers do feel that way. However, that's in no way in
conflict with this company's testing methods based on the next to zero
information provided.
--
Chris
green
2012-02-13 22:47:37 UTC
Permalink
Post by Christofer C. Bell
Post by Bruce Ferrell
http://www.logicsupply.com/categories/fanless_systems
Thanks for the link, they have some nice looking systems.  Unfortunately I
was unable to find any mention of Linux kernel support status.
Post by Bruce Ferrell
They have a FEW system they have marked as unusuitable for use with Linux.
On checking as to why, they observed that they didn't do a clean shutdown
on with Ubuntu 10.04... Which was a know issue with that particular
distro/version.  I did my own testing and found them to be totally suitable
for my environment. YMMV.
So they just try booting Ubuntu and if it works, then claim Linux support?
Their testing methodology isn't outlined in the post here. The only
inference we can make is that "does the system shut down cleanly under
Ubuntu?" is one of the tests run. The units marked "not suitable for
Linux" failed that test. There is no other information on what
testing is done aside from the above.
So I can not trust that mainline Linux actually supports the device.
Christofer C. Bell
2012-02-13 22:54:37 UTC
Permalink
Post by green
Post by green
So they just try booting Ubuntu and if it works, then claim Linux support?
Their testing methodology isn't outlined in the post here.  The only
inference we can make is that "does the system shut down cleanly under
Ubuntu?" is one of the tests run.  The units marked "not suitable for
Linux" failed that test.  There is no other information on what
testing is done aside from the above.
So I can not trust that mainline Linux actually supports the device.
What do you mean by "mainline Linux"? If you mean a stock, vanilla
kernel, Debian isn't using "mainline Linux," either. If you mean a
Debian kernel, then there's no telling if it will work or not without
either trying it or contacting the company and asking.

I would be surprised if it didn't work, to be honest. The things that
generally give Linux trouble are normally graphics cards, wireless
networks, and sound. I don't know what they mean by "fails to cleanly
shut down under Ubuntu." Maybe they mean the system halts but doesn't
power off. Would that be an issue? Having to manually cut power?

Your best bet is to contact them and ask.
--
Chris
green
2012-02-15 04:08:43 UTC
Permalink
Maybe they mean the system halts but doesn't power off. Would that be an
issue? Having to manually cut power?
Um, maybe the thing that people aren't getting here is that I am interested
in *purchasing* a device. (I am not out to throw mud in faces, just shopping
for what I want.) What I want is what I have already mentioned, 100% free
software and maximum reliability (so everything "just works"; yes, and powers
off too). I have not given any spending limits at all, so suggestions have a
blank check to work with.

If no device fits my requirements, fine. In that case I will not be
purchasing one. I just would like to know now, *before* I make a purchase.
Andrei Popescu
2012-02-12 23:10:55 UTC
Permalink
Post by green
- Trim-Slice H (custom kernel)
I was almost going to order one of those, but eventually gave up because
"SATA is implemented with USB to SATA Genesys Logic GL830". I admit the
custom kernel was also not an incentive.

Maybe CompuLab will release a device based on Tegra 3 soon?

OTOH the Raspberry PI should be able to do most of what I really need
(HDMI playback & internet radio), so I'll probably get one as soon as
they include a case.

Kind regards,
Andrei
--
Offtopic discussions among Debian users and developers:
http://lists.alioth.debian.org/mailman/listinfo/d-community-offtopic
green
2012-02-13 16:41:35 UTC
Permalink
Post by Andrei Popescu
Post by green
- Trim-Slice H (custom kernel)
I was almost going to order one of those, but eventually gave up because
"SATA is implemented with USB to SATA Genesys Logic GL830". I admit the
custom kernel was also not an incentive.
Maybe CompuLab will release a device based on Tegra 3 soon?
Is Tegra 3 supported by Linux? Are any of the Tegras supported by Linux?
While I have found nothing definitive, everything I have found suggests not.
Post by Andrei Popescu
OTOH the Raspberry PI should be able to do most of what I really need
(HDMI playback & internet radio), so I'll probably get one as soon as
they include a case.
Sounds great, but probably not adequate for desktop use.
David Goodenough
2012-02-13 17:31:09 UTC
Permalink
Post by green
Post by Andrei Popescu
Post by green
- Trim-Slice H (custom kernel)
I was almost going to order one of those, but eventually gave up because
"SATA is implemented with USB to SATA Genesys Logic GL830". I admit the
custom kernel was also not an incentive.
Maybe CompuLab will release a device based on Tegra 3 soon?
Is Tegra 3 supported by Linux? Are any of the Tegras supported by Linux?
While I have found nothing definitive, everything I have found suggests not.
If you look at the linux-arm mailing list, or the kernel changelogs you
will find lots of references to the Tegras.

David
Post by green
Post by Andrei Popescu
OTOH the Raspberry PI should be able to do most of what I really need
(HDMI playback & internet radio), so I'll probably get one as soon as
they include a case.
Sounds great, but probably not adequate for desktop use.
green
2012-02-13 22:04:04 UTC
Permalink
Post by David Goodenough
Post by green
Is Tegra 3 supported by Linux? Are any of the Tegras supported by Linux?
While I have found nothing definitive, everything I have found suggests not.
If you look at the linux-arm mailing list, or the kernel changelogs you
will find lots of references to the Tegras.
Okay, perhaps the kernel does support some Tegras, and perhaps some day the
Trim-Slice will run mainline Linux.
Mark Neidorff
2012-02-14 23:45:37 UTC
Permalink
Post by green
Post by David Goodenough
Post by green
Is Tegra 3 supported by Linux? Are any of the Tegras supported by
Linux? While I have found nothing definitive, everything I have found
suggests not.
If you look at the linux-arm mailing list, or the kernel changelogs you
will find lots of references to the Tegras.
Okay, perhaps the kernel does support some Tegras, and perhaps some day the
Trim-Slice will run mainline Linux.
I have been reading about getting debian working on an ARM system
(raspberrypi) and it seems that they do some custom work with the boot process
to get it going. I don't pretend to understand what they have done, but their
plan is to put out a customized distribution for their ARM processor based
device.

I've stayed on the sidelines of this thread because the original post sounded
to me like trolling. But, after the posts that I have read, you seem quite
serious. I'm still not 100% clear on what is standing in your way. Have you
looked at mini-itx systems on ebay for inspiration? I have one now running
Lenny as my server. It is rock solid. It just sits there, silently, and runs
and runs and runs. Everything just worked on installation. I added a tiny
case fan(which is very quiet) to it, but there is really no need for it.

Have you looked into this form factor?

Mark
green
2012-02-15 19:01:22 UTC
Permalink
Post by Mark Neidorff
I've stayed on the sidelines of this thread because the original post sounded
to me like trolling. But, after the posts that I have read, you seem quite
serious.
Trolling?! Apparently I failed to clearly express myself in the original
post.
Post by Mark Neidorff
Have you looked at mini-itx systems on ebay for inspiration?
I have looked primarily at mini-itx systems during my research.
Post by Mark Neidorff
I have one now running Lenny as my server. It is rock solid. It just sits
there, silently, and runs and runs and runs. Everything just worked on
installation.
It is great that your server has worked so well for you.
Post by Mark Neidorff
I'm still not 100% clear on what is standing in your way.
When you purchased the server on which you run Lenny, did you know for sure
that the installation would go smoothly and all hardware would work
correctly? What if today you needed another system on which to run Debian
and knew that you did not have time to troubleshoot any hardware problems?
You could get the same as what you have now, but what if it is no longer
available? Wouldn't it be helpful to find a vendor that provided a hardware
table for each system with information about Linux mainline kernel versions,
drivers, and firmware? Like, "this SATA controller is supported since Linux
v2.6.29 with the ahci driver". So in that case you could look at their site,
compare with the kernel version in Debian stable, and know with reasonable
certainty that this hardware will "just work" with Debian stable. Or that
you need to consider a kernel in backports, etc.

Many vendors mention various versions of Windows on their hardware pages, but
nothing about Linux. So as a consumer, do I just blindly assume that,
although the vendor apparently does not care enough about Linux to even
mention it, that it will all "just work"? Or those that mention Linux, but
no kernel versions: will the kernel in Debian stable work? Or those with
Linux drivers available for download, do I need to maintain out-of-tree
drivers (remember I mentioned a maintenance burden)?

Now, because of the implication that hardware (as with your server, Mark)
will all "just work" with Debian (and that my post/research is just
silly/trolling), I will quickly mention nvidia, fglrx, and ralink wireless,
all problematic a while back. I have had a Thinkpad T61 with a PSTN modem
for >4 years, it has never worked (Debian amd64); I hope to try again when I
upgrade to wheezy. Okay, so now someone might say "well, of course video,
winmodems, and wireless will cause some trouble sometimes". These
mini-pcs... any of them have onboard video hardware? Or come with wireless
hardware?

And someone might say that many of the problems had in the past are resolved,
and quite possible so. So if I need a functional device now, do I need to
just purchase one and shelve it for a few years before assuming Linux will
work? I understand that Linux has a history of better support for older
hardware, and that is reasonable, but would that need to be so (as much) if
vendor support was better? And the Intel GM965 video on my T61 still does
not quite work correctly for 3d applications, even after 4 years.

Okay, I could look through the specifications carefully and research eg. the
wireless hardware, but what about when vendors change the chipset mid-model?

Am I being demanding here? I want an absolutely functional Linux on a
device, and I am willing to pay for it (I have mentioned no limit, though I
do have a budget). For those assuming I am needing tens or hundreds of
whatever mini-pc I choose, no. I only need a single mini-pc system. More
later, perhaps. It is not for my own use, but at a location where tech
support is not available, and where the system will quite likely be in use
for 5+ years.

So to recap my original post, the basic requirements are:
- fanless mini PC
- it will run Debian
- production environment (reliability is important)
- good Linux support to facilitate fast deployment and low maintenance,
- avoiding non-free software (non-free firmware, out-of-tree kernel modules,
ndiswrapper)

and I mentioned also:
- many devices with only partial mainline Linux support
- unable to find itemized information about Linux kernel support
- some devices ship with Linux (often Ubuntu) and use a custom kernel

My original post did not mention this explicitly, but I would be pleased to
find a manufacturer/vendor that is interested in supporting Linux users, and
provides devices with 100% functionality using 100% free software. Perhaps
that sounds a bit less demanding, while still being very closely related to
the original.

The response I expected to that original post, and would even have expected
to the question in this previous paragraph, is that no, unfortunately there
are no/few significant vendors that are interested in Linux users to this
extent. I would be satisfied with this answer, though disappointed, and
definitely interested in future developments of this sort. (I do not see any
use in beating an old topic.)

I was surprised with the responses I received instead; I hope this and my
other succeeding posts help remove the obscurity.
Stefan Monnier
2012-02-16 02:19:29 UTC
Permalink
Post by green
- fanless mini PC
- it will run Debian
- production environment (reliability is important)
- good Linux support to facilitate fast deployment and low maintenance,
- avoiding non-free software (non-free firmware, out-of-tree kernel modules,
ndiswrapper)
My Fit-PC2 is running stock Debian, and "vrms" tells me that the only
non-Free code it has installed is firmware-ralink (well, it also
mentions some non-DFSG packages which the FSF considers as Free).
The wireless chip was not well supported by the stock kernel when I got
it, but I haven't needed it very often and the few times I've needed it
it worked just fine (including "WPA Enterprise").

The same should hold for the Fit-PC3 (tho you may want to check their
forums first, since support for some particular features like the IR
interface or the watchdog may not all be supported by the current
kernel). While they don't guarantee that the stock kernels supports all
the hardware, they do care about GNU/Linux support and provide fairly
good information on the forums about the available support, so you can
make up your mind before actually buying the unit.

You can actually buy them with some GNU/Linux pre-installed.

IOW it's one of the companies I've found to be most supportive of using
GNU/Linux on their devices. I'd love to hear of others, especially if
they're even more clearly supportive of Free Software, since I like to
vote with my feet,


Stefan
green
2012-02-16 16:16:36 UTC
Permalink
Post by Stefan Monnier
The same should hold for the Fit-PC3 (tho you may want to check their
forums first, since support for some particular features like the IR
interface or the watchdog may not all be supported by the current
kernel). While they don't guarantee that the stock kernels supports all
the hardware, they do care about GNU/Linux support and provide fairly
good information on the forums about the available support, so you can
make up your mind before actually buying the unit.
The Fit-PC3 requires non-free fglrx for radeon hardware?
http://www.fit-pc.com/wiki/index.php/Fit-PC3:_Installing_Linux_Mint_12
http://www.fit-pc.com/fit-pc3/docs/fit-PC3-specifications.pdf
Andrew McGlashan
2012-02-16 17:16:09 UTC
Permalink
Okay, just a few cents from me.....

I don't think you can ever rely on a machine having full main line
kernel support one day, still having it 3 or 4 years down the track.

The drivers change, some disappear too -- there is never going to be any
guarantees. The same goes for all sorts of packages that you might run
as well.

I had some small ARM machines which worked very well on Lenny, but they
are terrible on a very similar Squeeze install. As newer distros come
about and the Linux kernel gets larger and larger, there are all sorts
of reasons why an older machine won't be suitable without going for a
very custom setup with lots of thinning out of the kernel. Too much
work to do that.

In history, I remember a P133 machine being "quite powerful" and it was
at the time, try running anything recent on such a machine today and
you'll be so let down. You get more RAM on a portable tablet these days
or even a basic smart phone, forget about the processing power, hahaha.

Your ideal solution would be great, but it isn't likely to be fulfilled
and if it ever is, then I wouldn't think you'll get all that much
longevity from it.

Okay, now I'm going to do a simple car analogy thing -- not that
related, but hey, bear with me. My first Holden Commodore was a VS
Series II model. When I got that car, I was advised to buy the newest
Commodore I could afford (I already decided on a Commodore). After a
few years it suffered a transmission problem and it was too expensive to
fix, so I replaced it with a VT Series II. In time I ended up with my
current car, which is an MY10 VE. At every point, the newer car was
much better than the previous car in so many ways -- even though it was
still the same "basic" range of vehicle. I suggest you might take the
same approach with computer hardware, buy the best you can afford that
meets as many of your aims as possible today, understand it won't last
"forever" and plan for a replacement later, you are sure to find so much
better value down the track.

Heck, I may as well take this a little further. My Galaxy S i9000
mobile cost near $800 and now a brand new replacement of the exact same
model is available under $400, but the S2 is so much better and under
$600 with double the warranty [proper legitimate AU stock, not imported
from overseas with limited warranty and support]. Sure, my i9000 is
still good, but if I was to be buying a phone right now, I wouldn't go
past the S2 ... of course I have dreams for the S3 or maybe the Galaxy Note.

Anyway, back to the main point of this thread. I hope you find a
suitable device that matches your criteria as much as possible, or even
fully. But don't count on it lasting for more than a few years without
you pulling your hair out, hoping for a faster, better and far more
efficient device.

Oh and the raspberrypi with 1GB at $35 .... hmmm I don't think so.
Looks like a nice toy, but far too low in the memory stakes today at
256MB for $35.

Cheers
--
Kind Regards
AndrewM

Andrew McGlashan
Broadband Solutions now including VoIP
green
2012-02-16 17:31:42 UTC
Permalink
Post by Andrew McGlashan
I don't think you can ever rely on a machine having full main line
kernel support one day, still having it 3 or 4 years down the track.
In another message, I just mentioned the desktop to be replaced, which has an
Abit KR7A-133R motherboard and AMD Athlon XP 1900+ processor, both available
over 9 years ago. This computer is still capable of running squeeze quite
comfortably.
Andrew McGlashan
2012-02-17 02:29:34 UTC
Permalink
Post by green
Post by Andrew McGlashan
I don't think you can ever rely on a machine having full main line
kernel support one day, still having it 3 or 4 years down the track.
In another message, I just mentioned the desktop to be replaced, which has an
Abit KR7A-133R motherboard and AMD Athlon XP 1900+ processor, both available
over 9 years ago. This computer is still capable of running squeeze quite
comfortably.
Yes, but a "proper" desktop machine is a completely different beast.

I still think there will be some major improvements in performance cost
and efficiency in the tiny PC area to come...
--
Kind Regards
AndrewM
Joe
2012-02-16 20:16:16 UTC
Permalink
On Fri, 17 Feb 2012 04:16:09 +1100
Post by Andrew McGlashan
I had some small ARM machines which worked very well on Lenny, but
In history, I remember a P133 machine being "quite powerful" and it
was at the time,
I had one of the first ARM computers, an Acorn Archimedes running a 4MHz
(!) ARM1 with half a meg of RAM. I remember upgrading to a 12MHz ARM3
and being rather impressed, and also upgrading the RAM to 4MB and
installing a 40MB (yes, 'megabyte') MFM hard drive. The joy of escaping
from floppies! Mind you, the OS was in ROM, so you had the desktop up
within two or three seconds of power-on.

In its 4MHz incarnation, it was (briefly) the fastest PC around,
beating the 16MHz 386 machines of the day.
--
Joe
Dom
2012-02-16 21:04:01 UTC
Permalink
Post by Joe
On Fri, 17 Feb 2012 04:16:09 +1100
Post by Andrew McGlashan
I had some small ARM machines which worked very well on Lenny, but
In history, I remember a P133 machine being "quite powerful" and it
was at the time,
I had one of the first ARM computers, an Acorn Archimedes running a 4MHz
(!) ARM1 with half a meg of RAM. I remember upgrading to a 12MHz ARM3
and being rather impressed, and also upgrading the RAM to 4MB and
installing a 40MB (yes, 'megabyte') MFM hard drive. The joy of escaping
from floppies! Mind you, the OS was in ROM, so you had the desktop up
within two or three seconds of power-on.
In its 4MHz incarnation, it was (briefly) the fastest PC around,
beating the 16MHz 386 machines of the day.
I had one of those Archimedes machines too, great to program, especally
when the original "Arthur" OS was replaced with the first RISC OS.

Just one small correction, the Archimedes was originally fitted with an
ARM2 chip. The ARM1 was mostly used in the prototype development
systems, such as the ARM Co-processor for the BBC micro - which I was
lucky enough to get my hands on for a while. It was fun to see the
normal "BBC Computer 32K" message replaced with "Acorn OS 4096K" :-)

It cost around 4000 UKP in those days for the 4MB version.
--
Dom
Stefan Monnier
2012-02-17 16:10:41 UTC
Permalink
Post by green
Post by Stefan Monnier
The same should hold for the Fit-PC3 (tho you may want to check their
forums first, since support for some particular features like the IR
interface or the watchdog may not all be supported by the current
kernel). While they don't guarantee that the stock kernels supports all
the hardware, they do care about GNU/Linux support and provide fairly
good information on the forums about the available support, so you can
make up your mind before actually buying the unit.
The Fit-PC3 requires non-free fglrx for radeon hardware?
No. The Free `radeon' driver should work just fine for those AMD
Fusion GPUs.


Stefan
green
2012-02-17 20:14:49 UTC
Permalink
Post by green
The Fit-PC3 requires non-free fglrx for radeon hardware?
No. The Free `radeon' driver should work just fine for those AMD Fusion
GPUs.
Hey, that is great news; thanks. I was not aware of the free radeon driver.
I have found the support matrix page:
http://xorg.freedesktop.org/wiki/RadeonFeature
and will do some more research on the Fit-PC3.
Mark Neidorff
2012-02-16 10:38:42 UTC
Permalink
Post by green
When you purchased the server on which you run Lenny, did you know for sure
that the installation would go smoothly and all hardware would work
correctly? What if today you needed another system on which to run Debian
and knew that you did not have time to troubleshoot any hardware problems?
You could get the same as what you have now, but what if it is no longer
available? Wouldn't it be helpful to find a vendor that provided a
hardware table for each system with information about Linux mainline
kernel versions, drivers, and firmware? Like, "this SATA controller is
supported since Linux v2.6.29 with the ahci driver". So in that case you
could look at their site, compare with the kernel version in Debian
stable, and know with reasonable certainty that this hardware will "just
work" with Debian stable. Or that you need to consider a kernel in
backports, etc.
Yes. I knew because, for a server, I bought slightly "behind the curve." For
the server, I knew that I didn't need the latest and gretest, so I was able to
look at hardware that had been on the market for about a year and check
compatibility easily. Then the install "just worked."

IMO, in getting "the latest and greatest" can be as much of an ego thing as a
productivity thing. Question is: what are your specific needs going to be?
That will determine the power and features that you need.
Post by green
Many vendors mention various versions of Windows on their hardware pages,
but nothing about Linux. So as a consumer, do I just blindly assume that,
although the vendor apparently does not care enough about Linux to even
mention it, that it will all "just work"? Or those that mention Linux,
but no kernel versions: will the kernel in Debian stable work? Or those
with Linux drivers available for download, do I need to maintain
out-of-tree drivers (remember I mentioned a maintenance burden)?
Here's another way of looking at the same thing. Other M$ require that
hardware goes through a certification process before it gets the "works
with..." sticker. They have a roll-out scheudle of once every few years. Is
that what you want? That costs the consumer $$$. Are you willing to spend
for that?
Post by green
Now, because of the implication that hardware (as with your server, Mark)
will all "just work" with Debian (and that my post/research is just
silly/trolling), I will quickly mention nvidia, fglrx, and ralink wireless,
all problematic a while back. I have had a Thinkpad T61 with a PSTN modem
for >4 years, it has never worked (Debian amd64); I hope to try again when
I upgrade to wheezy. Okay, so now someone might say "well, of course
video, winmodems, and wireless will cause some trouble sometimes". These
mini-pcs... any of them have onboard video hardware? Or come with
wireless hardware?
And someone might say that many of the problems had in the past are
resolved, and quite possible so. So if I need a functional device now, do
I need to just purchase one and shelve it for a few years before assuming
Linux will work? I understand that Linux has a history of better support
for older hardware, and that is reasonable, but would that need to be so
(as much) if vendor support was better? And the Intel GM965 video on my
T61 still does not quite work correctly for 3d applications, even after 4
years.
True, audio and video devices have been less than perfectly supported in
linux. Look at why. Video hardware goes through benchmark testing. The
"ed's choice" hardware does the best on the benchmarks and sells the best.
So, the hardware is built to work best ON THE BENCHMARKS, but not necessarily
in the real world. So what linux faces is hardware that is tweaked to do well
on benchmarks on a different OS. This has lead to hardware manufacturers not
releasing their code to linux, bucause they would reveal how they make the
hardware look good on the benchmarks. Audio is continuously being worked on.
It is another difficult area for similar reasons.
Post by green
Okay, I could look through the specifications carefully and research eg.
the wireless hardware, but what about when vendors change the chipset
mid-model?
Yep. that is always a problem with buying the "latest and greatest."
Post by green
Am I being demanding here? I want an absolutely functional Linux on a
device, and I am willing to pay for it (I have mentioned no limit, though I
do have a budget). For those assuming I am needing tens or hundreds of
whatever mini-pc I choose, no. I only need a single mini-pc system. More
later, perhaps. It is not for my own use, but at a location where tech
support is not available, and where the system will quite likely be in use
for 5+ years.
One question. Do you expect the device to continue to be 100% functional when
the infostructure around it will change over the next 5+ years? That is not
reasonable.
Post by green
- fanless mini PC
- it will run Debian
- production environment (reliability is important)
- good Linux support to facilitate fast deployment and low maintenance,
- avoiding non-free software (non-free firmware, out-of-tree kernel
modules, ndiswrapper)
- many devices with only partial mainline Linux support
- unable to find itemized information about Linux kernel support
- some devices ship with Linux (often Ubuntu) and use a custom kernel
My original post did not mention this explicitly, but I would be pleased to
find a manufacturer/vendor that is interested in supporting Linux users,
and provides devices with 100% functionality using 100% free software.
Perhaps that sounds a bit less demanding, while still being very closely
related to the original.
The response I expected to that original post, and would even have expected
to the question in this previous paragraph, is that no, unfortunately there
are no/few significant vendors that are interested in Linux users to this
extent. I would be satisfied with this answer, though disappointed, and
definitely interested in future developments of this sort. (I do not see
any use in beating an old topic.)
I was surprised with the responses I received instead; I hope this and my
other succeeding posts help remove the obscurity.
green
2012-02-16 17:18:26 UTC
Permalink
Post by Mark Neidorff
Post by green
When you purchased the server on which you run Lenny, did you know for sure
that the installation would go smoothly and all hardware would work
correctly?
Yes. I knew because, for a server, I bought slightly "behind the curve." For
the server, I knew that I didn't need the latest and gretest, so I was able to
look at hardware that had been on the market for about a year and check
compatibility easily. Then the install "just worked."
I don't really get how you "check compatibility easily". Are there any
particular resources you use?
Post by Mark Neidorff
IMO, in getting "the latest and greatest" can be as much of an ego thing as a
productivity thing.
True, but irrelevant. I do not care about "latest and greatest", unless
fanless is considered as such.
Post by Mark Neidorff
Question is: what are your specific needs going to be? That will determine
the power and features that you need.
Okay. Basic desktop use, fanless. 100% supported by free software.
802.11g, ethernet, 2.5 inch bay and SATA port, USB, audio with microphone
port, video out. Fairly solid hardware.
Post by Mark Neidorff
Post by green
Many vendors mention various versions of Windows on their hardware pages,
but nothing about Linux. So as a consumer, do I just blindly assume that,
although the vendor apparently does not care enough about Linux to even
mention it, that it will all "just work"?
Here's another way of looking at the same thing. Other M$ require that
hardware goes through a certification process before it gets the "works
with..." sticker. They have a roll-out scheudle of once every few years. Is
that what you want? That costs the consumer $$$. Are you willing to spend
for that?
It probably depends on how much it costs. A manufacturer could probably only
guarantee support for a particular kernel version, and that does not seem so
difficult to me.
Post by Mark Neidorff
True, audio and video devices have been less than perfectly supported in
linux. Look at why. Video hardware goes through benchmark testing. The
"ed's choice" hardware does the best on the benchmarks and sells the best.
So, the hardware is built to work best ON THE BENCHMARKS, but not necessarily
in the real world. So what linux faces is hardware that is tweaked to do well
on benchmarks on a different OS. This has lead to hardware manufacturers not
releasing their code to linux, bucause they would reveal how they make the
hardware look good on the benchmarks.
Okay, thanks for the explanation. But yet there are audio and video devices
that do work with 100% free software. So the hardware is out there.
Post by Mark Neidorff
Post by green
Okay, I could look through the specifications carefully and research eg.
the wireless hardware, but what about when vendors change the chipset
mid-model?
Yep. that is always a problem with buying the "latest and greatest."
What? If the chipset changes mid-model, then identifying that device will be
forever more difficult, regardless of whether it is recent hardware. This is
one reason why I feel it is difficult to guarantee support *before* I have
the device in my hands, versus testing it *after*.
Post by Mark Neidorff
Post by green
It is not for my own use, but at a location where tech support is not
available, and where the system will quite likely be in use for 5+ years.
One question. Do you expect the device to continue to be 100% functional when
the infostructure around it will change over the next 5+ years? That is not
reasonable.
The desktop I intend to replace is more than 5 years old and it is still
capable of running squeeze. It has an Abit KR7A-133R motherboard (reviewed
2002-04-12) and a AMD Athlon XP 1900+ (introduced 2001-11-04). Both
available over 9 years ago. The only hardware changes that might be more
recent are PCI wireless and a PATA hard drive. It also has much of what I
mentioned above: ethernet, USB, audio, video out, 802.11g (may be more
recent)--but not fanless, SATA, or 100% free software support.

http://www.sharkyextreme.com/hardware/motherboards/article.php/1008771/ABIT-KR7A-133R-KT266A-Motherboard-Review.htm
http://techreport.com/articles.x/3086/1
green
2012-03-09 16:05:25 UTC
Permalink
Perhaps not quite the answer you're looking for, but yours might be
a situation that calls for looking at something other than Debian,
or even Linux. I'm thinking particularly that FreeBSD and NetBSD
run on LOTS of hardware platforms, provide reliable open source
platforms, and run pretty much anything that runs on Debian.
Depending on what you're going to be running, that might give you
some additional options.
Thanks, I will keep FreeBSD and NetBSD in mind also; perhaps using Debian's
kfreebsd port.
Joel Rees
2012-03-10 02:09:51 UTC
Permalink
Post by green
Perhaps not quite the answer you're looking for, but yours might be
a situation that calls for looking at something other than Debian,
or even Linux.  I'm thinking particularly that FreeBSD and NetBSD
run on LOTS of hardware platforms, provide reliable open source
platforms, and run pretty much anything that runs on Debian.
Depending on what you're going to be running, that might give you
some additional options.
Thanks, I will keep FreeBSD and NetBSD in mind also; perhaps using Debian's
kfreebsd port.
If you are willing to look at the BSDs, don't forget to check openBSD.
(My thoughts are that those require a higher level of time investment
than you seemed to be interested in, but it is a different kind of
time investment, so they are worth looking at.)

--
Joel Rees
green
2012-03-09 16:08:44 UTC
Permalink
Post by green
I need a fanless mini PC; it will run Debian. It will be used in a
production environment. I need good Linux support to facilitate fast
deployment and low maintenance. Avoiding non-free software really helps in
that regard, so I consider non-free firmware barely tolerable, while
out-of-tree kernel modules and things like ndiswrapper are definitely
unacceptable.
FWIW, I just got a Zotac Fusion mini-ITX board.
Post by green
From what I can tell, all the hardware is fully supported by stock
Debian testing, with the only non-free package I needed is the
firmware-linux-nonfree needed for the GPU to work (using the `radeon'
Free Software driver).
Thanks for your input. The Zotac ZBOX systems always seemed "cheap" to me,
not so with your Fusion board? I might look into this some more.
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