Tuesday 26 February 2013

Linux on a Panasonic Toughbook CF-27

Having been given a Toughbook CF-27, I decided to see if I could run Linux on it. As you can see from the specs below, it's quite low powered but it's very solidly built and also splash proof. It's also completely silent due to the lack of any fans and has a very nice, bright, screen. I was hoping it would be the touchscreen version, but alas it isn't.


Panasonic Toughbook CF-27 (Mark 2)
Model no. CF-27 EJ6K3EE
CPU: 300Mhz Mobile Pentium II
RAM: 128MB 100Mhz SODIMM
Hard drive: Toshiba MK8113MAT 6.4GB (now 30GB)
Floppy (Interchangable)
Screen: 12.1 inches (None-touchscreen version)
Connectivity: Connexant 56k modem,
2x PCMCIA slots
1x USB port.
Sound: Yamaha YMF-744B
Graphics: Neomagic MagicGraph 256AV

OS Installation and Customisation

As the Bios has a password on it, it won't boot from anything but the hard drive, so I had to take the hard drive out and use another PC to install the OS. I chose Debian Lenny as it's well supported and a little more lightweight than the latest versions of the *buntu family. But first I had to take the hard drive out of it's metal caddy, which was easier than I thought. An access plate on the bottom of the laptop is only held in with two latches, and the caddy comes out quite easily. Removing the drive was easier than other Toughbook models.

Notice the sim-card slot, it also has an extendible flexible antenna. (click for larger images)

I then attached the hard drive to a mini-IDE to IDE adaptor and installed it temporarily in my test box (AMD socket A/Via board, 1.6Ghz). I installed the XFCE and Gnome desktops (type desktop=xfce at the boot prompt for an XFCE-only system), build-essential, lm-sensors, fusesmb and a few other bits. Once finished, I shutdown, removed the drive and reinstalled it back in the Toughbook. I'm pretty sure Windows would have had a fit at this point but Debian booted quite happily, despite the big difference in hardware. I downloaded Google Chrome to replace Epiphany and Iceweasel (aka Firefox 3.0.6). I haven't always got along with Chrome but it's quite handy for low spec PCs since it's fairly lightweight and I like the built-in browser sync for bookmarks and themes using your Google account. Of course there's always the other option of Midori. Due to the lack of an ethernet port or wireless (which was an option), I'm using an Edimax PCMCIA wireless card, which worked once I downloaded the Ralink firmware. I installed the deb package with 'dpkg -i firmware-ralink_0.14+lenny2_all.deb' as root, as the Gdebi tool isn't installed by default.

As I don't plan on storing much on this laptop, I decided to keep the original 6.4GB hard drive but I've seen some with 30GB or 40GB drives. I may upgrade it later. My next job is getting the onboard sound working. I've had trouble before with Yamaha sound cards on Toshiba laptops. I'll update this post once i get it sorted!


Fixed the sound problem thanks to this bug report, that includes the solution. Debian doesn't include the alsa-firmware package anymore so I had to download it from here and compile it ("./configure" and "make" in the alsa-firmware directory once you've extracted it) and copy the firmware files (.fw) to /lib/firmware/yamaha (need to create it). Rebooted and now it works!

Update 2
Added the Debian backports repository and installed the later version of Pidgin so I can now chat on MSN on it.

Update 3
I've now upgraded the RAM to 192MB and using the Gnome desktop as i had problems with disappearing panels in XFCE, plus I generally prefer it.

Update 4
I've just upgraded the hard drive to a 30GB Toshiba drive (often cited as the maximum this can take which is wrong, the maximum is 120GB, limited by the age of the controller) that came from an old defunct laptop and also served in my Compaq N400C at one time. It already had Debian installed, booted straight away and bizarrely has no problems with the onboard sound.

Update 5
I have recently upgraded to Debian Squeeze without any problems, although it did take awhile!
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Tuesday 19 February 2013

Why The Motorola Atrix 4G Deserved an ICS/JB Upgrade

A powerful phone with lots of promise...

I bought my Motorola Atrix 4G (MB860) awhile back, mainly because I liked the idea of Webtop with the Lapdock and Work & Play Dock that allows you to connect to a TV and use a wireless keyboard and mouse like a PC. However though nice at first this turned out to be a bit buggy and quite slow, especially with a few other apps running. It often took ages to switch from phone to Webtop mode, so it wasn't very convenient. Sometimes I even had to reboot first to get it to work.

At the time I bought the phone, an ICS update was on Motorola's schedule so I thought I would be able to upgrade at some point. Sadly Motorola reneged on it's promise, and cancelled particular upgrade path, eventually saying that the Atrix would not give a decent ICS experience. It seems Motorola would rather people buy a new phone than support a phone that was less than 2 years old. Naturally myself and many others were and still are outraged at this, and the hashtag #motofail trended on Twitter at the time. They did offer some trade in scheme but I'm not sure I'm even eligible for that since I bought mine secondhand from eBay.

Gingerbread problems.

I've found the stock Gingerbread can be quite annoying at times, especially with a few apps running in the background. I'm generally flicking between Facebook, Twitter client, and Google+ apps most of the time and maybe Poweramp if I'm listening to music. With stock firmware, no matter which player I use always had stuttering playback. I also often had high CPU and keyboard input lag. Even a quick Google search took longer than I wanted.

Alternate ROMs

There are now quite a few alternate ROMs for the Atrix 4G, including variants of Gingerbread, Ice Cream Sandwich and Jelly Bean. The most well known being CM10, a version of JB, by Cyanogen Mod. I recently upgraded by Atrix to an unofficial CM10 build called Avatar, which puts a MIUI look on a CM10 (JB 4.1.2) base. I mainly chose it because it's a very recent build. Anyway I already had my phone rooted and the bootloader unlocked for a long time so I gave it a go after a particularly frustrating time with the stock Gingerbread. It didn't take long to flash and I was pleasently surprised by the results. It's absolutely blazing fast! Even with the same apps running I had on stock, it's just so smooth and a pleasure to use. I get none of the sluggish feel of the Stock firmware nor the audio lag and jitter. Poweramp works very well in Jelly Bean and also the keyboard lag has gone too. This phone certainly deserved an upgrade to ICS and even JB!

Now the only downside of the third party ROMs for the Atrix is a lack of camera drivers, so the default camera app does not work. Other camera apps work, but have no hardware acceleration. I have installed Camera Illusion and Video Camera Illusion and they are both stuck at 640x480 resolution. Now if Motorola could just quietly release some drivers to the XDA devs that would be great!  Apart from the camera, and also Webtop and fingerprint reader (both of which I I'm not too bothered about), everything else works fine. HDMI video output works, it now mirrors the phone screen (no Webtop), but sound does not seem to output through HDMI anymore unfortunately.


So either I downgrade to Stock to get a working HD camera, but annoyingly sluggish OS or stay on Jelly Bean and enjoy a fast, smooth OS but no HD camera (and maybe hope it gets fixed one day) or alternately buy another phone. Slight problem I have with downgrading is I cannot find the original UK T-mobile firmware for my phone! If anyone can find a working download link, please post in the comments.

Update 13/06/2013
I have switched to CM10 as it is more stable than Avatar which has had a few little crashes here and there.