Tranquil T1 computer and GNU/Linux.

While attempting to install knoppix or SuSE GNU/Linux on a Tranquil T1 computer a number of problems were encountered.

The Tranquil T1 is a low profile computer chassis that incorporates a M10000 motherboard fitted with a VIA C3 “Nehemiah” processor and VIA chipset. Its name is derived from the fact that the computer has no fans and therefore, apart from any noise from the optical drive or hard disk drive, it is essentially silent in operation ... bliss.

Content revision history:
First draft deployed, 25th September 2004

Computer hardware

The computer arrived with a 1 GHz C3 processor, 128 MB of RAM, 40 GB hard disk, DVD reader, plug-in modem card, onboard six-channel audio, 100Mb/s ethernet, serial port, parallel port, two firewire ports and four USB ports. On the hard disk was preinstalled something called “XP home edition”.

Penguin standing in blue glow from Tranquil T1 computer
A Tranquil computer doesn't get very hot but its still not as cool as the Antarctic ice.

Alas, my attempts to have the machine running with SuSE Linux within an hour or so were thwarted. This article explains the conundrums and their resolutions:


Interference on the audio signal

With the system hooked up to a power amplifier and audio loudspeakers, it was found that the system would produce an electronic background “tinkling” noise that was particularly evident whenever the system was not idling. Disconnecting the CD audio cable removed the bulk of this noise but meant that it was necessary to play CDs as a digital device rather than a simple analogue one.

Case screws

Really, I probably shouldn't mention this since it has nothing to do with GNU/Linux but then again it was a major cause of frustration — the problem was simply that whoever fastened the case during manufacture had apparently set the torque on their powered screwdriver to a much too high torque setting and had driven many of the lid screws in so hard that it simply wasn't possible to undo them with the supplied Allen key; instead all that would happen is that the screw head would eventually distort and the Allen key would rotate uselessly. Eventually I had to mount the computer onto my handy milling machine and use a 3mm end-mill to cut the screw heads away. Having cut through most of the head, it was possible to lift the lid clear and then it was possible to grip the remaining tiny portion of the screw head with some micro pliers and gently unscrew the shaft from the hole, thus leaving the thread within the case clean and reusable. If this happens to you and you don't happen to have a milling machine handy I wish you good luck.

Distribution installation attempts

Distribution SuSE Linux 9.0

The DVD containing SuSE Linux 9.0 professional was inserted and the system booted from DVD without problem. The basic installation proceeded smoothly towards having a graphical environment with basic office software packages. During the installation the YaST software was given permission to fetch whatever patches it deemed necessary and in due course it obtained an installed approximately 40 of them from the SuSE web site.

It was possible to run KDE and log in, but only on the first boot. On the second and subsequent boots the network would not run properly and neither would KDE.

Tranquil T1 glowing in the dark.

Since I was rather keen to get SuSE Linux 9.0 working on the T1 computer, I reinstalled it on another T1 computer but, this time, didn't request or install any of the patches. This installation worked more reliably than the first and I was able to reboot and then still use both the network and KDE. Flushed with success I then installed a version of Xine media player and watched a non-encrypted DVD. Audio and video were both acceptable but it was necessary to go back to YaST and tell it to turn on DMA for the DVD drive. Nonetheless it was clear that the system was still not quite right since KDE continued to log-out whenever I used Ctrl-Alt-F(x) to switch to another, text based, console. It was possible to use a console within a window within KDE but this was not sufficient.

Initial efforts to persuade Xine to present an encrypted DVD failed. This also needs further investigation.

In the course of experimenting the computer was moved from one desk to another and connected to a different keyboard and monitor via a different KVM switch (the former KVM switch had been a Belkin Omniview 2x8 matrix, the latter was a Belkin 4x1 SOHO switch). Curiously the problem with KDE performing an automatic log-out no longer occurred. This will be reinvestigated later but it seems possible that the original problem was not merely a clash between the computer hardware and operating system but, perhaps, a clash between the computer hardware and the KVM switch. ** Later update ** Forget that idea. When the OS was re-installed at the second location the log-out problem reappeared.

Distribution Knoppix 3.2

This was acquired as a cover disk on “Linux Magazine” and appeared to boot successfully. It was, however, not really what was wanted and so it was put aside.

Distribution Knoppix 3.6

This was acquired as a CD-image downloaded from the Knoppix web site and appeared to boot successfully.

Distribution Yoper Linux

The installation of Yoper Linux is described in another article.

Distribution SuSE Linux 9.0 revisited

The first two attempts to install SuSE Linux 9.0 included an attempt to install KDE and use the machine as a silent home-computer and multimedia presentation device. However this had been attempted only for the sake of the experiment and the original intention had always been to deploy the Tranquil T1 computers as network servers. Accordingly a fresh SuSE 9.0 installation was attempted ... On this third attempt the following choices were made:

  • The installation was started by booting from DVD-ROM
  • A fully “text mode” install was requested (in the boot menu, press F2 to select the screen mode)
  • The mouse was not recognized correctly and had to be manually set for “PS/2 (aux port)”, this problem might have been the result of a bad interaction between the Tranquil T1 computer and the Belkin KVM switch to which the computer was attached.
  • The YaST program (a set of configuration software specific to SuSE) was instructed to install only the “minimum” set of software.

Additionally the modem card was removed from the Tranquil T1 and replaced with an extra ethernet card. This installation went smoothly and quickly and within an hour or so the computer was successfully deployed as a gateway machine in a real network.

The following day a second computer was prepared in much the same way but deployed as a web server with Apache 1.3.28.

Distribution SuSE 9.2 professional

Can be installed, and looks very pretty but there is no driver available for the MPEG hardware decoder which means that DVD playback is not smooth. Also in order to have a machine that was responsive it was necessary to upgrade the memory; the 128MB module was replaced with a 512MB module.



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