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My Acer Ferrari Laptop - Too Hot To Handle

In the last few months the CPU temperature of my Acer Ferrari 4005 laptop has been getting higher and higher when idle or under load. I suspected it was just some dust reducing cooling efficiency but hadn't had chance to check it out. I was also putting it off as laptops generally aren't that easy to get into. Last week I was compiling a few applications as I was testing them for keywording bugs and the laptop shut itself down.

I rebooted and then resumed the emerge. I spotted the CPU temperature was up at 95 C and shortly after the laptop shut itself down again. Since then I had just left it turned off until I got a chance to look at it today. I found a very helpful article on Gentoo and the Acer Ferrari laptop which linked to a very helpful service manual as well as documenting how to get most of the hardware to work.

Twenty four screws later and I unclipped the keyboard to realise I didn't even need to undo any of the screws in order to clean the CPU heat sink and fan! I used the trusty blower that was intended for cleaning my SLR lenses to blow all the dust out of the fan and put the keyboard back. Booting back up and emerging something taxing showed a 25 C drop in temperature both idle and under load - and no sign of any more shutdowns.

I also spotted there is now a project to get the integrated memory card reader working under Linux. Apparently SD cards are already working (don't use them yet, but might if I manage to get hold of a Nikon D80) and xD support is planned which I would love to see as that it what my Fuji F10 uses. Looks like people have had success getting suspend to ram working too - I will have to see about getting that working when I get chance too.

Matter Compilers

In between working on my thesis I have been reading some really interesting posts on a blog from the EPSRC Ideas Factory on the "Software Control of Matter". To me and many others this is an extremely interesting area of research. Its director is Professor Richard Jones FRS who has his own very interesting blog as well as a very good book out on the subject called "Soft Machines" which I have read and would highly recommend.

The ideas factory is taking place this week and the blog poses some very interesting questions and the comments to the posts are well worth a read. I couldn't resist posting a few of my thoughts on what one might do with a matter compiler. My own slant leads me to hope that there will be an open source version available rather than some DRM crippled machine that only makes what the vendor wants you to make/sells you. There are obviously dangers associated with that depending upon how powerful the matter compiler is. I was also reminded that a matter decompiler is very different to a matter compiler by a subsequent commenter - I guess I was just getting ahead of myself as he is obviously correct!

I know I will be reading the blog entries and comments with great interest (even though I should probably be spending more time on my thesis). It also makes for an interesting new and open way for new research proposals and directions to be discussed by academic researchers. I for one think that this approach is great and would like to see more of it.

Coincidentally I also read about an open desktop fabricator developed by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University in the USA. This is a desktop fabricator you can build yourself, they have also developed software to control it and you can use several different materials to fabricate 3D objects at home. Not quite nano but still very interesting to see. They have set up a web site about the Fab@Home project that is well worth a visit.

AMD64 Based PVR: Part 2 - Some Failures

I have been really busy recently and so haven't had as much time as I might have liked to work on my PVR. After spending a while working on it lastnight I thought I would write a little about some of my failures. On the whole the solution is working reasonably well, and some of these issues could be related to me using it in 64 bit mode...

The first is the image quality. Whilst playing DVDs I have found that xine works best and has DVD menu support which in my opinion is essential. On the whole the picture is pretty good but in fast moving scenes where large amounts of the background are moving quite quickly the motion becomes noticeably blocky during the motion. This can be really irritating and is not a great advert for the box when friends come around as even a £20 DVD player doesn't seem to suffer from this.

The second is the picture quality from the TV. I never managed to get the composite or svideo connections working - I only ever saw black. So I am using the aerial and the picture is very noticeably more blurry than the same picture just fed straight to the TV. I am guessing this is just the poorer quality of the aerial signal or a hardware limitation. Either way it is not great.

It would also appear that MythTV may have a memory leak as after the client had been running for a few weeks the system was out of memory. It would seem this leak is pretty slow though and so I am not sure how best to track it. This system has 1 GB of RAM so may be that helps give it a lot more time. The final issue I have not gotten to the bottom of is freezing after watching the TV for a while through MythTV.

All in all it is not a bad solution, but it is certainly not a plug in and go solution. I wish I had just got myself a cheap DVD player as I just don't have the spare time right now. Hopefully this post will be seen as an honest appraisal of how things are working right now with my MythTV box. Your mileage may well vary and you may have a lot more time to tinker. My wife isn't all that impressed and quite honestly I don't know that I am...

AMD64 Based PVR: Part 2 - Mostly Successful

Well I have been mostly successful I think with my MythTV project. Dabs still have me waiting around on the 300 GB hard drive and new case, so it is stuck on a temporary 40 GB hard drive and an old case. It is very quiet though. I finally got the two tuners working on my Hauppage PVR-500 MCE. I took out the tuner=57,57 and let it automatically detect the correct tuners! They now both work, and composite in works too. I tried to use svideo in though and that does not seem to work, although it could be a cable issue. I bought a SCART to svideo and two phono adaptor. I get nothing but a black screen from my Sky Digibox.

I can't get anything out of the radio tuner either. I discovered why xawtv and tvtime made terrible test programs - they don't understand the MPEG2 output I get from the hardware encoders. MPlayer made a much better test program. So so far I have managed to get both tuners working, using the mce_usb2 driver form the latest lirc ebuilds I managed to get the remote control and infrared receiver working, although still no luck on the built in IR blaster. There are two IR blaster ports and one supplied IR blaster - anyone got any tips on that one at all?

The DVD player is working great although I switched to xine for the DVD menu support. I tried using svideo output but all I could get was black and white no matter what I tried. So I switched back to composite output which works well. So it seems that svideo sucks over here and doesn't work, but composite works just fine. I still haven't quite figured out MythTV either - I need to tell it about the five analogue channels and my Sky Box which is on a sixth channel - I have the channels but need to program them into MythTV. Right now I am using ivtvctl and ivtv-tune until I figure MythTV out.

So it wasn't the easiest thing in the world to set up, but it is working pretty well right now. Need to figure out how to record programs too, but the core functionality is working well. I am really busy with lots of other stuff so this little project has ended up on a bit of a back burner. I do still find Linux very empowering though, and certainly have no intention of moving back to Windows any time soon for a number of reasons despite the extra effort required to get some things done.

AMD64 Based PVR: Part 1 - The Adventure Begins

Well I had an old motherboard with an Athlon64 3200+ in it (previous burnt out PSU that wasn't quite as bad as it looked). So I bought 1 GB of RAM, a new PSU, a Hauppage PVR-500, used my old nVidia GeForce FX5900XT and a DVD drive for it. I installed Gentoo amd64 on it of course and then began my first attempt at MythTV.

I have TV out working and I can play DVDs, although I am using xine instead of mplayer for the DVD menu support. The TV tuners are recognised but all I get is static. I was working with this wiki article. I also have messages like this in dmesg, ivtv1: i2c attach to card #1 ok [client=(tuner unset), addr=61] which I think is my tuner failing to get set up properly.

It looks like the infrared receiver/IR blaster doesn't work either, it is USB based and came with the package. I get ID 0609:031d SMK Manufacturing, Inc. when I plug it in but no lirc devices :-( This means that the remote is also unusable. So far I have had limited success, but I am hopeful I will be able to improve and document the set up in future. I am currently using,

media-tv/xmltv-0.5.39 - current stable is unable to parse UK TV listings

MADWiFi Working on AMD64 Again

Well they finally fixed the new MADWiFi driver to work with AMD64 again, after about two months or so of it causes a kernel oops whenever traffic was transmitted over the wireless link. I have been too busy to get a new card and so I am still using this one. Still not happy about the closed source HAL and think the reasoning behind it is flaky. It is little better than a proprietary driver, but the old driver worked and thanks to brix the new driver is in portage already and has been rekeyworded ~amd64.

Hopefully wireless in Linux will improve soon, I don't think closed source drivers are the answer though. In other news I have also brought the latest version of boinc out of package.mask to receive wider testing. It seems to be working pretty well, but still isn't as smooth as I would like. If anyone has ideas on how to improve it, or better yet patches, I would love to hear from you.

MADWiFi Broken on AMD64

I had to mark net-wireless/madwifi-driver-0.1_pre20051111 -amd64 as it just causes kernel panics. Until today I have not been able to bring up their web site (database errors or timeouts). Downgrading doesn't seem to work either, and I have been really busy so I have just been using my wired network. I actually bought this Atheros based miniPCI wireless card as I was led to believe it worked better than the Broadcom card I had under Linux! They seem to know about the issue, but it has not been solved yet.

Now I am thinking that may be I need to look at buying another wireless card :-( I think a closed source HAL is just about as bad as a closed source driver... Preferably one that might even make it into the kernel with a fully open source driver such as Ralink 2500 chipsets possibly. There have been some attempts at making an open source HAL for the Atheros chip but they do not seem to have come to much as far as I can tell.

Timer Issues Solved With AMD Athlon64 X2 Dual Core Goodness

I have had my newish system up and running for most of the weekend now. I noticed when doing lots of compilation/work on the system that I sometimes ended up with 10 characters where I had only typed one, and gained 10 minutes of time in less than an hour with ntpd running! After some searching around I came across this kernel bug entry detailing my exact problem and a solution to it. Just adding the notsc option to the grub entry for my SMP kernel solved this problem immediately. Just thought it might help others who are having similar issues until the patch makes it into gentoo-sources and/or the mainline kernel.

Got My New System Working

Got my new system up and running yesterday. I would like to thank Mastercard and NatWest for helping my to purchase a new PSU, motherboard, graphics card and AMD Althlon64 X2 3800+! I haven't worked out all the fine details of how I will pay them back just yet, but I do have a beautiful new system up and running!

Thanks to Gentoo it took virtually no effort at all. Flashed the BIOS to the latest version, plugged in my old hard drive. Everything booted but a few things weren't working so I just recompiled the kernel with SMP support, PCI express support and the forcedeth module for the different network interdace. Rebooted and it was all working great. I do have this really weird issue where it seems to reboot on a cold boot after entering run level 3, then on a second boot everything boots fine.

The system has clock issues too - it gains time at quite an incredible rate. I have even found ntpd having trouble keeping up when it is under load! Hopefully I will get some time to do a little work during the rest of the weekend. I am really hoping for some better luck when it comes to computer hardware too - I can't afford to replace anything else! The dual core processors seem pretty responsive so far too running on the gentoo-sources-2.6.13-r2. There is just the clock issue and the random reboot on cold start.

My Main System is Dead...

As the title says my main system is dead. I was working on it earlier, went to get some dinner and came back later to find it powered down. Hit the power button and it never POSTed :-( Stripped it down sequentially until I was left with just the CPU plugged into the main board and I still don't even get any beeps! It is a Gigabyte GA-K8NS Pro motherboard and has never been quite right so I am tempted to think it is that, but there is also the possibility of graphics, RAM and CPU issues.

Until I get some cash and figure out what went I won't be doing much development as that box housed all of my work including Gentoo CVS repos, experimental ebuilds and such. I think the hard drive is intact but don't have any other SATA systems. Pretty sure I also have a DVD backup from about a month or so ago, but my first priority is to get the system working again. If anyone feels like sharing any tips with me on diagnosing my system I would welcome them. It has been a crappy week - at least I have my new laptop so I can still get some work done. Most of my data and SVN repos are on that box too though :-(

Update: It does seem to be the time for system problems with quite a few devs having trouble with their systems in the last few months. Checking on my mainboard (pretty sure it is that - hunch though) it is three weeks out of warranty. Not a good week at all - can't get anything done until I get my system working again...

New Server Online!

I have been so busy recently. Over the weekend I was getting my new server online and configured. Some of you may remember the terrible problems I had with 1&1 a while back. Then the manic travelling during the Summer, wedding and months trying to catch up on everything I needed to do whilst I was away (still not caught up - sorry if you are waiting on something).

Well I finally got a dedicated server sorted, and it is of course running Gentoo. To be more exact it is running AMD64 Gentoo Hardened kernel and toolchain and it has been rock solid so far. I am renting the server from OH Telecom who have been very helpful and friendly so far, they even downloaded an amd64 2005.1 LiveCD for me to install from :-) Using all the grsecurity/PaX stuff with the hardened toolchain and everything still works too! I am new to this stuff, but the hardened docs seemed to explain it all very well.

If you are seeing this blog entry it also means that DNS has updated and nothing broke! Hopefully you won't see all my blog posts again, or something like that, as I have seen happen when others have moved servers before... I am gradually moving all my email and web sites over, testing new stuff out and making sure it all works. It will also allow me to give some of the server oriented Gentoo packages much more testing too - I have spent the last few days trying to get all the Apache and PHP stuff keyworded correctly. Please poke me if I missed anything.

New Laptop and KDE 3.5

Well I seem to have my new laptop working pretty well. I decided to just put KDE 3.5 alpha1 on there from the start and see how it goes! It is working great with the new hal/pmount stuff. I was using the old hal/pmount stuff on KDE 3.4 which worked really well but the inclusion of pmount was delayed quite a bit for various reasons I won't even go near... I have been looking at the possibility of getting KDE 3.4 working with the new hal/pmount API but that doesn't look as easy as I had first hoped. The KDE bug shows some progress but it is not working yet.

Acer Ferrari 4005WLMi closedAcer Ferrari 4005WLMi open

KDE has some great laptop tools too. I am using the battery monitor to take care of power whilst I am on the move, and the kwifimanager to look after my wireless network connections now. Still no sign of working WPA, but I am happy enough with WEP for now. The powernowd daemon is happily clocking down my CPU as I work on ebuilds, LaTeX files for work, data analysis, browsing the web and writing blog entries.

As I got back into digital photography with my new camera I also discovered digikam and digikamimageplugins for storing and manipulating my photos. There is always krita when more features are required too. I am still getting the APIC errors in my log - worrying entries like APIC error on CPU0: 00(40) but it still seems to be running stable.

My New Acer Ferrari 4005WLMi and Gentoo

I got a few new toys delivered to me last week. On Thursday I got a Fuji F10 6.3 MP digital camera which is a really great camera - take a look here for more details. It was recognised as a USB mass storage device without any trouble in Gentoo and I have been doing everyone's head in taking pictures of everything. It is a replacement for my old Sony Cybershot which met its ultimate end on the last night of my stag week in Tenerife... I got a 1 GB xD memory card and a spare battery for it too!

The biggest new toy arrived on Friday though, which is my new Acer Ferrari 4005WLMi laptop, specs are here. This is a great laptop, and I read loads of reviews before purchasing it. As soon as I got it on Friday morning I repartitiioned and starting installing Gentoo on it of course :-) The initial install went fairly well, and I got it to boot without too many problems. Unfortunately it comes with a broken ACPI DSDT so the battery readout was broken - I wish manufacturers would try getting stuff like this right. Fortunately those before me had already fixed this.

I am afraid that laptops don't seem to have gotten much easier to get working... I installed straight from 2005.1 amd64 stages, and built a multilib system. During my research I found a few useful pages scattered across the web with installation details. An Acer 5021NWLCi installation of Gentoo, as well as a user on the Gentoo wiki who installed it on the same model I have here which has been useful in providing quite a few pointers and fixes.

I installed using gentoo-sources-2.6.13 and upgraded to -r1 over the weekend. I had to apply one patch to the kernel - to load the updated DSDT file from an initrd during boot. I am using ndiswrapper to use my broadcom wireless network card, and I have finally managed to get WEP encryption working. I got the Windows XP 64 bit driver from Acer FTP. Unfortunately I have not been able to get wpa_supplicant working so far - any tips greatfully received ;-) I also got a new Linksys WRT54GC wireless router to power my new wireless network too.

The integrated memory card reader doesn't work, and it doesn't look like there is much chance of getting it working which is a shame as that functionality would be nice to have. I am getting APIC errors on the CPU which is a little worrying too, but doesn't seem to be causing issues. The touchpad is working great, but I still can't get the bluetooth mouse working reliably either - I think I am missing something here but I need to get back to some real work!

Productivity has been terrible on my PhD work, Gentoo and consultancy stuff whilst getting this laptop working! Hopefully now I will get back to being even more productive.

System Freezes Caused by the Proprietary Nvidia Driver

Today my system locked up yet again, and as far as I can tell this is due to the proprietary Nvidia driver I use and has been present for many driver versions. I keep meaning to look into this problem further and then it gets better and I forget again. I can use the nv driver to get rid of the problem, but lose all 3D acceleration too. How many others have this problem?

After googling it appears that it could be a problem with something in the OpenGL part of the driver, and so I have turned off the OpenGL screensaver I was using as a test. It also seems to be more common when the system is under heavy load too. I have wondered if it might be a problem with TwinView, which I use with my two 17" TFT screens. It is certainly an irritating bug - it is usually necessary to ssh into the system and kill -9 the X process to fix it.

The normal error message accompanying these crashes in /var/log/messages is,
Aug 27 04:48:02 cryos NVRM: Xid: 25, L1 -> L0
Aug 27 04:48:02 cryos NVRM: Xid: 13, 0000 02003900 00000039 00000328 00000000 00000800

After searching on this I found a couple of posts here and here. Also another here suggesting it could be an X86_64 issue here. A post here also indicates very similar issues with Debian. This bug seems to be a similar issue.

I haven't been able to get any more information than the log messages above, and the fact that X gets stuck in a loop consuming 100% of the CPU cycles until it is killed. Not even the keyboard/mouse respond so you need a second system to log in with... I guess this is the problem with a black box binary linked into my kernel - there is no way to debug it. Submitted a bug report to nVidia about a year ago and never received a reply from them.

I have tried enabling and disabling all sorts but nothing seems to change it, and the crashes only happen every day to every few weeks over different xorg-x11 versions and nvidia-kernel versions. It also doesn't affect my work system which is very similar, but only has one TFT screen and a lower end nvidia graphics card...

What a Difference 0.1 V Can Make

I meant to write about this last week. My main amd64 box crashed the other week and managed to clear the BIOS settings along with it. It is a socket 754 Gigabyte board that I have never had too much luck with. They limit the RAM to DDR333 instead of DDR400 as they incorrectly quote AMD specs - I have built other systems using the same two sticks of double sided 512 MB DDR400 Corsair RAM!

Anyway, reset all the settings I could remember, and it all seemed OK. Then kept getting random crashes and segfaults and thought it was a bad kernel or something. Played with all sorts of settings, and even rebooted into Gentoo on another partition. Ram memtest86+ and it all passed just fine. At the point of pullling my hair out I took a breather and then thought may be upping the RAM voltage would help.

Did that and I have not had a single crash/segfault since! As I said what a difference 0.1 V can make :-) Lost half a week messing about with it, but got it sorted in the end...