Monday, October 20, 2014

nVidia Tearing Fix in Kubuntu 14.04

Finally got around to revisiting this issue. Last time I tried I black screened the system, but with the TTY consoles successfully in operation that isn't so much of a risk.

Seems the following fix from AskUbuntu (thanks Barafu!) solves the problem. The solution is almost identical to the fix I used for 13.04, but adds an extra line to /etc/profile:

export __GL_YIELD="USLEEP" export __GL_THREADED_OPTIMIZATIONS=1

Not sure why I got the black screen, it may have been something unrelated, as this worked perfectly on two differed Kubuntu+nVidia systems.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Build Log Addendum: Gigabyte GTX970 G1 Gaming

Update on last week's build log: managed to pick up a Gigabyte GTX970 G1 Gaming for the machine.

The Gigabyte GTX970 G1 Gaming

Installing the card went without issue. It proved to be a nice, quiet card after installing the nVidia drivers (fans were noisy at first boot -- probably as expected -- until the proper driver was installed).

Interestingly, despite the Fractal Design Arc Midi R2 specs saying it only has 290mm clearance for GPUs with the HDD cage installed, the Gigabyte GTX970 just fit (was a squeeze, but I could get it in). So obviously there is some leeway in Fractal Design's specs for this case.

Completed build. This is without the HDD cage -- I left it out in the end for better airflow

To test it out I ran through Unigine Heaven again. At 1920x1080 Ultra 0xAA, it scored 2627 (average FPS: 104.3, min FPS: 29.3, max FPS: 205.3). At Ultra 8xAA, it scored 1786 (average FPS: 70.9, min FPS: 8.8, max FPS: 137.6). A little better than the 10 FPS average of the onboard graphics.

Running through Hitman: Absolution in-game benchmark (random game I had available on Steam) it scored Average FPS: 60.2, Min FPS: 50.5, Max FPS: 72.0.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Build Log: Fractal Midi R2, i5 4590+H97

Putting together a new machine for a friend. This is its story...

First up, the list of parts used:

CPU: Intel i5 4590 CPU cooler: Coolermaster Hyper 212 Evo Motherboard: Gigabyte H97-D3H RAM: G-Skill Ares 2x4GB 1600MHz SSD: Plextor M5S 256GB HDD: Seagate 2TB 7200RPM ODD: Lite-on DVD-RW Case: Fractal Design Arc Midi R2 PSU: Antec True Power Classic 550W

The usual suspects

Initial reaction to the Fractal Define Arc Midi R2 is that for a mid-sized case, it's...big. At least, it's very wide. Good for big CPU coolers if needed (180mm of clearance).

The Fractal Design Arc Midi R2

The case has some nice features, including an in-built fan controller for up to three fans. The switch for fan speed levels is built into the front of the case. Switching between the speeds after completing the machine, at 12V the fans audible but not too noisy, while down at 5V they're barely audible at all.

Arc Midi R2 front panel connectors, including fan controller switch

The R2 comes with a bunch of screws, cable ties and risers as you would expect. Below is the inside of the case with both side panels removed. If there was a blemish with this case, it was that one of the side panel screws felt slightly cross-threaded when first undone. Very minor in the scheme of things, hardly worth even saying, but I liked everything else about the case :)

On to the rest of the components. CPU is the i5-4590, motherboard is the Gigabyte H97-D3H. Both solid mid-range options for a non-OC machine.

The Gigabyte H97-D3H

I've heard people say that when installing an Intel CPU for the first time, they get a bit scared by the sounds that the lever used to hold the CPU in place can make. It can make creaking sounds, but this is normal in my experience. It is applying a fair bit of force, since it needs to keep the CPU absolutely stationary in its socket.

The i5-4590 in place in the motherboard

Next I installed the RAM and cooler. I did this outside of the case, but that turned out to make accessing the top left of the motherboard awkward when screwing it in place (fat fingers!). Putting the motherboard in first and then mounting the cooler (there is a cutaway behind the motherboard that lets you do this) would have been easier. And while this is a non-overclocking machine — and so the stock cooler would have sufficed — for a little extra quietness I got the aftermarket cooler.

Motherboard with RAM and cooler installed

Adding the other components to the case was fairly straightforward. The drive bays all have rubber sound-reducing grommets to screw hard drives into, and mount points for SSDs. Cable management was an absolute breeze in this. I think I only used two of the cable ties that came in the box, the rest more or less managed itself. I'm far from great at cable management, but this case made it really easy.

The finished product...almost

The picture above is the complete machine, minus the graphics card, which I'm waiting on for stock. Intending on a GTX970, hopefully an MSI model so it will fit without needing to remove the top HDD cage. The loose cable at the bottom of the case is the PCIe power connector for the GPU. I'll post an update when the GPU is in. Currently the machine gets about 10FPS on the Unigine Heaven benchmark the poor dear. I'm sure a GPU will help out a little there.

Update: Addendum for the GPU installation.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Dungeon Defenders on 64-bit Ubuntu Variants

A while back I found using the ia32-libs package was a way to get Dungeon Defenders going on 64-bit Linux, but that package went away. Here's the process I went through to get Dungeon Defenders working on Xubuntu 14.04.

Graphics Setup

First in general: install graphics drivers. For nVidia this is basically:

apt-get install nvidia-current
nvidia-xconfig

For AMD the process is a little more fraught with danger, I found this process works well with 14.04 though:

apt-get install fglrx-updates fglrx-amdcccle-updates
aticonfig --initial

Then reboot. After, if using AMD, run amdcccle and set the "tear free" option to enabled.

Game Setup

Since ia32-libs is deprecated, I went through and manually found all the packages. Here's the summary that should hopefully include everything needed to run the game:

apt-get install libglu1-mesa:i386 lib32stdc++6 \       libxext6:i386 libasound2:i386 libpulse0:i386 \       libxcursor1:i386 libxinerama1:i386 libxi6:i386 \       libxrandr2:i386 libxss1:i386 libxxf86vm1:i386

Then, before you run DD for the first time, edit the file DefaultDunDef.ini in UDKGame/Config/ and remove "_Valentines2013" from the GameplayLevel parameters, so that they only say "LobbyLevel.UDK". This will prevent the bug when you start the game it goes straight back to the menu.

(After using it as a test application for a fresh machine, I want to go back and play the game from a clean start. After the débâcle that is Dungeon Defenders Eternity, the original game feels much more...fun :(. )

Sunday, September 21, 2014

BeagleBone Black Setup and Thoughts

The BeagleBone Black is a tiny "computer on a board" similar to a Raspberry Pi. I bought on an experiment to see what I could do with it.

The BeagleBone Black

Parts and Cost

Element14 stock the BeagleBone in Australia, so I bought it through them and the following other parts needed for the setup:

  • The BBB itself ($70)
  • 5V-3A DC power pack ($22, Jaycar)
  • Partlist 4 port USB hub ($4, MSY)
  • Cablelist Micro-HDMI to HDMI cable ($8, MSY)
  • D-Link Dub-104 4-Port USB 2.0 Powered Hub ($20, Mwave)
  • Netgear WNA 3100M USB wifi ($10, MSY)

Other items that I had available to complete the setup:

  • 8GB micro SD card
  • USB mouse/keyboard
  • Monitor (1680x1050)
Initial Setup and Run

The BeagleBone wiki says to start off by connecting the BBB to a computer with the USB cable. So I plugged it in and it dutifully lit up.

Browsing to http://192.168.7.2 showed me the BeagleBone 101 screen, which was a good sign.

Then I plugged in the 5V power adapter, micro-HDMI cable, keyboard to the USB port and network cable to the RJ45. Booted into the default desktop (a Debian distro running LXDE by the looks).

Set up with everything plugged in (no attempt at neatness made)

Next I tried the unpowered hub and hit the first issue: the single USB host port on the Bone doesn't have enough juice to run more than one device, which I'd kind of expected but hoped I might avoid. Hence the need to end up with a more expensive powered hub in order to run more than one USB device. Not a big deal, but when you consider that the BBB costs a lot more than the Raspberry Pi, which now comes with 4 USB ports (!), it's somewhat disappointing.

The desktop was usable but you definitely notice it's slower than a full-powered desktop computer. There are also occasional glitches, such as the print screen application blacking out particular some applications. I feel it's more suited to a low-powered always-on server type of application than for regular interactive use.

Screenshot taken from the BBB shows some applications are "blacked out"

Current TODOs:

  • Get the Netgear 3100M working. Firmware didn't appear to be included in the distro, need to track it down and install it.
  • Install the 8GB micro-SD card and make sure it works.
  • Find a permanent use for the thing. :)
Conclusion

So while it's a nifty little computer, I feel that it's definitely lacking when compared to the Pi. A friend has a Cubietruck, which has the nice feature of a host SATA port. Again, BBB comes up short in the price/feature matrix.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Fix Missing TTY Terminal with nVidia GPU

So I had this long-running problem where as soon as I installed the drivers for an nVidia GPU, I'd lose the terminals (normally accessed by Ctrl-Alt-F1, Ctrl-Alt-F2, etc). The processes were still running, but nothing was visible. This was particularly annoying if I did anything to trash the desktop environment --- couldn't get access to a terminal to fix things.

Turns out the solution though is pretty simple: modify the file /etc/default/grub so that instead of saying "quiet splash" it says "nomodeset" (make a copy of your original grub file first to be safe):

#GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX_DEFAULT="quiet splash" GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX_DEFAULT="nomodeset"

Then run sudo update-grub. Upon reboot, the TTYs will be visible again. Spews out the entire boot log to the screen as well, but that wasn't really a concern at all for me.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Quick review: Comsol 3.5mm Audio Splitter

I bought one of these Comsol 3.5mm Splitters from Officeworks recently. Hoped it would duplicate an audio output to use on two devices, but it turned out to approximately halve the output level and muddied it up considerably (bass in particular sounded terrible). My fault for not researching first, but it is a little annoying that the advertisement or specs contain nothing to suggest how limited the device is.

In the scale of audiophile-ness, I'm a long way down the ladder, so if I can tell it's bad then it's must be really bad. (Maybe I was expecting too much?)

Do not recommend one of these at all.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Random Rant: Samsung Galaxy S2 -> S3 "Upgrades"

There are a couple of things that really bug me about the Samsung Galaxy S3 compared to the S2.

The first is the USB connectivity to Linux computers. With the S2 you could treat the phone as a standard USB device and read/write files from it with no problems. With the S3 Samsung appear to have removed that simple USB connectivity in favour of MTP, which is problematic with Linux and frankly a giant pain in the arse, requiring installation of various tools that are a bit flaky and don't work as well as a standard file browser. Definitely a downgrade, for no reason that I can see.

The other is the lack of FM radio tuner in the phone. Perhaps it's not commonly used these days, I don't know, but I used it, and found it quite handy when out and about to plug in the radio.

I upgraded got the phone via a plan, and because it was an incremental update from the same brand, I didn't think to check closely as to what the downgrades were (because why would you deliberately annoy your customers by removing stuff that worked really well and was useful?).

More fool me.

Although they sound trivial, little changes like those make the new version far less functional for me. Wondering whether I'll actually get another Samsung phone...I have a feeling competitors are probably no better. ":/

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Getting rid of mscorefonts

While installing the kubuntu-restricted-extras package, I accidentally allowed the installation of ttf-mscorefonts-installer. This kind of uglified up all my browser fonts, so to remove them I ran:

sudo apt-get purge ttf-mscorefonts-installer

Solution was based on this answer at askubuntu.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Compiling Godot from Source on Kubuntu

Hearing about the release of cross-platform, open-source gaming engine Godot, I thought I'd give it a go. After getting the source from github, I hit a "what do I do now" moment? There didn't seem to be anything to run, and I couldn't find any docs that explained what to do.

Perhaps obviously in hindsight, I could have gone to the "compiling from source" page and followed that, but for whatever reason I didn't find it, so here's the process I took to get up and running (using Kubuntu 13.04):

  • There is a makefile in the root of the source code. I tried "make all", but it fell over with the error: /bin/sh: 1: scons: not found.
  • Tried installing scons (sudo apt-get install scons).
  • Make then failed with: scons: *** Do not know how to make File target `bin/godot'
  • Web search led to a Godot forum post that defined the other dependencies that are needed:
  • apt-get install scons pkg-config libx11-dev libxcursor-dev \ build-essential libasound2-dev libfreetype6-dev \ libgl1-mesa-dev libglu-dev

  • Now: $ make all
  • Should get "scons: done building targets".
  • run "bin/godot", this should open the Project Manager.
  • Continue to follow the Godot tutorials.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Nightmare that is Windows 8

I recently installed Windows 8 for the first time. Have to say it was an absolute nightmare. It took a long time, had some real eye-opening WTFs, and had a dastardly hardware incompatibility.

The system was an Intel G1620 with an Asus P8B75-M. It had been happily running various flavours of Linux, but I was passing it over to my wife to use, and the demand for Windows had come with it.

Installation Summary

The high(?) lights:

  • Only boots with the UEFI option. This is more informational than anything, but the motherboard needed to be set to this option. Newer motherboards may have this as the default now.
  • During the installation, it appears to require a Microsoft account just to use the OS. This was a real WTF moment for me (call it the "Facebook effect" perhaps, the insidious attempt by companies to force encourage everyone to create an account with them to do anything, when there is no value added for the user to do so). Fortunately, there is a workaround as Scott Hanselman details here. Basically, you click "Create a New Account", and the option to avoid creating an account appears in that step. Intuitive!
  • Something broke during the first install. This was the real "nightmare" part.

Windows 8 is People Broken

The event during install was a hard lock up (almost at the end, of course :/). The hard lock required full power cycle, and afterwards the machine refused to boot (not surprising, since installation didn't complete properly). But it also wouldn't repair afterwards, despite taking as long in the repair as the initial install took. In both cases it brought up the new-look blue screen of death (the "unhappy face" screen) with the error "CLOCK_WATCHDOG_TIMEOUT".

I reinstalled Linux to make sure it wasn't a hardware fault -- everything seem okay. I updated the motherboard BIOS (which reset the SATA devices from AHCI back to IDE, which prevented the UEFI boot until I switched them back).

In frustration, I reinstalled again. This time I unchecked "downloads updates from the internet during installation". This time, Windows 8 installed. So I immediately began to suspect the wireless card, a TP-Link TL-WN851ND, which up until this point had worked flawlessly.

As soon as I activated the wireless, bam! Windows hard-locked again, and refused to boot. Interestingly, Microsoft claim this card is compatible with Windows 8. I beg to differ.

I replaced with a D-Link DWA-548, which worked flawlessly (so, +1 for D-Link).

So I don't know if the problem was purely a Windows 8 driver issue, or if it was the combination of all the bits of hardware I was using. But I would avoid that particular TP-Link wireless card (or cards based on the same chipset) if using Windows 8.

The Interface

The above doesn't even touch on the interface, which is just plain...ugly. It is also the most infuriating interface I've used, and I've used quite a few. It's not just because it's different (the freedom to change desktop environments is one of the interesting things with Linux), but it simply...makes things difficult.

Full screen apps, hot area hovers to do even the simplest of actions...bah. Sure there are extensions to "make things right", but -- really, that's the solution? Some people say Windows 8 is a disaster. I don't know if that's true, but I do know Windows 8 is awful to use, and I'm glad that I don't have to use it myself.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Kubuntu Ugly Font Fix

I installed Kubuntu 13.10 on a machine at work today, and found the fonts in GTK applications looked pretty awful. I started stuffing around with the font settings, but in the end found that the steps detailed in this askubuntu answer were what fixed it (thanks Rael!).

Specifically, this step:

KDE Settings > Application Appearence > Fonts.
Mark Anti-aliasing as "enabled", click on "Configure",
uncheck "Exclude range", check "Use subpixel",
and select "Slight" for "Hinting".

It's strange because I've never had these issues with Kubuntu on other machines, and may have been due to the high-resolution monitor I was using.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Four-port KVM: Initial Thoughts on the PCT-MP4711

Given my computers seem to multiply for some reason, I started looking around for a KVM switch to help reduce the number of keyboard/mouse swaps needed.

While a 4-port HDMI switch would have been nice, they are significantly more expensive, so I bought a PCT-MP4711 4-port DVI KVM for $90. (An Aten 2-port HDMI switch was available for $100, and while I've usually only got two computers active at any one time, sometimes there are...more).

Here are my initial thoughts on the unit after using it for a few days:

  • It is smaller than I assumed. I was kind of hoping it would be big enough to sit under a monitor (since it came in a hard case), but given its small size I wasn't comfortable with that.
  • Some of the DVI screws were a little iffy. Would have preferred HDMI over DVI if the price was right. Screwing and unscrewing DVI cables is a pain compared to HDMI.
  • You need a "slim" DVI cable to fit in the "Console" slot at the back. Some DVI cables are a bit too fat to fit.
  • Each time you press a button, it emits a really loud and annoying beep. Not sure if this can be turned off. When a machine boots up and powers down it sometimes emits three or four beeps in a row.
  • Occasionally there is a weird delay in activating the mouse/keyboard after swapping between machines.
  • My LED keyboard always remains powered when plugged into the KVM (have to turn off the illumination manually).
  • I did once get it into a funny state where it thought it was connected to a machine that had been switched off, and wouldn't let me select the only machine that was still turned on. Pulling some of the cables out of the back reset it.

Those are mostly negatives above, but in general I'm pretty happy with it and it works very nicely. It doesn't have a long warranty (only 1yr according to the sticker on the box), so I'll see how it goes after being used for a while.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Coolermaster N200 (quick review)

Put together a machine for a friend using the Coolermaster N200 over the weekend.

A few notes I made about the case:

  • Compact size, if you're doing a basic general use desktop with a micro-ATX motherboard it doesn't waste a huge amount of space compared to cases that support ATX boards (still a lot of free space inside, it's big compared to low profile cases).
  • The front panel has that "cheap case" plastic feel (as expected in a sub-$50 case). The panelling and inside weren't too bad though. The panels came off easily, in some cheap cases they're wedged in place.
  • Comes with lots of screws, cable ties and miscellaneous stuff (rubber drive mounts!) that are sometimes missing or skimped on in cheap cases.
  • Front cables are nice and long.
  • Comes with two fans. Only 3-pin, so no control over fan speed, but they weren't overly loud.
  • Little bit of cable management space, not a lot but enough for a low-powered machine.

Overall it was a pretty decent case to work with, would be happy to use it again.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Power Usage from Random Things Around the House

I recently got a PowerMate Lite power meter, which by reputation is an accurate device for measuring power usage. Here are some results from random equipment around the house.

ItemWhile offAt IdleActivity
Desktop i5-3470 + GTX 650TI<1W52W125W (gaming); 92W (transcoding media)
Toshiba Satellite Pro A300 (laptop)-26W35W (minecraft)
Samsung NP350VSC (laptop)0.7W15W33W (minecraft)
Nexus 7 Tablet charger0.1W (nothing plugged into charger cable)5.3–7W (screen off); 9W (screen on)-
HTPC (G1620 + GT 610)<1W56W (peak at boot); 41W idle42W (video playback)
Remington DC1800D (1800W hairdryer)0.05W-1700W
CubieTruck-7W (peak at boot); 3W idle4–4.5W (playing video)
House lamp (Osram Energy Saving 13W Globe)0W-12.95–13.05W (small fluctuations)
House lamp (Mirabella 28W Halogen)0W-32.0–32.1W (small fluctuations)