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Fedora Core 6 on a Dell Inspiron 9400, P4 tower with ATI 9250, dual AMD 64 tower

Tuesday January 2, 2007 12:11
Photo of Fedora Core 6 on a Dell Inspiron 9400, P4 tower with ATI 9250, dual AMD 64 tower

Linux is becoming more polished, but because it's more complicated under the hood, it comes with its share of problems.
This article outlines

Dell Insprion 9400

Core Duo 2GHz, 1GB mem, 120GB HD, ATI x1400 mobility, Intel ipw3945 wireless.

P4 Tower

Hyperthreaded P4 2.8GHz, 1GB mem, 160GB HD, ATI 9250, ATI all-in-wonder mach64.

AMD 64 tower

2 physical AMD 64, Tyan motherboard, 2GHz, 2GB mem, 160GB HD, ATI 9250.

Motherboard

The Linux kernel and drivers handle the both the laptop and the tower's motherboard's chipset, and harddrive DMA flawlessly, not a single thing that needs to be tweaked here.  Two thumbs up for the motherboard, chipset manufacturers for providing the Linux kernel and driver developer the documentation they need to have done an excellent job.
The video card manufacturers can learn a real lesson here.

ATI woes

No doubt, the display element is one of the weakest links on Linux.
Not unexpectedly, the ATI videocards are giving me more problems than usual.  Not unexpected, because it's widely known that ATI is a bad choice for Linux, because ATI's support hasn't been very good.  They've dropped support for the still widely in use 92xx video cards, they don't support compositing (this means no aiglx or fancy desktop effects!), getting the drivers to install doesn't work always (fixable by actually fixing their code), and to top it off, it has bugs which causes crashes from time to time on certain configurations.  Crashes are considered taboo on Linux, and if you cause an actual system crash, you have to bow your head in shame.  ATI is a major perpetrator on this front.
The open source (non ATI) versions of the drivers aren't supported for all ATI flavors, and don't do 3D as well.  This is because ATI wants to keep things secret, so developers are forced to having to reverse engineer and guess.
TV and video capture through the open source Gatos drivers doesn't seem to work anymore.  Needless to say, frustrations galore.
The general consensus on the internet is that Linux people should avoid ATI altogether, and go with something like NVidia.  Having dealt with both, I really feel that the developers at NVidia are just smarter.  Although I've had problems with NVidia on Fedora Core 5, the previous Red Hat release, believe you me, you aint seen nothing yet, once you have to cope with ATI.  So, two thumbs down for ATI.

Gnome desktop

If you're lucky with the right video card configuration, you can enable desktop effects.  At the time of this writing, the Wikipedia article doesn't mention ATI.  Someone needs to update that page and specify that with ATI there is a good chance you will not be able to enjoy these special effects.  With ATI, there is always a compromise and some disappointment.
I still don't like Gnome, and this time again, I switched to IceWM.
One thumb up, one thumb down for Gnome.
I didn't bother with the sluggish KDE.  I don't like KDE's kdeinit/dcop messages all over my terminals, and the slow starting of k-applications.

IceWM

Compilation and installation was a snap as usual.  Download from CVS, apply my custom patch for some custom window behaviour, compile, install, configure .Xclients, restart, and I'm in business.  After seeing a lot of flat C spaghetti code, it's always very refreshing to see nicely organized C++ code again.  Two thumbs up for IceWM.

Wireless network

I've had some problems getting it to work on FC5, and this time on FC6, with updated drivers, things are working a little better, but I still need a manual initialization script to get it going every time.  The good news is that I don't have to repeatedly reload the driver, because the flaky driver initialization seems to have been fixed.  I'm using WPA, which makes things a little harder to configure, but necessary for security.  Apparently, even with WEP/mac address security, scripting kiddies can break in in just a few minutes, using various available tools available on the net.  WPA to my knowledge hasn't been cracked yet.
This means I can do worry-free networking without having to ssh or ipsec everything.


(C) Copyright 2004-2007 Mike Pot