A Mind Lost

Anything and everything.

Reinstalling… again

Back in March I picked up a Western Digital Scorpio Black 500GB drive for my notebook to replace the Toshiba 250GB 5400RPM drive that came with it.  After the initial setup and installation of a dual-boot Windows 7/Slackware system, I barely touched the machine until two weeks ago.  Away on vacation with my kids, I fired up the notebook and, during the BIOS POST, received an error.

Specifically, it was a SMART error from the now four month old (technically about 6 months, from the manufacturing date) drive complaining that there was an End-to-End error (184).  I had to look it up, but found that this indicates a mismatch between data in the drive’s cache and what it actually found on the disk.

Western Digital’s warranty support site marked this drive as being “Out of Region”, which makes no sense to me.  I live in Canada, I purchased it in Canada, and it’s never left Canada.  The only support option open to me is to take advantage of their Customer Loyalty Program and “upgrade” the (brand new) drive to a Scorpio Blue of a larger capacity (640, 750 or 1TB).  Unfortunately, this is neither cost or performance effective.  It’s roughly $100.00 to “upgrade” the drive, and while the sizes are larger, the reason I bought a Scorpio Black in the first place was for the faster rotational speed and larger buffer size.

I did e-mail their support folks, and received a reply in which the respondent claimed he was going to elevate this through the proper channels to get the region status of my drive changed.  When that goes through I should be able to get an RMA.

In the interim, I first switched back to the 250GB drive and reinstalled.  Then I picked up a 640GB Scorpio Blue anyway (the price was right and cheaper than what Western Digital was offering) and reinstalled yet again.  I swear I could probably do this in my sleep with both hands tied behind my back.

Setting up Windows is so mind-numbing now.  Install drivers, reboot, install drivers, reboot, hunt for drivers because ASUS never put out anything for 64-bit versions of Windows.  The notebook is an ASUS F8Sn-B1, sporting an Intel Core2Duo @ 2.10GHz, 3GB of DDR2, and an nVidia GeForce 9500M GS with half a gig of memory.  Certainly not a powerhouse by today’s standards, but it gets the job done.  Unfortunately, it shipped with Vista, which I was quick to replace, and finding drivers first for XP and later for Win7 X64 has proven to be an annoying task.

Not so with Linux.  All the hardware works just fine, wireless (Intel 4965AGN), wired (Realtek 8111 GB Ethernet), Bluetooth, sound; I even recall managing to get the webcam working at one point, though I don’t bother with it any more.

The first thing I usually do is grab the latest kernel source and roll my own.  Slackware’s default kernels are great – I’ve never had one fail to boot a machine – but since they include just about everything (mostly modules, of course) they tend to be large and slow to boot.  I prefer a lean kernel that only provides for the hardware in the machine or could possibly be plugged in to it.  I also like using uvesafb to get a console in the display’s native resolution of 1280×800.  The smudge effect the console suffers from when it’s scaled it very hard on my eyes.

After the kernel comes X, which is also fairly trivial to configure.  I’ve kept my xorg.conf between installs, so it’s simply a matter of grabbing the latest nVidia driver for notebooks and letting its installer work its magic.  I’ve only once had a problem with the nVidia driver, a few years ago, when there was a change in the kernel that caused an error when compiling the blob (a structure had a member renamed, if I remember rightly).

With X I forgo the usual desktop environments in favour of OpenBox and tint2.  I used to like KDE, but these days I prefer the simplicity and flexibility OpenBox offers. I let wicd handle my wireless connection.

Finally, I follow the excellent tips provided by Dugan Chen for further tweaking Slackware, including rebuilding the various font rendering components for a nicer appearance.  He has made this fairly trivial, and I appreciate the work he’s put in to it.

While fully configuring Slackware (13.37-current) to my tastes usually takes a few days, compared to Windows’ few hours, it’s much more enjoyable and educational.  The only thing I haven’t got working yet is suspending/hibernating, but otherwise everything works perfectly.  I just need to figure out why coming back from suspend leaves me with a blank screen.

UPDATE: Suspending while X is running works fine, from a console it does not resume properly.  I believe this is caused by the video mode not being properly restored upon resume.  I believe there’s a program, vbetool, that can be used from by the scripts which manage suspension/hibernation to save and restore the proper video mode.  However, since I usually have X running I haven’t bothered looking in to it further.

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