New Dell XPS 420: Linux Dream Machine?

One week before Christmas my beloved Thinkpad T42 started having motherboard problems. After a little looking around I found that the problem was common. I don’t know what the deal is exactly, but pressing on the keyboard or touchpad too hard causes the display to flicker and the system to freeze. As a bonus it will also freeze at completely random moments. No more reconditioned laptops for this kid.

So I just finished ordering my first Dell desktop. I have been looking around at the Circuit City, Gateway, NewEgg and System 76 sites. They all have great Core 2 Duo-based systems at good prices. I applaud what System 76 is doing selling Ubuntu pre-installed systems only. Unfortunately it looks like they can’t compete with the buying power of the much larger discount computer manufacturers. I can’t deny my financial situation. The price difference is just too great. I even looked at building my own machine with pieces from NewEgg, but after talking to a friend I swallowed my former-Apple-promoting pride and gave Dell a try.

First I looked at the Ubuntu Pre-installed systems that Dell offers. Much to my disappointment the offering is very limited and not high-powered. To me, I would think that Linux users are generally advanced computer users that buy fairly high-end systems. I’m sure they did a lot of market research to determine what systems to offer, but this looks like a misstep to me. Perhaps their target isn’t people that know how to install Linux on any machine. Perhaps their target audience are people looking for an inexpensive alternative to Windows. However, if that indeed is the goal why aren’t they selling the Linux systems along side the Windows systems?

I decided to just shop at the regular Dell store and install Ubuntu myself. From what I’ve read, there are Linux drivers for most of the hardware provided, albeit ‘restricted’ drivers provided by the manufacturer. I don’t have a problem with installing these drivers. I’m grateful that the manufacturers even bother to provide them. Also, the companies will respond to increased demand for their product. They won’t necessarily respond to an extremely small group of people bitching about their drivers being open source. That’s how I look at it.

I settled on the XPS 420 because of its price range and power. Here are my new machine’s specs:

  • Intel® Core 2 Q6600 Quad-Core (8MB L2 cache, 2.4GHz, 1066FSB)
  • 128MB ATI Radeon HD 2400 PRO
  • 3GB Dual Channel DDR2 SDRAM at 667MHz – 4 DIMMs
  • 320GB – 7200RPM, SATA 3.0Gb/s, 16MB Cache
  • CD/DVD Burning Optical Drive
  • External speakers with sub-woofer
  • FINAL PRICE: $974 (after $100 savings, before tax/shipping)

The video card is supposed to be capable of outputting to two displays. However, I am prepared to buy a second video card later if that doesn’t work under Linux. I know that my Apple G5’s video card doesn’t successfully accomplish dual-display under Linux even though it works fine under OSX. Maybe xrandr is more capable with this particular video card. I am very impressed with the potential of xrandr, especially after my S-Video Out setup from a few weeks ago.

I’m expecting this machine to be everything I could ask for in my own personal design/development system. It should be delivered before the end of the week, but with the New Years holiday it might be next week before I can get back to working in Linux. I will report on the outcome asap.

Homework assignment:
If anyone can explain exactly how many ‘cores’ are in the above listed processor, I’d love to know. Due to the 4-DIMM ram setup I am guessing the magic number is four. However, the title ‘Core 2 Quad Core’ is confusing. If a Core Duo has two cores, a Core 2 Duo has four cores, then a Core 2 Quad Core should have eight cores, right?

HTML Character Reference Chart Update

I have just finished updating my HTML Character Reference Chart. Along with updating invalid numerical references 129 through 159 to the valid decimal numbers there are a few new features:

  • different character sets in separate views
  • complete decimal and hexadecimal references
  • entity references for some characters.
  • New Complete Table Section displays all references
  • New Favorites Section displays only your favorites


This new version is built with XML and XSLT, making the process of updating information or creating new layouts very simple. I am learning the basics of both right now and it’s amazing how powerful and elegant these simple text files can be.

The Favorites section works with comma-separated URL values. You will have to edit your URL “manually” by adding the decimal, hexadecimal or alphabetical values to the end of the page’s URL. There is an example favorites set to help you get started.

BohemianAlps HTML Character Codes »

Watching Internet TV on My TV

Recently, due to our move and lack of willing to pay for a DVR with our cable subscription, my wife has introduced me to how the big networks are offering all their shows online. It’s great. Really.

Unfortunately, this means my wife has been sitting in our bedroom watching her favorite shows on a 19″ computer monitor hooked up to our Apple G5.

Solution: I found an RF modulator at Wal-Mart for $20 (RCA I think) that lets me hook my laptop’s S-Video output up to our old 30″ CRT. I wouldn’t write any letters on it or do lengthy reading, but video and images look pretty good. Using Linux certainly threw a few curve balls into an otherwise simple setup.

So, how can I too enjoy Internet TV on my old CRT Television?

Well, you are in luck, ‘cuz I did all the hunting around for you. At least if you are running Ubuntu Linux 7.10 on a Thinkpad T42.

Here’s how to use the xrandr tools to start your S-Video out: Finally I Got S-Video Working My Thinkpad T42
XStrikeForce: HowToRandR

I took Mr Bernardes’ terminal commands and created custom application shortcuts for each separate step that I use frequently:

  1. Activate S-Video
    xrandr --output S-video --set load_detection 1
  2. Start S-Video OUT
    xrandr --output S-video --auto
  3. Turn LCD OFF
    xrandr --output LVDS --off
  4. Turn LCD ON
    xrandr --output LVDS --auto

Then simply go to, or whatever. Hell, YouTube even.

Another good thing that helps position your video window on the TV for optimal viewing is the ZOOM capabilities of Compiz-Fusion. So look into that. You can get it set just right without too much visual noise around the video.

Wait a second, all my favorite shows are on ABC…

If you haven’t figured it out yet, ABC has a custom video player that is not available for Linux. That’s a deal breaker right there. Especially since that’s my wife’s favorite channel currently.

Luckily, the good folks over at WINE are doing a smash-up job. The trick is to install the Windows version of Firefox over WINE and then watch ABC from Firefox/Windows. Check out the following info for details:


It’s a pretty clever solution. Not too many details there.

What about audio?

The RF Modulator that I bought has inputs for component audio that will then pass to your TV via COAX. I actually have a receiver stereo, so I push the audio through that from my laptop for the full experience.

That was simple!

I don’t guarantee this will work, but I wish you luck if you choose this challenge.

IEs4Linux Also for OSX on Intel

I have been using the IEs4Linux system for a while now to assist in developing websites. It allows you to install various versions of Internet Explorer in Linux. It’s great for testing websites against the many bugs in IE as you develop them.

Recently they have developed a version for OSX on Intel machines.

You have to install Darwine and X11 on OSX to use it, but after that it seems pretty easy. I am not so fortunate as to own an Intel-based Mac, so I can’t test it for you.

Wine info

Darwine info

Wine on OSX info