Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Karmic upgrade really messed up my EeePC 901

For the last 15 months I've been running a nice multiboot system (up to 5 Linux OSes and Haiku) on my EeePC 901. Then a few weeks ago, I upgraded Ubuntu Jaunty to Karmic Beta. Everything seemed to go fine and I lost nothing although I was somewhat disappointed that the expected boost in boot speed never happened for me.
Then a couple of days ago, I was trying to install Pardus (in place where I had Arch Linux which, regrettably, I never really used) when I noticed I had completely run out of space on the Ubuntu root partition. So, with 30MB in /var/log I decided to delete this folder. After all, it's just logs that I'm never going to read, right? Well, not quite.
The next time I tried to boot to Ubuntu, I got a message saying there was some install error and I needed to contact my administrator. However, as I'm the administrator, that didn't help.
Nothing for it then but to re-install Karmic but leaving /home unformatted.
The install went as expected but when I booted the machine, I was surprised by the huge delay with just "GRUB loading" on the screen for at least one full minute.
The boot menu itself when it finally showed up also reacted uncharacteristically slowly.
The problem seems to be that Grub's been updated from 0.97 to 1.97. Well, what the hell for? I can see no benefits whatsoever and quite a few setbacks. There's an expression that might be usefully pondered here "If it ain't broke, don't fix it".
But that wasn't the worst. Grub2 now longer uses the tried and trusted /boot/grub/menu.lst that I have found invaluable for multibooting. Now there's /boot/grub/grub.cfg which has a very different and seemingly much more complex format.
But for what? The boot menu that appears on boot looks exactly like what would be produced by menu.lst so what benefits arise from this change?
The "Do no edit this file" on /boot/grub/grub.cfg didn't lead me to believe that fiddling around with this was encouraged but that's exactly what I need to do as I explore different OSes.
Perhaps some day I'll regret having posted this gloomy report if I ever discover what good can arise from this change. But for the moment, I want to steer clear of it.
Now, something else happened after this "clean" install of Karmic that may or may not be related to the install.
Although wireless worked perfectly when I upgraded from Jaunty, and also initially worked fine in the cleanly installed Karmic, after about one day of operation, I suddenly had no wifi. No, it wasn't the router and surprisingly, when I booted to OpenSUSE, it too had no wireless. Also running "lspci" showed no wireless card.
So, looked like my RaLink 2860 had bitten the dust. Oh boy.
Anyway, I decided to go back to Jaunty as Grub2 was really annoying me. I did this again as a clean install (Unetbootin and separately downloaded Ubuntu-9.04-i386Desktop.iso) but without formatting /home.
This worked fine and Grub1 really was streets ahead of Grub2 and the old boot speed happily returned. But amazingly, so did my wifi without me having done anything special. Now "lspci" shows the RaLink 2860 and iwconfig shows ra0 interface and wifi works without problem.
It's unclear to me now whether the problem was that the wireless card is on the blink and has now just temporarily been given a stay of execution or whether the rt2860sta driver in Karmic is deficient. Unfortunately, the fact that I had no wifi in OpenSUSE either suggests that the former conclusion is more likely to be correct. But let's see.

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