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Installing Ubuntu on the Via Artigo
Posted on: 2008-04-06 08:41:09

The Via Artigo was just too cute to pass up. The videos don't do its size justice. When I unpacked it, it was even smaller than I expected. I was looking for a system to replace my home web server, on which this blog is hosted.

By the time I put it all together, I was so impressed that I began to use it as my full desktop system. It consumes so little power that I can just leave it on all the time without feeling pangs of guilt.

Here are some notes about my experiences.

I paid about $350 at http://www.ncix.com, and I also picked up a 1GB RAM stick for $13. Because my previous server, an old laptop, was physically falling a apart, I Was able to reuse the hard drive from it and that also saved some expense.

What you get

  • 1 GHZ CPU
  • Integrated graphics card
  • Integrated LAN
  • 4 USB ports
  • power adapter
  • headphone and mic jacks
  • VGA monitor jack

In addition, you get some other optional cables that you can connect, but there is no place for them to come out of the case, so you end up with the case being open:

  • DVI monitor cable
  • PS2 Mouse and Keyboard cables
  • SATA Hard Drive cable

Assembly

Following the instructions, I was able to boot up. However, while diagnosing a problem on my monitor (turns out the VGA cable wasn't plugged in on the other end) I had the Pico-ITX perched on its metal case instead of screwed into its holder. Unfortunately this caused a short, smoke, and the stench of component failure. I believe it was the network interface that burned, as I haven't been able to get it to work.

OS Installation

I installed Ubuntu from a USB stick. This step took many hours to get everything right. In the end, I accomplished it with the following trick:

  1. Use Ubuntu Desktop edition. I had a problem installing server, but I don't remember what it was.
  2. Follow the "isotostick.sh" method from https://help.ubuntu.com/community/Installation/FromUSBStick
  3. In the VIA bios, change the boot order to place external cards about the internal HDD. Also place the USB drive first if it appears in the list.

Note about viaarena.com

The linux drivers are only available from this horrible website. Why is Via treating their users this way? There are huge google ads plastered everywhere saying "Update your drivers." Do not click on these. Instead, find the tiny link near the top that says "Drivers". For the via artigo, choose "CX700".

Video

After a fresh install, Ubuntu defaults to using the "vesa" driver. Using this driver makes the VIA processor feel very slow. None of the ubuntu packages (openchrome and unichrome) would work.

After upgrading to the viaarena ubuntu video drivers (CX700), the system came alive and was much more responsive. At this point, I was able to use it as my full desktop system.

I found that the 1920x1200 resolution would not work through the VGA cable with my monitor. Instead, I had to use the DVI cable. However, I had this problem with windows as well, so it seems to be specific to my monitor. Unfortunable this means that I have to run the artigo with the case open, or drill a new opening into the case to run the DVI cable through.

Compiz fusion desktop effects would not work. I tried using both AIGLX and Xgl.

Sound

Sound barely works out of the box with the ubuntu driver. It is just very quiet. It seems to be a normal volume if I turn up every control to the maximum. This is quiet annoying, but not annoying enough to follow the 5 pages of instructions from viaarena to get it working.

Network

I haven't tried the network card because it appears to be dead (note that I did short and burn a component in this area). I have no idea if it is a driver problem or due to the burned component.

I am using a Linksys Wireless USB adapter instead.

Other notes

The tiny fan makes perhaps a little more noise than a laptop, but much less than a full tower system. It is fixed at a single speed and always runs.

The Ubuntu kernel allows power stepping between 1 GHz and 800 MGz. Most of the time, it runs at 800 MHz.

My usual linux optimizations include:

  1. For machines with a large amount of memory (eg. 1GB), turn off swapping. Edit /etc/sysctl.conf' and add the line "vm.swappiness=0"
  2. Ubuntu has been slow to include the the Completely Fair Scheduler patch. However, you can obtain it easily by installing the "linux-rt" package, which happens to include it, plus you don't have to deal with the driver nightmare of ubuntu kernel compilation.

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3_jeeps

2008-10-14 16:14:13
The problem with the server install is that the loader complains that the memstick contains an invalid CDROM image.

I had success using the ubuntu desktop installation.

3_jeeps

2008-10-14 16:23:34
Specifically, the error is: The CD_ROM drive contains a CD which cannot be used for installation.

I built the mem stick install using unetbootin, selecting the ubuntu distribution.

Perhaps the server install isn't a 'live' cd?

Steve Hanov

2008-10-18 16:23:38
Unetbootin is the tool to use these days. It creates bootable USB sticks in one click, even downloading your choice of OS for you.

Nate

2009-07-22 11:27:24
I'm attempting to install Ubuntu on my VIA Artigo A1000 with unetbootin. Wish me luck! I have pretty much zero experience with Linux, but I really feel I need to learn. Hope this project wasn't too much to chew in one bite.

Freddy

2010-01-13 14:49:51
Do you have a link to the 5 page viaarena instructions for the sound?

You are right that the viaarena site isn't good.

Email
steve.hanov@gmail.com

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