Puppy Linux Tahrpup on my Thinkpad T40

In November last year I decided to revive my very old (2003) Thinkpad T40 with Puppy Linux. Now eight months later I’ll give an update on Puppy Linux on my PC. Am I still happy with Puppy Linux?

Introduction

In November last year I decided to revive my very old (2003) Thinkpad T40 with Puppy Linux. Back then I was thrilled by the ease of installation and the speed of this Linux distro on this ancient laptop. Now eight months later I’ll give an update on Puppy Linux on my PC. Am I still happy with Puppy Linux?

Both Puppy Linux Slacko 5.7, which I had installed initially, and Puppy Linux Slacko 6.3 have been very stable on my T40 and I loved Puppy Linux because of it’s speed. However both of these Slacko distributions are based on Slackware. The one problem with this distributions is the lack of software. Some programs that I needed are just not available in the repositories. I could install software myself but only if I was able to find the right pet or sfs file (I cowardly didn’t try to compile the source files).

The standard TahrPup desktop with the beautiful stylized Ardis icons.

Tahrpup 6.0

To solve the problem with the software I decided to install Puppy Linux Tahrpup 6.0. This operating system is based on Ubuntu 14.04 Trusty Tahr. I liked it the minute I installed it. The look and feel are the same as with Slacko with the JWM as window manager and ROX-Filer file manager and all the helpful shell scripts (a lot of them written by Barry Kauler, the original creator of Puppy Linux). Also a lot of the pre-installed programs are the same such as Abiword, Geany and pfind, a file finding program MtPaint and Sylpheed, a mail client. The’re also notable differences. The default browser for Tahrpup is Palemoon instead of Firefox and the Simple Screen Recorder (I forgot the name of the default Slacko screen recorder but I never got it to work). The system is still very fast, exactly the reason why I chose for Puppy Linux in the first place.

Easily create your own operating system

Puppy Linux (and Linux in general) not only let’s you create your own desktop environment, where just about everything is customizable, it even let’s you customize the whole operating system. If you, for instance, don’t like the window manager or the file manager, you can change it. Try doing that on Windows or OSX. This way you can create your very own system doing honor to the acronym PC. TahrPup even has an option to easily change the Linux kernel, something that I couldn’t do with Slacko. With Remaster Puppy live-CD a copy of the personalized operating system can be written to either a USB drive or CD. For the latter a CD burner is needed of course. This copy of the personal operating system with all the favorite programs can be used to boot on any PC elsewhere e.g. on holiday or in school. On the Puppy Linux discussion forum many examples can be found of unofficial Puppy Linux distros such as Tahr NOP (Xfce desktop environment), Ami-Pup (an Amiga like interface) or Fatdog64 (a not so slim 64bit version).

Programming

Even with little experience in programming, additions can be made to the operating system using shell scripts. In fact plenty of programs that come with Puppy Linux are shell scripts. Pfind and pmount are good examples of this. Although this is not for beginners, shell scripts are relatively easy to write. An intermediate user should be able to improve existing scripts or write new ones. A script can be shared on the Puppy Linux forum as a contribution to the operating system and the community. This is a good start for programming for Puppy Linux. It’s also possible to use C or C++ as programming language for Puppy Linux but this is more complex¬†and outside the scope of this blog entry. A good starting point for programming for Puppy Linux is this link.

Puppy Linux with the setup shell script opened in Geany. Programming in Puppy Linux is easy using shell scripting and GTKDialog.

Tahrpup drawbacks

The only drawback so far is that the new Puppy Package Manager v2 (PPM) seems a bit slower on my old laptop than with Slacko. PPM is the equivalent of the Ubuntu Software Center or Pacman for Arch Linux and provides access to the repository with all the available packages for Puppy Linux. The numerous packages in Tahrpup are possibly the reason for this slower behaviour.

Conclusion

Eight months later my Thinkpad T40 is still very much alive thanks to Puppy Linux. With Tahrpup I gained easy access to a huge amount of programs satisfying my increasing PC needs. The best feature about Puppy Linux (and Linux in general) is that it feels like my very own operating system. It’s easy to get involved into Puppy Linux thanks to it’s open nature and the vivid community. A feeling that I’m severely missing in the proprietary OSX on my iMac, my primary computer. In fact, if not for my wife who is still attached to the iMac and OSX, I would exchange my iMac for a (Puppy) Linux PC without hesitation.

My T40 with Tahrpup background image and the JQBrased icons.

OpenELEC maintenance

How to update OpenELEC without loosing settings, getting YouTube to work again and creating an OpenELEC backup. Make screenshots in OpenELEC.

Introduction

last year I built a PC especially for OpenELEC. For those of you who don’t know, OpenELEC is a Linux based system with the sole purpose to run Kodi, the all-in-one solution to play all media you throw at it. Because of this sole purpose OpenELEC is very fast, especially on the Intel based system that I built, and very reliable. Over time however some maintenance of the system is necessary to keep the system up-to-date and fully functional. Continue reading “OpenELEC maintenance”

Ancient laptop with Puppy Linux

The burglar that “visited” our house a couple of weeks ago took our laptops and tablets. Luckily our desktops were left alone (probably to heavy). Also a very old IBM Thinkpad T40 was left behind. The burglar probably thought it didn’t have any value. That was a bit of luck for me because with a little effort this 12 year old laptop is still very usable. After all these years the only thing that failed in this laptop was the battery. Everything else is still in excellent condition. These Thinkpads were (are?) very sturdy. On top of that they are very modular. Almost every component is easy accessible with just a screw driver. Very different from modern laptops that are almost impossible to open without special equipment.

The twelve years old IBM Thinkpad T40. Is it worth reviving it?

With a 1.4GHz Pentium M inside the T40 is, I suspect, hardly faster than the Raspberry Pi 2. I therefore needed an Operating System that isn’t a burden for this hardware. Since Windows XP isn’t an option anymore I looked at Linux and decided to give Puppy Linux 5.7 Slacko a spin.

Puppy Linux is very small and it loads into the ramdisk and is therefore very zippy , even on old machines. Installing it on the Thinkpad T40 was easy. It recognized all hardware even the wifi (which can be a problem with other distro’s). Unfortunately I can’t use the wifi chip inside the T40 because the WPA2 security protocol that I use in my network is unknown to this chip. This was easily solved with a wifi USB-stick.

Now I’m typing this blog from the T40. Firefox (version 17 ESR) works fine. I can access Google+, Youtube and other sites without problems although the rendering of some sites isn’t perfect. With Geany I can create html/css pages and code Python. Wordprocessing is done with Abiword and spreadsheets with Gnumeric.

Do I want my laptops and tablets back? Of course but in the mean time I thank Barry Kauler and Co for this wonderful distro.

Puppy Linux Slacko 5.7 runs fine on this very old laptop.

Typing my blog on the T40 without a problem.

Harddisk repair of a laptop (finished)

In my last entry I wrote about a laptop from a friend that had a damaged harddisk. Yesterday I had some time to replace the harddisk with a new one. Replacing components from a modern laptop can be very cumbersome nowadays. It also requires special equipment. I used the tools from a Velleman repair kit (actually this kit is for iPhone repair) together with a set of small screw drivers. The harddisk is a Western Digital 500Gb 2,5 inch drive (5400 rpm) comparable to the damaged harddisk. Below images of the several steps that I needed to take.

The ASUS X750L together with the new harddisk (top right) and the special tools needed. Marked by the yellow circle is the guitar pick opening tool needed to open the case.
First I removed the twelve screws on the back of the laptop with a small philips screwdriver.
After  opening the case with the guitar pick opening tool I removed some of the flat cables to gain access to the interior of the laptop, The harddisk is clearly visible on the bottom right of the image.
After unscrewing the harddisk bracket from the laptop the harddisk can be slided of the motherboard and taken out of the laptop. The bracket is replaced to the new harddisk and inserted into the laptop.
The laptop is closed but before tightening it with the screws on the back I restored Windows 8 from a recovery disk connected to USB that I had prepared earlier. ASUS provides the Backtracker software for these steps which worked flawless
With Windows 8 fully installed using the recovering disk the repair was finished and my friend can collect his laptop. 

Harddisk repair of a laptop

I friend gave an ASUS X750L laptop to me for repair. While gaming he smashed the laptop with his hand (which is not a very smart thing to do). After this incident the laptop became very slow or so he told me. I booted the laptop to see what was going on an I heard intermittently a ticking sound coming from under the keyboard.

I immediately suspected that the harddisk was damaged by the shock. Because I was afraid that the harddisk might fail altogether I created a recovery disk with the ASUS Backtracker software. Every major OEM has some kind of recovery software however I bet that most people never use it. You can either use a (16Gb) memory stick or USB harddisk for this backup.

Backtracker software creating a backup of the factory recovery image on the laptop. I bet most people never do this.

Next I checked the disk with chkdsk but it couldn’t find a problem. Just to make sure that the harddisk was indeed the problem ran HD Tune Pro. They have a 15 days free trial of this software. With HD Tune Pro I was able to determine that the harddisk had a lot of bad sectors probably due to the heads of the drive crashing on the surface of the disk. There is only one conclusion possible. The harddisk needs to be replaced. I already ordered it and when it arrives I will replace it.

HD Tune Pro performing an error scan on the harddisk. It already found multiple bad sectors (red).

Create an instructable (at Instructables)

After having built the OpenELEC mediastreamer I felt the urge to create an instruction for the community. This blog isn’t very suitable for that. I have been looking at Instructables for a while now. Sometimes I landed on their website when I searched for something to make or I just browsed the instructables to get inspired. I started to get fascinated by the whole Instructables concept. I deciced to create an instructable on a OpenELEC media player first because I couldn’t find one for x86 based systems and second to get experience with the whole instructable thing. The Instructables website is inseparable from the makers community which I feel very much part of.

Logo of Instructables with the friendly yellow robot.

When you are familiar with blogger.com you probably feel right at home when you create an instructable. Text entering, uploading photo’s and creating links are similar to the way blogger.com works. Instructables guides you through with a step by step approach which is so characteristic for the website. There are also some nice features to edit or annotate your photo’s.  Because of the uniform approach of Instructable it is not possible to alter the look of your pages very much (at least I couldn’t find it) but I guess this is an advantage for the reader. You can however add personal information to your instructable pages.

Creating an instructable is a lot of work. You’ll need to create good step by step instructions and excellent photography that match these instructions. When I finished my first draft I wasn’t satisfied with the photo’s of the media streamer that I had made previously. I therefore decided to make new photo’s of the already finished media streamer. I reopened it, took out some components and took photo’s. This session alone took me several hours. I published my instructable yesterday and the traffic to these pages has very good.  Much better than YouTube where it is very difficult to distinct yourself in the endless supply of video’s. Even better, with Instructables you are right in the middle of the makers community whereas with YouTube there is no specific area for makers. All in all I’m very happy with my first instructable and are pretty sure there are more to follow.

Your photo’s have to match your instructions. I therefore decided to make new photo’s of my already finished media streamer.

OpenELEC on a DIY streaming media box

In previous entries I wrote about planning and building a DIY streaming media box running OpenELEC. I used several PC components that I already had spare (motherboard, processor and memory) and was able to built a very capable OpenELEC machine for about $100 (without remote control). A couple of days ago I connected the machine to my TV set and started streaming. First the good news. OpenELEC runs fantastic on the Celeron G1610 and thanks to the SSD the system boots in about twelve seconds. Furthermore I have a very good, stable stream over wifi. However there are some problems that I need to iron out. First the remote control. I ordered a Rii mini i8 from Ritek, a very small wireless keyboard with a touchpad and a rechargeable lithium battery. Unfortunately I have to wait another two weeks before the remote arrives from my supplier. In the mean time I use the Kori app on my Nexus 7 as a remote. It browses through the menus very quickly but once i’ve started a stream my streaming media box sometimes responds sluggish to the Nexus. This is probably due to the fact that the remote uses the same wifi bandwidth that the stream and other family members are using. Hopefully this problem will be solved when the Rii arrives. The Rii doesn’t use wifi so I have high hopes.

OpenELEC streaming media box placed in the cabinet running a movie trailer. The system boots fast and the stream is stable.

A second problem is that due to the wifi sticking out more than an inch the streaming box will not fit into the cabinet where our TV is sitting on. I could of course cut out the back of the cupboard but this is something my wife will not appreciate. For the time being I have the streaming media box sideways in the cabinet which works perfectly but is estatically not very pleasing. The lesson here is that if you plan a streaming media box in a cabinet take the peripherals into account.

The wifi stick on the back of the PC. I didn’t anticipate the size of the peripherals when choosing a PC case and was forced to place the streaming media box sideways into the cabinet. A stupid mistake.

In conclusion I’m very happy with my OpenELEC streaming media player. Building it and installing OpenELEC was easy, aside from some minor problems. I know there are cheaper OpenELEC solutions out there (OpenELEC offers a $99 dedicated box). I like my solution better because it is versatile. If I would decide tomorrow to turn my media player into a NAS or a Steam Machine (running Steam OS) I can do it. This is probably impossible with the dedicated solutions.

DIY streaming media box: building it.

Building the streaming media box consists of a hardware and a software part. Building the hardware is relatively easy. With these modern PC components you can’t do much wrong. First I inserted the 4Gb DDR3 memory into the motherboard. In my earlier post on this topic I mentioned that I already had a MSI mini-ITX motherboard and a processor (Celeron G1610) from my sons PC that I upgraded earlier. With the motherboard ready I removed the power supply from the LC-1410mi case. The motherboard fitted nicely over the six elevated mounting points in the LC-1410mi.

Motherboard with processor and memory in the LC-1410mi. The brackets for the drives and the power supply are removed.

When I inserted the power supply I noticed that it blocks the PCI slot on the far side of the motherboard something I hadn’t seen coming (see image below). I therefore was unable to use the PCI wifi card that I had. I decided to use a USB wifi stick that I already had. It is not as elegant as the card but it works.

Power supply partly over the motherboard blocking the PCI slot forcing me to use a USB wifi stick.
Next I connected all cables from the power supply and the case to the motherboard. When you do this for the first time it can be intimidating because of all the different connectors on the motherboard. Luckily cases and motherboard generally come with descriptions of all these different cables and connectors.  I connected the 128Gb SanDisk SSD to the motherboard SATA port with SATA cable and to the power supply. The 2,5 inch SSD didn’t fit into the bracket that comes with the LC-1410mi. I had to improvise to get the SSD into the case.

With all hardware built-in and connected I decided to test the system. I connected a monitor, keyboard and mouse and booted the streaming media box in the making. Since the SSD was still empty I was only able to enter the motherboard bootmenu (on MSI press F11 to enter the bootmenu while booting). This is sufficient to test the hardware and all the connections. The whole system appeared to be functioning ok.

Testing the media box in the making. The MSI boot menu is visible on the display.

Next I’ll fitted all components in the case, did the necessary cable management using several tie wraps and closed the case. Now it was time for the software part of the build. I created a bootable USB drive (at least 1Gb) with the OpenELEC operating system. This is done on a separate PC. Luckily the OpenELEC website provides an excellent wiki that guides you through this process. The wiki describes this process for Linux, OSX and Windows. I used the latter which includes installing some free software on your Windows PC. Then I inserted bootable USB drive into the streaming media box. After booting I choose the Quick Install from the menu. After a couple of mouse clicks (and entering my wifi keyword) OpenELEC was installed to the SSD and the streaming media box was ready to boot for the first time. I restarted the system and it took only 5-10 seconds! before the familiar Kodi screen was displayed. Amazingly fast. I installed some add-ons (YouTube, iTunes Trailers) and ran a trailer. The performance of the media box is excellent. The Celeron is more than capable to run 1080P video’s. The system is quiet and fast.

First trial of OpenELEC running a movie trailer.

Next I’ll connect the media streamer to my TV-set and buy a suitable remote control to replace the keyboard and the mouse.

DIY streaming media box: the components

As described in my last post I’m building a streaming media box running Kodi. I finally received the components I needed to complete the build (together with the motherboard, 4Gb memory and a Celeron G1610 processor that I had spare). As a case I chose the LC-1410mi from LC-Power. It’s a small black case with a 200W power supply built-in. The case is suitable for my mini-ITX motherboard as well as for micro-ATX. The metal case has a black high-gloss that goes nicely with the other equipment in the living room and can be placed both in horizontal and vertical position. The price of the LC-1410mi is about $40 (in Europe) which is not as cheap as the LC-1400mi however the size of the LC-1410mi is more suitable for the living room.

LC-Power LC-1410mi. The front can slide open to access the USB and audio connectors. The metal case has a black high-gloss.
Case of the LC-Power opened. The 200W power supply, 5,25 inch and 3,5 inch bay become visible.

As a storage medium I chose the SanDisk solid state drive of 128Gb. Since I only intent to use the media box for streaming 128Gb is more than sufficient to store the operating system (probably OpenELEC). Furthermore the SSD ensures short boot time just what is needed for a media box.  I bought the SSD for $50.

Lastly I bought the a TP-Link wifi card (PCI card) since I don’t want to use an ethernet cable. Price $14. The total price of the media streamer is $103 (VAT and remote control excluded). Not bad for a versatile system like this. I didn’t decide on a remote control but I lean towards the Rii mini i8 which is about $25 (or even lower) and includes a small keyboard.

All additional components for the streaming media box. LC-1410mi case, 128Gb SanDisk SSD, TP-Link wifi card and 4Gb DDR3 1333MHz memory.

Next I will build the mediabox and install software and hopefully have the whole system running Kodi.

DIY streaming media box

Two years ago I started using XBMC (now Kodi) to stream video and audio into our living room. At the time I had a spare laptop (an Alienware X11 revision1) with Windows 7. I installed XBMC/Kodi on it and I streamed video to my television set. The audio is streamed through my Pioneer VSX-S300 slim line amplifier. Kodi is a fantastic piece of software and it serves all my needs but operating it with keyboard and mouse is clumsy. Also the Alienware can become noisy and booting Windows can take a long time (even longer when an update is required). Lastly I like my Alienware X11 and always thought it was a shame to use it as a media box. The X11 is still a very nice portable gaming machine for my sons.

My current set-up with an Alienware X11, a Pioneer VSX-S300 and a pair of Boston Acoustics speakers. Operating is is clumsy with the Alienware keyboard and a mouse

Since I have a spare Celeron G1610 and an LGA1155 based MSI motherboard (BM75MA-E33) from a previous project I figured that I can make a cheap media box out of it. In addition to this I need a small case, a power supply, 4Gb of DDR3 memory, a small and cheap HD or SSD (I only want to stream), Wifi, IR receiver and remote control. I could probably boot from USB and do without the HD/SSD but that would prolong the boot time. Since my son wants to upgrade the memory of his PC I can use the 4Gb DDR3 1333MHz that he is using currently. All in all I’ll try to do this project for $130 (case, HD/SSD, remote control and wifi).

The MSI B75MA-E33 motherboard with Intel Celeron G1610 and a stock cooler.

As operating system I’ll probably go with OpenELEC (or maybe Ubuntu). OpenELEC is Linux based and it is built around Kodi. It is lightweight and it will therefore probably boot very fast. It has support for Intel and Intel’s HD graphics which are built in to the Celeron.

Next I’ll pick the additional components, order them and build the system.