Saturday, October 7, 2017

Nokia 6 phone - first thoughts

I decided that I needed to update my Android device a couple of weeks ago. After a little research I decided on the Nokia 6 phone. Before you say, 'but this is a Linux Blog' for those of you that might not be technical, Android is based on the Linux Kernel so I think its a valid topic.

This is a mid range phone with the following specifications:

5.5-inch 1080p screen
Snapdragon 430 chip set
CPU - Octa-core 1.4 GHz Cortex-A53
GPU -  Adreno 505
3GB of RAM
Dual 4G SIM capable (All UK networks) 
32Gig internal storage + expansion with SD card up to 128Gig
16MP and 8MP cameras
Fingerprint scanner
3.5mm Headphone Jac
All metal Aluminium case

Price at purchase, network unlocked £200  

The phone came with Android 7.1 and as soon as it was connected to the Internet it updated to 7.1.1 so has the latest September security patches.

The first issue encountered was that this phone uses a nano Sim card for the phone network and my old One Plus used the bigger micro Sim, so I had to get a new Sim card sent to me which took 24 hours. In the mean time I was installing some of the applications that I have on the phone and checking that all my contacts had transferred to the new phone, which despite a backup of same some had not migrated, but that’s a Google issue not the phone.

When the SIM arrived I put it and a 16Gig micro SD card into the SIM slot, the cards were recognized and after configuring the SD card as additional storage I was able to set my pod catcher and camera to save files to the SD card rather than internal storage thus leaving internal storage for apps and Android updates.

First thing I noticed over my previous One Plus1 is how snappy everything is the CPU upgrade was definitely and improvement over my old phone. Another thing is the fact that Nokia has decided to keep the 3.5mm headphone Jac which for me is essential as I listen to music and audio recordings at some time on the phone most days. A lot has also been said about the 3000mAh battery not being up to all day use and the slowness of recharging it if needed. For my use profile I find the battery more than adequate, I surf, use social media, take occasional snaps, watch the odd You Tube video and listen to pod-casts/music, Oh and make the odd phone call.

After a 14 hour day I have still got 50-60% of battery left. Granted the other night I got down to 40% it did take all night to recharge to 98% with a 2.5A charger, with the official 2A charger it does seem to be a little faster, but yes if your a heavy user you will need to carry your charger or a portable battery for emergency top ups.

So would I recommend the Nokia6 to someone in the market for a phablet, the short answer is yes, if you need the larger screen but can't afford the high end larger screen phones this is a very good mid range option, if you need to use the dual SIM capability it might be worth spending the extra £40 and getting the 64Gig version to give extra room for updates and plenty of space for Applications as you will not be able to use the expansion capacity as the second SIM uses the space where the Micro SD card goes.

After the first 2 weeks or so my first impressions are this is a good phone and well worth the £200 price point.





Sunday, August 20, 2017

Running Raspbian Pixel on a P4 Tower PC


Well I’m back again, as I said in the post I did about Raspbian x86 on the Lenovo x61s I was interested to see how the OS would perform on what I now class as very old hardware in the form of a Pentium 4 tower.

We have a spare tower at the Makerspace which gets used to test low resource operating systems to see if they live up to there name, so on Saturday (yesterday as I write this, but a few weeks ago by the time this show goes out) I put the x86 Raspbian image on to this tower to see how it would perform.

Tower specification are: Pentium 4 2.8Gig CPU, 2Gig DDR Ram and a 40Gig HDD, which in its day was a very useful bit of kit, but technology has moved on and most people wouldn’t consider it any use as a working PC today.

First problem I encountered was the DVD drive was duff and I didn’t have the image on a flash drive, luckily I did have my trusty USB DVD in the bag so I hooked that up booted into the boot menu and set the disc off loading the OS. I wont go into this again as I ran through the install process last time, HPR 2362, but the install went well and I was left with a new install of Pixel on the tower.

I went through the new install process and was left with an up to date and password secure PC, I then rebooted to check what the resource use was at first boot, which I was amazed was a consistent 66mb of RAM, and about 1% CPU use. 

 












 




Using the Chromium web browser pushes up RAM usage over a 100 but it was smooth and easily coped with navigating to resource hungry sites such as You Tube and the BBC. So first test passed.

I next opened a Word document in LibreOffice, this took about 10seconds to load but once open was perfectly usable with no lag, so should provide a good office capable PC.

So you can use the Web, Write documents, it has an email client or you can use web mail. And it’s not painfully slow, this PC would now make a very usable homework/first computer for any child, or a computer for an older member of the family that just needs to keep in touch with family and friends without breaking the bank. In fact you could probably pick up a working tower off the likes of Freecycle/Freegle for £0 and you may even get a small 17”/19” TFT monitor from the same place.

Yes it’s not as energy efficient as the latest kit but as I said last time the cost of a new PC/laptop can buy a lot of additional electricity in the time you may run it before it finally expires.






Monday, August 14, 2017

Blackpool Linux User Group Update - We are now a Makerspace as well.

I had forgotten that I had made a post about our LUG in 2012 until I was reviewing my stats on site visits, and someone had viewed this post. Things have changed considerably since that post so here is an update.

These are the new details of what is now a Makerspace and LUG in Blackpool UK

About

Blackpool Makerspace + LUG
The Basement, Crossways Hotel, 64 Tyldesley Road, Blackpool. FY1 5DF

Blackpool Makerspace was founded by members of Blackpool Linux User Group, and was previously known as MakerspaceFY1.
Combined meetings of the LUG and Makerspace take place every Saturday at 10 am, unless otherwise stated on the mailing list.  

https://mailman.lug.org.uk/mailman/listinfo/blackpool

Because the Makerspace combined with the Blackpool Linux User group, the primary method of contacting each other is still the LUG mailing list until further notice.

Mailing List
Subscribe here:- https://mailman.lug.org.uk/mailman/listinfo/blackpool/

post to:- blackpool@mailman.lug.org.uk

Twitter  @makerspacefy1  https://twitter.com/MakerspaceFY1  

If you are based in the North West of UK and want to pay us a visit please do everyone is welcome we just ask that Minors are accompanied by an adult for the safety of all concerned.

  

Distro Review - Raspbian Pixle x86

This post is about putting the new Raspbian image onto one of the Lenovo x61s laptops that I have previously talked about.

These laptops do not have a DVD drive so normally I would create a boot flash drive using USB image writer in Linux Mint, but I had received a DVD of Raspbian with the MagPi magazine so I connected a portable USB DVD drive that I have and used the disc to install to the laptop.

On booting to the DVD drive you get several options including a live session with persistence (this allows the saving of data and system changes to a flash drive during the session if wanted), but the option I chose was to install to hard drive.

This gives a simplified Debian installer and for new users with no previous experience of installing Linux it recommends one of the options at each stage. The only issue I had was at the stage it asks where to install Grub it dose not automatically highlight the main drive (Sda) a small gripe but for a newcomer it could confuse.

That said the install went flawlessly and upon first boot I was left with the PIXEL desktop with the task bar at the top of the screen and a short cut for the recycle bin. The boot time on this laptop with a Core2Duo 4Gig Ram and 120Gig SSD was about 30 seconds which is good also it was only using 87mb of the available RAM on start up, this shows the credentials of an OS built to run on the original 256mb Pi.

First job is to navigate to Raspberry config from the menu bar by going to:

Open Menu > Preferences > Raspberry Pi Configuration.

From here you have a number of options but the important one is to change the default password from raspberry to something a little more secure.

After this I connected the Laptop to my WiFi network which is flawless on the x61s as it is an Intel WiFi card, I cant comment on other cards here.  

The next task that I did was to run the terminal commands 'sudo apt update' & 'sudo apt upgrade'. This will result in an updated system with all the security fixes installed and any package upgrades that are available.

The one thing I was not happy about is that Raspbian allows 'sudo' access for terminal commands without requesting a password by default, this can be fixed if you feel this is a major issue depending on what you are using the device for. 

https://raspberrypi.stackexchange.com/questions/7133/how-to-change-user-pi-sudo-permissions-how-to-add-other-accounts-with-different

After completing the upgrade I decided to add the 'Synaptic' package manager to the install as this makes finding software a little easier if you not sure exactly what your looking for. This is as simple as 'sudo apt install synaptic' in the terminal and once installed you'll find a link to it under preferences in the menu.   

One thing that I found that did not work out of the box was Audio, I had to install some Alsa packages and audacity to collect the needed dependencies for the audio to work. So I installed Alsa player, Alsa mixer GUI and Audacity and after this and a reboot miraculously audio now worked.  

Also there was not battery monitor installed so I installed Batmon so that I could check the battery status of the laptop.

On the whole given that Raspbian has been built to be compatible with all iterations of the Raspberry Pi board the software installed by default while minimal includes all the basics for web use - Chromium, email - Claws and office work - Open Office suit, along side all the Pi favourites such as Scratch (including Scratch 2) and Python programming tools.

Would I use Raspbian x86 as a daily driver, with a few tweaks, I might, particularly on an older PC/Laptop. I need to try it on an old Atom Net Book to see if it will work well on a really low specified system but a Pentium 4 with a couple of gig of RAM should work reasonably well as a development and homework PC for a school student so could extend the life of an old machine you may have kicking around. But a cor2Duo is definitely a goer, even with a basic 1Gig of Ram it should work quite well and 2Gig or better no issues at all.


Sunday, May 14, 2017

MX Linux

MX Linux OS

These are the show notes about MX Linux that I did along side a podcast I have posted on the HPR (Hacker Public Radio) http://hackerpublicradio.org/calendar.php to be released on Friday 19th May 2017. 
 
I’ve recently done shows on current Linux distro’s that are suitable for older hardware but with a modern look and feel and fully featured with the latest software available.

As you have probably gathered by now if you have listened to my other shows I am a big fan of older Lenovo Laptops. My main Lenovo is an X230i i3 with a 2.5G cpu and 8Gig of Ram and a 120Gig SSD, it did have Mint 17.3 running on it and after running Mint 18 / 18.1 for several months on my desktop PC I decided to upgrade to 18.1 on the X230i.

I completed the install and on first boot after install the boot time had risen from about 40s to over 2 minutes, I suspected a problem with the install so did it again with the same result. I couldn’t find any issues reported on the net so resorted to installing Linux Lite which is based on Ubuntu 16.04 as is Mint 18. The problem persisted after this install despite getting near 40s boots on the Lenovo X61s with an SSD and the same Distro.

I did another web search but could not find any other reports of this issue with the X230i so put a post on the Facebook community Distro hoppers. The response I got back from one member was to try MX16.

MX Linux is a joint venture from the antiX and former MEPIS communities and is based on the latest Debian Stable “Jessie” with the XFCE desk top environment.

I duly downloaded it and installed it in a Virtual PC using virtual box to see what it looked and felt like. The install is fairly user friendly although if you’ve never had experience of Linux and installed other Distributions a new user may be a bit unsure when asked about the MBR and where to put it, other than that a fairly straightforward install.

On install there is a fairly good selection of the software you would need including a full install of LibreOffice, FireFox, Thunderbird, GIMP and synaptic package manager for adding further software from the repositories. MX have also included the ability to simply install codecs and additional drivers and a software installation system for popular Apps from the MX Welcome that comes up at boot or if disabled can be started form the menu.
Also I installed it on a virtual 8Gig HDD and GParted reports use of 4.64Gig after install and updates, by default it only installs a 1G swap despite 2Gig allocated Ram in the VM.

I liked the look of MX and decided to give it a go on the X230i, install went smoothly and lo and behold boot was back to around 40s on first boot after install. So I’ve updated the install, installed my packages I use that are not there by default such as Audacity, Scratch and a couple of other things I use. I’ve also put it on the X61s I use and again working faultlessly, so I’m happy again. Since I installed MX I found out from a member of my Makerspace/LUG that he had experience the same problem with Ubuntu 16.04 based distroes and crippled SSD Boot times.

I like MX so much when it come to time to reinstall my Desk Top PC, which is about the only PC I use that is not constantly changing OS, I think I will be putting MX on it. This is a big deal for me as I’ve been a loyal Mint user for over 5 years but MX is working so well on the Laptops at the moment it would be good to have the same OS on the Desktop PC as well.

Will MX stop my Distro Hopping, NO, I like trying out new things thats why I have several Laptops kicking around so I have spare hardware to try out new Linux stuff, but it is good to have something stable around when you need it, hence sticking with Mint for so long on the Desktop.





Saturday, March 11, 2017

Used Laptop Lenovo X61s

I currently record podcasts for Hacker Public Radio a daily community podcast. I recently did a show to be released in the RSS feed on 28th April Ep2280 about using the Lenovo X61s Laptop as a cheap second laptop or child's homework PC.



This is an edited version of the show notes from that episode.

Laptop was bought at auction and cost:
  • Cost £36 including auction fees
  • OS Free (any Linux will work well) finally used Linux lite
  • Upgrade to 120Gig SSD £40 of ebay
  • New 77wh Battery £16 
  • Total outlay £92
If you have to buy one then get an OS free one and don't pay more than £40-100 depending if it has an SSD and state of the battery.

Hello HPR, a few episodes ago I talked of using the Lenovo X61s with Watt OS and said I would report back after a possible upgrade to the laptop with and SSD replacement for the hard drive.

Well I duly ordered and received a Drevo 120 Gig SSD from eBay. These are about £40 each so make a cheap upgrade to an older laptops spinning disc and you can get a 60Gig one for less than £30 if you don't need the storage see review here:


After installing the PC with WattOS while it did everything you would need of an OS and was absolutely fine on the X61s I was a bit disillusioned with the amount of configuration needed to get all the software I needed working, definitely not New user friendly.

Looking at other lite Linux distributions I came upon Linux Lite:


I decided that this might be a better choice as it says it is aimed at new users, and being based on Ubuntu was a familiar beast. ISO was downloaded and duly installed on the X61s and as soon as all the updates were completed I looked at the installed software and it was more comprehensive but not at the expense of still being lightweight. 

At first Boot which takes about 40 seconds, it takes about 300mb of ram and even with the word processor and Firefox in use Ram usage was only about 700mb. Audacity after install worked out of the box, which it hadn't with WattOS and I've already recorded and uploaded another show for HPR using the X61s and all went flawlessly. With the new SSD I am getting close to 5 hours of use from the 8 cell 63W battery installed on the PC.

While I recognize the X61s being over 10 years old is not going to meet the needs of a power user, its fully capable of being an everyday laptop for basic office tasks, some light audio editing, and even photo editing in GIMP. I was able to edit and process a 10mb .jpg image without any issues and exporting the final 12Mb image took seconds. 

I was fairly happy with the X61s performance with the 80Gig spinner it came with, but the addition of an SSD has both improved performance and battery life to the extent that I would happily take it on the road as my only PC. Actually for the porpoise of writing this review I've lived with it as my main PC for almost 2 weeks and have not really missed its big brother the X230i i3 laptop I also have. In fact I was going to record a show using that and found that as it has a composite Audio jack, and as my head set requires separate mic and headphone sockets I wasn't able to, so one up to the X61s there.

Conclusion, if you have a couple of kids and you're looking for a laptop for them to do homework, watch Utube, and surf the web (parental controls enabled) then I would look no further. And if they get broken by said kids you've not lost a bundle of dosh.

After writing this I realized I needed a replacement NON OEM battery for one of the X61s I have with a totally dead battery (that is something you have to factor in to buying stuff from auction) Cost me £16 inc delivery on eBay and its a 77Wh one. 

This adds about an Hour to the battery life compared with the 63Wh So don't be afraid to pick up one with a duff battery if cheaper as a replacement is not expensive and with the SSD give a working days life to the PC, and even with New SSD and Battery the X61s only set me back £92.

If your lucky you may find one really cheap on eBay, Happy shopping!!!

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

New Toys - The story of my PC hardware journey in last 20 years

This Blog post comprises the Show Notes from a recent Hacker Public Radio Show I did, hpr2097 which I thought might interest my readers.

I was a latecomer to the world of personal computing having been at school in the Late 60’s and early 70’s when we hadn’t even got calculators, if you were lucky to be able to work out the intricacy of it you may have had use of a slide rule. Even after calculators started to be more widely used I had a lecturer at college while studying marine engineering, that was so good with his slide rule and mental calculation, he could, and would often work out equations far faster than those of us using a calculator.

I first came across an IBM clone PC back at college in 1987 while studying a control systems course this was a Intel 286 PC which the college ran CAD/CAM software on and we used it to learn how to create engineering drawings electronically. This would be the last time I used a computer until the early 1990’s when by then I had changed career and become a Registered Nurse. I was working in a residential nursing home and we had access to a Windows 3.xx PC which I would use to create templates of the clinical paperwork we used for record keeping.

Around this time I met my then wife to be and she needed a PC for the University Course she was on so we obtained a used Intel 386 PC from a Friend and upgraded the Ram from 1Mb to 4Mb which cost nearly half the price we paid for the PC £120, which in 1993 was a good chunk of cash. It was a time when there was a world shortage of Ram and offices were getting burgled just for the memory in the office PC’s.

While we had this PC in the house It didn’t much interest me at the time, this was pre internet days for the average user, we weren’t on line at work and the Word processing software was Dos based and I hated using it, so would do the odd things I needed to at work during my break.

Move forward 5 years and Windows 95 had taken over the world and there was this wonderful new OS called Windows 98 starting to appear in the shops. In September 1998 I went back to do a Nursing Degree in my specialist area of practice and found that we were required to submit all our course work in word processed format, no long hand written assignments this time around. So I decided that I would invest in a new home PC.

There were a couple of Big Box PC retailers in the UK at the time that advertised heavily in the press and on TV and I chose to go to one of these and bought a PC with the following specs:

Pentium 2 350 CPU, 128Mb Ram, 6Gig HDD, 56k modem and a DVD Rom. It also came bundled with a Scanner, Inkjet printer and software including MS Office for small Business. All for the grand total of £1400 which at the time was about a month’s take home pay so I had to pay for it with the flexible friend (my Credit Card for those of you too young to remember the ad’s)
I also signed up for an AOL account to access the internet over the 56k modem, dog slow now but at the time was the only affordable way us mere mortals could afford home internet access. I remember it could take a minute or 2 to render my Bank’s web site when I started online banking in 2001 and that was using compression software to reduce the bandwidth.

I used that PC to write all my college work and with the help of a couple of friends started to tinker with the PC, getting a 120 ZIP drive for it, and later adding a CD RW drive for storing documents and Photos that I’d scanned and later taken with my first digital Camera.

By 2002 the PC was starting to get a bit long in the tooth and I decided it was time for an upgrade and I had a PC built for me by a local shop with P4 2.5Ghz CPU 40Gig HDD and 512Mb Ram (later upgraded to 2Gig) and a CD RW drive again later upgraded to DVD RW drive. This PC cost me half of what I paid for the P2 four years previously and was to be the last PC I bought new, all the PC’s including laptops I’ve owned since this PC have been second hand. Some given by family or friends, some built from parts off Freecycle/Freegle, and lately PC’s I’ve bought at a local computer auction in the north west of the UK.

The title of this podcast is “New Toys” and so to the juicy bit, my Desktop for the last 6 years has been a Lenovo ThinkCentre 7373 Core 2 Duo PC with a 2.6Ghz CPU, 250Gig SSD, an upgrade from the 160Gig HDD it came with and 12Gig Ram also upgraded from the 4Gig it came with and requiring a bios flash to get the MB to support 16Gig. This rig has served me well but lately I have found it starting to feel its age and taking a long time to do things I now do regularly such as video and photo editing, Audio editing and virtual PC’s in virtualBox. So I decided it was time I looked around for an upgrade. As usual I was not in the market for a new PC, I could afford one but I don’t like splashing the cash unnecessarily. As luck would have it the monthly Auction catalogue included a HP Compaq Elite 8300 i7 Micro Tower. I checked out the specs and liked what I read. So Monday 1st of August I took a trip to the auction and as luck would have it I became the proud owner of said PC for the princely sum of £184.80, hammer price of £165 plus commission.

The full spec of the PC is: i7 3.4Ghz CPU (22nm architecture) 4 cores and 8 threads, 8Gig Ram Supports 32Gig 500Gig HDD, DVD RW drive and a card reader. Also came with a Win7 pro CoA but no installed OS.

So It took me 10 minutes to install Linux Mint 18 and another 30 to complete the updates and install my software over and above the base install. It boots in just over a minute which is only slightly slower than the old PC with an SSD so I guess it will boot mega fast with an SSD upgrade which is on the cards after I return from Holiday as may an upgrade to the Ram, I’ve already used some Ram from the old PC to increase to 12Gig but I need some matching 8Gig Ram to go to 16 or higher.

Well that charts my PC hardware journey over the last 20 odd years it’s amazing to think that one of the Raspberry Pi 3’s I own has more processing power than most of the hardware I’ve had up to the Core 2 Duo in 2010.