JP Vossen on 20 Apr 2009 14:09:49 -0700

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[PLUG] More on Mini 9 with Ubuntu & Wireless

As noted below, see also my previous post on Jaunty install details:

One major gripe alluded to below is that it takes me 2-8 tries to 
connect from my Mini-9 to my WPA FiOS Actiontec ( 
firmware released Feb 11 2009) wireless AP, where "tries" are defined as 
verifying the WPA key and hitting the [connect] button when the dialog 
box comes up.  With the stock Broadcom card, most of the time it fails 
so many times it gives up and I have to manually tell it to go connect 
again, then it usually works after a try or two.  With a temp Intel card 
it worked after only 1 re-try just now.

Note that most of the time I am sitting 2 feet from the AP.  However the 
AP is in the basement.  I am aware of radio signal propagation issues 
for that location, but I'm also paranoid, so the worse propagation I 
get, the better.  Sort-of.  Except...  Yesterday the Broadcom card was 
also dropping signal then failing to connect at all with only 1 signal 
bar, even though I was only about 40 feet from the AP.

So I temporarily swapped an Intel 4965AGNMM1GN (AKA 4965AGN MM1) 
Wireless N NIC I have in another laptop into the Mini-9, and it worked 
somewhat better, but it wasn't perfect.  (It bring the Mini-9 to "no 
proprietary drivers in use" though.)  That makes me think that my WPA 
WiFi connection problems are 50% the PoS Broadcom card and 50% the PoS 
Verizon firmware.  One of these days I'll try OpenWRT, but that's shown 
as "work in progress" for the Actiontec, so that may actually be worse.

Below is a slightly edited cross-post from the Dell "linux-desktops" ML 
with more thoughts and details on the Mini-9 with Ubuntu.

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Re: Just got my Mini 9 with Ubuntu!
Date: Mon, 13 Apr 2009 18:26:00 -0400
From: JP Vossen <>
To: Brian Lavender

> Date: Fri, 10 Apr 2009 15:16:42 -0700
> From: Brian Lavender
> Subject: Just got my Mini 9 with Ubuntu!
> To:
> I just got my Mini 9 with Ubuntu. Great job on the integration! I am
> impressed with how well everything works. I am amazed at how fast it is
> too. I can't believe how fast apps load. I didn't realize there was the
> 3D acceleration. I see TuxRacer (or whatever it is called now ) running
> in 3D. Very cool.  I have my Ubuntu with media codecs and my emacs. How
> much better can the world get? So, the question I am wondering is how much
> is free Ubuntu and how much is proprietary? I only see one proprietary
> driver loaded called "wl". Which driver is that? Can this run Ubuntu out
> of the box? It looks like everything is compiled for the Atom processor.

Sorry about the off-list reply, [the Dell] list is denying my posts and 
since it is virtually unadministered I can't get that fixed...  [...]

for my Jaunty install details.  Summary: the install went great and it's
working great and I love it.

I got a refurb Ubuntu Mini-9 (~$220, 512M RAM, 4G SSD, no web cam, etc.)
a couple of weeks ago and love it.  But I have run into some issues.

1) Dell used the hated Broadcom wireless & LAN cards, as you've already
seen wrt the 'wl' [and 'sta' for Jaunty] driver.  That's a bad choice 
for an Ubuntu machine, and odd when it seems like everything else is 
Intel.  Yes, I'm aware the  Broadcom is dirt cheap.  There is apparently 
a reason for that (and the "street" (well web) prices aren't that 
(Jaunty beta uses sta driver)

2) Because of the poor choice of Broadcom, there is this SSH/NAT bug
that was pretty annoying to hit right out-of-the-box (hint, Dell, fix
the image):
sudo bash -c "echo '/sbin/iwpriv eth1 set_vlanmode 0' >> wireless-tools"
(Just Worked in Jaunty beta)

Fix2: Per Lyz the Dell repo just released a better fix:

3) Related to the poor choice of Broadcom, I *think*, is flakiness with
using Wireless and WPA.  It works, eventually, but seems to have lots of
timing issues that I think are related to the known-crappy wl driver.
(Where "known-crappy" means I find tons of forums posts about problems
with it, many of which end with, "go get a decent card.")  I keep having
to re-enter the WPA shared key, 2-4 times before it "takes" and works.
This may also be related to the FiOS Actiontec router I have (firmware: released Feb 11 2009)).
(Works in Jaunty beta, but may be even slower to connect to WPA.)

Or replace it with a decent WiFi card, like an Intel:

4) They do *not* mount the filesystem with 'noatime' or at least
'relatime.'  This I find inexplicable, though perhaps I don't understand
enough about SSD.  I thought they still have a limited number of writes,
even though it's very high...
(Jaunty beta has relatime by default)

5) What they heck were they thinking with the way the right shift key is
moved?!?  That kills me!  Ditto to a smaller degree for the quotes key
and the way the top and middle rows are not offset as on a normal QWERTY

6) The battery in my unit rattled a bit, which is not a big deal but
bugged me.  A bit of packing tape in the slots cured that.

7) Flash on Youtube does not work for me.  I don't care and can fix it
if/when I want to, but that will be a show-stopper for some normal
people who might otherwise be fine with something not-Windows.

8) Why didn't they map the "Windows" key to 'Show the panel menu'?  Sure
that might bug Linux geeks, but they will also know how to fix it.  (I
don't use the UNR thing, and maybe that's better for this point.)

9) A bunch of KDE applets are included (e.g., kalgebra kanagram khangman
kmplot kolf ktouch kworldclock).  IMO those are unnecessary, and while I
haven't looked at it in depth, I'd think that the additional KDE libs
would use up some SSD space that needn't be wasted.  [My clean Jaunty
(beta) install is now using only 2.1G, and my install includes Wine and
many other things not in the stock Mini-9 image.]

10) ~24M or so on my 4G SSD is a "Dell" partition.  I understand why
Dell thinks that's a Good Idea, but 4G for any modern OS + data is 
tight, I think they should have omitted this.  Arguably a minor to 
trivial point...

So, after all my whining, here are some good things.

* I can't believe how addictive this little device is.  (My wife wants
to toss it in the ocean.  And we don't live anywhere near a beach! :)
* I'm getting 4-5 hours of battery life (not constant use though).
- Haven noticed any difference using Jaunty beta yet, but I did use LPIA.
* As you noted it's a lot faster than I expected.
* Also as you noted Planet Penguin Racer works.  I don't care, but as an
example of speed it's useful.  PPR brings my P3 Inspiron 7500 to its knees.
* Someone added Stellarium to the basic install.  I might whine about
that for disk space (~45M?), but I won't because it's really cool, and
see previous point; that brings my 7500 to its knees.  It works great on
the Mini-9.  (But who thought of this yet missed relatime?)
* There is no swap.  (Which means also no hibernation, but given SSD,
esp. 4G SSD, that's a smart choice.)  (I added swap to my Jaunty beta
install on 16G SSD, hibernation works fine if a tad slow.)
* I added 2G RAM for $20 [1], and I barely use half of that
even with disk caching (when do you *ever* see Linux report free memory?)
* Unlike Flash, PDFs work fine out-of-the box (using Evince :).

Finally, some other resources, including installing "regular" (and/or
LPIA) Ubuntu on it.  As noted above I put Jaunty LPIA on a new 16G SSD
[2], and it Just Works.

Service manual:
  # Installing Ubuntu on the Dell Inspiron Mini 9
         LPIA builds available here


[1] $21 2G RAM  =
[2]$47 16G SSD
NOTE: Mini-9 has a half height mini-PCI-e slot, some cheaper full-size
SSD's wont fit.  Watch out!
JP Vossen, CISSP            |:::======|
My Account, My Opinions     |=========|
"Microsoft Tax" = the additional hardware & yearly fees for the add-on
software required to protect Windows from its own poorly designed and
implemented self, while the overhead incidentally flattens Moore's Law.

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