||Mandrake 9.1 is ready, and I
have also received an email from MandrakeClub
indicating that 9.1 boxed CD sets are now available for pre-order (with
a hefty discount for club members). Sounds like a good time to put
myself in the seat of a first-time Linux user and dissect this
long-awaited release. I had rehearsed the installation of Mandrake
Linux 9.1 final using 9.1 RC2, and this time I decided to explore in
detail the hardware and software configuration that I would consider
adequate for a comfortable Mandrake desktop experience. Kind of, a Mandrake 9.1 Certify-It-Yourself PC
if you see what I mean...
See also the previous installments:
Part 1 •
Part 2 •
Part 3 •
Part 4 •
Part 5 (PPC) •
|Opinions and facts|
|It's inevitable that when writing an
article some opinions creep into the text, even though I try to write
about observations and facts while avoiding impressions and opinions.
For example, on the matter of desktop GUIs (Graphical User Interfaces),
while I do like to use both KDE and GNOME applications, I rather tend
to use KDE + Konqueror + KMail + KOffice for my daily work.
Screenshots 1: A GNOME application - gFTP
This is a matter of taste and habit, it is not a choice based on a
detailed comparison between KDE and GNOME and their equivalent
applications (BTW this is another reason why I avoid comparing GUIs,
Operating Systems, distributions, etc: such comparisons can easily
become too subjective to have any value). So, what works for me might
not work for a large number of Linux users, and vice-versa. I hope the
pictures speak for themselves, though.
Screenshots 2 & 3: A KDE application - KGet
|Installing Mandrake Linux 9.1|
|I previously reviewed the various
Mandrake 9.1 Betas and also RC1, and between each release I could
observe the progress being made with DrakX, the Mandrake Linux
installer program. I am happy to say that Drakx got quite a bit of
polish for 9.1 final: not only does it have an extremely professional
look, but it worked flawlessly, with the single exception of
configuring my dual-monitor setup (DrakX configured X Window for a
single monitor and then I updated the /etc/X11/XF86Config-4
configuration file manually after the first boot).
Screenshot 4 & 5: Mandrake 9.1 installation - partitioning and package selection
I did not time the installation but it must have taken about 50 minutes
total, including two small pauses for drinking a cup of tea, and
watching the news. Most of the time during installation was spent by
DrakX automatically installing the selected packages, and this ran
unattended. This time I had reserved 10GB of free disk space for my Mandrake Linux
9.1 installation, which I partitioned as follows:
Table 1: Partitioning example for Mandrake Linux 9.1
For all my previous reviews I had used a single 5GB partition, but this
is more of a final "production" installation and I feel more
comfortable with this partitioning scheme.
Screenshot 6: Mandrake 9.1 installation - hardware configuration
After installing all the packages DrakX still needs a few simple steps
to configure the system before rebooting. The many choices may seem
daunting at first but there is no reason to be scared. Each step is
accompanied by extensive Help instructions, and the defaults are in
most cases adequate and can be changed later.
I prefer to boot directly into the Display Manager and Mandrake 9.1 has a great choice in this repect: one
can choose from KDM (KDE style), GDM (GNOME style), MdkKDM (Mandrake
style) or XDM (plain X Window style). By default Mandrake Linux 9.1
sets up MdkKDM, but I prefer KDM, the original (and more sophisticated)
KDE Display Manager. That's easy to configure with some excellent
utilities included in Mandrake Linux 9.1:|
1. From the console command line or a terminal, use
urpmi to install the KDM package:
2. Select your favorite Display Manager with drakdm
3. On your next boot, you will be presented with
KDM's fully customizable login.
4. Open the KDE Control Center, find the Configuration / KDE / System / Login
Manager option and configure KDM to your taste.
Screenshot 7 & 8: Mandrake 9.1 - login and menudrake configuration
Another small issue I have with the default setup is that the KDE
Calculator was not included in the Office
/ Accessories menu. I found KCalc under the Applications / Sciences / Mathematics
menu. Again, this is easily changed using the Menudrake tool (found
under Configuration / Other). I already discussed in my previous articles some of the more common
Linux desktop customizations, so here is a typical screenshot, showing
how I prefer to work:
Screenshot 9: Mandrake 9.1 - a desktop example
And here is a short description of some visual elements that have been
- The main customization which is usually performed at installation is
the choice of XFree86 driver, resolution and color depth. As obvious
from the picture above, I am using the Xinerama extension which allows
the use of two or more monitors. Users with a single monitor can rely
on DrakX and not worry.
- The second choice is the choice of GUI. Both GNOME and KDE offer
excellent usability, but I find KDE's operation simpler to grasp
for beginners. Mandrake Linux 9.1 includes a few other window managers
but they are more suited to specific user tastes or needs.
- KDE 3.1's Keramik theme with a slightly modified Keramik
Emerald color scheme (I call it Galaxy Bronze, because it also works
well with Galaxy).
- Verdana font and variations, with anti-aliasing turned on.
- A background pixmap with a slight gradient for the KDE Panel.
Screenshot 10: Mandrake 9.1 - KDE's kicker
- Four customized Virtual Desktops with distinct names.
- Custom background color (pale green) for the Digital Clock.
- Personalized simple background, tiled.
|I usually also personalize some
non-visual elements for my desktop:
|The Mandrake PC|
|Hardware manufacturers have long been
standardizing on features and ergonomic details for their products (in
part because of the dominance of a single commercial desktop OS and a
single microprocessor company). GNU/Linux has benefited from this not
only because it is easier to write a single driver for a specific
hardware than many different ones, but also because having clear
specifications laid down avoids having to reverse engineer proprietary
Picture 1: These connectors have become a standard on PCs
The latest standard basic PC specifications consist of the PC 2001
System Design Guide (check www.pcdesguide.org)
and many related documents. One can also add the USB 1.1 and 2.0
specifications, the ATA specifications, the IEEE1394 specifications and
many others. All these are published standards which are freely
available to the public and provide a wealth of information to Linux
System Design Guide
It can be said that the role of a Linux distribution vendor is to
integrate all these different layers, but the stumbling block in this
process is hardware compatibility. From that point of view Mandrake
Linux 9.1 does quite well: it manages to handle the widest range of
hardware of any Linux distribution I have yet to try.
So let's take a look at what makes a Mandrake Linux 9.1 PC tick
and whether there are any issues with currently available hardware.
|Choices and recommendations|
|I am a Mac/PC agnostic. I have used
Macs since the very first Mac 128K (anybody remember the WriteNow word
processor?), and more recently I reviewed Mandrake PPC 9.1 Beta (the
final release should be coming out Real Soon Now) on an iMac 350MHz
with surprisingly good results. Whatever my feelings, the reality is
that Macs now occupy a niche market representing perhaps 2-3% of the
total microcomputer market and this share is shrinking. I had high
hopes that Digital/Compaq/HP would turn the Alpha into a mass-market
product but that never happened and seems unlikely now. It seems we are
stuck with x86 CPUs for some more time! Right now I feel engineers have
done a good job performance-wise, so that the choice of CPU
architecture and the old debates about RISC vs. CISC are becoming
Picture 2: The iMac
Presently I would say that any 800MHz or faster x86 CPU is adequate for
a Mandrake Linux 9.1 personal workstation. So, even an inexpensive AMD
Athlon XP 1700 (which runs @ 1.47GHz, by the way) or Intel Celeron
1.7GHz is overkill. I have not tested the latest VIA CPUs but I have
some reason to believe that their latest C3 Nehemiah running @ 1GHz
would also provide satisfactory performance, although it is no match
for the other two CPUs for heavy processing. Historical detail: Linus
Torvalds developed the first kernel on a 386DX 33MHz machine circa
1991. CPUs and Linux have come a long way since...
Screenshot 15: KDE control module displaying CPU information
The mainboard is the next component that determines the performance and
reliability of a computer, but here too enormous progress has been done
in terms of integrating features and quality and lowering costs. Most
OEMs or do-it-yourself mainboards are fully compatible with the latest
Linux kernel included with Mandrake Linux 9.1.
Another common issue is that of RAM; given the low prices of RAM these
days I would recommend any Linux Mandrake 9.1 user to add or upgrade to
a 256MB stick of RAM in his machine and stop worrying.
Screenshot 16: KDE control module displaying memory information
Then there is the issue of video card choice. Unfortunately the XFree86
project tends to lag behind significantly in terms of support for the
latest video chipsets and 3D features. My recommendation is to use a
video card one or two generations older than the state-of-the-art.
These are inexpensive and usually will still provide plenty of service
under Linux. Practically all the AGP cards commonly available on the
market are supported by XFree86 4.3. NVidia cards have the additional
advantage of being supported by nVidia drivers, developed independently
of the XFree86 group. Also, ATI is offering its own Linux drivers for
the Radeon 8500 and above cards. Integrated video is usually not a good
choice, due to poor performance and precarious driver support (with the
exception of the latest nVidia chipsets with integrated GeForce 4 MX
Similarly, when it comes to notebooks the latest Linux kernel seems to
have incorporated most of the advances in chipsets and power
management, and due to thermal dissipation requirements notebooks tend
to use slightly simpler video hardware, which is usually well-supported
under XFree86. Regarding disk space, as mentioned above I would consider 10GB adequate
for Mandrake Linux 9.1, with some room left for future expansion.
Performance is not issue with most modern IDE hard disks.
An accessory that has become indispensable is the CD-RW drive, which
nowadays costs little more than its read-only CD-ROM counterparts. Some
models are coupled with a DVD drive and more recently with DVD-R and
DVD-RW capabilities, but these are not mainstream yet.
The rest of the system is non-critical but I would note the following:
Below is a table describing hardware that I would consider adequate for
Mandrake Linux 9.1 desktop use. By no means is this a selection of the
"best" possible hardware for GNU/Linux, but rather some
recommendations on inexpensive hardware that is currently available and
easy to purchase.
- A wheel mouse is a good choice for general Linux desktop use, and
wheel mice are cheap.
- Some sound cards are difficult to configure or not fully supported,
but even an inexpensive CMI 8738 PCI sound card provides good sound
support under Linux. Mandrake Linux 9.1 uses the ALSA drivers and as
far as I could test these drivers support the vast majority of sound
cards and chips on the market. And the best part is that DrakX is able
to identify the sound chips and configure modules and sound settings
- A good monitor is a must for extended usage periods. And a
resolution of 1024x768, the standard for the last few years, falls
slightly short of the ideal resolution for Linux Mandrake 9.1 desktop
use. The next step is 1280x1024, available with most 17" monitors
and LCD screens. Notebooks are now available with resolutions of
1400x1050 and above, a big plus for Linux users.
off the shelf
||> 800MHz x86
||Athlon XP 1700+ or Celeron 1.8GHz
||Any with the following chipsets:
- SiS 745 - SiS 648
- SiS 746 - SiS 65x
- KT266A - i845 (all)
- nVidia nForce2
|> 256 MB
||2 x 128MB or 1 x 256MB
||Any TnT2 or Radeon card
||Any of the following types:
- Radeon 7000 - nVidia (all)
- Radeon 7500
- Radeon 8500
- Radeon 9000
|> 10GB free space
||Any > 20GB, Maxtor, Hitachi,
||> 12x CD-RW or
||48x CD-RWs are commonplace
||1280x1024 or better @ 75Hz
|17" monitor or LCD
||Any Fast Ethernet (100BaseTx)
|Wheel mouse, PCI sound card, etc
Table 2: An adequate configuration for Mandrake Linux 9.1 is easily put together
The above components put together, either in a homemade computer or in
a commercial product, would constitute a reasonably fast and very
usable Mandrake Linux 9.1 Workstation. The only thing missing would be
a "Linux Certified" (or "Mandrake Linux 9.1 Inside")
label to glue on the front of the case! Similarly, a good many modern
notebooks are perfectly usable with Mandrake Linux 9.1.
|It's perhaps in the lack of
drivers for peripherals that GNU/Linux is somewhat lacking, because
there is simply no way that Linux developers can track in real time the
release of new products in the market. There are just too many
one-of-a-kind peripherals and unfortunately hardware vendors are still
concentrating all their efforts on the dominant commercial OS. This is
slowly changing, though. Note that there is only so much that
MandrakeSoft can do in this case; a distribution vendor only integrates
drivers from the many Linux developers around the world, but cannot be
expected to develop them for every single piece of hardware available.
My advice here would be to take it case by case. Here are some
more common peripherals and the kind of support that can be expected in
this new Mandrake Linux 9.1 release:
||Open GTKam; check the Camera
/Add camera menu option
||Depends on SANE (Scanner Access Now Easy)
||Most common peripherals
supported; check Linux USB
||Support is OK for B/W, but color
is a notch below commercial drivers
||Known brands well supported
|Few applications, lack of drivers
||Some work, some don't; low
|DrakX recognizes and configures
many TV cards
Table 3: Peripheral support under Mandrake Linux 9.1
One last note is that for GNU/Linux users, it is safer to buy a
mainstream peripheral than a state-of-the-art one. Mainstream hardware
is usually better tested and most kinks have been worked out... and one
can check beforehand if a Linux driver is available for it!
|Mandrake Linux 9.1: not just a few CDs|
|One of the things that makes Mandrake
Linux 9.1 a great distribution is not just the fact that you can find
so much quality Free software crammed in three CDs: it's also the
information, support and community that has formed around it, as well
as the additional services provided by MandrakeSoft over the Web.
This may sound like advertising**, but I believe the best way to have
access to the various MandrakeSoft services and a good channel for
communication is to become a MandrakeClub member.
MandrakeClub is a membership-based service from MandrakeSoft that is
entirely available over the Internet. Not only do they provide a good
level of support, but MandrakeClub members have access to even more
pre-compiled packages for Mandrake Linux 9.1 - for free! Let's
call it the topping on the cake.
|Is Mandrake Linux 9.1 usable, even
for first time Linux beginners? Most certainly! I could not find any
serious flaw or obstacle either in the installation program, the
default desktop configuration, the level of hardware support, or in the
various applications included in the GNOME or KDE menus. On the
contrary, the Galaxy theme presents an aesthetically pleasing desktop,
and the variety and usability of the included applications is
impressive, without being overwhelming. And all this works quite well
on "average" hardware, without requiring any special
Screenshot 17: The Mandrake Galaxy tips and links helps beginners get started
There is a growing feeling among I.T. professionals and particularly
among Linux people that Linux is finally coming of age. I certainly
feel that way when it comes to Mandrake Linux 9.1. This is the first of
a wave of GNU/Linux distributions that have the potential to gain a
considerable market and mind share among new users with no previous
experience in Linux. And for those that have already been using Linux
for some time, it probably means that the disk partition(s) holding
other commercial operating systems can be erased and put to good use,
I recently browsed through a rather nice website for Linux beginners: www.tinyminds.org. They have good
practical tips for Linux users in their Cheat Sheets section. Certainly
worth a check.
* But the forthcoming launch of a 64-bit architecture on top of x86, as
AMD has recently demonstrated (the processor will initially be called
Opteron), could lead to exciting developments in the GNU/Linux world.
MandrakeSoft is ready, having announced the immediate availability of Mandrake
Linux 9.0 for x86/64. I suppose that before the Opteron launch in
April, MandrakeSoft will have ported its Mandrake Linux 9.1 release to
this new architecture.
** I am not an employee of MandrakeSoft
or of DistroWatch and my
reviews are written completely independently, on my own not-so-free
*** This article also concludes my series on Mandrake Linux 9.1; my
next distribution review is in the works, so stay tuned @ DistroWatch!
|Copyright (C) 2003 Andrew D. Balsa|
Verbatim copying and distribution of this article is permitted in any medium, provided this copyright notice is preserved.
|Please visit this forum on PCLinuxOnline if you wish to discuss the review.||
|30 March 2003|
|Andrew D. Balsa|
|About the Author|
|Andrew D. Balsa is a Linux software developer and I.T. consultant based in Hong Kong. He is also the author of the Linux Benchmarking HOWTO.|
|Test Configuration (Desktop)|
|Celeron 800 MHz|
|Abit BE-6 BX mainboard|
|nVidia TNT64 Video card with 16MB SDRAM|
|256MB PC-100 SDRAM|
|IBM 10GB DTTA-371010 (5GB used by NTFS filesystem)|
|5x DVD-ROM drive Panasonic SR-8583A|
|KDS 21" CRT monitor 1280 x 1024 @ 75Hz|
|Generic CMedia 8738 PCI|
|33.6K ISA Fax Modem (hardware), BT848 PCI TV Card, Acer Prisa 310U USB scanner, generic USB graphics tablet, Microsoft PS/2 IntelliMouse Web|
|25 February 2003|
• i586 processor|
• 64MB RAM recommended, 32MB RAM for text install
• 800MB recommended, minimum 500MB hard disk space
• CD-ROM or floppy drive
|Pentium and compatible processors, AMD processorss|
• Mandrake Control Center|
• NTFS partition resizer
• 100% Free Software
• Apache 2.0.44|
• GCC 3.2.2
• Gimp 1.2.3
• glibc 2.3.1
• GNOME 2.2
• GTK+ 2.2.2
• KDE 3.1
• Mozilla 1.3
• Perl 5.8.0
• Python 2.2.2
• Samba 2.2.7a
• XFree86 4.3.0
• Xmms 1.2.7
• Standard Edition (US$39.00)|
• PowerPack Edition (US$69.00)
• ProSuite Edition (US$199.00)
Available from Mandrake Store
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