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Friday, April 30, 2010

eSATA Strangeness on a Foxconn A7DA-S

After all this time (more than a year since I built the rig in question), I finally got the opportunity to try out my board’s eSATA port. This particular motherboard (the AM2+ version of the Foxconn A7DA-S, equipped with the 790GX northbridge and SB750 southbridge) has no integrated eSATA port on the I/O panel; rather, a back-panel expansion bracket is supplied and is supposed to hook up to the “eSATA”/#6 SATA port on the board. For some reason, Windows was not detecting the external HDD, even though AHCI was enabled. I connected the eSATA bracket to SATA port #5, thinking that the designated “eSATA” port was dead. I then went into the BIOS and set SATA IDE Combined Mode to off, and following this Windows was able to autodetect the eSATA HDD.

Sounds all well and good, right? Unfortunately, shortly after unmounting and unplugging the external disk, my computer began to spazz out. Specifically, the system began thrashing the internal hard drive indefinitely, causing a system freeze. I was forced to reset the board. After a CMOS clear and a chkdsk run, I booted back into Windows. Plugging in and unplugging the eSATA drive again caused this crazy disk-thrashing.

After a bit of trial and error, I ended up reconnecting the eSATA bracket to where it should have gone, the #6 SATA port marked “eSATA.” For some reason, this worked: Windows was able to automount the eSATA drive, and unmounting the drive caused no strange behaviors.

I think there are a few things to learn from this strange incident. It is evident that not all motherboard manufacturers implement AHCI and SATA hotplug capabilities in the same way. It seems that on this board Foxconn only implemented eSATA functionality correctly on one of the six SATA ports, perhaps explaining why this port is specifically labeled “eSATA” on the PCB and in the BIOS. Furthermore, my roommate’s newly minted desktop build, which runs a Gigabyte board (the MA78LM-S2H) with a lesser chipset (the 760G) seems to be able to handle hotplugging correctly on all four of its SATA ports. Obviously, there’s a reason why manufacturers like Asus and Gigabyte are considered “Tier 1” brands while guys like Foxconn are relegated to a lesser status in the computer community. Had budget not been a concern when I put together my rig, I would surely have gone with a more reputable motherboard maker.

Friday, April 23, 2010

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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

mktorrent-GUI version 1.35 released

Version 1.35 is a major release and supports the saving and loading of profiles. These profiles allow heavy torrenters to quickly import sets of tracker URLs. Additionally, most fields are now persistent – in other words, their content will be preserved in between application sessions.

Go to the main project page for a full readme and the download link.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

NX: Linux Remote Desktop Access Done Right

Being able to access a computer remotely is becoming a more and more useful feature these days. This is especially true for headless servers and virtual machines, where local/direct access is often not an option. Windows machines (at least the non-home versions have the option of using Remote Desktop, which is a solid and reasonably fast solution. VNC is an option for both Windows and Linux, but it tends to be slow and inefficient as it runs through the framebuffer and is bitmap-based.

I was recently setting up an Ubuntu 9.10 VM for academic programming purposes. Since my (Windows-based) laptop, a four-year-old Dell, is a little underpowered, my plan was to connect to this VM remotely to do all my work. Sure, I could do X forwarding through SSH + PuTTY + Xming or something, but that tends to be somewhat cumbersome, especially when a full desktop is desired. I did try Ubuntu’s VNC-based Remote Desktop feature – it works fine, especially considering the fact that everything was being sent/received over a wireless network. But there was still a bit of lag and window tearing. I wanted something that could really push the envelope of remote computing. A bit of internet research indicated that NX is the king of remote-access technology for Linux, and after field-testing it on my VM and laptop I must say that I would totally agree. Not only is NX speedy, it also provides SSH-based connection security – something VNC can’t do on its own.

Installing and Configuring the NX Server on Ubuntu

An excellent official guide to setting up the open-source FreeNX server software can be found here. The instructions work well for the latest version of Ubuntu at the time of this writing, 9.10.

Installing and Configuring the NX Client on Windows

The preferred client is provided by NoMachine. The setup package can be downloaded here. The latest version at this time is 3.4.0-7.

After running the install, you can create a new connection profile by running the NX Connection Wizard. The questions are fairly straightforward – give your session a name, supply the server hostname, etc. For Ubuntu you want to use the Unix connection type. Set the desktop to GNOME or KDE if you have it installed. One of the nice things about NX is that it can dynamically set up the resolution. You can choose fullscreen or a specific resolution. Note that if fullscreen is used, you will still be able to ALT+TAB out of the NX window if you want to go back to your Windows desktop/programs for a bit.

Once a profile has been created, you can just use the NX Client for Windows shortcut. Type in your username + password (same as your local Linux credentials), wait a few seconds, and boom! Your Linux desktop in all its glory should appear. The claim that NX can achieve near-local-speed responsiveness is certainly not a joke, as I’m sure most users of it would agree.