How Many Bits? 32 or 64?

What is 64 Bit?

It seems strange but while most of us run 64bit computers we are using 32bit Operating Systems. Of course there are good reasons for this if you use Windows. Microsoft has not shown a great deal of support for 64 bit systems although it has provided them for some time. The level of driver support is reported to make Vista look good. However with Linux the situation is very different. Many distros offer a 64 bit option. While the level of support varies between distros they are mostly valid options.

So why would you use a 64bit version in preference to the standard 32 bit? The answer is as varied as why do you use Linux? There is a performance advantage but how much and whether it is discernible will depend on the applications you use. Those that manipulate large amounts of data will benefit the most but only if there are 64bit executables available. There is also the issue of addressable memory. 32 bit systems are limited to 4 gig of ram.
There is a good post of the Fedora forums with more information much of which is applicable to all Linux distros and not just to Fedora.

Having read that post and others I decided to give 64(x86_64) bit a try. I obtained a Fedora 8 x86_64 DVD and installed it on my Dell Inspiron 1520. I covered the 32bit(i386) installation earlier and so won’t repeat that except to say I had to follow the same basic procedure. The setup went as well as last time but with a few differences.

What was Different?

To have Flash in Firefox it is necessary to use nspluginwrapper and the i386 Flash plugin. This is covered on the Fedora forums where there is an area especially for x86_64.

The other pleasant surprise was that PulseAudio worked for me. Once I found that Kmix didn’t have Output enabled, the green light was off, I enabled it and I had audio. Note to self, when playing with Audio settings have the volume control on the desktop so if it suddenly works you don’t deafen everyone and have to fumble around to turn it down. Occasionally it fails to load on bootup or resuming from Sleep but that is much rarer than with i386 and the sound quality is much better. A restart of X usually fixes the problem anyway.

There were no other issues I hadn’t already faced with the original installation and so I am pleased with the change. There is a small performance improvement in things like image editing and I haven’t found any disadvantages.

I did mention in the previous post that my multimedia controls on the front panel weren’t working. Further investigation showed they were recognised but not assigned so I set up Amarok to use them and they all work fine.

Is It For You?

If you are using Windows, don’t bother. Unless you switch to Linux of course. For Linux users, if your favourite distro has a x86_64 option and your hardware is compatible and most PCs sold in the last couple of years are, see the link to the Fedora forum for info on that, give it a go. If your favourite distro doesn’t have a x86_64 option ask why or give Fedora a go.

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Fedora on Dell 1520

In a recent post I outlined my purchase of a new laptop, a Dell Inspiron 1520. It came with XP Pro which I need for a couple of applications. However for some time now my operating system of choice has been Linux and specifically Fedora 8. So after checking everything was working on the new machine and installing the Windows apps I would use it was time to install Fedora.

When I ordered the laptop I had selected options that I believed would work without much trouble with Fedora. A search of the Fedora forums and a couple of other sites like Linux Laptop wiki and Linux on Laptops helped with that.

Installation

I partitioned the hard drive giving XP 100 gig and Fedora the rest of the 250G drive. First I had to remove the Dell Media Direct partition they put on the very end of the disk. For some reason this causes problems but can be recreated after the installation of Fedora. I left the Fedora area as free space and let Anaconda, the installation program, set it up. I just selected the Use Free Space option and left it at that.

I used a Fedora 8 dvd I had on hand. This saved downloading a newer copy but didn’t save much as we will see. The installation went without any problems. I followed my usual procedure of selecting just KDE for the desktop environment and also customised the applications to be installed. There are some I wanted that are not part of the standard selection including OpenOffice Base and Krusader.

I left it to do its thing and after a short time I came back to find it was ready for the final stage which includes rebooting and setting up the user(s). After that I had a working system. I proceeded to check what was working to see what I needed to do manually. But first I did a full update, this is where the decision not to download a new dvd image came back to haunt me as there where several hundred updates to get and it took more than a couple of hours on the slow broadband we have here in Oz.

That done it was time to get everything working. Let’s look at each area individually.

Graphics

I had selected the nVidia GeForce 8400M G card with its own 128m ram. It was working but with a default driver so I installed the nvidia driver from the Livna repository. It recognised the card and included a control application. The correct resolution of 1440 x 900 was set automatically. It looks great and works well.

WiFi

The Intel 3945ABG adapter was recognised during installation and the correct iwl3945 driver installed. I simply activated the NetworkManager and NetworkManagerDispatch services and it asked for the passphrase for my WPA2 network and proceeded to link without a problem. I wish I could say the same for XP. I often use the laptop in an area that is on the edge of the router’s range and Fedora works (nearly) every time but XP often refuses to link when the signal is weak and it drops out from time to time.

There is a small problem with the wifi. It will not reconnect after returning from suspend. It did initially but then an update broke it. It is a known problem with the current kernel and iwl3945 driver. A bug report has been lodged by several people so hopefully a future update will fix it. There is a simple workaround just right click on NM applet and remove the tick from Enable Wireless, do it again and put the tick back and finally click on the applet and select the network to connect to.

WebCam

I wouldn’t have ordered a webcam but it is a standard fitting. I was surprised to see the light flash during startup and decided to check it out. Using kdetv it works without a problem. Chalk up another one for Linux.

Bluetooth

I have not found the touchpad easy to use, I am used to the Thinkpad joystck type controller, so I purchased a Logitech Bluetooth mouse. The bluetooth service was already activated but there was nothing to control the devices. After installing KBluetooth the mouse was recognised and I added it as a trusted device and now it works as soon as it is turned on.

Keys

The keys that work with the Fn key all seem to work, at least the ones I have tried which include the brightness and the suspend keys. The Multimedia keys on the front don’t work at this stage but I have read some reports that they can be made to so that is a future project.

Desktop Effects

Using the procedure I outlined in a previous post I soon had Compiz-Fusion working . Just a strange thing with the Pager. It only shows one desktop while there are four. Compiz-Fusion controls these and the pager is usually set to one but shows four. It shows the correct amount on my desktop with the same version so I’m not sure what is happening. If I change the Pager setting to something other than one and then change it back it shows the correct four but it doesn’t stick when I restart. This hasn’t really been a problem as I use Ctrl+Alt+Left(or Right) Arrow to change desktops.

Sound

I had sound working in Amarok and Firefox but not system sounds. This has been a problem on all my machines and is a common subject on the forums. Pulseaudio is standard in Fedora 8 and it seems to be the problem. There are several places I have seen possible fixes (just do a search on the forums) but I have taken the easy (and dirty) method and removed it altogether. This worked for me.

Are there Problems?

It wouldn’t be fair to say there were no problems. I mentioned a couple of issues above plus there is one other that really concerned me for a while. There was a regular clicking noise. A search brought up a few mentions that it is a problem with Powersave and the hard drive trying to park too often. I found details of a script and after installing it the noise has disappeared.

The Result

I now have a working and usable system with minimal setup required. I am pleased with the result and find I use it more than my desktop. If it wasn’t for some special hardware needs I could probably survive with just the laptop. This was the result of carefully selecting the hardware that I knew could be made to work. Unfortunately this is still a necessary step if you want to avoid the hassles of unsupported devices. Although Linux hardware support is improving, thanks to the efforts of a few hardware manufacturers and the hard work of developers within the Linux community, it can be difficult to get some computers, particularly laptops, working.

In summary if you want to run Linux especially on a laptop do your research first and you won’t be disappointed.