Linux on a Panasonic CF-W2


This page describes the setup and configuration of my wife's Panasonic Toughbook CF-W2 named Tsiolkovsky.

Tsiolkovksy is named after the Oberth-class SS Tsiolkovsky, a science vessel from Star Trek. The ship is named in turn for the Russian rocket scientist, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky.

The nomenclature of Tsiolkovsky's primary network is based upon ship classifications within the Star Trek universe. Laptops can be named after any Federation science vessel, so the names are pulled from the Oberth, Nova, or Miranda classes.

Tsiolkovsky (the laptop):

In addition to the traditional laptop requirements, Tsiolkovsky's primary purpose is astronomical data manipulation and image reduction. Backwards compatibility with old FORTRAN compilers (particularly FORTRAN-77 in the G77 module) is essential.

In additional to astronomical work, Tsiol also watches DVDs and browses the web.

More regular updates can be found in the computer section of my blog.

2007-08-22: No News is Good News

When all is running well on a machine, there's not much to write about.

Merrystar reports that there are some problems around the small swap space I allocated, particularly with the GIMP. Otherwise Ubuntu has been great, with no new problems to report.

(I suspect that some space should be stolen from the XP partition and converted into swap.)

Also, welcome all you new readers from the TuxMobile Panasonic page. Please let me know if you have any questions I can help with.

2007-03-01: Hard Drive Replaced

'sokay. Panasonic replaced hard drive. Windows XP partition shrunk to 7.5 GB and Ubuntu Dapper Drake re-installed.

Only complaint is that DVDs don't play properly under Ubuntu. Correction: They play correctly, they do not display correctly. The video output is sepia-toned and the contrast is all funky. Playback itself is fine.

2007-02-08: Hard Drive Failing

Here's a question: what goes chirp, chirp, CRUNK, chrip chrip, crunk chirp?

Oh FrakOh Frak Hosted on Zooomr

If you guessed Tsiolkovsky's hard drive, you'd be right. Never seen so many I/O errors in one place.

2007-01-20: Upgraded to Ubuntu

Tsiol is now running Ubuntu 6.06 LTS (Dapper Drake), and there was much rejoicing.

There are currently three pain points:

  1. The 4.x GCC broke all sorts of things with AIPS.

  2. Cisco VPN software remains a pain.

  3. Backups over a network are sloooooow when you're used to Firewire.

More to follow in a bit.

2006-12-29: SuSE 10.0

2006-12-29: Spent some time looking at Ubuntu compared to SuSE 10.2. SuSE 10.0 had actually run for a while without major issues, but there have been a few problems:

  1. Internal Centrino continues to be flaky, and have been unable to get it to work with the NdisWrapper package. I don't think this is entirely a software problem, however, as the Intel Pro 2100 3B wireless card started causing blue screens on the Windows side, too. So we ended up disabling the internal wireless on both Linux and Windows.

  2. Unfortunately, the Netgear G card that works perfectly as an improved replacement for the onboard wireless isn't recognized by SuSE. The old Netgear B card works without any fuss, though, so Merrystar uses that instead.

    The only problem is that if the card goes down, the connection dies and the card can't be restarted. Still haven't figured out why.

  3. The network configuration with Merrystar's VPN seems very flaky, and may be related to the above wireless problems.

  4. YAST sucks. Sorry, but it's really hard to use. up2date or apt-get was much easier.

  5. USB drives continue to cause problems. After backing up Tsiolkovsky to an external hard drive, the system rebooted -- and hosed the partition table. Oops.

    (Fortunately, there was now a backup. But I had to reinstall from the original disks.)

2006-12-21: Power cord replacement, USB disaster

The biggest design flaw Merrystar has uncovered with the Toughbook W2 is its power cord. The very first one wore out at the elbow joint next to the computer after about a year and a half; Panasonic support was great and had a new one out immediately for us. Simple, easy, painless support. That worked well for a while, but then it also became clear that the plug didn't fit snugly into the socket on the left side.

Well, I called up Panasonic's helpful support and they didn't seem to surprised about this. So I assume it's a pretty common problem. Merrystar needed to send it in to get it looked at, so I went ahead and backed up her data.

To an external hard drive.

Ahem: an external USB hard drive.

All went well until it was time to eject the disk; a year of Mac training made me try to do it through the GUI instead of umount. This didn't do anything, so after several attempts, I pulled the cable out.

This, in turn, crashed the machine. I was suddenly looking at that nice blue Panasonic boot screen, and then the bootloader... and then nothing. Windows and SuSE were both gone, and Merrystar had to go to work in the morning.

I spent the entire night rebuilding the partiton table and got Windows to boot. Fortunately, there is a backup, but it's on a drive that hisses and I don't trust within 20 feet of Tsiolkovsky.

So. I think it's time for a different distro. I've heard good things about Ubuntu...

2006-01-23: Wireless and the DI-524

Discovered that the reason wireless didn't work was because of my wireless router, not because of SuSE 10.0. Got an Apple Airport Express instaed of the D-Link DI-524 and wireless just started working.

Why? No idea. Don't care. Buh bye, DI-524!

2005-10-16 Fedora Core 4 → SuSE 9.1 → OpenSuSE 10.0

Well, let's not do that again.

After a year of really bad USB support - did we mention that most astronomers keep their data on really big USB disks? - an upgrade was attempted. And it went really, really bad. Fedora Core 4 barfed in the middle of the install, trashing the bootloader and rendering the Windows side unusable.

Given my success with SuSE 9.1 Personal on Arbonne, I hoped that it would have presented a good alternative to RHEL 3. Unfortunately, the Personal version of SuSE 9.1 does not allow upgrading an existing system, so I scurried off to try their Professional offer.

Downloaded the SuSE 9.1 Professional boot CD from SuSE's website, plugged in Tsiolkovsky to the router for an FTP installation, and received an SATA error that prevented the installation from progressing any further.

Oookay. Par for the course, I guess.

And that's how we got to SuSE 10.0, which did not have a SATA error. USB support was much better, but the wireless and automounter are flaky. SuSE added NTFS support, so the Windows partition was now readable.

2004-10: FC1 → Fedora Core 2 → Red Hat Enterprise Linux 3

Due to the end of official support for FC1 and lab policy, an upgrade was required. Unfortunately, this was actually a downgrade for almost all of the packages, which caused many, many problems.

Our first choice was to continue on to Fedora Core 2; however, it would not install due to corrupted media. My fault. So we decided to go with Red Hat Enterprise Linux 3 instead. This proved to be another mistake on my part.

RHEL 3 appears, in nearly all respects, to be a patched Red Hat 9.0. Many problems ensued from having the Fedora Core packages already on the system, but there seems to be some inherent problems with USB support on this distro - only one USB device can be supported at one time. This caused the NDIS wrapper for the centrino wireless device to fail.

All in all, we were not pleased with the out-of-box support from Red Hat.

2004-06-15: Initial Install -- Windows XP, Fedora Core 1

Tsiolkovsky is a sweet machine: physically attractive with its silver case, slim profile, and small size. It's also fantastically light - 2.9 lbs - and the screen is large, clean and crisp. The CD-R/DVD player is cunningly concealed under the touchpad, and it has the usual assortment of ports. It comes with Windows XP and the Intel Centrino wireless card, which I'm sure will present a problem later on when it comes time to configure Linux.

This laptop will serve several purposes, most notably astronomical data manipulation and image reduction in addition to the normal user functions associated with a laptop (web browsing and DVD watching, mostly.) Therefore our desired configuration is a large Linux partition and a smaller, stripped-down Windows XP partition. There is a known dual-boot bug with many recent (2.6) kernels, but avoiding this bug seems to be mostly a matter of luck, so we'll give it a go and see how we do.

Tsiolkovsky shipped with a single NTFS partition on its 40GB hard drive, filled with the default Windows XP installation. I used Partition Magic 8.0 to shrink this to 10 GB without any problems, but we later learned that we could have used the recovery DVD and created 2 partitions with that.

Before installing Linux, you will need to modify the BIOS to move the DVD drive up in the boot order. Hit F2 on startup and follow the BIOS instructions there.

Fedora Core 1

Fedora Core 1 installed without major incident.

Configuration was adequate, though the Centrino wireless card did not work out of the box. Unfortunately, we never tried it or the DVD player while FC 1 was installed - the downgrade to RHEL 3 happened pretty quickly.

There were some laptop power management problems, which is normal for the FC distributions. apm -s causes the screen to blank, come back on and start CRing until a key was pressed. This is unfortunately preferable to apm -S, which caused the screen to go blank and the system unresponsive.

Windows XP

For the Windows configuration, I stripped as much software off Tsiol as I could. Merrystar (the primary user) is not a Windows user, so there were only a few tasks that would be performed on that side of the hard drive.

Modified settings: