Porteus Linux: A portable Linux with a difference

Xfce spin of Live Linux distribution Porteus Linux - As-installed desktop on a 1280x1024 monitor.

Xfce spin of Live Linux distribution Porteus Linux - As-installed desktop on a 1280x1024 monitor.

I’m writing this in Porteus Linux v5.0rc1 for x86_64, a Live Linux distribution booted from a USB pendrive. It is fast, good-looking and has a good range of applications and utilities. I stumbled upon Porteus recently while looking for a compact Live Linux distribution to install on a couple of spare SD cards. It seemed ideal, as it is a portable distribution designed for USB pendrives and CDs, and optionally can be configured to be persistent between reboots and shutdowns. Porteus is based on Slackware, although I gather the developers might switch to Arch Linux at some undefined future date. Spins of Porteus with various Desktop Environments are available, and I settled on Xfce after trying a couple of the others.

Although my original objective was to install a portable Linux distribution on SD cards, I only managed to install Porteus on an SD card by using YUMI Multiboot USB Creator for Windows, which I run using WINE in Linux, rather than in Windows. The reason Porteus boots from an SD card when installed by YUMI is because YUMI installs its own boot manager on the SD card and chainloads the OS. Actually, if an SD card or USB pendrive has sufficient capacity, YUMI can install several OSs on a single SD card or single USB pendrive and you can choose from the YUMI bootloader menu which OS to boot.

Anyway, Porteus is interesting because, optionally, it can be configured quite easily to be persistent. I.e. if you want it to, Porteus can save new files, applications you install, browser bookmarks, edited configuration files and so on between reboots/shutdowns. However, I was unable to get persistence working with Porteus installed by YUMI on an SD card, but persistence works perfectly when I install Porteus on USB pendrives, which is the medium Porteus is really designed to be installed on.

I happened to have a couple of spare USB 2.0 pendrives (2GB and 32GB), and I have installed Porteus on both. I opted to configure both to have persistence. There are several ways of making Porteus persistent. The first method is to create a so-called ‘save file’ on the FAT32-formatted pendrive. The second method is to create a second partition on the pendrive, formatted with a Linux filesystem (ext2, ext4, Btrfs, XFS, etc.). Another method is to use ‘Magic Folders’, but I won’t go into that here. I decided to use the first method on the 2GB FAT32-formatted pendrive, and the second method on the 32GB pendrive, which I repartitioned with a 1GB FAT32 partition and the remaining space as an ext4 partition with journalling disabled. Both methods work well. Furthermore, both pendrives boot on a desktop with UEFI firmware and on a laptop with PC BIOS firmware. Neither of the pendrives has its FAT32 partition type set as ef00.

Both pendrives initially had an msdos partition table and a single FAT32 partition. Whether you are installing Porteus from Windows or Linux, it is not mandatory to use UNetbootin, Rufus, YUMI, UUI, dd or any of the other usual methods of installing ISOs on USB pendrives. The unpacked ISO contains the shell script Porteus-installer-for-Linux.com for Linux and the program Porteus-installer-for-Windows.exe for Windows. Instructions for installing to a USB pendrive from either Windows or Linux are given on the Porteus Web site.

I downloaded an ISO file from one of the Porteus repository mirrors listed on the Porteus Web site and used the Linux command line.

Installation on a USB pendrive with a single FAT32 partition

I used a UEFI desktop machine running Lubuntu 18.04, but any machine (either UEFI or BIOS firmware) and Linux distribution would suffice. For my unbranded 2GB pendrive with an msdos partition table and single FAT32 partition, I did the following to install Porteus:

$ sudo blkid # Find which device is the pendrive (sdb in my case)
$ sudo mkdir /mnt/iso
$ sudo mount /home/fitzcarraldo/Downloads/Porteus-XFCE-v5.0rc1-x86_64.iso /mnt/iso
$ sudo mkdir /mnt/pendrive
$ sudo mount /dev/sdb1 /mnt/pendrive
$ sudo cp -a /mnt/iso/* /mnt/pendrive/
$ cd /mnt/pendrive/boot/
$ sudo ./Porteus-installer-for-Linux.com

To enable persistence I needed to edit two configuration files and create a ‘save file’ as follows:

1. Edit /mnt/sdb1/boot/syslinux/porteus.cfg

$ sudo nano /mnt/sdb1/boot/syslinux/porteus.cfg

Change ‘APPEND changes=/porteus‘ to ‘APPEND changes=EXIT:/porteus/porteussave.dat‘:

MENU LABEL Graphics mode
KERNEL /boot/syslinux/vmlinuz
INITRD /boot/syslinux/initrd.xz
APPEND changes=EXIT:/porteus/porteussave.dat
    Run Porteus the best way we can.
    Try to autoconfigure graphics
    card and use the maximum
    allowed resolution

Note: The ‘EXIT:‘ makes Porteus save changes when you shutdown or reboot Porteus. If I understand the Porteus tutorials and forum posts correctly, without the ‘EXIT:‘ Porteus would save changes in real time. However, this did not happen in my case, so I had no choice but to add the ‘EXIT:‘ in order to save changes.

2. Edit /mnt/sdb1/porteus/porteus-v5.0-x86_64.cfg

$ sudo nano /mnt/sdb1/porteus/porteus-v5.0-x86_64.cfg

Add the following lines:


Obviously change the timezone according to your location. You can specify up to three keyboard layouts of your choice. I chose British, US and Brazilian keyboard layouts.

Check you edited the file correctly:

$ grep -v ^# /mnt/sdb1/porteus/porteus-v5.0-x86_64.cfg | grep -v ^$

3. Create the ‘save file’ when booted into Porteus

The GUI utility ‘Porteus save file manager’ is used to create the file used to save any changes you make in the Live environment. I chose the name porteussave.dat but you can use any name you want, suffixed with .dat. It is mandatory to use such a file if the filesystem is FAT32 or NTFS. Use ‘Applications’ > ‘System’ > ‘Porteus save file manager’ to create a new save file /mnt/sdb1/porteus/porteussave.dat.

With persistence enabled, all my files, browser bookmarks, browsing history and browser configurations remain whenever I boot Porteus. As I explain further down, the configuration changes to ALSA and PulseAudio that I made in order to get Skype working properly persist across reboots.

Porteus ‘modules’

In addition to the configuration for persistence of changes using a ‘save file’ or separate partition, Porteus uses what it calls ‘modules’, pre-packaged binaries with the suffix ‘.xzm‘ that contain either a Desktop Environment or an application. For example, I wanted to install Skype in Porteus and make it persistent, so I downloaded a Slackware package in the Live environment, installed it in the Live environment (right-click and select ‘Install package’), then converted the package to a Porteus module (right-click and select ‘txz2xzm’) and copied the module to the dedicated directory for such modules:

guest@porteus:~$ ls /mnt/sdb1/porteus/modules
firefox-70.0.1-x86_64-en-GB-1.xzm* skypeforlinux-*

Actually, the Porteus mirrors have some modules already available (‘bundles’), and there is a GUI utility to download and activate them. Alternatively you can download one of these modules yourself from one of the Porteus mirrors and activate it manually by double-clicking on it. To make it persistent you then copy it to the above-mentioned directory /mnt/sdb1/porteus/modules/. There is also a dedicated GUI utility to install a Web browser of your choice and activate the browser module. As you can see in the terminal output copied above, I opted to install Firefox and make it persistent.

The base OS and Desktop Environment are also Porteus modules:

guest@porteus:~$ ls /mnt/sdb1/porteus/base
000-kernel.xzm* 001-core.xzm* 002-xorg.xzm* 003-xfce.xzm*

As I wanted to try the other Desktop Environments, I downloaded the Porteus modules for those and put them in a directory that exists for optional modules:

guest@porteus:~$ ls /mnt/sdb1/porteus/optional
003-cinnamon.xzm* 003-lxde.xzm* 003-mate.xzm*
003-kde.xzm* 003-lxqt.xzm* 003-openbox.xzm*

I can then replace the module /mnt/sdb1/porteus/base/003-xfce.xzm with, for example, 003-kde.xzm to make Porteus use KDE instead of Xfce. Actually, a configuration file can be edited to load a desired Desktop Environment module and inhibit loading the base Desktop Environment module, but I have not tried that method yet.

I downloaded the Porteus modules 07-printing-x86_64-2019-11-12.xzm and 07-printing-lxqt-xfce-x86_64-2019-08-15.xzm from a link given in a Porteus Forums post, copied them to the directory /mnt/sdb1/porteus/modules/ then activated them by double-clicking on each. I was then able to configure CUPS in a browser window (http://localhost:631/admin) and get my old Canon PIXMA MP510 to print using the Gutenprint driver that was already installed without me having to install the Gutenprint printer drivers package. The two modules also enable both XSane and Document Scanner to use the Canon PIXMA MP510’s scanner.

Another ‘bundle’ module I downloaded is onlyoffice-5.0rc1-alldesktops.xzm, an open-source office suite produced by the Latvian company Ascensio System SIA. I had not heard of OnlyOffice before, but it works nicely and has text, spreadsheet and presentation editors with features similar to Microsoft Office (Word, Excel and PowerPoint). I have only tried it very briefly so far and was able to open a Word .docx document, but not an Excel .xlsx spreadsheet, but I still need to evaluate it thoroughly. It not only allows you to create and edit local files, but also to access files in the Cloud. I was able to access my remote ownCloud server documents, for example.

Installation on a USB pendrive using a second partition for persistence

Below I cover in detail the installation and configuration of Porteus on my 32GB USB pendrive.

I used a UEFI desktop machine running Lubuntu 18.04, but any machine (either UEFI or BIOS firmware) and Linux distribution would suffice.

As I wanted to install the Porteus Xfce spin on the pendrive, I downloaded the file Porteus-XFCE-v5.0rc1-x86_64.iso from from one of the Porteus Linux mirrors.

I inserted my Kingston Data Traveller 2.0 32GB USB pendrive into one of the USB ports on the front of the running desktop machine.

Note that I could have used a GUI utility such as GParted to partition and format the pendrive, but I decided to use the command line to do that part.

I opened a terminal window and typed the commands shown below.

1. Find out which device is the USB pendrive

$ sudo blkid # Find out which device the USB pendrive is. It should be sdb if no other drives are connected.
/dev/sda1: UUID="2905-DB96" TYPE="vfat" PARTLABEL="EFI System Partition" PARTUUID="36e3693c-b81f-4797-88fb-de3710bff86e"
/dev/sda2: LABEL="ROOT" UUID="dce73116-10fa-4169-b2d9-fb6ac8ffb83b" TYPE="ext4" PARTUUID="738fed12-239c-486d-b6e1-d90143f43ea7"
/dev/sdb1: LABEL="KINGSTON" UUID="A516-23A5" TYPE="vfat" PARTUUID="6cd1a8de-01"

Notice that, in my case, the pendrive is /dev/sdb.

2. Create a new partition table and two partitions

$ sudo fdisk /dev/sdb

Welcome to fdisk (util-linux 2.31.1).
Changes will remain in memory only, until you decide to write them.
Be careful before using the write command.

Command (m for help): d
Selected partition 1
Partition 1 has been deleted.

Command (m for help): d
No partition is defined yet!

Command (m for help): o

Created a new DOS disklabel with disk identifier 0x8e8bace5.

Command (m for help): n
Partition type
   p   primary (0 primary, 0 extended, 4 free)
   e   extended (container for logical partitions)
Select (default p): 
Partition number (1-4, default 1): 
First sector (2048-60978815, default 2048): 
Last sector, +sectors or +size{K,M,G,T,P} (2048-60978815, default 60978815): +1G

Created a new partition 1 of type 'Linux' and of size 1 GiB.
Partition #1 contains a vfat signature.

Do you want to remove the signature? [Y]es/[N]o: Y

The signature will be removed by a write command.

Command (m for help): n
Partition type
   p   primary (1 primary, 0 extended, 3 free)
   e   extended (container for logical partitions)
Select (default p): 
Partition number (2-4, default 2): 
First sector (2099200-60978815, default 2099200): 
Last sector, +sectors or +size{K,M,G,T,P} (2099200-60978815, default 60978815): 

Created a new partition 2 of type 'Linux' and of size 28.1 GiB.

Command (m for help): t
Partition number (1,2, default 2): 1
Hex code (type L to list all codes): b

Changed type of partition 'Linux' to 'W95 FAT32'.

Command (m for help): t
Partition number (1,2, default 2): 
Hex code (type L to list all codes): 83

Changed type of partition 'Linux' to 'Linux'.

Command (m for help): a
Partition number (1,2, default 2): 1

The bootable flag on partition 1 is enabled now.

Command (m for help): w
The partition table has been altered.
Calling ioctl() to re-read partition table.
Synching disks.

3. Double-check that the partitions have been created correctly

$ sudo fdisk /dev/sdb # Just to check partitions have been created as required.

Welcome to fdisk (util-linux 2.31.1).
Changes will remain in memory only, until you decide to write them.
Be careful before using the write command.

Command (m for help): p
Disk /dev/sdb: 29.1 GiB, 31221153792 bytes, 60978816 sectors
Units: sectors of 1 * 512 = 512 bytes
Sector size (logical/physical): 512 bytes / 512 bytes
I/O size (minimum/optimal): 512 bytes / 512 bytes
Disklabel type: dos
Disk identifier: 0x8e8bace5

Device     Boot   Start      End  Sectors  Size Id Type
/dev/sdb1  *       2048  2099199  2097152    1G  b W95 FAT32
/dev/sdb2       2099200 60978815 58879616 28.1G 83 Linux

Command (m for help): q

4. Format the partitions

$ sudo mkfs.fat -F 32 /dev/sdb1
mkfs.fat 4.1 (2017-01-24)
$ sudo mkfs.ext4 -O ^has_journal /dev/sdb2 # I opted to disable journaling.
mke2fs 1.44.1 (24-Mar-2018)
Creating filesystem with 7359952 4k blocks and 1843200 inodes
Filesystem UUID: 4b837147-bca3-4e31-a9f1-77da19682f77
Superblock backups stored on blocks: 
	32768, 98304, 163840, 229376, 294912, 819200, 884736, 1605632, 2654208, 

Allocating group tables: done                            
Writing inode tables: done                            
Writing superblocks and filesystem accounting information: done   

5. Install Porteus

$ sudo mkdir /mnt/iso
$ sudo mkdir /mnt/sdb1
$ sudo mount /home/fitzcarraldo/Downloads/Porteus-XFCE-v5.0rc1-x86_64.iso /mnt/iso
mount: /mnt/iso: WARNING: device write-protected, mounted read-only.
$ sudo mount /dev/sdb1 /mnt/sdb1
$ sudo cp -a /mnt/iso/* /mnt/sdb1/
$ cd /mnt/sdb1/boot
$ sudo ./Porteus-installer-for-Linux.com
Verifying archive integrity... All good.
Uncompressing Porteus Installer......

                           ,:._       ~-_
                               '\        ~-_
                                 \        \.
                               ,/           ~-_
                      -..__..-''   PORTEUS   ~~--..__


Installing Porteus to /dev/sdb1
WARNING: Make sure this is the right partition before proceeding.

Type 'ok' to continue or press Ctrl+c to exit.
Flushing filesystem buffers...

Using extlinux bootloader.

Installation finished successfully.
You may reboot your PC now and start using Porteus.
Please check the /boot/docs folder for additional information about
the installation process, Porteus requirements and booting parameters.
In case of making tweaks to the bootloader config,
please edit: /mnt/sdb1/boot/syslinux/porteus.cfg file.

Press Enter to exit.

6. Configure Porteus to be persistent across reboots/shutdowns

$ sudo nano /mnt/sdb1/porteus/porteus-v5.0-x86_64.cfg

Add the following lines:


Change the timezone according to your location. You can specify up to three keyboard layouts of your choice. I chose British, US and Brazilian keyboard layouts.

Check you have made the edits correctly:

$ grep -v ^# /mnt/sdb1/porteus/porteus-v5.0-x86_64.cfg | grep -v ^$

$ sudo nano /mnt/sdb1/boot/syslinux/porteus.cfg

Change ‘APPEND changes=/porteus‘ to ‘APPEND changes=EXIT:/mnt/sdb2‘:

MENU LABEL Graphics mode
KERNEL /boot/syslinux/vmlinuz
INITRD /boot/syslinux/initrd.xz
APPEND changes=EXIT:/mnt/sdb2
    Run Porteus the best way we can.
    Try to autoconfigure graphics
    card and use the maximum
    allowed resolution

Note: The ‘EXIT:‘ makes Porteus save changes when you shutdown or reboot Porteus. If I understand the Porteus tutorials and forum posts correctly, without the ‘EXIT:‘ Porteus would save changes in real time. However, this did not happen in my case, so I had no choice but to add the ‘EXIT:‘ in order to save changes.

7. Unmount the ISO and pendrive

$ cd
$ sudo umount /mnt/iso
$ sudo umount /mnt/sdb1

The configuration of ‘changes=‘ in /mnt/sdb1/boot/syslinux/porteus.cfg means that, when you reboot or shutdown from the Live session, Porteus will save any and all changes during a session. And that means every change: new files; edited files; browser bookmarks, browser history; desktop environment configuration; and so on. However, you can define precisely what is persistent by editing the file /etc/changes-exit.conf:

guest@porteus:~$ cat /etc/changes-exit.conf 
# Folders listed in this config file will be saved during reboot and shutdown when 'changes=EXIT:' cheatcode is used.
# Folders starting with '!' are omitted. This is useful if you want to save whole folder except for particular subfolder(s).
# An example is inclued in default config below: Porteus will save whole /var folder except for /var/run and /var/tmp subfolders.
# Other example: "!/home/guest/.mozilla/firefox/c3pp43bg.default/Cache" will skip saving of Firefox caches from guest account.
# Thanks to Rava for suggesting implementation of '!' exceptions.


Note: In the case of a pendrive using a ‘save file’ for persistence, relative paths are specified for ‘changes=‘, therefore the pendrive will be able to boot even if several drives are connected to the machine (i.e. it will not matter if the pendrive is device sdb, sdc, sdd or whatever). However, in the case of a pendrive using a second partition for persistence, absolute paths are specified for ‘changes=‘ and ‘from=‘, therefore the device letter may be different if more than just drive sda and the pendrive are connected to the machine. Therefore you may need to edit the two .cfg files to change the device from sdb to sdc or whatever in the path specified for ‘changes=‘ and ‘from=‘. Whenever you boot the pendrive a message is displayed indicating whether or not the changes partition has been found. If it has not, simply edit the two .cfg files from the Live environment and change the paths accordingly (use the command ‘sudo blkid‘ to find out which device is the pendrive now), then reboot.

8. Reboot

You may have to press F12 at boot (or whatever key your machine requires you to press in order to display a Boot Menu) and select the USB pendrive to boot from. The desktop machine I am using has UEFI firmware (notice the partitions on /dev/sda in Step 1 above, and, furthermore, /sys/firmware/efi/ exists when Lubuntu is running) and the USB pendrive boots fine. My laptops use PC BIOS and the USB pendrive boots fine on those too.

You will find that Porteus automatically creates the directory /changes on the partition of the USB pendrive with the Linux filesystem.

Installing Skype for Linux and fixing distorted sound in Skype

You can install Skype in Porteus. Download the Slackware package skypeforlinux-, right-click on the package and select ‘Install package’. Don’t forget to also convert it to a Porteus module (right-click on the package and select ‘txz2xzm’) and copy skypeforlinux- to /mnt/sdb1/porteus/modules/ so that it persists.

You may find that sound in Skype is distorted/scratchy. The problem is due to PulseAudio. You can fix this as follows:

$ env PULSE_LATENCY_MSEC=90 /usr/bin/skypeforlinux

Experiement with the value if ‘90‘ does not work. If that improves the sound in Skype, edit the file /home/guest/.config/autostart/skypeforlinux.desktop (if it exists) and change the Exec line as follows:

Exec=env PULSE_LATENCY_MSEC=90 /usr/bin/skypeforlinux

and edit (as root user) the file /usr/share/applications/skypeforlinux.desktop and change the Exec line as follows:

Exec=env PULSE_LATENCY_MSEC=90 /usr/bin/skypeforlinux %U

Also edit the file /etc/pulse/daemon.conf as root user and insert the line ‘realtime-scheduling = no‘:

; realtime-scheduling = yes
; realtime-priority = 5
realtime-scheduling = no

Also, run alsamixer from the command line:

$ alsamixer -c 0 # Press F6 to select your soundcard if necessary

Adjust the volume levels in alsamixer and unmute any muted channels so that you can both hear the caller and your own recorded voice when you make a test call in Skype, then save the alsamixer settings to a file:

$ /usr/sbin/alsactl --file /home/guest/.config/asound.state store

Edit the file /etc/rc.d/rc.local as root user and add the following line to load the ALSA settings when Porteus next boots:

alsactl --file /home/guest/.config/asound.state restore


Xfce spin of Live Linux distribution Porteus Linux.

Xfce spin of Live Linux distribution Porteus Linux.

I like Porteus. The upsides are:

  • Easy and quick to install on USB pendrives.
  • Can be installed without using an ISO installer (UNetbootin, Rufus, YUMI, UUI or whatever).
  • Boots fast.
  • Fast performance.
  • Polished GUI (I have tried Openbox, Xfce and KDE so far, and settled on Xfce).
  • A good range of applications are already installed out-of-the-box.
  • The Porteus module concept is easy and fast to use.
  • Persistence works well.
  • There are a number of Porteus modules available to download (‘bundles’).
  • Converting Slackware packages to Porteus modules is easy. I right-click on the downloaded Slackware package and select ‘txz2xzm’ from the drop-down menu.
  • Switching to a different Desktop Environment is easy. Modules for all the DEs are available to download from Porteus repository mirrors such as http://ftp.nluug.nl/os/Linux/distr/porteus/x86_64/Porteus-v5.0/.

The downsides I have come across so far are:

  • The Unified Slackware Package Manager (USM) does not work. When I click on ‘Download’ to download a package, a window pops up with the message ‘Fatal error LIBS.TXT’, even though I have updated USM and all the package databases. Therefore I use a Web browser to download the relevant Slackware package (a file ending in .txz), right-click on the package and select ‘Install package’ from the drop-down menu.
  • Slackware does not have the latest versions of some packages (signal-desktop is just one example).
  • The first time I installed Porteus, when I clicked on ‘Browse Networks’ in the Thunar file manager I could browse SMB shares on a server connected to my home network (without me having edited the installed /etc/samba/smb.conf). However, in subsequent re-installations of Porteus, when I clicked on ‘Browse Networks’ a window popped up displaying the following message:

    Failed to open "/ on ".
    Message recipient disconnected from message bus without replying.

    I edited smb.conf to use the parameters for my network (see my blog post ‘A correct method of configuring Samba for browsing SMB shares in a home network‘), but that made no difference. I don’t know yet how to fix this, although on my 32GB pendrive ‘Browse Networks’ is now working again for some reason. I had installed LXDE’s PCManFM in Xfce to see if ‘Browse Networks’ would work in that, but it didn’t so I uninstalled it. Then I noticed a new console message ‘cp: can't stat‘ during boot because Porteus could not find a PCManFM file, so I deleted the /changes directory on the Linux partition to get rid of that message (Porteus creates a new /changes directory automatically, although of course you need to redo whatever was lost). It could be a coincidence, but the next time I booted Porteus, ‘Browse Network’ in Thunar worked (with the as-installed smb.conf) and continues to work.

There is quite a bit more to Porteus than I have covered in this post; for example I have not covered ‘Magic Folders’. You can find out more by reading the Porteus online documentation and forums, as well as the documention installed on USB pendrives in the directories /mnt/sdb1/ and /mnt/sdb1/boot/docs/. Although the development team is small, I am impressed with what they have implemented. Porteus will be my portable Linux distribution of choice from now on, and I look forward to learning more about it and using it in the field.

A new laptop

At the beginning of this month my trusty Compal NBLB2 laptop completed five years of heavy use. The HDD was almost full (mostly with my work files) and the laptop’s size and weight were starting to become troublesome on my frequent work trips. So I decided to bite the bullet and buy a new laptop. As Compal is an OEM and I was able to specify various components when buying the NBLB2, I decided to buy an OEM laptop again this time. In the end I decided on the Clevo W230SS, which I ordered from pcspecialist. The configuration I specified is listed below:

  • 13.3″ matte full HD LED IPS widescreen (1920×1080).
  • Intel Core i7 quad-core mobile processor i7-4810MQ (2.80GHz) 6MB.
  • 16GB Kingston SODIMM DDR3 1600MHz (2 x 8GB).
  • NVIDIA GeForce GTX 860M – 2.0GB DDR5, 640 CUDA cores.
  • 750GB WD Scorpio Black WD7500BPKX, SATA 6 Gb/s, 16MB cache (7200 rpm).
  • 8x Samsung slim USB 2.0 external DVD-RW.
  • Integrated 6-in-1 memory card reader (SD/MiniSD/SDHC/SDXC/MMC/RSMMC).
  • Arctic MX-4 Extreme thermal conductivity compound.
  • Intel 2-channel High Definition Audio + mic & headphone jacks.
  • Gigabit LAN & Wireless Intel AC-7260 HMC (867Mbps, 802.11AC) + Bluetooth.
  • 3 USB 3.0 ports + 1 USB 2.0 port.
  • Backlit UK keyboard.
  • 2-button touchpad.
  • 2.0 megapixel Webcam.
  • 6-cell lithium ion battery (62.16WH).
  • Power lead & 120W AC adaptor.
  • 3-year warranty (1 year collect & return; 1 year parts; 3 years labour).
  • 1-year dead pixel guarantee inc. labour & carriage.
  • No operating system required.

The laptop has both a VGA port and an HDMI port. The VGA port is important to me because I need to connect to various models of legacy monitors and projectors in the various offices where I work.

The time from ordering the laptop to its delivery was nine days, and I was impressed with the service by pcspecialist; I received e-mails at each stage of building, testing and delivery (including the option to change the delivery date), and was informed of the name of the courier company, the time of delivery and even the name of the van driver!

My two previous laptops were configured to dual-boot Linux and Windows, but this time I decided not to bother with Windows and install only Gentoo Linux. I virtually never use Windows on the Compal anyway, opting instead to run Microsoft Office 2007 with WINE in Linux, so I decided to save some money this time. I followed the Gentoo AMD64 Handbook to install the operating system and, with one exception which I will mention further on, the Handbook is a very accurate guide.

I have the Testing branch of Gentoo (‘~amd64’) installed on the Compal, but decided to install the Stable branch of Gentoo (‘amd64’) on the Clevo. Since several of the packages I wanted to install are in the Testing branch, I would declare them in /etc/portage/package.accept_keywords/ in order to be able to install them regardless.

Below are some rough notes on what I did, in case they are of any interest to others contemplating installing Gentoo on a laptop with a similar specification. I have to say I like the Clevo W230SS very much so far, although I find the NVIDIA Optimus hardware and driver more complicated to configure than the AMD ATI GPUs on my previous two laptops, and the NVIDIA driver does not work as well with the xrandr command as does the AMD FGLRX driver for ATI GPUs.

When I pressed F2 at boot to check the configuration of the American Megatrends BIOS, I found that UEFI was turned off, and I left it that way. The HDD was apparently MBR not GPT. I was happy to use PC BIOS and MBR rather than UEFI and GPT as that meant I would not have to fiddle with new technology with which I am unfamiliar, and GPT is not necessary as the HDD capacity is less than 2 TiB.

I then booted the HDD for the first time to check if pcspecialist had left anything on it after testing, and the Windows 7 Home Premium ‘Setup is preparing your computer for first use’ screen was displayed. As I had not ordered Windows and therefore had no Microsoft key, and as I did not want Windows on the laptop in any case, I used GParted on a SystemRescueCD Live pen drive to repartition and format the HDD.

I followed the Gentoo AMD64 Handbook but used SystemRescueCd rather than a Gentoo LiveCD or LiveDVD, and therefore I did not have to perform the installation procedure from the very beginning of the Handbook. After downloading the latest SystemRescueCd ISO and installing it to a pen drive (see the instructions on the SystemRescueCd Web site), I booted SystemRescueCd from the pen drive and connected the SystemRescueCd Xfce Live environment to the Web via WiFi. I did not bother to connect an Ethernet cable to the laptop and performed the entire installation of Gentoo to the HDD under WiFi.

I did not need to use the method given in the Gentoo Handbook for creating partitions; I used GParted on SystemRescueCD instead of fdisk or parted on the command line. I was therefore able to ignore the first few pages and started following the Handbook in earnest from Activating the swap partition onwards.

The Handbook recommends creating a ‘BIOS boot partition’ as well as a ‘boot partition’. This is really only necessary for UEFI machines or if the GRUB Embedding Area on the HDD is too small (the GNU Grub Manual 2.00 says the space reserved for the GRUB Embedding Area has to be at least 31 KiB). I did not need to create a ‘BIOS boot partition’, as GParted would only let me create the first partition starting 1 MiB from the beginning of the HDD. Actually, GParted will not let you create /dev/sda1 right at the beginning of the disk; it always seems to want the partition to start 1 MiB from the beginning of the HDD, so I don’t understand why the Handbook wants you to create a ‘BIOS boot partition’ before the Boot partition in the case of MBR HDDs, as there would still be 1 MiB of empty space before the ‘BIOS boot partition’, rendering the latter a waste of space and effort. (As I understand it, the situation is different in the case of GPT because the EFI boot partition must be FAT32, so you have no choice but to create a ‘BIOS boot partition’ if you’re using a GPT HDD.) Perhaps if you are using fdisk or parted on the command line then the situation is different and those commands do allow you to put the first partition right at the beginning of the HDD. So I created the following partitions by using GParted:

/dev/sda1 /boot (Primary Partition)
/dev/sda2 swap (Primary Partition)
/dev/sda3 (Extended Partition)
/dev/sda5 / (Logical Partition)
/dev/sda6 /home (Logical Partition)
/dev/sda7 NTFS partition (Logical Partition)

I specified the ext2 file system for /boot, and ext4 for / and /home. I have used these file systems for many years on previous laptops, and they are very reliable. I decided to add an NTFS partition to store my work files separately from my home files, and in case I ever want to access the laptop using Windows from e.g. a bootable external USB drive or whatever.

When creating the logical partitions sda5, sda6 and sda7, GParted always left 1 MiB unallocated before each logical partition. And I don’t know why GParted would not create a partition named /dev/sda4.

The precise partition configuration is listed below:

# fdisk -l

Disk /dev/sda: 698.7 GiB, 750156374016 bytes, 1465149168 sectors
Units: sectors of 1 * 512 = 512 bytes
Sector size (logical/physical): 512 bytes / 4096 bytes
I/O size (minimum/optimal): 4096 bytes / 4096 bytes
Disklabel type: dos
Disk identifier: 0x291ba0e7

Device     Boot     Start        End    Sectors   Size Id Type
/dev/sda1            2048     264191     262144   128M 83 Linux
/dev/sda2          264192   33822719   33558528    16G 82 Linux swap / Solaris
/dev/sda3        33822720 1465147391 1431324672 682.5G  5 Extended
/dev/sda5        33824768  302260223  268435456   128G 83 Linux
/dev/sda6       302262272  839133183  536870912   256G 83 Linux
/dev/sda7       839135232 1465147391  626012160 298.5G  7 HPFS/NTFS/exFAT

# blkid
/dev/sda1: LABEL="BOOT" UUID="f6ffc085-66fe-4bbe-b080-cec355749f85" TYPE="ext2" PARTUUID="291ba0e7-01"
/dev/sda2: UUID="c49e011a-bb8b-4ade-8fda-6c11ca53d660" TYPE="swap" PARTUUID="291ba0e7-02"
/dev/sda5: LABEL="ROOT" UUID="525a90f1-8ad2-44a3-ade3-20f18a0a9595" TYPE="ext4" PARTUUID="291ba0e7-05"
/dev/sda6: LABEL="HOME" UUID="5b60d470-a92a-45b3-9607-3ff3ab483b97" TYPE="ext4" PARTUUID="291ba0e7-06"
/dev/sda7: LABEL="NTFS" UUID="16F4D9B04A85A7E5" TYPE="ntfs" PARTUUID="291ba0e7-07"

The output from the lspci command in SystemRescueCd was as follows:

# lspci
00:00.0 Host bridge: Intel Corporation Xeon E3-1200 v3/4th Gen Core Processor DRAM Controller (rev 06)
00:01.0 PCI bridge: Intel Corporation Xeon E3-1200 v3/4th Gen Core Processor PCI Express x16 Controller (rev 06)
00:02.0 VGA compatible controller: Intel Corporation 4th Gen Core Processor Integrated Graphics Controller (rev 06)
00:03.0 Audio device: Intel Corporation Xeon E3-1200 v3/4th Gen Core Processor HD Audio Controller (rev 06)
00:14.0 USB controller: Intel Corporation 8 Series/C220 Series Chipset Family USB xHCI (rev 05)
00:16.0 Communication controller: Intel Corporation 8 Series/C220 Series Chipset Family MEI Controller #1 (rev 04)
00:1a.0 USB controller: Intel Corporation 8 Series/C220 Series Chipset Family USB EHCI #2 (rev 05)
00:1b.0 Audio device: Intel Corporation 8 Series/C220 Series Chipset High Definition Audio Controller (rev 05)
00:1c.0 PCI bridge: Intel Corporation 8 Series/C220 Series Chipset Family PCI Express Root Port #1 (rev d5)
00:1c.2 PCI bridge: Intel Corporation 8 Series/C220 Series Chipset Family PCI Express Root Port #3 (rev d5)
00:1c.3 PCI bridge: Intel Corporation 8 Series/C220 Series Chipset Family PCI Express Root Port #4 (rev d5)
00:1d.0 USB controller: Intel Corporation 8 Series/C220 Series Chipset Family USB EHCI #1 (rev 05)
00:1f.0 ISA bridge: Intel Corporation HM87 Express LPC Controller (rev 05)
00:1f.2 SATA controller: Intel Corporation 8 Series/C220 Series Chipset Family 6-port SATA Controller 1 [AHCI mode] (rev 05)
00:1f.3 SMBus: Intel Corporation 8 Series/C220 Series Chipset Family SMBus Controller (rev 05)
01:00.0 3D controller: NVIDIA Corporation GM107M [GeForce GTX 860M] (rev a2)
03:00.0 Network controller: Intel Corporation Wireless 7260 (rev bb)
04:00.0 Unassigned class [ff00]: Realtek Semiconductor Co., Ltd. Device 5287 (rev 01)
04:00.1 Ethernet controller: Realtek Semiconductor Co., Ltd. RTL8111/8168/8411 PCI Express Gigabit Ethernet Controller (rev 12)

The output from the lsusb command in SystemRescueCd was as follows:

# lsusb
Bus 004 Device 001: ID 1d6b:0003 Linux Foundation 3.0 root hub
Bus 003 Device 004: ID 5986:055c Acer, Inc <-- The Webcam!
Bus 003 Device 003: ID 8087:07dc Intel Corp.
Bus 003 Device 002: ID 0dd8:17c0 Netac Technology Co., Ltd
Bus 003 Device 005: ID 090c:3261 Silicon Motion, Inc. - Taiwan (formerly Feiya Technology Corp.)
Bus 003 Device 001: ID 1d6b:0002 Linux Foundation 2.0 root hub
Bus 002 Device 002: ID 8087:8000 Intel Corp.
Bus 002 Device 001: ID 1d6b:0002 Linux Foundation 2.0 root hub
Bus 001 Device 002: ID 8087:8008 Intel Corp.
Bus 001 Device 001: ID 1d6b:0002 Linux Foundation 2.0 root hub

The output from the lsmod command in SystemRescueCd was as follows:

# lsmod
Module                  Size  Used by
nilfs2                117674  0 
ccm                    16515  2 
arc4                   12390  2 
iwlmvm                149978  0 
mac80211              421465  1 iwlmvm
btusb                  24725  0 
iwlwifi                88602  1 iwlmvm
bluetooth             258391  2 btusb
cfg80211              320349  3 iwlwifi,mac80211,iwlmvm
x86_pkg_temp_thermal    12390  0 
6lowpan_iphc           16649  1 bluetooth
coretemp               12390  0 
iTCO_wdt               12390  0 
mei_me                 12576  0 
iTCO_vendor_support    12938  1 iTCO_wdt
crct10dif_pclmul       12479  0 
crc32_pclmul           12483  0 
crc32c_intel           16568  0 
i2c_i801               16533  0 
ghash_clmulni_intel    12523  0 
mei                    58244  1 mei_me
tpm_infineon           12437  0 
joydev                 16535  0 
tpm_tis                16533  0 
rfkill                 18094  3 cfg80211,bluetooth
serio_raw              12439  0 
tpm                    26448  2 tpm_tis,tpm_infineon
lpc_ich                20629  0 
shpchp                 29571  0 
microcode              41719  0 
raid10                 37123  0 
raid456                57671  0 
async_raid6_recov      12621  1 raid456
async_pq               12640  2 raid456,async_raid6_recov
async_xor              12573  3 async_pq,raid456,async_raid6_recov
async_memcpy           12464  2 raid456,async_raid6_recov
async_tx               12840  5 async_pq,raid456,async_xor,async_memcpy,async_raid6_recov
raid1                  28900  0 
raid0                  16515  0 
multipath              12390  0 
linear                 12390  0 
usb_storage            52365  2 
nouveau               793903  0 
i915                  586099  2 
ttm                    66567  1 nouveau
drm_kms_helper         37632  2 i915,nouveau
drm                   216971  5 ttm,i915,drm_kms_helper,nouveau
i2c_algo_bit           12633  2 i915,nouveau
i2c_core               28421  6 drm,i915,i2c_i801,drm_kms_helper,i2c_algo_bit,nouveau
rtsx_pci_sdmmc         16538  0 
mmc_core               80530  1 rtsx_pci_sdmmc
rtsx_pci_ms            12442  0 
memstick               13784  1 rtsx_pci_ms
mxm_wmi                12672  1 nouveau
r8169                  49390  0 
rtsx_pci               35470  2 rtsx_pci_ms,rtsx_pci_sdmmc
mii                    13085  1 r8169
mfd_core               12807  2 lpc_ich,rtsx_pci
wmi                    13114  2 mxm_wmi,nouveau
video                  16832  2 i915,nouveau

The output from the SystemRescueCd lsmod command told me that the nouveau driver works with this laptop, that the iwlwifi driver works too, and that the r8169 driver was the likely driver I would need for the wired Ethernet connection (I did not bother to connect an Ethernet cable whilst using SystemRescueCd).

The output from the SystemRescueCd ifconfig command told me the new names of the eth0 and wlan0 interfaces: enp4s0f1 and wlp3s0. I force udev/eudev to use interface names eth0 and wlan0 on my Compal laptop (by adding the parameter net.ifnames=0 to the kernel boot line and by using the command ‘ln -s /dev/null /etc/udev/rules.d/80-net-setup-link.rules‘). However, although I dislike freedesktop.org’s so-called ‘predictable network interface names‘, I decided to stick with the new interface naming scheme on the Clevo.

As shown in the Handbook, make sure you cd into the directory /mnt/gentoo/ before downloading the Gentoo Stage 3 tarball, otherwise you will end up with the tarball in the wrong directory.

I stuck with the CPU FLAGS specified in the default make.conf file to start with, then, as soon as it was possible during the installation process, I installed app-portage/cpuinfo2cpuflags, ran it to obtain the correct CPU flags and modified /etc/portage/make.conf accordingly (I duplicated the CPU flags in USE="..." and CPU_FLAGS_X86="..." as recommended in Gentoo news item 2015-01-28-cpu_flags_x86-introduction).

I found configuring make.conf for USE flags confusing (see Configuring the USE variable). Although the KDE profile I eselected already contained quite a few of the global USE flags I thought I wanted/needed, I ended up duplicating several of them in make.conf rather than going through the output from the emerge --info command to see which USE flags are already included. I will clean up make.conf sometime in the future. The way to check which USE flags are provided by the profile is to temporarily comment out the USE variable lines in make.conf (and presumably any in /etc/portage/package.use/*) then run the emerge --info command. Anyway, here is what make.conf looked like after I had edited it:

CFLAGS="-O2 -march=native -pipe"
# WARNING: Changing your CHOST is not something that should be done lightly.
# Please consult http://www.gentoo.org/doc/en/change-chost.xml before changing.
MY_CPUFLAGS="aes avx avx2 fma3 mmx mmxext popcnt sse sse2 sse3 sse4_1 sse4_2 ssse3"
CPU_FLAGS_X86="aes avx avx2 fma3 mmx mmxext popcnt sse sse2 sse3 sse4_1 sse4_2 ssse3"

UNWANTED="-apm -branding -eds -evo -kerberos -gnome -gtk -libav -mono -nepomuk -oss -qt5 -systemd"
MY_MEDIA="alsa audiofile cdda cddb cdr dri dvb dvd dvdr dvdread jack ipod musicbrainz pulseaudio sdl v4l wmf xine"
MY_CODECS="a52 aac dts dv ffmpeg flac gsm lame matroska mp3 musepack ogg openal speex theora x264 xvid"
MY_SYSTEM="acl acpi avahi bash-completion bidi bluetooth bzip2 cjk dbus gcj gnutls icu lm_sensors lzo networkmanager nptl pam policykit udev unicode usb wifi xcb zeroconf"
MY_PRINT="cups foomaticdb gimp ppds scanner"
MY_XSYS="cairo dga gphoto2 gtk openexr opengl png qt4 svg tiff X xinerama"
MY_DESKTOP="gmp kde libnotify pda rdesktop semantic-desktop startup-notification"
MY_COMMS="aim icq imap jabber mbox msn rss slp yahoo"

# The following line is for Layman:
source /var/lib/layman/make.conf
# The following line is for my local overlay:
LINGUAS="en en_GB pt_BR es_ES"

INPUT_DEVICES="evdev synaptics"
VIDEO_CARDS="intel modesetting nvidia"

GENTOO_MIRRORS="rsync://mirror.bytemark.co.uk/gentoo/ http://mirror.qubenet.net/mirror/gentoo/ rsync://rsync.mirrorservice.org/distfiles.gentoo.org/"

I don’t have the ‘source’ line and ‘SYNC’ line in my ~amd64 installation on the Compal because they are running later versions of Portage and Layman, for which the method has changed.

When following the Gentoo Handbook and merging some packages, sometimes messages about required USE flags were displayed. In some of those cases, after studying the messages carefully I repeated the merge command but included the --autounmask-write option, then used the etc-update command to apply the edits to the /etc/portage/package.use/* files, then repeated the merge command. In some cases, e.g. if only one or two USE flag changes needed, I created the new file /etc/portage/package.use/* and performed the edit manually. For example, /etc/portage/package.use/networkmanager containing:

net-misc/networkmanager nss -dhclient dhcpcd -gnutls modemmanager

I am not sure which modules to declare in /etc/conf.d/modules, since the only ones I have to declare in that file in my Compal laptop installation are VirtualBox modules and other modules are loaded automatically. Anyway, I added the r8169, nvidia and fuse modules to that file to start with. Later I added some more and it currently looks like this:

modules="r8169 nvidia fuse agpgart bnep rfcomm hidp mmc_block uvcvideo cifs"

I added ‘agpgart‘ because of what user Arthanis wrote in his post in the Gentoo Forums thread [SOLVED] Optimus and Nvidia but there is no module named agpgart in my installation, so I am not sure to what he was referring.

The modules loaded so far are listed below:

# lsmod
Module                  Size  Used by
cifs                  438492  0 
mmc_block              25911  0 
mmc_core               85695  1 mmc_block
hidp                   14125  0 
rfcomm                 32181  12 
bnep                   10116  2 
fuse                   76386  2 
nvidia               8385213  33 
ecb                     1921  1 
iwlmvm                143855  0 
r8169                  67544  0 
btusb                  22292  0 
bluetooth             281605  33 bnep,hidp,btusb,rfcomm
uvcvideo               71061  0 
videobuf2_vmalloc       2800  1 uvcvideo
videobuf2_memops        1799  1 videobuf2_vmalloc
videobuf2_core         34587  1 uvcvideo
mii                     3875  1 r8169
iwlwifi                75755  1 iwlmvm
x86_pkg_temp_thermal     4567  0

The rest of the drivers are in-kernel.

Version 216 of sys-fs/udev was installed, which predates the change in udev to stop loading firmware (see the Gentoo Forums thread udev-217 stalls booting) so I may have trouble with loading CPU microcode and WiFi firmware (and video firmware? — see further on) in future when sys-fs/udev-217 becomes stable in the Gentoo Portage tree.

I configured netifrc for enp4s0f1 only (I didn’t bother with WiFi) for DHCP, as per Gentoo Handbook section Configuring the system, as I only wanted to be sure of a network connection after rebooting until I could get NetworkManager working, at which I point I would ditch the netifrc stuff completely. As I have to travel frequently because of my work, I find NetworkManager more convenient.

Apart from configuring the kernel (I lost count of how many times I had to rebuild it), the only problem was when I installed GRUB 2 (Gentoo Handbook section Configuring the bootloader). There appears to be an error in the Gentoo Handbook; see Gentoo Forums thread grub2 install for the fix.

X Windows and NVIDIA Optimus

However, getting X Windows working was a major hassle. First I followed the Gentoo Wiki article X server to install the packages xorg-server and xorg-drivers, then I followed the Gentoo Wiki article NVIDIA Driver with Optimus Laptops to try and get the closed-source NVIDIA driver working, but X Windows could not find a screen. (I have no idea what sys-apps/qingy is or whether it is needed, but, as the Wiki article mentions it, I installed it anyway but did not add the xrandr commands to the end of the /etc/X11/Sessions/KDE-4 file, but I did add the xrandr commands to the /usr/share/config/kdm/Xsetup file.) Then I followed Gentoo user Arthanis‘ Gentoo Forums post [SOLVED] Optimus and Nvidia (changing the edid_firmware name to suit). I was confused by his reference to rcu_idle_delay, by which he meant CONFIG_RCU_FAST_NO_HZ (see Understanding RCU when Configuring the Linux Kernel). Thank goodness for his post, though, as I would never have worked it out myself. All my main laptops since 2000 have had ATI GPUs, and they were easier to set up than this NVIDIA Optimus stuff. Although the laptop has both Intel and NVIDIA graphics hardware, I think the laptop is muxless (i.e. does not have hybrid graphics/NVIDIA HybridPower), so I left CONFIG_VGASWITCHERROO=n in the kernel, but I have no idea if that is correct. This whole dual GPU/IGP switching thing confuses me.

After I followed Arthanis‘ post and rebooted, the KDM screen consisted of tiled ‘mini-screens’, with the KDM log-in window in the top left mini-screen. I solved this by adding a Virtual command in xorg.conf — see the Gentoo Forums post XOrg refusing to start after a fresh build by user qweb.ric.

Below are the current contents of xorg.conf:

Section "ServerLayout"
    Identifier     "Layout0"
    Screen      0  "nvidia" 0 0
    Inactive       "intel"
    InputDevice    "Keyboard0" "CoreKeyboard"
    InputDevice    "Mouse0" "CorePointer"

#Section "Files"

Section "InputDevice"
    Identifier     "Mouse0"
    Driver         "mouse"
    Option         "Protocol"
    Option         "Device" "/dev/input/mice"
    Option         "Emulate3Buttons" "no"
    Option         "ZAxisMapping" "4 5"

Section "InputDevice"
    Identifier     "Keyboard0"
    Driver         "kbd"

Section "Monitor"
    Identifier     "Monitor0"
    Option         "DPMS"

Section "Device"
    Identifier     "nvidia"
    Driver         "nvidia"
    BusID          "PCI:1:0:0"

Section "Device"
    Identifier     "intel"
    Driver         "modesetting"
    BusID          "PCI:0:2:0"

Section "Screen"
    Identifier     "nvidia"
    Device         "nvidia"
    Monitor        "Monitor0"
    DefaultDepth    24
    Option         "UseDisplayDevice" "none"
    SubSection     "Display"
        Depth       24
#        Modes      "nvidia-auto-select"
        Virtual     1920 1080

Section "Screen"
    Identifier     "intel"
    Device         "intel"
    Monitor        "Monitor0"

To get tapping to work on the touchpad I had to create the file /etc/X11/xorg.conf.d/50-synaptics.conf as usual:

Section "InputClass"
    Identifier "touchpad catchall"
    Driver "synaptics"
    MatchIsTouchpad "on"
    MatchDevicePath "/dev/input/event*"
    Option "TapButton1" "1"
    Option "TapButton2" "2"
    Option "TapButton3" "3"
    Option "VertEdgeScroll" "on"
    Option "VertTwoFingerScroll" "on"
    Option "HorizEdgeScroll" "on"
    Option "HorizTwoFingerScroll" "on"
    Option "CircularScrolling" "on"
    Option "CircScrollTrigger" "0"
    Option "EmulateTwoFingerMinZ" "40"
    Option "EmulateTwoFingerMinW" "8"
    Option "CoastingSpeed" "0"
    Option "FingerLow" "35"
    Option "FingerHigh" "40"

Section "InputClass"
    Identifier "touchpad ignore duplicates"
    MatchIsTouchpad "on"
    MatchDevicePath "/dev/input/mouse*"
    Option "Ignore" "on"

And I also created the file /etc/X11/xorg.conf.d/30-keyboard.conf:

Section "InputClass"
    Identifier "keyboard"
    # See /usr/share/X11/xkb/rules/base.lst for Options.
    MatchIsKeyboard "yes"
    Option "XkbLayout" "gb,us,br,es"
    Option "XkbModel" "pc104"
    Option "XkbVariant" ""
    Option "XkbOptions" "grp:alt_shift_toggle"

and the file /etc/X11/xorg.conf.d/10-evdev.conf:

Section "InputClass"
        Identifier "evdev pointer catchall"
        MatchIsPointer "on"
        MatchDevicePath "/dev/input/event*"
        Driver "evdev"

Section "InputClass"
        Identifier "evdev keyboard catchall"
        MatchIsKeyboard "on"
        MatchDevicePath "/dev/input/event*"
        Driver "evdev"

#Section "InputClass"
#        Identifier "evdev touchpad catchall"
#        MatchIsTouchpad "on"
#        MatchDevicePath "/dev/input/event*"
#        Driver "evdev"

Section "InputClass"
        Identifier "evdev tablet catchall"
        MatchIsTablet "on"
        MatchDevicePath "/dev/input/event*"
        Driver "evdev"

Section "InputClass"
        Identifier "evdev touchscreen catchall"
        MatchIsTouchscreen "on"
        MatchDevicePath "/dev/input/event*"
        Driver "evdev"

(See my post about xorg.conf for a later version (not Stable in the Portage tree yet) of X Windows on the Compal, Fixing unperceived errors in my X Windows configuration.)

I forgot to do the following:

# rc-update add dbus default
# rc-update add consolekit default

See the Gentoo Forums thread [ConsoleKit session] Failed to connect to socket (resolved) for the error message I was getting when the KDE Desktop appeared. In addition to the aforementioned error message, a window with a KDE Daemon crash message popped-up at log-in and KDE Plasma would crash when I dragged the System Tray widget to the Panel. Once the dbus and consolekit services were added to the default runlevel, all was good.


After I merged NetworkManager I forgot to do:

# rc-update add NetworkManager default

but once I did that and the following:

# rc-update del net.enp4s0f1 default

then NetworkManager worked.

There was no /etc/NetworkManager/NetworkManager.conf, so I created that manually:



KDE plasma-nm crashes most times I try to create or edit a connection, so sometimes I have to edit the file /etc/NetworkManager/system-connections/* using nano. The current Stable version of plasma-nm in Gentoo is and I believe the latest version of plasma-nm has fixed this bug, so eventually it should work correctly.


I followed Gentoo Wiki article ALSA and compiled ALSA into the kernel rather than modules. Card 0 is HDMI and Card 1 is HDA (the opposite to what is usually expected). KDE Multimedia settings worked when I selected Analogue Audio, but I had to install pavucontrol in order to be able to switch off HDMI and get audio in the Web browser etc. to be played via the laptop speakers/headphones. Later I will try the Gentoo Wiki ALSA article’s suggestion of adding snd-hda-intel.index=1,0 to the kernel boot line to switch the order of the cards.

Although I set what I think are the relevant MMC parameters in the kernel configration, the Memory Card slot does not work. Perhaps some kernel configuration settings remain to be set. I will have a look later. Gentoo Forums thread SD card under Gentoo Linux may help.


Bluetooth is working after I made some kernel configuration settings and loaded the modules bnep, rfcomm and hidp via /etc/conf.d/modules (lsmod showed that btusb and bluetooth were already loaded automatically, but I added them anyway to /etc/conf.d/modules). I also had to do:

# rc-update bluetooth add default

The external portable USB portable CD/DVD writer (Samsung SE-208GB/RSBD) I bought from pcspecialist works well. I have tried it so far with an Audio CD, a data DVD and burning data to a CD-R.


The built-in Webcam does not work. Update (April 29, 2015): I discovered today that the Webcam works fine; the problem was a bug in the version of the guvcview application I tried. So all is good. According to lsusb the Webcam is:

Bus 001 Device 010: ID 5986:055c Acer, Inc

The lsmod command shows the uvcvideo module is loaded. When I ‘rmmod uvcvideo‘ then ‘modprobe uvcvideo‘ the dmesg command shows the following:

[ 6508.624505] uvcvideo: Found UVC 1.00 device BisonCam, NB Pro (5986:055c)
[ 6508.627349] input: BisonCam, NB Pro as /devices/pci0000:00/0000:00:1a.0/usb1/1-1/1-1.4/1-1.4:1.0/input/input43
[ 6508.627425] usbcore: registered new interface driver uvcvideo
[ 6508.627427] USB Video Class driver (1.1.1)

The application guvcview displays a black window, and the Konsole from which guvcview was launched displays repeated ‘Ignoring empty buffer ...‘ messages:

$ guvcview
guvcview 1.6.1
ALSA lib /var/tmp/portage/media-libs/alsa-lib-1.0.28/work/alsa-lib-1.0.28/src/pcm/pcm_dsnoop.c:618:(snd_pcm_dsnoop_open) unable to open slave
ALSA lib /var/tmp/portage/media-libs/alsa-lib-1.0.28/work/alsa-lib-1.0.28/src/pcm/pcm_dmix.c:1022:(snd_pcm_dmix_open) unable to open slave
ALSA lib /var/tmp/portage/media-libs/alsa-lib-1.0.28/work/alsa-lib-1.0.28/src/pcm/pcm.c:2239:(snd_pcm_open_noupdate) Unknown PCM cards.pcm.rear
ALSA lib /var/tmp/portage/media-libs/alsa-lib-1.0.28/work/alsa-lib-1.0.28/src/pcm/pcm.c:2239:(snd_pcm_open_noupdate) Unknown PCM cards.pcm.center_lfe
ALSA lib /var/tmp/portage/media-libs/alsa-lib-1.0.28/work/alsa-lib-1.0.28/src/pcm/pcm.c:2239:(snd_pcm_open_noupdate) Unknown PCM cards.pcm.side
ALSA lib /var/tmp/portage/media-libs/alsa-lib-1.0.28/work/alsa-lib-1.0.28/src/pcm/pcm_dmix.c:1022:(snd_pcm_dmix_open) unable to open slave
video device: /dev/video0
Init. BisonCam, NB Pro (location: usb-0000:00:1a.0-1.4)
{ pixelformat = 'MJPG', description = 'MJPEG' }
{ discrete: width = 640, height = 480 }
        Time interval between frame: 1/30, 
{ discrete: width = 160, height = 120 }
        Time interval between frame: 1/30, 
{ discrete: width = 176, height = 144 }
        Time interval between frame: 1/30, 
{ discrete: width = 320, height = 240 }
        Time interval between frame: 1/30, 
{ discrete: width = 352, height = 288 }
        Time interval between frame: 1/30, 
{ discrete: width = 640, height = 360 }
        Time interval between frame: 1/30, 
{ discrete: width = 1280, height = 720 }
        Time interval between frame: 1/30, 
{ discrete: width = 1280, height = 1024 }
        Time interval between frame: 1/30, 
{ discrete: width = 1920, height = 1080 }
        Time interval between frame: 1/30, 
{ discrete: width = 640, height = 480 }
        Time interval between frame: 1/30, 
{ pixelformat = 'YUYV', description = 'YUV 4:2:2 (YUYV)' }
{ discrete: width = 640, height = 480 }
        Time interval between frame: 1/30, 1/15, 
{ discrete: width = 160, height = 120 }
        Time interval between frame: 1/30, 1/15, 
{ discrete: width = 176, height = 144 }
        Time interval between frame: 1/30, 1/15, 
{ discrete: width = 320, height = 240 }
        Time interval between frame: 1/30, 1/15, 
{ discrete: width = 352, height = 288 }
        Time interval between frame: 1/30, 1/15, 
{ discrete: width = 640, height = 360 }
        Time interval between frame: 1/30, 1/15, 
{ discrete: width = 1280, height = 720 }
        Time interval between frame: 1/10, 
{ discrete: width = 1280, height = 1024 }
        Time interval between frame: 1/5, 
{ discrete: width = 1920, height = 1080 }
        Time interval between frame: 1/5, 
{ discrete: width = 640, height = 480 }
        Time interval between frame: 1/30, 1/15, 
{ pixelformat = 'RGB3', description = 'RGB3' }
{ discrete: width = 640, height = 480 }
        Time interval between frame: 1/30, 1/15, 
{ discrete: width = 160, height = 120 }
        Time interval between frame: 1/30, 1/15, 
{ discrete: width = 176, height = 144 }
        Time interval between frame: 1/30, 1/15, 
{ discrete: width = 320, height = 240 }
        Time interval between frame: 1/30, 1/15, 
{ discrete: width = 352, height = 288 }
        Time interval between frame: 1/30, 1/15, 
{ discrete: width = 640, height = 360 }
        Time interval between frame: 1/30, 1/15, 
{ discrete: width = 1280, height = 720 }
        Time interval between frame: 1/30, 
{ discrete: width = 1280, height = 1024 }
        Time interval between frame: 1/30, 
{ discrete: width = 1920, height = 1080 }
        Time interval between frame: 1/30, 
{ pixelformat = 'BGR3', description = 'BGR3' }
{ discrete: width = 640, height = 480 }
        Time interval between frame: 1/30, 1/15, 
{ discrete: width = 160, height = 120 }
        Time interval between frame: 1/30, 1/15, 
{ discrete: width = 176, height = 144 }
        Time interval between frame: 1/30, 1/15, 
{ discrete: width = 320, height = 240 }
        Time interval between frame: 1/30, 1/15, 
{ discrete: width = 352, height = 288 }
        Time interval between frame: 1/30, 1/15, 
{ discrete: width = 640, height = 360 }
        Time interval between frame: 1/30, 1/15, 
{ discrete: width = 1280, height = 720 }
        Time interval between frame: 1/30, 
{ discrete: width = 1280, height = 1024 }
        Time interval between frame: 1/30, 
{ discrete: width = 1920, height = 1080 }
        Time interval between frame: 1/30, 
{ pixelformat = 'YU12', description = 'YU12' }
{ discrete: width = 640, height = 480 }
        Time interval between frame: 1/30, 1/15, 
{ discrete: width = 160, height = 120 }
        Time interval between frame: 1/30, 1/15, 
{ discrete: width = 176, height = 144 }
        Time interval between frame: 1/30, 1/15, 
{ discrete: width = 320, height = 240 }
        Time interval between frame: 1/30, 1/15, 
{ discrete: width = 352, height = 288 }
        Time interval between frame: 1/30, 1/15, 
{ discrete: width = 640, height = 360 }
        Time interval between frame: 1/30, 1/15, 
{ discrete: width = 1280, height = 720 }
        Time interval between frame: 1/30, 
{ discrete: width = 1280, height = 1024 }
        Time interval between frame: 1/30, 
{ discrete: width = 1920, height = 1080 }
        Time interval between frame: 1/30, 
{ pixelformat = 'YV12', description = 'YV12' }
{ discrete: width = 640, height = 480 }
        Time interval between frame: 1/30, 1/15, 
{ discrete: width = 160, height = 120 }
        Time interval between frame: 1/30, 1/15, 
{ discrete: width = 176, height = 144 }
        Time interval between frame: 1/30, 1/15, 
{ discrete: width = 320, height = 240 }
        Time interval between frame: 1/30, 1/15, 
{ discrete: width = 352, height = 288 }
        Time interval between frame: 1/30, 1/15, 
{ discrete: width = 640, height = 360 }
        Time interval between frame: 1/30, 1/15, 
{ discrete: width = 1280, height = 720 }
        Time interval between frame: 1/30, 
{ discrete: width = 1280, height = 1024 }
        Time interval between frame: 1/30, 
{ discrete: width = 1920, height = 1080 }
        Time interval between frame: 1/30, 
checking format: 1196444237
VIDIOC_G_COMP:: Inappropriate ioctl for device
fps is set to 1/30
drawing controls

fps is set to 1/30
Checking video mode 640x480@32bpp : OK
Ignoring empty buffer ...
Ignoring empty buffer ...
Ignoring empty buffer ...
Ignoring empty buffer ...
Ignoring empty buffer ...
Ignoring empty buffer ...
Ignoring empty buffer ...
Ignoring empty buffer ...
Ignoring empty buffer ...
Ignoring empty buffer ...
Ignoring empty buffer ...
Ignoring empty buffer ...
Ignoring empty buffer ...
Ignoring empty buffer ...
Ignoring empty buffer ...
Ignoring empty buffer ...
Ignoring empty buffer ...
Ignoring empty buffer ...
Ignoring empty buffer ...
Ignoring empty buffer ...
Ignoring empty buffer ...
Ignoring empty buffer ...
Ignoring empty buffer ...
Ignoring empty buffer ...
Ignoring empty buffer ...
Ignoring empty buffer ...
Ignoring empty buffer ...
Ignoring empty buffer ...
Ignoring empty buffer ...
Ignoring empty buffer ...
Ignoring empty buffer ...
< Here I pressed Ctrl-C >
write /home/fitzcarraldo/.guvcviewrc OK
free controls
cleaned allocations - 100%
Closing portaudio ...OK
Closing GTK... OK

I tried all the available uvcvideo quirks (see Linux UVC driver and tools – FAQ: What are quirks and how do I use them?) but the result was always the same.

# rmmod uvcvideo
# modprobe uvcvideo quirks=0x00000200
# rmmod uvcvideo
# modprobe uvcvideo quirks=0x00000100
# rmmod uvcvideo
# modprobe uvcvideo quirks=0x00000080
# rmmod uvcvideo
# modprobe uvcvideo quirks=0x00000020
# rmmod uvcvideo
# modprobe uvcvideo quirks=0x00000010
# rmmod uvcvideo
# modprobe uvcvideo quirks=0x00000008
# rmmod uvcvideo
# modprobe uvcvideo quirks=0x00000004
# rmmod uvcvideo
# modprobe uvcvideo quirks=0x00000002
# rmmod uvcvideo
# modprobe uvcvideo quirks=0x00000001

There is possibly a bug in the uvcvideo driver (see [Kernel-packages] [Bug 1362358] Re: uvcvideo doesn’t work with USB webcam with linux 3.16), so I will have to try a later kernel at some point.

Update (April 29, 2015): I discovered today that nothing is wrong with the uvcvideo driver or the Webcam. The problem I described above was caused by a bug in the guvcview application itself. The Gentoo Stable version is guvcview-1.6.1, so I specified Gentoo Testing version guvcview-2.0.1 in /etc/portage/package.accept_keywords/guvcview and installed it, and now guvcview displays the Webcam output perfectly.

Transferring Thunderbird account settings and e-mails

My Compal laptop dual-boots Gentoo and Windows 7. Thunderbird is installed in both OSs, and both Windows Thunderbird and Linux Thunderbird use the same Mail folder on the NTFS Windows partition, but with different prefs.js files (i.e. Windows Thunderbird uses a prefs.js file on the Windows partition, and Linux Thunderbird uses a prefs.js file in the /home partition). In order to port my Thunderbird e-mails from the Windows partition on the Compal to the /home partition on the Clevo, I did the following:

  1. Installed Thunderbird on the Clevo.
  2. Launched Thunderbird and cancelled the Thunderbird wizard for creating a new account.
  3. Closed Thunderbird.
  4. Copied the Mail folder from the Compal’s Windows Thunderbird folder into the new Linux Thunderbird profile folder on the Clevo.
  5. Copied the prefs.js file from the Windows Thunderbird folder into the new Linux Thunderbird profile folder on the Clevo.
  6. Edited the prefs.js file to change all the Windows paths to Linux paths.

I also copied the three Address Book files abook.mab, history.mab and impab.mab across, but the first e-mail address in the Address Book differed between the two laptops so I exported the address books from Thunderbird in Linux (‘Address Book’ > ‘Tools’ > ‘Export…’ to create .ldif files) on the Compal and imported them into Thunderbird on the Clevo, but the result was no different to copying the .mab files, so it looks correct (the number of entries in the address books on each laptop was the same). Looking at a fresh installation of Thunderbird, I notice there is no impab.mab file, only the other two, and also the impab.mab file on the Compal has a 2011 date whereas the abook.mab and history.mab have current dates, so I wonder if the impab.mab file is redundant in the latest versions of Thunderbird.

A few panics (mine and the kernel’s!)

I had a couple of panic moments when rebooting after making changes to the kernel: if I had left a USB pen drive or a USB HDD plugged into the Clevo when I rebooted, the kernel would oops during boot-up. I initially thought these kernel panics were due to my mis-configuration of the kernel, but finally realised what was causing the oops when one of the error messages referred to a partition sdc1 on a pen drive. Actually, I had enabled too many kernel options in my first kernel build so it was probably better that I restarted the Gentoo installation anyway (I only restarted the installation from scratch once). The Compal boots normally if it has USB storage devices plugged in when it boots, so I’m not sure why it happens on the Clevo. Both laptops have the HDD first in the boot order, so I don’t know why the Clevo complains.

External monitor

I used xrandr commands to get my external monitor (an Acer AL1916W with a max resolution of 1440×900) to display the Clevo’s desktop correctly. I used the following command to view the available monitors and modes:

$ xrandr -q
Screen 0: minimum 8 x 8, current 1920 x 1080, maximum 16384 x 16384
eDP-1-0 connected 1920x1080+0+0 (normal left inverted right x axis y axis) 282mm x 165mm
   1920x1080     60.00*+  40.00  
   1400x1050     59.98  
   1280x1024     60.02  
   1280x960      60.00  
   1024x768      60.04    60.00  
   960x720       60.00  
   928x696       60.05  
   896x672       60.01  
   800x600       60.00    60.32    56.25  
   700x525       59.98  
   640x512       60.02  
   640x480       60.00    59.94  
   512x384       60.00  
   400x300       60.32    56.34  
   320x240       60.05  
VGA-1-0 disconnected (normal left inverted right x axis y axis)
DisplayPort-1-0 connected (normal left inverted right x axis y axis)
   1920x1080     60.00 +  40.00  
HDMI-1-0 disconnected (normal left inverted right x axis y axis)

I don’t know why the connected AL1916W monitor is shown as having only one display mode, and why that mode is 1920×1080. The AL1916W supports several modes up to 1440×900, and these are all displayed by the xrandr command on the Compal. It seems the NVIDIA driver is unable to read the external monitor’s EDID whereas the AMD ATI FGLRX driver is able to do so. Anyway I did the following to force the NVIDIA driver to display the Desktop correctly, which I later automated in a Bash script launched from a Desktop Configuration File:

$ xrandr --output DisplayPort-1-0 --off
$ xrandr --newmode "1440x900" 106.50 1440 1528 1672 1904 900 903 909 934 -hsync +vsync # Only need to add new mode once per X session.
$ xrandr --addmode DisplayPort-1-0 1440x900
$ xrandr --output eDP-1-0 --off && xrandr --output DisplayPort-1-0 --mode 1440x900

I pressed the AL1916W monitor’s MENU button and selected AUTO to make sure the monitor’s display is as sharp as possible.


I have an HP ScanJet 3400C scanner and my Canon PIXMA MP560 MFP also has a scanner. I had to install hplip in order to be able to use XSane, gscan2pdf and Simple Scan with the HP ScanJet 3400C scanner. I also found that the HP ScanJet 3400C must be switched off in order to be able to use the Canon MP560 scanner, whereas I don’t need to switch off the Canon MP560 in order to be able to use the HP ScanJet 3400C!

Skype and PulseAudio

As Qt 4.8.5 has not yet been marked stable in Gentoo, and therefore there is not a stable version of Qt with the abi_x86_32 USE flag, I installed Skype using the hack given by Gentoo user pablo_supertux in his Gentoo Forums post [SOLVED] Skype and the new multilib, which works well.

The laptop’s volume settings jumped to 100% periodically, and this is another of PulseAudio’s irritating quirks. To stop this happening I edited the file /etc/pulse/daemon.conf and changed:

; flat-volumes = yes


flat-volumes = no

i.e. I uncommented the line and changed ‘yes‘ to ‘no‘.

I had disabled Skype from automatically adjusting audio settings. If I still find that PulseAudio is causing volume levels to change at start-up (see my earlier posts), I will create a script in /etc/local.d/ to set them automatically for me.

Things left for me to do:

  1. Get the Webcam working. Update (April 29, 2015): Done! It turned out there was nothing wrong with the uvcvideo driver or the hardware; the guvcview application had a bug. I installed a newer version of guvcview and it works correctly. So all is good.
  2. Get the Memory Card slot working. Boot SystemRescueCd and see if SDHC and/or SDXC memory cards are accessible. Update (April 28, 2015): Done! See my next post Realtek 5287 PCIe controller for memory card reader for the changes I made to the kernel configuration.
  3. Check the Bash backup scripts I created for the Compal and edit them if necessary so that they work on the Clevo. Update (April 29, 2015): Done!
  4. When Qt 4.8.6 is made Stable in the Portage tree, install Skype using Portage. Update (May 16, 2015): Done!
  5. Check which other applications and utilities I installed on the Compal need to be installed on the Clevo. Update (April 29, 2015): Done!
  6. Install the Samsung Unified Printer driver and get it working with the Samsung printers in the office. Update (April 29, 2015): Done!
  7. Investigate why the Clevo cannot print to my Canon PIXMA MP560 via WiFi. Update (May 15, 2015): Done! The problem was with the printer, not the Clevo. The printer was not always connecting to my home WiFi network.
  8. Install UFW and either a) the KDE KControl Module for UFW or b) UFW Frontends, and add firewall rules for Samba/CIFS and KDE Connect. Update (June 30, 2015): Done! Finally got around to doing it. ufw was giving an error message for IPv6, though, but I fixed that by rebuilding the kernel with some more parameters selected: CONFIG_NETFILTER_XT_TARGET_HL=m, CONFIG_IP6_NF_MATCH_RT=m and CONFIG_IP6_NF_TARGET_HL=m.
  9. Investigate why Samba cannot access the family Acer Aspire XC600 running Windows 8.1. The Samba service is running on the Clevo, and both Samba 3 and Samba 4 on the Compal can access shares on the Aspire XC600 and on the Clevo, so something must be wrong with the installation on the Clevo. Update (May 17, 2015): Done! The problem was that I had not merged kde-base/kdebase-kioslaves with the samba USE flag. Once I did that, Dolphin could browse Samba shares on the family PC running Windows 8.1.
  10. Find out the manual commands for switching between the Intel IGP and NVIDIA GPU that Gentoo user Arthanis mentioned in his post [SOLVED] Optimus and Nvidia. Update (June 30, 2015): Done! See the latest post in the aformentioned Gentoo Forums thread. Sometime in the next month or so I’ll post in this blog the full details of my solution.
  11. Investigate why the KDE Network widget plasma-nm is crashing when I add/edit connections (see a recent KDE blog post Plasma-nm release about the last update to plasma-nm-4.* which fixes some bugs). I suppose I need to wait for plasma-nm- to become stable in the Portage main tree. Update (April 30, 2015): Done! I got fed up with the buggy ‘Stable’ plasma-nm- so I added plasma-nm- to /etc/portage/package.accept_keywords/plasma-nm and Version is no longer crashing.
  12. Get qr-tools (QR Code application) working on the Clevo. Update (April 29, 2015): Done!

Update (September 24, 2016): I upgraded xorg-server from 1.17.4 to 1.18.4 today and had to change the following line in /etc/X11/xorg.conf:

Screen 0 "nvidia" 0 0


Screen 1 "nvidia" 0 0

See the Gentoo Forums post What’s up with xorg-server 1.18 and Optimus? for further details

Audio in Linux becomes annoying again

At the moment I seem to be having more audio problems than usual. Last month I blogged about having to fix the ALSA Speaker volume level resetting to zero at boot, and recently two other audio problems have cropped up.


I have been having trouble with Thunderbird’s ‘system sound’ that announces the arrival of a new e-mail. Lately, Thunderbird has started playing too loud and with significant distortion the audio clip it had been playing perfectly for the last four years. This is especially strange because I created that audio clip with Audacity from another audio clip that sounded too loud when Thunderbird played it. Ironically, the work-around for this latest problem was to switch to the original, much louder sound clip alert.wav instead of the quieter alert_quiet.wav. Not only does Thunderbird now play alert.wav at a lower volume than alert_quiet.wav, but the sound of alert.wav is not distorted when Thunderbird plays it. Yet if I play alert.wav and alert_quiet.wav using SMPlayer, the former is much louder than the latter and neither is distorted. Figure that one out.

The event notification sound that Thunderbird uses to remind me about an impending meeting scheduled in the calendar has now started sounding very distorted too. I still have not found a work-around for that. Event sounds played by the desktop environment I use (KDE) are not distorted, so what is Thunderbird doing? Perhaps the problem is not Thunderbird itself but the audio library it uses, so I need to investigate further.


Yet another audio problem cropped up this morning when I connected my laptop to an external monitor and keyboard (and thus I left the laptop’s lid almost closed) in an open-plan office and booted the laptop. I entered my username and password on the KDM log-in screen, and the KDE splash screen appeared as usual. After a few seconds the laptop’s speakers suddenly emitted a piercing, continuous howl; the well-known sound of audio feedback from speakers to microphone. It was LOUD. The volume control buttons on the keyboard made no difference, and the sound was so loud that everyone in the office noticed and several people came over to tell me to reset the BIOS (apparently that had fixed the problem for their laptops running Windows).

I kept my finger on the laptop’s power switch and, after several seconds, the laptop powered off. My laptop dual boots Windows 7 and Gentoo Linux, and the audio feedback did not occur when I booted Windows 7. After booting Linux again a couple of times and annoying everyone in the office even more, I discovered I could open the laptop’s lid far enough back to reduce the feedback to a low whine, so I could let KDE finish launching and display the Desktop. I then launched ALSAMixer and discovered that ‘Internal Mic Boost’ was set to 100%. So I immediately lowered it to zero. Then the penny dropped: I had used Skype the previous night without bothering to connect my headphones and external microphone, and Skype had automatically raised ‘Internal Mic Boost’ all the way up to 100%. So I immediately launched Skype, selected ‘Options’ > ‘Sound Devices’ and unticked ‘Allow Skype to automatically adjust my mixer levels’. The next thing I did was add the following lines to the script /etc/local.d/20set_alsa_volume.start mentioned in my previous blog post Fix for ALSA Speaker volume level resetting to zero at boot:

su -c "amixer -c 0 -- sset 'Internal Mic Boost' 0%" -s /bin/sh fitzcarraldo
su -c "amixer -c 0 -- sset 'Internal Mic' 0%" -s /bin/sh fitzcarraldo
su -c "amixer -c 0 -- sset 'Mic Boost' 0%" -s /bin/sh fitzcarraldo
su -c "amixer -c 0 -- sset 'Mic' 0%" -s /bin/sh fitzcarraldo

From now on, only I am allowed to adjust microphone settings! To avoid any possibility of feedback loops in future, the above-mentioned script sets all the microphone channels to zero and I will have to adjust them myself before use. I already have ALSAMixerGUI in the KDE Launcher menu, so it won’t be a big deal to do that.

This fiasco with Skype got me thinking: if Skype is set to automatically adjust mixer levels when you are in a conversation, when you exit Skype why doesn’t it automatically set mixer levels back to the way they were when Skype was launched? It could be done easily and would be more user-friendly than the current way Skype works.

Interrelationship between PulseAudio and ALSA

The final thing I did (yet again) was to adjust all the various ALSA channels and PulseAudio channels to try and get the resulting audio input and output sounding reasonable. This is easier said than done. I often have to mess around with ALSAMixer and PulseAudio Volume Control in order to get audio input and output working satisfactorily in all applications that use audio. It is actually more difficult than it sounds (ouch!) to get ALSA and PulseAudio ‘balanced’ (for want of a better word). In the days before PulseAudio existed, one only had to adjust ALSA. Now, with two agents controlling audio, the task turns out to be surprisingly awkward sometimes.

To sum up, boo to Thunderbird (or whatever it uses to play sounds), boo to Skype and boo to PulseAudio. I’m fed up with audio issues in Linux at the moment. 😡

Update (January 19, 2015): It turns out that the problem in Thunderbird was due to PulseAudio. See my next post for details of how I fixed it.

WebRTC – A viable alternative to Skype

Skype for Linux 4.3 and upwards requires the use of PulseAudio, which has caused discontent amongst those Linux users who do not use PulseAudio. Although I do use PulseAudio, I recently found out about WebRTC, an API (application programming interface) for browser-based communication offering most of the functions provided by Skype, namely: voice calling, video chat, text chat, file sharing and screen sharing. The official WebRTC site states:

WebRTC is a free, open project that enables web browsers with Real-Time Communications (RTC) capabilities via simple JavaScript APIs. The WebRTC components have been optimized to best serve this purpose.

Our mission: To enable rich, high quality, RTC applications to be developed in the browser via simple JavaScript APIs and HTML5.

WebRTC was originally released by Google but is now a draft standard of the World Wide Web Consortium, and is supported by Chrome, Firefox and Opera browsers. Several commercial Web sites offer WebRTC-based communications to fee-paying customers, but I thought I would try WebRTC by using one of the so-called ‘demo’ WebRTC pages. AppRTC is a WebRTC demo page which can be reached from a link on the official WebRTC site, but I prefer Multi-Party WebRTC Demo by TokBox which offers a more polished experience with better features. Both are free to use and viable substitutes to Skype for video chatting (one-to-one or conference).

So, how do you actually use WebRTC-based sites? Below is a quick guide to get you going.

Text and video chatting

Open the following URL in Chrome or Firefox:


Enter a Room Name that is likely to be unique. I used ‘fitzchat’ (without the quotes), but you can use any name you want.

The other party or parties can do the same thing, i.e. they enter the same Room Name as you, and you will all become connected.

Alternatively, to send an e-mail invitation to someone, click on the URL at the top of the pane on the right-hand side (which is Invite: https://opentokrtc.com/fitzchat in this example, as I chose to name the Room ‘fitzchat’). The partially visible pane at the right-hand side of the browser window will slide into full view when you click on it.

That’s all there is to it. You should see a video window showing each party, and they should see the same. Each party should also be able to hear the other parties. In the top right-hand corner of each video window is an icon (microphone for you; speaker for each of the other parties) which you can click on to mute/un-mute that party.

Click on the partially visible pane at the right-hand side of the browser window. Notice the ‘chat bar’ at the bottom where you enter commands and chat text. Read the grey instructions listed near the top of the pane:

Welcome to OpenTokRTC by TokBox
Type /nick your_name to change your name
Type /list to see list of users in the room
Type /help to see a list of commands
Type /hide to hide chat bar
Type /focus to lead the group
Type /unfocus to put everybody on equal standing

For example, to give myself a meaningful name instead of the default username Guest-0120e48c which was given to me automatically, I entered the following:

           /nick Fitz

Screen sharing

I found that screen sharing already works well in Chrome 36.0.1985.125 but is not yet supported in Firefox 31.0. It will be supported in Firefox 32 or 33, apparently, or you can already use Firefox Nightly providing you add the appropriate preferences via about:config.

To be able to share screens in Chrome, I had to perform two steps: enable a Chrome flag and install a Chrome extension. The two steps, which do not need to be repeated, are given below (see Ref. 1).

To enable screen sharing in Chrome, do the following:

  1. Open a new tab or window in Chrome.
  2. Copy the following link: chrome://flags/#enable-usermedia-screen-capture and paste it in the location bar.
  3. Click on the ‘Enable’ link below ‘Enable screen capture support in getUserMedia().’ at the very top of the screen.
  4. Click on the ‘Relaunch Now’ button at the bottom of the page to restart Chrome.

To install the screen sharing extension in Chrome, do the following:

  1. Launch Chrome and click on the Menu icon.
  2. Click on ‘Settings’.
  3. Click on ‘Extensions’.
  4. Click on ‘Get more extensions’ and search for ‘webrtc’.
  5. Download ‘WebRTC Desktop Sharing’.
  6. This places an icon to the right of the URL bar in Chrome.

To share your screen or just a window, do the following in Chrome:

  1. Click on the ‘Share Desktop’ icon to the right of the URL bar and select either ‘Screen’ or the window you wish to share.
  2. Click ‘Share’.
  3. When sharing has started in a new Chrome window, select the URL of the relevant tab in that window and send it to the other parties via the chat pane on the right-hand side of the first browser window.

To stop sharing, click on ‘Stop sharing’ and click on the ‘Share Desktop’ icon to the right of the URL bar to get it to return to displaying the ‘Share Desktop’ icon instead of the || (Pause) icon.

File sharing

I did not bother to try file sharing using WebRTC, but there are various Web sites you can use to do that. One such is ShareDrop, and googling will find others.


Chrome 36.0.1985.125 and Firefox 31.0 were used in this trial (I did not try Opera). I found that video chat worked faultlessly when both parties were using Chrome, and when both parties were using Firefox. However, when one of the parties was using Firefox and the other was using Chrome, I could not see myself in one of the video boxes in the browser window (although I could see the other party in the other video box in the browser window). Furthermore, there was a grey bar across the middle of the video images in the AppRTC demo, whereas the Multi-Party WebRTC Demo video images were normal. Other than those two issues, the experience was smooth and straightforward. My recommendation would therefore be to use Multi-Party WebRTC Demo and for all the parties to use the same browser, be it Chrome or Firefox. If you want to share your screen or a window, the logical choice at the moment would be Chrome.


1 LiveMinutes Blog – Beta Testers: How To Activate Screen Sharing!

UPDATE (January 2, 2015): Mozilla has added a button to Firefox 34 to provide account-free video chat using WebRTC. Mozilla calls this feature ‘Firefox Hello’.


I have it in Firefox 34.0.5 (I had to drag the ‘Hello’ button from ‘Customise’ | ‘Additional Tools and Features’). It works quite well. I didn’t bother creating an account; I just clicked on the ‘Email’ button to e-mail the automatically-generated URL to someone, and he clicked on the URL in the e-mail he received, which launched Firefox on his laptop and rang Firefox on my laptop. We tried both video and audio-only conversations, and both worked well. Firefox Hello is not as polished as Skype but, if Mozilla keeps working on it, they could end up with a good product.

Fixing a problem with received video in Skype when using the AMD Catalyst (FGLRX) driver in Linux

Some users of Skype for Linux have reported that the bottom half of the received video image is corrupted in installations that use the closed-source video driver for ATI GPUs (the AMD Catalyst proprietary Linux driver, also known as the ‘FGLRX’ driver). One user described the lower half of the video image as “covered in small coloured squares like a chequer board”.

From what I have read in a few forums, it seems the problem does not occur when the open-source Radeon driver is used. My own experience corroborates that: I use the Radeon driver on one of my laptops, and received video in Skype is fine.

My main laptop has an AMD ATI Mobility Radeon HD 5650 GPU and I am using the Catalyst driver under Gentoo Linux. In this case there was a problem with received video in most Skype sessions. Either of the following effects usually occurred:

Snapshot 1 - Extract of received video image in Skype, showing an example of the corrupted image

Snapshot 1 - Extract of received video image in Skype, showing an example of the corrupted image

Snapshot 2 - Extract of received video image in Skype, showing another example of the corrupted image

Snapshot 2 - Extract of received video image in Skype, showing another example of the corrupted image

As shown in Snapshot 1, the lower half of the received video image was covered in a grid of thin green lines with areas tinged with purple, blue or green, whereas there was no grid of lines in the upper half of the image but some areas were tinged with red or blue.

As shown in Snapshot 2, the lower half of the received video image was covered in a grid of thin red lines, with a purple tinge in some areas, whereas there was no grid of lines in the upper half of the image, which looked reasonable but had some red-, green- or blue-tinged areas.

In all cases Skype’s thumbnail of my Webcam’s video image looked fine, and the person on the other end of the call said the video image received from me looked fine too.

Because of a bug in a previous version of the Catalyst driver a few years ago — see my blog posts Playing QuickTime videos in Firefox and Chromium + XVideo bug in AMD Catalyst 11.11 and 11.12 driver and AMD Catalyst for Linux driver 12.2 fixes the XVideo bug that crashed X.Org Server 1.11.x — I happen to know that Sykpe uses X11 overlays with the XVideo extension (xv), rather than using the OpenGL renderer (gl) or X11 with the SHM extension (x11). This made me wonder whether the use of XVideo with the Catalyst driver was causing the current problem. Unlike media players such as MPlayer and VLC, it is not possible to configure Skype to use gl or x11 instead of xv, so I thought it would not be possible to test whether the use of gl or x11 instead of xv would make a difference. Until, that is, I came upon a ‘trick’ posted by openSUSE user queequeg in 2009 during the period when an earlier version of the Catalyst driver had the aforementioned bug:

Skype Video Workaround for ATI

Anybody trying to make a video call with Skype and ATI fglrx drivers has had problems due to Skype using the “xv” video mode with the driver can’t handle. For anyone interested that is affected by this, there is a workaround:

1. Run the xvinfo command and look at the number of xv sessions available. Some cards have only 1, some have as many as 4. This is the number of xv occurances that the card can do at one time.
2. “Use up” all these xv sessions by opening videos in your favorite video player making sure to use xv for the video output. The videos can then be paused.
3. Once this (or they) are open, skype can be started and will default to X11 video and work properly with video calls.

I know this is a goofy way to get around this issue, but until fglrx can handle xv or skype allows an option to choose X11 for video render, I don’t know of any other way to do it.

(From what I hear, the 11.1 fglrx drivers can handle xv, but I haven’t confirmed this.)

So I tried his work-around. I had to launch four media players in order to use all available XVideo sessions. Lo and behold, when I launched Skype and made a video call the received video image was perfect. So it appeared that the Catalyst driver is not able to handle well the XVideo output from Skype. However, playing and pausing four videos every time I want to make a video call in Skype would hardly be practical, would it? And that is not the only downside: when I maximised a Firefox window during the Skype video call, my laptop spontaneously rebooted (I assume the X.Org server crashed).

I did also wonder whether just disabling compositing would solve the problem, so I disabled KWin Desktop Effects, but that didn’t make any difference.

I had also read in several forums that enabling or disabling the TexturedVideo and/or VideoOverlay options in the xorg.conf file have an effect on the video image produced by the Catalyst driver, but I could not find a post mentioning the use of either of those options to fix the specific problem I was seeing. So I decided not to pursue the xorg.conf route.

In my searches of the Web I came across a post somewhere that mentioned using GTK+ UVC Viewer (guvcview) to adjust video properties and improve video in Skype. I thought guvcview was only for adjusting the video image from a Webcam connected to my machine, i.e. adjusting the outgoing video image, and would not have any effect on received video. Nevertheless, I decided to install and launch guvcview to see if I could adjust both incoming and outgoing video properties. To my surprise, guvcview appeared to have fixed the problem with the received video. These are the steps I followed:

  1. I launched Skype and started a video call. The received video image had a grid of thin red lines and purple/green/blue tinting (similar to Snapshot 2).
  2. I Installed guvcview using the package manager.
  3. I launched guvcview in a Konsole (terminal) window. After guvcview created the file /home/fitzcarraldo/.config/guvcview/video0 and checked various video and audio settings it exited because my Webcam was being used by Skype (‘libv4l2: error setting pixformat: Device or resource busy‘).
  4. I clicked on the Webcam icon in the Skype call window, to turn my Webcam off.
  5. I launched guvcview again. The lower half of the received video image in Skype changed from a grid of thin red lines to a continuous green-coloured band, and the upper half of the image now looked reasonable but still had some red- or blue-tinged areas (see Snapshot 3 below).
  6. Snapshot 3 - Extract of received video image in Skype after I launched guvcview again

    Snapshot 3 - Extract of received video image in Skype after I launched guvcview again

  7. On the ‘Image Controls’ tab in the ‘GUVCViewer Controls’ window I changed the video frequency from 60 Hz to 50 Hz then back to 60 Hz again. I was just tinkering, and I believe this had no bearing on the outcome.
  8. I clicked on the ‘Quit’ button in the guvcview window to terminate the application.
  9. I clicked on the Webcam icon in the Skype call window to turn on again the Webcam, and the received Skype video image changed to a perfect image (see Snapshot 4 below).
  10. Snapshot 4 - Extract of received video image in Skype after I turned on again my Webcam in Skype

    Snapshot 4 - Extract of received video image in Skype after I turned on again my Webcam in Skype

It appears that guvcview had an effect on the received video image in Skype, although, if it did, I do not understand how. To check if the fix was permanent I ended the Skype video call, signed out of Skype and quit the application, rebooted and made a new Skype video call. The received video image in Skype was again perfect. I even deleted the guvcview configuration file and repeated this check, just in case the configuration file was somehow being used even though I had not launched guvcview, but the received video in yet another Skype video call was still perfect. I also clicked on the Webcam icon in the Skype call window several times during each call in order to turn my Webcam off and on several times; the received video image of the other person remained perfect.

So there you have it: when using an AMD ATI GPU and the Catalyst driver, it seems that guvcview can be used — at least in my case — to eliminate the type of image corruption in received Skype video shown in Snapshots 1 and 2. So, if you are also using the AMD Catalyst for Linux driver and are experiencing a similar problem, try guvcview. It might just do the trick.

AMD Catalyst for Linux driver 12.2 fixes the XVideo bug that crashed X.Org Server 1.11.x

Just a brief ‘heads up’ for users of the closed-source FGLRX driver in Linux: In a previous blog post I mentioned a bug in the AMD Catalyst driver for Linux that caused X.Org Server 1.11.x to crash if you tried to play a video and your media player was configured to use XVideo (Xv) output. The bug also meant that people talking to you via Skype could not enable their Web cams or X.Org Server 1.11.x would crash on your machine, as Skype uses XVideo.

The problem occurred with versions 11.11, 11.12 and 12.1 of the FGLRX driver (the package x11-drivers/ati-drivers). Well, today I installed version 12.2 of the driver and am pleased to report that I can again set media players to use Xv output without causing the X.Org Server to crash (I’m currently using xorg-server-1.11.4). Likewise, other people who I am talking to via Skype can again enable their Web cams without causing the X.Org Server on my machine to crash.

Playing QuickTime videos in Firefox and Chromium + XVideo bug in AMD Catalyst 11.11 and 11.12 driver

Video problems seem to be perennial in Linux. The latest two to affect me were:

1) Firefox and Chromium could no longer play QuickTime videos on the Apple iTunes Movie Trailers Web site;

2) a bug in the latest two releases of the closed-source ATI FGLRX driver (AMD Catalyst 11.11 and 11.12 for Linux) that causes the X.Org Server to crash when I try to play .mov files using XVideo (Xv) output in media players such as SMPlayer, VLC, GNOME-MPlayer etc. (see e.g. Gentoo Bug Report No. 391193).

The reason I mention these two problems in the same breath is because I encountered the second whilst trying to fix the first. Anyway, below I explain what I did to resolve the two problems.

I first had a problem displaying QuickTime movie trailers in Firefox a couple of years ago. The solution then was to install the User Agent Switcher add-on for Firefox and create a user agent to fool the Apple Web site into thinking Firefox was using Apple’s QuickTime browser plugin instead of mplayerplug-in for Linux. But within a few days Firefox again could not play movie trailers on the Apple Web site. I had to uninstall mplayerplug-in and install the then latest version of its successor, gecko-mediaplayer (which uses gnome-mplayer). All was good again until…

Several months ago I found that, yet again, Firefox could not play movie trailers on the Apple Web site. I tried to view the trailers in Chromium instead but had the same problem. Both browsers just displayed a black box where the video should be playing. A little searching on the Web led me to the conclusion that the problem lay with the latest version of gecko-mediaplayer and gnome-mplayer that I was using at the time, so I gave up and decided to wait for new versions of gecko-mediaplayer and gnome-mplayer to be released.

Now, yesterday I wanted to watch a particular trailer on the Apple Web site, but, despite having installed the latest version of gecko-mediaplayer and gnome-mplayer anyway a few days ago, neither Firefox nor Chromium would display the trailer. A little searching on the Web suggested that I should try mozplugger instead of gecko-mediaplayer, so I uninstalled the latter, installed mozplugger and… the black box in the browser was replaced by a white box displaying the QuickTime ‘Q’ logo and a message that I needed to install QuickTime. Argghh!

So I uninstalled mozplugger and reinstalled gecko-mediaplayer and gnome-mplayer (the same versions that I installed recently, you inderstand). This time my attempts to watch trailers on the Apple Web site resulted in Firefox and Chromium displaying grey boxes and appearing to download the QuickTime videos, but then the X.Org Server crashed, restarted and the Desktop Environment’s login screen appeared. Furthermore, when I tried playing .mov videos in VLC, the same thing happened. Perhaps now you may understand why I mentioned above the bug with the FGLRX driver? It took me a few hours to realise there were two separate problems here.

The work-around to the second problem was to configure media players to use a different output driver rather than the XVideo (Xv) output driver. For example, in VLC this is done via Tools > Preferences > Video and selecting ‘GLX video output (XCB)’ as the Output under Video Settings. For SMPlayer this is done via Options > Preferences > General and selecting ‘gl (fast – ATI cards)’ as the Output driver under the Video tab.

And, most importantly, in order to enable gecko-mediaplayer to display those Apple QuickTime trailers in Firefox and Chromium I had to launch gnome-mplayer, select Edit > Preferences, click on the Player tab and select ‘gl’ as the Video Output under Adjust Output Settings. Actually, clicking on the MPlayer tab and entering “-vo gl” (without the quotes) in the ‘Extra Options to MPlayer:’ box achieves the same result. By the way, the tickboxes QuickTime Emulation, RealPlayer Emulation, Windows Media Player Emulation and DIVX Player Emulation were already ticked on the Plug-in tab.

So, there you have it. After several hours of searching and tinkering I can again watch movie trailers on the Apple Web site. Don’t you just love Linux?

For the sake of completeness, below I list the versions of the applicable packages currently installed on my main laptop:


EDIT (January 2, 2012): I’ve just had a thought: When I used Skype for Linux a few days ago, my laptop rebooted spontaneously as soon as the person at the other end enabled her Webcam in Skype for Windows. This was reproducible consistently. However, I could enable my Webcam, she could see me in Skype on her PC, and I could also see video of me in Skype’s ‘myself preview’ on my laptop. Now, it could be a coincidence but I wonder if the reboot occurred because Skype for Linux uses XVideo? Skype’s Web page for Skype for Linux lists “Video card driver with Xv support” as one of the hardware requirements, which looks pretty conclusive to me. However, this leaves a couple of niggling questions: a) If Skype does indeed use XVideo, why didn’t the ‘myself preview’ video in the Skype for Linux window crash the X.Org Server?. b) If the FGLRX driver bug is the cause, why did my laptop reboot instead of just the X.Org Server crashing, restarting and displaying the Desktop Environment login screen? Furthermore, Skype’s Options > Video Devices > Test does work correctly on my laptop. So perhaps the rebooting problem is caused by a different bug. Suspicious, though. Unfortunately, as far as I know there is no way of switching Skype to use OpenGL instead of XVideo, so I cannot prove that XVideo is the cause of this particular problem I’m experiencing with Skype.