Bluecore's status II: Introducing Reicore

Bluecore is now officially dead, and only a miracle could bring it back to a usable state. During the next week I’ll be taking it to technical support, so the current condition will hopefully be temporary.

Some days ago, I came up with a joke in ##shadowm regarding a hypothetical “Reicore” laptop, which would have some awesome NVIDIA GPU and a quad-core processor. This is most likely not going to happen, yet I have reused the computer name on my new, temporary laptop, which used to belong to my father and was, in fact, bought exclusively for his use during 2010.

Reicore is a fairly decent HP Pavilion dv4-1624la with 4 GiB of RAM (like Bluecore after an upgrade), 500 GB hard disk (as opposed to 250 GB) and an Intel Pentium T4300 dual core processor, which supports the AMD64/Intel64 instruction set — in fact, it came with Windows 7 Home Premium x64 preinstalled. Since its CPU is optimized for mobile usage, it doesn’t have some newer-generation assets like the Intel VT-x technology, which is essential for full-fledged hardware virtualization with KVM or VirtualBox. This is a major loss for me, since I doubt I’ll be able to achieve the same performance with Windows XP SP3 on a VM on Bluecore here.

(My Windows XP SP3 VM had been used for production purposes twice, during the development of Wesnoth RCX 0.1.x.)

This laptop has an integrated graphics controller from Intel’s Mobile 4 line-up as well, which is nonetheless decent enough for running software like Frogatto along with a composited window manager, in this case Kwin from KDE SC 4.4.

The LED-based display panel leaves much to desire though, as I can clearly see the LED grid beneath the screen when it’s active, no matter what colors are being visualized.

The operating system I chose to install was Debian GNU/Linux 6.0 a.k.a. Squeeze, using a DVD snapshot of the Testing distribution from December 2010, which I later upgraded to current Stable. I had downloaded that snapshot of the amd64 builds along with a 32-bit x86 one I used on Blackcore for the sake of having a backup Linux system. The amd64 DVD image had seen no use until the night after Bluecore’s death, during which I rescued it from my awesome external 2 TB hard disk, as part of the last backup tree made from Bluecore’s Linux installation.

This decision makes Reicore the fourth machine on which I have installed Debian. Funnily enough, in all four cases I have not had a Stable snapshot handy, and have had to use Testing instead.

The actual preparation of the physical disc for installing Debian involved a lengthy and complicated operation involving Blackcore, Greycore, the backup hard disk (“multi”) and a 16 GiB USB pendrive (“UTIL_Q”).

  • Greycore has been running Debian Lenny (oldstable) since the last time I used it around the first week of January 2009, and thus has no Ext4 support.
  • The Squeeze DVD image was stored both on Bluecore (inaccessible) and the backup HDD, the latter consisting of a single Ext4 partition.
  • Blackcore runs Windows XP SP2 and Debian Squeeze, so it does have Ext4 support. The DVD drive, however, turned out to be defective and cannot burn DVDs.
  • Greycore, despite being in a miserable state, still has a functional Linux system and a DVD drive.

After juggling a 4.4 GiB ISO 9660 image around between the external hard disk, the USB pendrive and Greycore, I was ready to install a Linux OS on Reicore, deliberately wiping out Windows 7 in the process for a change.

Installing Debian on Reicore turned out to be a quite satisfying experience compared to those I had on Bluecore (testing Lenny 2008-11) and Blackcore (testing Squeeze 2010-12). Unlike the initially Lenny-based laptop’s case, there were no hardware compatibility issues against the installer kernel; and unlike the desktop machine’s case, there is full availability of highly functional, free drivers for Reicore’s hardware in the first DVD of the distribution, without the need of installing optional firmware packages.

After finishing Debian’s installation I was greeted by a shiny Intel graphics driver with KMS and 3D graphics support, and a clean KDE SC 4.4 desktop. From this state I upgraded to the current Stable distribution.

Due to my painfully lazy nature, I didn’t make daily backup snapshots of Bluecore while it was still working. In my defense, I could say that transferring nearly 220 GiB of data through USB 2.0 is a royal pain in the ass!

shadowm@reicore:~$ stat /media/multi/bu/daily.0/ | fgrep Modify
Modify: 2011-01-19 18:51:34.000000000 -0300

The real losses since then aren’t very important, since all my projects are hosted in distributed repositories using Mercurial or Git, as I foresaw the possibility of theft or damage to the laptop. The only tree with local modifications that I didn’t push upstream in time is “rei2-rei2”, corresponding to a series of Rei 2 IRC bot scripts used by the official Rei2 instance administrating the ##shadowm IRC channel on freenode.

Other losses include configuration changes, local IMAP caches, unimportant downloads and various VM state changes, including a Windows Vista VM I set up around one week ago.

The configuration changes aren’t that important either, since although I have a full snapshot with all my configuration from Bluecore at that time, I decided to start fresh on purpose. This has unveiled some performance issues I initially attributed to Debian Squeeze’s architecture — they might have been in fact caused by the carry-over of configuration from the days of Lenny as a testing distribution on Bluecore. A rough estimate indicates that Bluecore would take around 2 minutes to boot into the KDE login screen, while Reicore takes around 30 seconds.