Tuesday, November 10, 2015

eeePC 701 and OpenBSD

EeePC is somehow a quite old netbook nowadays, but there are a lot of folks around that still have it and keeping put it to good use.

I myself have a tiny 701 model. Back some years ago I used it basically for e-mail and Internet browsing, but it's limited disk space (4GB SSD) and single core processor make it useless for the current requirements for that (specially the websites that still uses the bitch called Adobe Flash). And, let's agree, any smartphone can beat it nowadays in terms of processor and memory.

Anyway, I was looking for an excuse to learn OpenBSD a bit. I always was curious about it but never gave me a change to learn it.

The "excuse" I was looking for was setting up a CPAN Reporter Smoke machine with OpenBSD, and my second thought (first was a VM in Virtualbox) was installing it on my EeePC.

I tried OpenBSD 5.7 (a few weeks before the release of 5.8) and setup run smoothly. The OpenBSD installer offered me a quite pleasant setup processes, with almost no questions and easy partitioning (very different of my first experience with it at 2000, when it offered disk space in sectors and let me do the math myself!). Keyboard configuration (something that is usually a pain to configure since I use ABNT2) was pretty simple too.

OpenBSD also does a good job about dealing with the limited disk space available on my EeePC, since it's basic install being really basic. I just removed the X-Window options from the file sets since the CPAN Reporter Smoker doesn't need one (and the screen size is really small) and fired away the installer.

Unfortunately, those were the good points about this "marriage": there are two big issues of installing OpenBSD on EeePC 701:
  1. File system (FFS).
  2. No fan control.
The default OpenBSD file system (FFS) is really slow compared to options available to Linux. Even after setting up the partitions to use noatime and soft updates my EeePC took a long time (most of it with I/O) to prepare the CPAN indexes. That's something that I could have fixed with mfs as a workaround, but the 512MB of memory of EeePC does not allow it. And, to be fair, I'm still working on providing statistics for each tested module by CPAN::Reporter::Smoker, some more things might doing the tests execution slower and I'm not aware of it.

Also, FFS does not implement TRIM (at least that's what my research found), so basically the support for SSD disks on OpenBSD is pretty weak.

The EeePC fan is another problem too. The thing is that the hardware configuration of it leaves the netbook get to high temperatures (and I'm not overclocking the processor) without turning the fans properly (yes, it really sucks). Since OpenBSD 5.7 kernel is not capable to detect the fans control there is nothing to do about it. I searched for some patches/user land software but none seems to be "production ready".

Conclusion

So, my conclusion about the experiment is: although OpenBSD has a good install for the limited hardware of EeePC 701, the limitations I explained above (specially number 2) tells me that is not even that safe to let the EeePC running for long periods with it, something that a CPAN Reporter Smoker requires. And, just to leave a comparison, I was able to easily install Debian Jessie on the EeePC with fan-control and lm-sensors packages, run a quickly setup and voila: the fans worked like a charm.