Newberg to Carlton, the desktop upgrade

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I made the move to Linux in '08 for a variety of reasons better explained in historical documents.  Newberg to Carlton sounds like a move, but in this case it isn't geographical, but more virtual.  My old workstation 'Newberg' is getting very long in the tooth, it's an old eMachines wherein the hardware was orphaned before I got it, but that ran Kubuntu 9.10 64bit very fast and empowered me to play with Vbox and Opera's 64bit browser each of which had lots of learning curve and a little bit of enjoyment.

Now we've got a new year and it's time for me to confront the upgrade to Kubuntu 11.10 because I like living on the TRAILING EDGE of technology rather than being the one that finds the potholes that need to be filled, however I've also learned that it's better to do the upgrade prior to Canonical releasing their next version in their 6 month development cycle.  I'm still running Natty Narwhal on 'Newberg' and it is time to confront the upgrade to Oneiric Ocelot before the release of Precise Pangolin happens in April.  This also means it's time to think seriously about a hardware upgrade as well.  Newberg blows out capacity at 2GB RAM and that's just plain not enough in our new 64bit world.  With my need of Vbox, 8GB is really a minimum and 16 or 32GB would be nice.

image of Smiley's desktop widget showing processor load, temperature, RAM and swap usageWhat's my obsession with RAM?  When I made the move to a 64bit Operating System (OS), I also moved into a realm created by assumptions from the developers of my OS.  A 64bit Linux kernel can address RAM measured in Terabytes rather than the 64GB of a 32bit kernel, so the OS and Application developers can feel free to use large gobs of it with seeming impunity.  Here's a shot of my desktop widget that gives me cool info about my system.

The temperature gauge is measuring for each of my processors, though there is only a single chip, Linux thinks Intel's dual-core is actually two physical processors, so shows two gauges.  Below (left to right) that is a bar graph of processor load, then RAM usage and finally Swap file usage.  When I started life with Newberg, the Swap never got touched, even though I was using Vbox which carves out a chunk of RAM for every virtual machine I create.  The RAM graph would hover around the 70% mark and I enjoyed fast response even with four desktops loaded with open applications all the time.

Then KDE4 came into my life and I noticed the swap graph actually had a color and was getting used.  Hmmm, okay, performance is still very acceptable and I didn't have to change any of my habits, so let it go.  Now add 64bit versions of Opera, Thunderbird and I don't know what else and I'm starting to see that swap file grow and my performance go out the tubes.

snippet from smiley's system monitor file showing Opera and Thunderbird using almost a gigabyte of RAM

Check it out, half of my RAM is being used by six of the 14 applications I've got open right now and Opera is the worst offender, though I've only got 8 tabs open in Opera and I've got 7 tabs open in Firefox.  

The wake-up call came when I opened a Vbox session of Win2Kpro and froze my desktop because I'd gone to almost 2GB of swap and it took 30 to 45 seconds for a response to my clicks.  Thus came the "habits change" I deplore.  If I want to open a Vbox session I have to close Opera and Firefox and Thunderbird which I consider to be a royal pain.  Time marches on and so do system requirements, so I guess it's time to look for a budget so I can get up to 64bit processors with 8GB of RAM.

Hmmmm.  Now that I'm writing this up, I realize I might be able to buy myself another year with this system just by going to a small Flash drive to put Swap on.  That'd be a fun experiment and it's certainly cheaper than buying a new Mobo, RAM and processor and even if it doesn't do the trick I've been wanting to play with a Flash drive anyway.




SSD for Swap drive

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Jerry has been using Solid State Drive (SSD)s for a couple of years now, most of his use the PATA interface because that's what his systems used.  Once I got the brainstorm to use an SSD for my Swap drive, I called him and he gave glowing reports on the performance advantages so I went to eBay to find out how cheap I could make this experiment.

Are any of you old enough to remember "SIMMsavers (tm)"?  I know that Alan and Dake are, but for some of you it will be a null referrent.  Anyway, it was a way to recycle old Single In-line Memory Modules (SIMM) by clipping them into an adapter that would then clip into a Dual In-line Memory Module (DIMM) socket and supply the newer computer with the RAM it needed.  Memory was really expensive in those days so this was serously appreciated technology.  I'm mentioning it because my search for a cheap SSD turned up a similar adapter that I'm really hoping will solve my Swap problem.

This little baby takes a Compact Flash (CF) card in one end (on the left) and gives me a Serial ATA (SATA) connector on the other end and promises that when I plug it into my system will just show up as another hard drive.  I was really excited about this when I bought the adapter and a 16GB CF card.  Then I started writing this up and read the Wikipedia article on CF cards.

They have speed ratings like any other storage device and wouldn't you know, the slower ones are slower than a modern SATA II spindle drive (which is what I've got now).  SATA II has a theoretical limit of 300 MB/s throughput vs a very fast CF card at 60MB/s.   

Sheesh.  Well the one I bought was cheap, so we'll see if the experiment has any value and I'll only be out $38.00 and a week of waiting.


Backup first

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I got the CF card in the mail today, still haven't received the adapter, but will probably get it tomorrow, so it's time to produce a backup.  I say that because if I'm going to replace my swap partition with this new SSD drive I'll have to be operating at the FileSystem level which is WAY below the Operating System level.  You don't do an operation like this without a way to turn on the WayBack machine as it were. I like to use DD for backup of OS partitions and I have always had to research it in the past, so I'm going to give myself some notes here instead.

As you can see, I'm pretty much out of space too, so I'll probably do the upgrade to my 500GB drive during this evolution as well.  Notice /dev/sda6 is mounted at "/" (that's called root) and is my Operating System partition and that's precisely the one I want to backup with the DD command.

dd  if=/dev/sda6  of=/Newberg/Zbak/120109-newberg-OS.image bs=4096 conv=notrunc,noerror

Warning!! Do not write a partition image file to the same partition.

This warning doesn't apply to me because as you can see, /Newberg is on /dev/sda8.

My Knoppix Rescue CD didn't work, no Ext4 support, only sees Ext3 partitions, sheesh!

Lubuntu 10.10 install CD worked in "try it" mode to recognize the partition, and then the DD command above worked after I learned the "touch trick" to create an empty file name with which DD could interface.  Of course, it did blow out all of my remaining free space on the /Newberg partition, so I had to do some house cleaning of multiple year old .ISO files to get back a couple of Gigs of free space.  And my adapter still hasn't arrived yet..

SSD Adapter arrived yesterday!

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7:20a - This is guaranteed to take up my entire Saturday.  

Install SSD adapter and 500GB SATA drive into Newberg and copy partitions from old 360GB drive onto new 500GB drive.  Except Swap which is going to get copied to mounted SSD drive.  The hope is that I'll get a "RAM disk" type of improvement in performance out of the deal for way less than $100.

Pull 360GB SATA drive out and boot to new 500GB SATA with 16GB SSD swap drive and enjoy sensation of ears pinned back in blinding speed improvement.

Upgrade OS to Kubuntu 11.10 with the confidence that I can return the 360GB SATA drive to the system and have my old working 11.04 installation intact.

11:00a - Uncovered 50% of my workbench and vaccuumed out most of the dust bunnies from the box.  Installed SSD drive and new SATA drive.  Booted to Lubuntu Live CD and Gparted wouldn't touch the new drive, complaining about unable to handle GPT partition.  DD command wouldn't touch it either and YES, I was logged in as root.

The Live CD gave me a Chrome browser to get to the internet, so I was able to do a bit of research, but ultimately I just rebooted without the CD and got my old desktop back.  KDE's Partition Manager was happy to handle the drive and I switched between PartMgr and Terminal where I was running the DD command.

smiley@Newberg:~$ sudo dd if=/dev/sda1 of=/dev/sdc1 bs=4096
[sudo] password for smiley:
975940+1 records in
975940+1 records out
3997453824 bytes (4.0 GB) copied, 49.3767 s, 81.0 MB/s
smiley@Newberg:~$ sudo dd if=/dev/sda6 of=/dev/sdc2 bs=4096
2441872+1 records in
2441872+1 records out
10001908224 bytes (10 GB) copied, 111.77 s, 89.5 MB/s
smiley@Newberg:~$ sudo dd if=/dev/sda7 of=/dev/sdc5 bs=4096
24430840+1 records in
24430840+1 records out
100068724224 bytes (100 GB) copied, 1190.63 s, 84.0 MB/s
smiley@Newberg:~$ sudo dd if=/dev/sda8 of=/dev/sdc6 bs=4096

Aftermath, 11.10 Oneiric

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I'm back to functional again, though it was a long old row to hoe.  It cost me the whole weekend and I'm still not done, but my browsers are installed and Thunderbird is functional for e-mail and when I installed it Mozilla replaced the beta version of Lightning with 1.0 and it is working with my Zimbra server too.  Now that I think of it I didn't get a warning about Zindus either, that might be functioning to sync my contacts as well.

This is what really got me going though, this is a graphical representation of my hard drive in Partition Manager this morning and it really upsets me.  I started the new hard drive with root (/) in a primary partition (sda2) and did the install of 11.10 using a Live CD to install from scratch.  During that install I told Kubuntu to use sda2 for root, and said it could format it, BUT I did NOT give it permission to stick the partition into Extended and rename it to sda7!  I have no idea what they were thinking, but will probably find out later.

After doing the fresh install I plugged the old 360GB drive into a USB adapter and copied the old /home into the new /home partition and then started installing all my applications.  Thunderbird, Firefox, Opera, Filezilla, Kompozer, VirtualBox, I'm installing Chromium browser right now.  VirtualBox runs noticeably faster now with the SSD swap drive and I think I can now change my behavior back to leaving everything open and on different desktops, but it's a bit early to make that evaluation yet.

There's a BUNCH of stuff to notice about Oneiric Ocelot as an Operating System.  Foremost for me was getting to Tbird 9.01 (Natty was locked at 3.1.16) which has some wonderful changes to the Address Book.  Firefox jumped from v3 somthing to v8 also.  My Opera browser (my favorite and the one I'm using now) seems to have lost the IRC chat function and I get no sound, so the honey-do list just keeps getting longer.


Firefox 64bit? Really?

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Miriam asked me for Tech Support on her 64bit Kubuntu Natty Narwal system (she wants to stream a radio station like Doc does on his Windows box) which forced me to research a 64bit Flash plug-in for her.  What a surprise to discover that I've been using a 64bit version of Firefox for a while now.  Good ol' Canonical sneaked it into the repositories I've been using a couple of years back and I finally noticed today.

I knew about Opera's 64bit version and had to undergo horrible contortions a couple of years ago, but Firefox has "just worked" for me for so long I've never had to put a lot of attention on it.  Her radio link to Public Broadcasting worked fine on my versions of Firefox, Opera and Chromium, so I checked my plug-ins.

Then I added NoScript plug-in, been intending to do that for about a year now.

I completed the upgrade to my NDC system today and am just about ready to give 64bit Kubuntu Oneric Ocelot and clean bill of health.

Oh, and the SSD flash drive for Swap made a wonderful difference, Newberg is still a lot slower than I'd like, but it's no longer a chore to use it with 18 applications open and an average of 9 tabs in each of three browsers.