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|SUBJECT ||Subject: [hangout] Hardware Review: The Linare Home and Business PC
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From: "Inker, Evan"
Subject: [hangout] Hardware Review: The Linare Home and Business PC
Date: Wed, 10 Mar 2004 22:19:57 -0000
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Hardware Review: The Linare Home and Business PC
By Eugenia Loli-Queru - Posted on 2004-03-10 17:17:11
at OSNews [http://www.osnews.com/]
Linare Corporation [http://linare.com/] was very kind to send us a Linare PC
for a hardware review (software review will follow in a few weeks). The
Linare PC is currently selling via Wal-Mart or via Linare's online shop
[http://linare.zoovy.com/product/00012345678] for only $199.95 US and it
comes pre-loaded with Linare Linux 1.0. Is this PC a good first computer
option or an adequate home solution? Read on to find out.
A first good feeling about the PC is that it feels "branded" because the
manuals and the box it came with have the Linare logos (in contrast with
other Walmart OEM PCs). In the box you will find an illustrated printed
"map" of what cables go where, a Linare Linux installation manual, the
mainboard's manual and a CD with Windows drivers.
The PC comes with a 3-button non-optical PS/2 mouse (no scroll wheel), a
PS/2 keyboard (same keyboard as in our previous Wal-Mart review), a pair of
powered speakers, and a modem cable (however there was no modem installed on
The case has space for 4 IDE devices, a power supply that's able to work on
alternative voltages, and space for outputing 4 PCI/AGP cards. There is a
power button on the front of the case, a reset button, and there is a secret
little "door" that has Line Out, Microphone-In and 2 USB 2.0 slots. The size
of the case is pretty small, it has the same width and height as my other
Walmart PC, but it is about 6 cm smaller in the length. I found the case
quite stylish and, in fact, it seems to be pretty silent (comperatively to
my other PCs).
The case might have space for 4 PCI slots, but the SiS 740
micro-atx motherboard only has 2 PCI slots. There is no AGP slot, but there
is a "communication" CNR slot. It uses DDR 266 Mhz memory (there are two
slots; the machine comes with 128 MB RAM) and integrated SiS networking,
graphics and sound chipset (AC97 codec, driver used is the same as with
i810). The 100/10 Mbps networking card works great and USB 2.0 as well. The
machine comes with an 1.3 GHz AMD Duron (SSE-enabled). There is a parallel
port, one serial port, one VGA port, two PS/2 ports, 6 USB 2.0 ports (four
on the back, two on the front) and audio jacks for mic, line-in and line out
(and another two in front as I mentioned above).
The PC comes with a 30 GB Maxtor drive (mobo supports up to ATA-133) and a
52x no-name CD-ROM. There is no floppy drive installed.
This is meant to be a Linux machine, so I tried two Linux distributions on
this machine, Linare 1.0 and Xandros 2 Business Desktop (review of both
these distros are to be expected in the near future). Here is where the
biggest problem of the machine lies: As I mentioned above, the machine comes
with 256-bit 3D SiS 740 integrated graphics. It supports up to 64 MB of
shared memory RAM and it is AGP 4x. Its RamDac is 333 Mhz and supports up to
2048x1536x16bpp NI. So far so good. But there are two drawbacks:
1. The machine comes preconfigured using 32 MB of shared memory for the
graphics, pulling down the overall system memory to 96 MB. Linare is Red Hat
Linux 9.0+ based, and Red Hat recommends 128 MB as minimum for graphical
use. The machine would swap like crazy when using Mozilla, and the fact that
Linare has placed the /swap partition at the end of the 30 GB drive instead
of the beginning, made things worse (generally, IDE drives are faster in the
beginning of their platter). When I later installed Xandros, I placed the
/swap in the beginning of the drive and things felt better.
2. I went to the AMiBIOS to setup the shared memory and tell it to only
share 8 MB for the graphics card. The SiS driver for XFree86 does not have a
DRI counterpart for 3D, which means that no person using Linux with this PC
would ever need more than 8 MB (an amount able to give you 1600x1200x24bpp).
Using anything more than 8 MB with a non-3D driver would be a waste of
memory, not because the non-existance of a DRI driver, but also because
using anything above 72 Hz at 1280x1024 the RAMDAC meets its limits and
fonts become blurry and graphics quality just goes down the drain. Now, the
problem is the AMiBIOS does not allow using less than 16 MB of shared
memory! A real waste of memory on a system where system memory is so
valuable because it only comes with 128 MB overall.
3. Now, the worst part: Both Xandros and Linare had problems with the
XFree86 4.3 SiS 2D driver, for different reasons each:
a. Linare came pre-configured using the... VESA XFree86 driver. In year
2004, a respectful corporation should not be selling a machine configured
with VESA. I must admit that the VESA driver was not particularly slow
though. As you can see in the screenshot, the Linare pref panels don't have
a listing for the SiS 740 graphics card, however using the stock "sis" xfree
driver by editing the /etc/X11/XF86Config file it worked fine.
b. The Xandros monitor pref panel would only give me 1024x768-at-60Hz (and
it had other unrelated monitor setting panel bugs that will be detailing to
my review soon). Changing the settings to the desired resolution and refresh
rate (1280x1024x24bpp-at-85Hz) would hard lock the OS completely. After a
reinstallation and some testing, I was able to get it right by hand-editing
again the XF86Config file and tell it to only use 16bit above 1024x768 (it
seems that the driver doesn't like 24bit on higher resolutions).
Obviously, the SiS XFree86 2D driver is buggy (no specs are available
[http://www.winischhofer.net/linuxsisvga.shtml]), and different distros fall
to bugs because of this. However, if Linare is to sell the machine with SiS
graphics cards, they should work on the SiS 2D driver and debug it to work
more reliably (the fact that the machine comes with no AGP slot makes this a
priority). Additionally, they should get a version of the AmiBIOS for their
motherboard that supports sharing 4 and 8 MBs (either that, or they should
ship by default with more system memory). A good idea would also be to place
the /swap partition at the beginning of the drive.
If Linare fulfilled the above, this machine would an excellent cheap Linux
machine to get you started. It might even prove good enough to be used with
businesses (it has great connectivity expansion via its 6 USB ports). But
not before they fix their graphics-related issues.
Good Points: Silent, adequate speed for the price, stable, compact and small
factor case, USB 2.0, affordable - makes it a particularly cute gift.
Bad Points: No modem or combo drive, mediocre X11 2D driver support and no
option for sharing less than 16 MB of memory (and consequently, a
disandvantage for not having an AGP slot or more memory).
( Original Story URL at http://www.osnews.com/story.php?news_id=6307 )
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