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Development

Review of the LINI PC

Around the end of 2005, the LWN chief editor suggested that it might be a good time to invest in some new computing hardware for the development and distributions editors. Your development editor was assigned the task of finding this new hardware. Being a hardware guy at heart, I did not find this to be an especially odious task.

Requirements

The new machines needed to be reasonably fast, yet inexpensive. Their use was mainly for desktop work. The machines that were being replaced, Athlon 1700 XP systems with Asus A7V333 motherboards, were noisy to the point of being annoying. Silence is golden. The new machines were destined to run only Linux, so there was no need to pay extra for Microsoft operating system licenses. This requirement narrowed the field of available desktop machines considerably.

Several weeks were spent searching through ads in Linux magazines and searching around the net. The possibility of assembling machines from individual parts was considered, but the array of available motherboards, CPUs, cases and graphics cards made the task difficult. Success with that approach was unpredictable.

Next, some Linux-specific PC vendors were investigated. Penguin Computing was considered, but their hardware was more aligned with the server market than the desktop market. The fun was beginning to wear off of the project when your author stumbled across Open Sense Solutions and their LINI PC line. The LINI PC was advertised as being small, quiet, and fast. It came with a pre-installed version of the Ubuntu Linux distribution, so Linux compatibility was guaranteed. A 1 year warranty was also part of the deal.

Features

The configuration of the LINI machines, with some additional options, included: [the LINI PC]
  • Asus K8V-MX Micro-ATX motherboard with built-in:
    • S3 2D Graphics card
    • AC97 sound chip
    • Serial port
    • Parallel port
    • 8 USB 2.0 ports
    • 10/100 mbit/sec ethernet
    • SATA hard drive interface
    • PATA CDROM interface
  • AMD Athlon 64 2800+ CPU
  • 1 GB of PC3200 RAM
  • 200 GB SATA disk drive (250GB on one box)
  • DVD +-R/RW drive with CDR capabilities
  • Antec Aria case
  • front panel USB ports
  • front panel Compact Flash and Memory Stick sockets
  • front panel audio ports
The front-panel Compact Flash slot is a very useful feature if you frequently use a digital camera (without USB), it allows for fast and easy downloads of images. All of the various ports have been tried out, and no problems have been encountered.

The box has 3 fans, one for the power supply, one for the CPU, and a vertical slot-fan. While not totally silent, the box is reasonably quiet, and is a huge improvement over the previous system. The cooling is also quite effective, this should give the hardware a long life.

The Antec Aria case (reviewed here) is well designed. Access to the inside is achieved by unscrewing a single thumb screw on the back of the box. The top and side panels just slide out and the innards are revealed. The contents of the box are packed together fairly tightly, but sufficient air flow is available for cooling of all of the internal components.

There is space (not much) for a second and third hard drive, but both have to be mounted vertically, and they would add a lot more heat to the inside of the box. Fortunately, disk space is not a big problem with the current generation of hard drives, and a single drive will work for most users.

The Asus motherboard's Micro-ATX form factor allows the box to be quite small. The box measures in at 10-1/2" wide by 8" tall by 13" deep. It is roughly one third the size of the full-size tower case that it replaced. Here are some large format images of the outside and inside of the LINI PC.

Nothing's Perfect

The worst feature of the LINI box is the location of the power switch. Space on the front panel is limited, and the large square power button is located just below the CDROM eject button. This is especially a problem when the CDROM tray is in the out position and the buttons are not easily seen. It only takes one instance of pressing the wrong button before one becomes extremely cautious when using the CDROM. A rear panel power switch would be an improvement, although space is very limited there as well.

The power supply in the Antec cube box is in an L-shaped box. This is not a huge problem, but it is a non-standard form factor and could prove to be difficult to find a replacement in the event of a failure. The odd power supply shape was required due to the small box size.

The only other mis-feature of the LINI that your editor found is the placement of the two blindingly bright Blue LEDs on the front of the case. The LEDs are directly visible When the box is viewed from the side, a fogged diffuser lens would be a nice addition.

Conclusion

Most computer reviews are written within a short period after the hardware is received. The problem with that approach is that it takes some time to become familiar with the hardware, and subtle problems may take a while to show up. The LINI machine has been running reliably for almost four months, it is safe to call it a good piece of hardware. Compile times are blazingly fast, and GUI response is quite zippy.

We are lucky to live in an era when computer hardware is improving at a rate that is on a par with the slowing effects of software bloat. The best way to discover that your current computer has made the gradual transition from cheetah to snail is to upgrade to a faster box, then return to the old machine. The author's previous machine once seemed like it had more processor power than one could ever use. After using the LINI, the older machine just doesn't seem very responsive anymore.

Comments (21 posted)

System Applications

Database Software

MySQL 5.0.20 has been released

Version 5.0.20 of the MySQL database has been released. "This is a bugfix release for the current production release family."

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PostgreSQL Weekly News

The April, 9 2006 edition of the PostgreSQL Weekly News is online with the latest PostgreSQL database articles and resources.

Full Story (comments: none)

SQLite 3.3.5 released

Version 3.3.5 of SQLite, a small C library that implements a self-contained, embeddable, zero-configuration SQL database engine, is out. "This release fixes many minor bugs and documentation typos and provides some minor new features and performance enhancements."

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Embedded Systems

BusyBox 1.1.2 (stable) is out

Stable version 1.1.2 of BusyBox, a collection of command line tools for embedded systems, is available. "You can now download BusyBox 1.1.2, a bug fix release consisting of 11 patches backported from the development branch: Some build fixes, several fixes for mount and nfsmount, a fix for insmod on big endian systems, a fix for find -xdev, and a fix for comm."

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Printing

CUPS 1.2rc2 announced

Version 1.2 rc 2 of the CUPS printing system has been announced, it features a long list of bug fixes. "The second release candidate of CUPS 1.2 is now available for download from the CUPS web site. We are also providing binary packages for Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4 (32-bit + 64-bit Intel), Fedora Core 4 (32-bit Intel), and MacOS X 10.4 (32-bit PowerPC + Intel) for your convenience. In accordance with the updated CUPS Developers Guide, we will have at least a two-week release candidate period to resolve any issues in the 1.2 release."

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Web Site Development

Campsite 2.5.1 released

Version 2.5.1 of Campsite, a multi-lingual content management system, has been released. "Campsite 2.5.1 is a localization and minor bug fix release. If you havent experienced any problems with 2.5.0, there is no need to upgrade."

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Desktop Applications

Desktop Environments

GNOME 2.14.1 Released

GNOME 2.14.1 is out. This appears to be primarily a bug-fixing release; click below for the details.

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GNOME Goal #2 (GnomeDesktop)

GnomeDesktop.org has an announcement for the second round of GNOME goals. "After the success of the first GNOME Goal, the second one is a combo GNOME Goal: you get two goals for one. The first one is to install theme-friendly icons, because every application has the right to be correctly themed! The second goal is to help our translators, so they don't have to check out an entire module to add a translation. And it's really easy to do this since you only have to put a LINGUAS file, with some other small changes."

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GNOME Software Announcements

The following new GNOME software has been announced this week: You can find more new GNOME software releases at gnomefiles.org.

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KDE Software Announcements

The following new KDE software has been announced this week: You can find more new KDE software releases at kde-apps.org.

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The Return of KDE Commit Digest (KDE.News)

KDE.News has announced a new issue of the KDE Commit Digest. "The weekly summery of happenings in KDE development, The KDE Commit Digest, has returned with a new author, Danny Allen. Highlights in the current issue: "KFileDialog becomes aware of media:/ and system:/. New icons and other fixes in amaroK. New privacy features and multiple webcam connection support for the MSN protocol in Kopete. kcmwifi removed in /trunk (to be replaced by Solid in KDE 4). Kerry, the KDE Beagle frontend, is imported into KDE SVN." It also shows the week's most important postings to the KDE mailing lists and the top ten committers of the week (congratulations Gilles Caulier)."

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Desktop Publishing

LyX 1.4.1 is released

Version 1.4.1 of LyX, a GUI front-end to the TeX typesetting system, has been released. "This is a bug fix release, but some of the bugs were big."

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Electronics

Icarus Verilog 20060409 released

Version 20060409 of Icarus Verilog, an electronic simulation language compiler, is out. "The most substantial difference in this snapshot the first signs of generate support. The compiler now supports generate loops and has been tested with examples that include wires and gates within the generate scheme." See the release notes for more change information.

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New OpenCollector releases

The latest electronic software releases on the OpenCollector site include asco 0.4.1, a SPICE circuit optimizer and Covered 0.4.1 (stable), a Verilog code coverage utility.

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Games

watermelons 1.1.0 released

Version 1.1.0 of watermelons, a PyGame project, has been announced. "pekuja, philhassey, and treeform got together on irc this evening and cranked out this whacky game about bouncing watermelons on a trampoline in about 4 hours. enjoy!"

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Imaging Applications

Comix 3.0 released (SourceForge)

Version 3.0 of Comix, an image viewer that is customized for viewing comic books, is available. "It includes quite a few changes, the biggest one is the cleanup of the entire codebase, but there are also some changes to the functionality of the program. A completely redesigned properties dialog, support for recent files, an "Add to library" menu item, a new preference to set the size of the magnifying lens and an Italian translation by Raimondo Giammanco among other things."

Comments (none posted)

Music Applications

MMA Beta 21 released

The Beta 0.21 release of MMA (Musical MIDI Accompaniment) is out. Changes include: " Minor bug fixes, MAJOR change to the modules filename and import routines (shout if broken), MidiInc fixes, MidiInc lyrics import. Yet again, this may be the last BETA!!!"

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Office Suites

KOffice 1.5 released

KOffice 1.5 has been announced. A lot of work has gone into this release, including the use of OpenDocument as the default format, improved accessibility features, Kexi 1.0 (a database access package), and a "technology preview" of the upcoming KPlato project management application.

Comments (1 posted)

Releasing OpenOffice.org 2.0 in 7 Indian Languages

The BharateeyaOO.o Group has announced the release of OpenOffice.org 2.0 in seven Indian Languages. "The languages are 1) Assamese 2) Gujarati 3) Hindi 4) Malayalam 5) Marathi 6) Oriya 7) Urdu".

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Peer to Peer

Phex 2.8.4 released (SourceForge)

Version 2.8.4 of Phex, a peer-to-peer file sharing program that runs on the Gnutella Network, has been announced. "In this release we completely removed the need of a network to connect to the Gnutella Network. Instead Phex now communicates with other Phex' via your speakers and notifies you of successful downloads by twinkling, bringing you an experience you won't ever forget, except maybe if you read these release notes on the day they where published :)"

Comments (none posted)

Miscellaneous

Speedometer 2.4 released

Version 2.4 of Speedometer is out with several new capabilities. "Speedometer is a console bandwidth and file download progress monitor with a logarithmic bandwidth display and a simple command-line interface."

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Languages and Tools

Caml

Caml Weekly News

The April 4-11, 2006 edition of the Caml Weekly News is out. The one topic this week is: Announcing xml2cd 0.1 alpha1.

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Perl

Unraveling Code with the Debugger (O'Reilly)

Daniel Allen advocates the use of the Perl debugger in an O'Reilly article. "Many people who work with Perl code never touch the debugger. My goal in this article is to provide reasoned argument for adding the Perl debugger to your set of tools, as well as pointers on how to do so. Many people are most comfortable with adding debugging variables and print statements to their code. These are fine techniques; I use them too, when they are appropriate. At other times, the debugger has saved me from tearing my hair out."

Comments (none posted)

Python

Python 2.5 API changes for C Extension Modules and Embedders

An announcement for the Python 2.5 C Extension Module API changes has been sent out. "Python 2.5 alpha 1 was released April 5, 2006. The second alpha should be released in a few weeks. There are several changes which can cause C extension modules or embedded applications to crash the interpreter if not fixed. Periodically, I will send out these reminders with updated information until 2.5 is released."

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New Python blogs from Guido van Rossum

Guido van Rossum has posted a web log on Python Dynamic Function Overloading. "I've checked an implementation of dynamic function overloading into Python's subversion sandbox."

Also, take a look at Guido's blog on Python 3000, the next generation of Python. "We've started discussing Python 3000 for real. There's a new mailing list and a branch. The first point of order is about process; a slew of meta-PEPs are being written (and the goal is to avoid a repeat of Perl 6 :-). But I'm blogging about a feature proposal that evolved dramatically over the past days."

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Dr. Dobb's Python-URL!

The April 10, 2006 edition of Dr. Dobb's Python-URL! is online with a new collection of Python article links.

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Scheme

Schemer's Gazette

The early April, 2006 edition of the Schemer's Gazette is online with new Scheme language articles. Topics include: sassy-0.2, an x86 assembler, SchemeScript 1.2.0, Scheme Workshop 2006, Planet Scheme, Pocket Scheme 1.3, SRFI 86: MU and NU simulating VALUES & CALL-WITH-VALUES, and their related LET-syntax, guile-gtk 0.41 and SISC 0.13.3-rc.

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Tcl/Tk

Dr. Dobb's Tcl-URL!

The April 11, 2006 edition of Dr. Dobb's Tcl-URL! is online with new Tcl/Tk articles and resources.

Full Story (comments: none)

XML

Prototype: Easing AJAX's Pain (O'Reilly)

Bruce Perry looks at Prototype on O'Reilly's XML.com. "This article describes Prototype, an open source JavaScript library to create an object for an AJAX application. I explain how to use Prototype by describing an environmentally oriented web application that displays an annual atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) level. First, I will discuss Prototype's benefits and describe how to set up Prototype in your application. Second, I will delve into the nitty-gritty of how this application puts the library to good practical use."

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Version Control

Mercurial 0.8.1 released

Version 0.8.1 of Mercurial, a distributed revision control system, is out. "This release features numerous usability improvements, performance enhancements, and bug fixes over previous releases."

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monotone 0.26 released

Version 0.26 of monotone, a distributed version control system, is out. "This release includes major enhancements relative to 0.25.2, including completely rewritten versioning and merging code, a change in the name of the main binary, and many many smaller changes. Due to the magnitude of these changes, migration is more elaborate than usual".

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Miscellaneous

RODIN platform 0.5.4 released (SourceForge)

Version 0.5.4 of the RODIN platform has been announced. "The RODIN platform is an open tool platform for the cost effective rigorous development of dependable complex software systems services. This platform is based on the event-B formal method and provides natural support for refinement and mathematical proof."

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