Systemax 4110 with Ubuntu 10.04

I’ve been trying to get my trusty old Systemax 4110 (1.7 GHz CPU, 1 GB RAM, 80 GB drive) up and running with Ubuntu. Unfortunately, I have been unable to get 10.04 running so far from CD or USB due to an issue that’s occurring when the boot process switches from the normal splash screen and starts X. It looks like the Intel video driver is not compatible at some point, although Debian 5.05 loads without a hitch. Currently not sure what to make of this but I’m continuing to troubleshoot. I’ll post more when I figure out how to modify the driver being loaded during installation.

I like the 4110 (re-branded Uniwill 223II0) due to its small size and decent power. I’ve run Puppy, Vector, and several other flavors of Linux on the machine since I purchased it (2004) and have had great success with everything. This is actually the first Linux problem that I’ve encountered but rumor has it that there have been issues on certain old Intel GMA-type chipsets that are causing issues. This unit has the 855GM video in it and is probably having compatibility issues.

So far the only other real problem that I’m aware of with these PCs is the lack of SDHC support on the media card slot. I rarely have need of that function anyway, so it isn’t a showstopper for me.

Lexmark and Linux

A few weeks ago, I contacted Lexmark’s technical support to note my disappointment that no Linux drivers were available for the X6675 and other such consumer products. Many home offices use these types of machines and Linux (specifically Ubuntu) is starting to show up more. My point to their technical support group was that since they already had a fully developed Mac OS X driver, it should probably be a reasonably short cycle to also have a Linux driver.

In the past when I’ve contacted Lexmark about the lack of Linux support on their low-end and consumer machines, I’ve basically been told, “Sorry, we only support Linux on business-class products. Consumers do not run Linux.” That’s the gist of what is said, not a direct quote.

Imagine my surprise a couple of weeks ago when I was browsing Lexmark’s site and found a genuine driver for the X6675. Printing was now possible, although I’m not sure about scanning (I have a dedicated scanner for those needs). A huge bonus for those of us using Linux as I can now have a printer that is shared through the network with all the Windows machines and doesn’t require a serious hack to make it work. A couple of caveats, though. The driver is currently 32-bit only (just use the command-line options to force it to install anyway) and the system expects you to connect via USB cable during installation. Just exit at that point and possibly re-install the printer if necessary to get the wireless functionality. I use our X6675 with both 32 bit and 64 bit Linux using wireless (on both the PC end and the printer end) with no problems at all.

Kudos, Lexmark!

Vintage and Retro Computers

I recently joined a forum dedicated to Commodore Amigas. It’s amazing how many people are actively involved in buying, selling, and trading a system that is, at a minimum, 18 years old (assuming Commodore’s final production at around 1992). Yet these machines have a huge following and are very much in demand. New hardware is still being developed and sold, new (and old) software is still being developed and maintained. I am now expecting my first (an A1000) to be delivered over the next few days and am looking forward to it. I won’t need to emulate one any longer but will have the actual hardware to tinker with.

On the S-100 front, I am in line for one of a batch of new production boards that is currently being built and should be available over the next few weeks. I’m also attempting to get a few parts from eBay, if possible, although affordable parts are few and far between. I think some of the sellers haven’t quite figured out that your item isn’t necessarily worth $1,000 if no one is ever willing to pay more than $300. It doesn’t matter how many appraisals or estimates you have stating the value at $1,000 if no buyer exists at that price point. Oh, well, guess it’ll just sit in their warehouse for an additional 27 years. Or maybe they’ll sell the unit 20 years from now when that $1,000 price tag is only worth about $250 in future buying power.

AmiKit, Amiga Forever 2009, and Ubuntu 10.04 (64-bit)

Recently, I’ve been attempting to get Amiga emulation running. The Amiga’s have always seemed pretty cool and had a lot of neat features. The look-and-feel has always seemed better than Windows (and Mac OS in some ways). Unfortunately, the information provided with AmiKit is insufficient for installation using Amiga Forever 2009. Here are some hints and tips that I’ve figured out as I scratched my head trying to figure out why things couldn’t work properly. A main reason is that AmiKit is seems primarily developed for Windows and Linux is an after thought. I can’t afford a real Amiga right now and just happen to have Amiga Forever 2009 from my birthday last year (thanks Jessica!!!).

(YMMV as always. I’m running Ubuntu 10.04 on a MacBook 6,1. However, a lot of the below information is probably applicable to other Ubuntu flavors and versions as that is the way of things.)

If, like me, you’re running Ubuntu (or other Debian-based distro), you can just forget about using the AmiKit installer. Xdialog is required but has been deprecated under Ubuntu 10.04. Otherwise, it probably wouldn’t work with newer versions anyway. Self-extracting Linux installation utilities seem to have about a 25%-75% success ratio; if it’s specifically written for your version of Linux, it might be as high as 50%-50%, but there’s only a 25% chance of that 🙂

Anyway, first use the package management facility to install E-UAE. I found out tonight there are a bunch of hidden options in E-UAE that are configurable through ~/.uaerc. Imagine that. However, overall, UAE and E-UAE are phenomenal and I’m glad to see someone supports the system as much as they do.

Now, create a folder in your home directory (or other accessible location) and copy all the files from the AmigaForever CD into it. I created ~/Emulation/Amiga/AmigaForever. Ignore the directive about the -Rav switch for copying… you can just drag all the files from the root folder of the CD into your chosen directory. When complete, make sure everything is set writable for you (you can go to ~/Emulation/Amiga/AmigaForever and issue chmod +w -R * as this will add the writable attribute for the owner to all folders). Next, from this directory, create a symbolic link from Amiga Files to Emulation (ln -s Amiga Files Emulation). Make sure the backslash () is there or the command will do some funny things. Now, move into the Emulation folder and create a symlink from Shared to System (ln -s Shared System). All of this paragraph is necessary because the folder structure appears to be hard-coded into AmiKit’s installation process and the Amiga Forever 2009 structure doesn’t match.

Next, follow the remaining steps shown in the Linux setup guide provided by AmiKit. Basically, the parts you want to follow are the ones that discuss how to “build” your virtual machine: CPU, memory, rom locations, etc. Just the above steps are necessary to prep everything. If you don’t perform the above, you will receive a message of “Unknown Command” after the 2 commands the installer tries to execute, followed by a message of “Not Found.” Apparently, there aren’t that many people running under Linux on their own box as I found very little complete information to help troubleshoot this problem.

If anyone has any additional input, please let me know. Hopefully, this will help you get past the worst of the installation process. Now, off to play!

Genealogy Status

I finally had a chance to start getting the genealogy system (phpgedview) back online. The system is now in place, although anyone with a user ID will need to contact me to have their logins restored. The site is located at

The genealogy system is (or at least will be again) configured to allow visitors to see records of non-living persons. However, full user access is required to download gedcom files and see records for living persons.

Hopefully, the system will be fully online within the next 2 days…

Homebrew PC

So I’ve been reading a lot lately about vintage computers (especially S-100 bus systems) and looking into CP/M as an operating system. This combination gives a “hobbyist” the opportunity to explore the inner workings of hardware, firmware, and software at a level that’s difficult to achieve with modern systems. The older systems could easily be developed and maintained by a single person, while today’s systems require many engineers across multiple disciplines.

Due to the extreme cost and/or lack of availability of the older systems, I’m looking at the option of homebrewing a computer based around a Motorola 68000 CPU. This looks like a good option as it has a 24-bit address bus (up to 16 MB memory directly), 16-bit data bus, and frequencies of 8 MHz or more. There are a lot of hobbyists utilizing this CPU so information is somewhat easy to find. There is also a nice simulator available, complete with assembler and hardware emulator, that would help ease the task of developing the BIOS for the machine.

Initially, I’d be looking at a single board computer (SBC) with CPU, 64k ROM, 64k RAM, serial port (primarily for communication to another PC for display), and AT/PS2 keyboard converter as well as ASCII keyboard support (not that I can afford one, but it never hurts to include it as it requires only a bit of programming and a connection point).

Ultimately, the goal is to have an SBC that can be plugged into a bus configuration (using a 34 pin IDC for 32-bit address signals, another 34 pin IDC for 16-bit data + control signals, and a 6-pin header for power supply). The “bus” could then be expanded with multiple memory cards, VGA and/or composite video cards, I/O modules, CF or SD (or both) storage option, SCSI board, IDE board, etc. One of my design goals is to implement a system similar to ones that other people have used but to do so without requiring a backplane (motherboard) configuration. Another expansion is to upgrade the CPU to a version with 32-bit addressing.

In the short term, the system would probably just use multiple disks or some sort of bootstrap loader to fire up dedicated programs. CP/M-68k isn’t really going to provide a good OS for a system like this due to the inherent limits. However, I would like to ultimately implement a Linux/Minix microkernel arrangement, complete with drivers, that is fully based on a somewhat modern OS concept. There are technical limits, but I think a fully functioning system is attainable using this methodology.

I hope to post complete specs, drawings, etc. as I go. Looks like circuit boards can be custom-cut at a very reasonable price these days if you’re not in a huge hurry, connectors are available by the gobs from surplus houses, and I’ve got enough parts to build 4 or 5 CPU boards and support boards without buying much other than sockets.

Stay tuned. Based on my past history, I should be updating this page within a year (two, definitely).

MacBook 6,1 and Linux Mint 9 (Ubuntu 10.04)

(If anyone knows how to get this added to the MacTel FAQ or other pages on Ubuntu’s site, let me know. I’ve had 0 luck trying to do so myself.)

Installation of Linux Mint 9 Isadora (or Ubuntu 10.04 Lucid Lynx) onto MacBook 6,1

(sole installation, DO NOT USE IF YOU WANT TO KEEP OS X and/or WINDOWS!!! Also, this is NOT for the MacBook Pro)

There is a lack of support for the MacBook 6,1 and Linux, I suppose due to the newness of the system. While some information from Ubuntu’s site is useful, I’ve found several things to be incomplete or in error. I have used the following procedure on a number of occasions to install Ubuntu and Linux Mint on my MacBook 6,1 with no problems at all. Please make sure you read the steps completely, though, and try not to take shortcuts. I’ve tried to document the procedure completely, but YMMV. Also, it’s your Mac in question and your responsibility, so if you’re not sure about something, leave Mac OS X installed.


– process begins with power off

– hold down C key and press power button

– immediately insert Linux Mint 9 CD; if apple logo and spinner are displayed, power off and start again (you might have to power down and back up with C held a couple of times)

– if screen stays white and CD spins up, wait about 30 seconds; Mint’s menu will eventually show up and you can release the C key

– select the top menu option or allow the 10 second timer to expire

– the Mint logo should appear; it might take up to 10 minutes or more for the system to boot into Mint completely and the system might appear to hang… be patient

– once the system is completely booted, you should eventually see a prompt for Restricted Hardware Driver availability

– click on the Hardware Driver icon, select the Broadcom device and click Activate; this process requires 3 to 5 minutes

– upon completion of the Broadcom device, don’t bother installing Nvidia’s driver yet

– go ahead and activate your wireless and connect to the internet (you may have to click the wireless icon in the panel and start the wireless 1 or 2 times before it works the first time)

– wait a few minutes and the system will probably prompt to download updates, which is probably for the best

– by performing the wireless steps during installation, the system updates and also stores the values you input, so the driver will load when your reboot after installing

– once updating is complete, click on the Install Mint icon on the desktop

– go through the normal installation process; when you reach the drive partitioning, the system should allow you to completely erase the existing partitions and either use the entire drive or make changes manually

– again, DO NOT USE THIS METHOD if you are planning to keep OS X and/or Windows; you will not like the results

– the system will run through the installation process and finally report completion

– after selecting Restart, the system will process through the normal shutdown procedure to the point where it ejects the CD

– after removing the CD, press and hold the power button for several seconds until the power is off (we’ll have to fix that problem later; it’s simple but requires a minor change)

Initial Configuration after Installation:

– turn the power back on

– the screen may stay blank for up to 30 seconds so be patient

– once the boot process begins, it is pretty quick and your system should be up and waiting for login within a minute

– the following steps should fix the problem that requires you to manually push the power button during shutdown or restart…

– use Menu ? Terminal and enter “gksu gedit /etc/default/grub” (without quotes); enter your system password if prompted

– find the line that says GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX_DEFAULT=”quiet splash”

– change the line to read GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX_DEFAULT=”quiet splash reboot=pci”

– double-check that you have correctly entered the above and have included the proper quotes

– save and then exit from gedit

– still in the Terminal, enter “gksu update-grub” (without quotes); you should see a few brief messages informing you that it found various files

Sound Configuration:

– my experience with both Ubuntu 10.04 (Lucid Lynx) and Linux Mint 9 is that the sound is actually muted in multiple ways when the system first boots; you can test the following method with the live CD prior to installation if you want to prove it works on your system

– start Firefox and browse to a radio station or play a media file that has a sound track of at least several minutes; start playing the track

– click Menu ? Terminal

– in the Terminal type “alsamixer” (again, without the quotes)

– use the left and right arrow keys to move to the Surround with MM above it and type M to unmute the surround

– now move to the right to the Surround that shows 00<->00 and use the up arrow to raise the volume until you can hear it

– you might need to tinker with the settings, but I had headphones working this same way; you can also change Front Sp(eaker) setting, but the sound quality doesn’t seem as good as Surround

– type ESC to exit; you can now control volume using the speaker icon in the panel and the volume control on most media player apps

– please try this method first; I used all of the other methods that were recommended and discovered this one completely by accident

Graphics Updating:

– use Menu ? Terminal to open a Terminal window and type “glxgears” (without quotes)

– every 5 seconds or so you’ll see an update showing the frame rate; my MacBook shows around 2900 frames in 5.0 seconds prior to updating the graphics driver

– in the panel, click on the hardware driver installation icon or click Menu ? Administration ? Hardware Drivers

– click on the Nvidia driver for version 173 and then click Activate; I’m activating the older version first as I’ve had some issues with going straight to the newer version

– this takes several minutes to activate usually so do something to help reduce your stress; remember, I’m doing this procedure as I go along on my system and everything is being typed on my MacBook under Mint 9

– when complete, the window will show the message “You need to restart the computer to activate this driver” near the bottom

– close everything down nicely and then restart the system; remember, you’ll have to manually power the system off so wait until the logo animation has stopped for at least 30 seconds and then press the power button for about 5 seconds or so

– when the system starts back up, the logo will appear different and you’ll hear the Mint(y) sound when the login appears

Graphics Confirmation and Current Version Update:

– run Menu ? Terminal and enter “glxgears” (without quotes)

– you should see an update in the Terminal every 5 seconds; my MacBook now shows approximately 14,300 frames every 5 seconds, about 6 to 7 times what it was prior to the update above (this is before we’ve changed anything at all on the Nvidia display configuration)

– now, repeat the step above to install Hardware Drivers, except we’ll choose the “version current” option this time; this procedure may take several minutes again

– when complete, close everything down nicely and restart the machine; the system should restart this time with no interaction from you

– run Menu ? Terminal and enter “glxgears” (without quotes)

– my system now shows about 16,300 frames every 5 seconds; YMMV

– if you’d like to tweak the video settings you can now do so using Menu ? Administration ? Nvidia X Server Settings

– I don’t really have any reason to touch these as everything is currently set to a value that works for me; the only point of interest is that my core temp is 54 C unloaded and rising through 92 C with glxgears running

– if temperature becomes an issue to you (as noted by discoloration of your white MacBook or through graphics slowdown), use Menu ? Terminal and issue the following command: “echo 3000 | sudo tee -a /sys/devices/platform/applesmc.768/fan1_min”; this sets the fan speed to 3000

– above 3500 or so, the fan is audible but doesn’t seem to be a problem

– this is a known issue with the drivers and will probably be corrected as more of the 6,1 MacBooks get into the right hands

See for more suggestions if you find things that don’t work; this guide didn’t really help me too much other than the reboot issue and the fan speed perishes perished a few months ago due to a failure on my part to renew the domain. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to re-acquire it as the company that bought it hasn’t been willing to contact me. Apparently the domain is worth thousands to them…

MacBook 6,1 and Ubuntu 64-bit 10.04 (short version)

Looking to get Ubuntu 10.04 (Lucid Lynx) running on your MacBook 6,1? Calm down! Take a deep breath. Then, before you consult all the web pages on how to get sound working, follow these steps. This might not work for everyone but the steps are non-invasive and it won’t hurt anything to try this before moving on to the surgery-level steps that other blogs are recommending.

  • Go to the terminal and run alsamixer. Make sure no channels are muted and that all channels are turned up (probably above 60% or so is a good starting point). Especially make sure that the Surround channels are un-muted and turned up.
  • Install VLC and try playing back a media file (just about anything; VLC just works). Turn the volume up in VLC and in Ubuntu’s panel.
  • If all volumes are turned up sufficiently, you should already have sound and will not need to hack around installing Alsa and the other libraries that are mentioned on sites prior to April, 2010. I wasted many hours and was running Windows 7 (gasp!) until yesterday, when I decided to give Ubuntu a try again.

YMMV, feel free to comment if you’d like some details/screenshots of alsamixer.

Yes, I know Mac OS X is a very nice operating system. I bought the Apple MacBook for hardware quality and performance, not for the OS. My next trick is to see if OS X actually virtualizes properly now as indicated on some other blogs…