Diskless frontend on a Dell Inspiron 8200

October 3, 2009

One reason that I chose MythTV early on was for its ability to interface with other “satellite” frontend machines that I could place around the house in various locations where I have already installed hardwired Ethernet jacks.  Unless I wish to stream demanding high definition content, the frontend machines do not need to be equipped with expensive or modern hardware.

Here’s a case in point example.  I’ve had an old Dell Inspiron 8200 kicking around for a while that has a bad IDE controller.  It refuses to boot from the hard disk or the optical drive.  By most consequences, this machine is pretty much useless as is.  Enter PXE booting.  A BIOS setting in the 8200 allows for network booting.

I have experimented with linux and network booting in the past and have had joy using Diskless Remote Boot in Linux (DRBL) to network boot a DSL iso file from my Linux server to other computers around the house.  NFSRoot is a popular alternative and requires a dedicated box running a DHCP & TFTP servers and PXELINUX to boot a root filesystem over NFS.  My experience with this method has been frustrating and I never did get it working correctly using Debian.

I thought I would give it another shot and attempt to create a diskless frontend using the Inspiron.  I skipped all the manual configuration and opted to use a script available with the Knoppmyth distro to create a diskless frontend.  Basically the script sets up and configures the DHCP and TFTP servers on the myth backend and does all the hard work.  The Knoppmyth wiki has a good entry on how to get this going:


One thing that must be considered is that your frontend hardware will most likely be different from the backend hardware where the script was executed.  In my situation, from the backend, I had to reconfigure /nfsroot/dell8200/etc/X11/xorg.conf to get it play nicely with the Inspiron.  After a lot of googling and trial and error, I came up with a working xorg.conf that was compatible with the Inspiron’s 1600×1200 display.  Once changed, I had a diskless frontend working on the Inspiron with recorded programs available and live TV from the Motorola 6200 cable box.

Below is my xorg.conf for the Dell Inspiron 8200.  Note that I haven’t been successful getting an updated Nvidia driver installed for the older Nvidia graphics in the 8200.  One other issue involves navigating menus on the frontend.  When cycling through the menu using the arrow keys on the keyboard, it seems that two button clicks are being registered causing the menu to skip ahead one extra level – an annoying issue.  More time needed but it’s a good start…

# File generated by xorgconfig.


# Copyright 2004 The X.Org Foundation


# Permission is hereby granted, free of charge, to any person obtaining a

# copy of this software and associated documentation files (the “Software”),

# to deal in the Software without restriction, including without limitation

# the rights to use, copy, modify, merge, publish, distribute, sublicense,

# and/or sell copies of the Software, and to permit persons to whom the

# Software is furnished to do so, subject to the following conditions:


# The above copyright notice and this permission notice shall be included in

# all copies or substantial portions of the Software.










# Except as contained in this notice, the name of The X.Org Foundation shall

# not be used in advertising or otherwise to promote the sale, use or other

# dealings in this Software without prior written authorization from

# The X.Org Foundation.


# **********************************************************************

# Refer to the xorg.conf(5x) man page for details about the format of

# this file.

# **********************************************************************

# **********************************************************************

# Module section — this  section  is used to specify

# which dynamically loadable modules to load.

# **********************************************************************


Section “Module”

# Alps Touchpad

#    Load   “synaptics”

# This loads the DBE extension module.

Load        “dbe”  # Double buffer extension

# This loads the miscellaneous extensions module, and disables

# initialisation of the XFree86-DGA extension within that module.

SubSection  “extmod”

Option    “omit xfree86-dga”   # don’t initialise the DGA extension


# This loads the font modules

#    Load        “type1”

Load        “speedo”

Load        “freetype”

#    Load        “xtt”

# This loads the GLX module

Load       “glx”

# This loads the DRI module

#    Load       “dri”


# **********************************************************************

# Files section.  This allows default font and rgb paths to be set

# **********************************************************************

Section “Files”

# The location of the RGB database.  Note, this is the name of the

# file minus the extension (like “.txt” or “.db”).  There is normally

# no need to change the default.

RgbPath “/usr/X11R6/lib/X11/rgb”

# Multiple FontPath entries are allowed (which are concatenated together),

# as well as specifying multiple comma-separated entries in one FontPath

# command (or a combination of both methods)



FontPath   “/usr/share/fonts/misc/”

FontPath   “/usr/share/fonts/TTF/”

FontPath   “/usr/share/fonts/Type1/”

#    FontPath   “/usr/share/fonts/CID/”

FontPath   “/usr/share/fonts/75dpi/”

FontPath   “/usr/share/fonts/100dpi/”

FontPath   “/usr/share/fonts/local/”

#    FontPath   “/usr/share/fonts/Speedo/”

#    FontPath   “/usr/share/fonts/TrueType/”

#    FontPath   “/usr/share/fonts/freefont/”

# The module search path.  The default path is shown here.

#    ModulePath “/usr/X11R6/lib/modules”


# **********************************************************************

# Input devices

# **********************************************************************

# **********************************************************************

# Core keyboard’s InputDevice section

# **********************************************************************

Section “InputDevice”

Identifier    “Keyboard1”

Driver  “kbd”

Option “AutoRepeat” “500 30”

Option “XkbRules”   “xorg”

Option “XkbModel”   “pc101”

Option “XkbLayout”  “us”


# **********************************************************************

# Core Pointer’s InputDevice section

# **********************************************************************

Section “InputDevice”

Driver            “mouse”

Identifier  “USB-Mouse”

Option            “Device”    “/dev/input/mice”

Option            “Emulate3Buttons” “true”

Option            “ZAxisMapping”    “4 5”


#Section “InputDevice”

#  Driver  “synaptics”

#  Identifier     “Alps”

#  Option   “Device”          “/dev/psaux”

#  Option   “Protocol”        “auto-dev”

#  Option   “LeftEdge”        “120”

#  Option   “RightEdge”       “830”

#  Option   “TopEdge”         “120”

#  Option   “BottomEdge”            “650”

#  Option   “FingerLow”       “14”

#  Option   “FingerHigh”            “15”

#  Option   “MaxTapTime”            “180”

#  Option   “MaxTapMove”            “110”

#  Option   “EmulateMidButtonTime”  “75”

#  Option   “VertScrollDelta” “20”

#  Option   “HorizScrollDelta”      “20”

#  Option   “MinSpeed”        “0.4”

#  Option   “MaxSpeed”        “0.8”

#  Option   “AccelFactor”           “0.02”

#  Option   “EdgeMotionMinSpeed”    “15”

#  Option   “EdgeMotionMaxSpeed”    “15”

#  Option   “UpDownScrolling” “1”

#  Option   “CircularScrolling”     “1”

#  Option   “CircScrollDelta” “0.1”

#  Option   “CircScrollTrigger”     “2”


#######################This is old touchpad

#Section “InputDevice”

#    Identifier   “Mouse1”

#    Driver “mouse”

#    Option “Protocol”    “GlidePointPS/2”

#    Option “Device”      “/dev/input/mouse0”

#    Option “Emulate3Buttons”


# **********************************************************************

# Monitor section

# **********************************************************************

# Any number of monitor sections may be present

Section “Monitor”

Identifier  “Monitor0”

# HorizSync is in kHz unless units are specified.

# HorizSync may be a comma separated list of discrete values, or a

# comma separated list of ranges of values.



HorizSync   31.5 – 90.0

#    HorizSync    30-64         # multisync

#    HorizSync    31.5, 35.2    # multiple fixed sync frequencies

#    HorizSync    15-25, 30-50  # multiple ranges of sync frequencies

# VertRefresh is in Hz unless units are specified.

# VertRefresh may be a comma separated list of discrete values, or a

# comma separated list of ranges of values.



VertRefresh 59.0 – 85.0


# **********************************************************************

# Graphics device section

# **********************************************************************

# Device configured by xorgconfig:

Section “Device”

Identifier  “Card0”

Driver      “nv”

# unsupported card

#VideoRam    65536

# Insert Clocks lines here if appropriate


# **********************************************************************

# Screen sections

# **********************************************************************

# Any number of screen sections may be present.  Each describes

# the configuration of a single screen.  A single specific screen section

# may be specified from the X server command line with the “-screen”

# option.

Section “Screen”

Identifier  “Screen 1”

Device      “Card0”

Monitor     “Monitor0”

DefaultDepth 24

Subsection “Display”

Depth       8

Modes       “1600×1200” “1280×1024” “1024×768” “800×600”


ViewPort    0 0


Subsection “Display”

Depth       16

Modes       “1600×1200” “1280×1024” “1024×768” “800×600” “640×480”

ViewPort    0 0


Subsection “Display”

Depth       24

Modes       “1280×1024” “1024×768” “800×600” “640×480”

ViewPort    0 0



# **********************************************************************

# ServerLayout sections.

# **********************************************************************

# Any number of ServerLayout sections may be present.  Each describes

# the way multiple screens are organised.  A specific ServerLayout

# section may be specified from the X server command line with the

# “-layout” option.  In the absence of this, the first section is used.

# When now ServerLayout section is present, the first Screen section

# is used alone.

Section “ServerLayout”

# The Identifier line must be present

Identifier  “Simple Layout”

# Each Screen line specifies a Screen section name, and optionally

# the relative position of other screens.  The four names after

# primary screen name are the screens to the top, bottom, left and right

# of the primary screen.  In this example, screen 2 is located to the

# right of screen 1.

Screen “Screen 1”

# Each InputDevice line specifies an InputDevice section name and

# optionally some options to specify the way the device is to be

# used.  Those options include “CorePointer”, “CoreKeyboard” and

# “SendCoreEvents”.

#InputDevice “Mouse1” “CorePointer”

#InputDevice “Alps” “CorePointer”

InputDevice “USB-Mouse” “AlwaysCore”

InputDevice “Keyboard1” “CoreKeyboard”


# Section “DRI”

#    Mode 0666

# EndSection


Getting 1080p HD output

October 22, 2008

Prior to this build, getting 1080p output from my old Nvidia FX5200 card was a long process, but I eventually got it working fine.  I was prepared for the same experience this time around with the GeForce7050PV on the Abit board.  The process went much smoother, and I’m not sure why, but I’m not complaining either!  Here’s an excerpt taken from the relevant portions of my xorg.conf that I’m using to achieve 1080p video via HDMI with Nvidia’s driver (version 173.14.09) to a Sony KDS-55A2000:

Section “Monitor”
        Identifier      “Monitor0”
        Option  “DPMS”  “true”
        Option “UseEdidDpi” “FALSE”
        Option “DPI” “100 x 100”
        VendorName “SONY”
        ModelName “KDS-55A2000”
        HorizSync    30 – 110
        VertRefresh  60.0
        ModeLine “1920×1080” 148.5 1920 2008 2056 2200 1080 1084 1089 1125 +HSync +VSync

Section “Device”

        Driver      “nvidia”
        Option “XvmcUsesTextures” “false”
        Option “UseEvents” “true”
        VendorName  “All”
        BoardName   “All”
Section “Screen”
        Identifier “Screen0”
        Device     “Card0”
        Monitor    “Monitor0”
        DefaultColorDepth 24
        SubSection “Display”
                Depth     1
                Modes “1920×1080”
        SubSection “Display”
                Depth     4
                Modes “1920×1080”
        SubSection “Display”
                Depth     8
                Modes “1920×1080”
        SubSection “Display”
                Depth     15
                Modes “1920×1080”
        SubSection “Display”
                Depth     16
                Modes “1920×1080”
        SubSection “Display”
                Depth     24
                Modes “1920×1080”
        SubSection “Display”
                Depth     32
                Modes “1920×1080”

There was some overscan which was easily corrected using Myth’s appearance wizard setting.

1080p goodness on the big Sony:

Sony confirming 1080p input

Miro player scaled to full screen running within MythTV. HD video from Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory

HD content looks stunning!

Moneual / Ahanix / D-Vine 300 Series Cases

October 12, 2008

As mentioned in my last post, I’m favoring the Moneual 301 low profile case and just bought one.  Here is some more information that might benefit others interested in this case.

A company called Moneual has an attractive low profile case called the Moncaso 301, available in both black and platinum.

Moneual 301 B HTPC Case

Moneual 301 B HTPC Case

Moneual 301 B HTPC Case

Another view of the Moneual 301 B HTPC Case

This case is currently selling for around $250 USD (Newegg & elsewhere) – costly but much cheaper than the OrigenAE case I’ve been looking at.  Locating any reviews or build logs concerning the Moneual case has proved impossible for me to find, unfortunately.  During the course of endless google searching, I came across the Ahanix D-Vine MCE-302.  The Ahanix is nearly identical in appearance and interior layout but has also been discontinued for some time now.  The Ahanix requires a PSU with a fan mounted at the rear as there are no ventilation holes in the bottom of this case to accommodate PSUs with larger 120mm top (or bottom) mounted fans.  The Ahanix also utilizes a VFD which requires a kludgy exterior cable connection to the parallel port (yes, a parallel port!) on your motherboard.  The VFD on the new Moneual is USB driven and is connected internally to the USB header on your motherboard – no ugly jumper cable sticking out from the back of the case.  The card reader in the Ahanix case also differs in that it doesn’t contain USB/Firewire/Audio connections behind the hidden door on the front panel as the Moneual case does – another nice subtle change that Moneual has done.

Ahanix D-Vine MCE-302, circa 2005

Yet another version of this case exists – the D-Vine (Ahanix) MCE-303 – and it’s apparently only available (or was available) from a seller on eBay name “colorcase”.  This said, it’s not as widely available as the Moneual case is, but it’s nearly half the cost (when available on eBay).  I’ve seen prices range from $60-$130 USD for the MCE-303 on eBay – seems like a great deal!  So what’s different about this case?  The front panel is identical to the more expensive Moneual with rounded edges on the VFD window and optical drive slot.  The VFD on the D-Vine is connected to the motherboard via the USB header as on the Moneual.  Like the old Ahanix 302 case, the newer D-Vine MCE-303 also requires a PSU with a rear mounted fan as described above and it shares a similar card reader (if not the same?) as the old 302 which lacks front USB/Firewire/Audio connectivity.
I don’t know how Ahanix and Moneual are related but I find the similarities interesting.  Below are some reference links that I found useful when learning the differences of these HTPC cases.



Quiet PC’s mini review, pictures, etc. on the Moneual 301
Custom PC’s review of the Moneual 301
Commercial vendor’s page with description of components used in this case- may be useful.
Nice user review and build log of the Ahanix MCE-303 case
Lots of good pictures and additional info on the Ahanix MCE-303
Linux Drivers for Soundgraph iMON USB IR/VFD devices

HTPC Cases: the good, bad & ugly

September 5, 2008

I guess I’m too picky.  After spending countless online hours trying to locate an attractive case I have found only a few that satisfy my taste.  Don’t get me wrong, there are hundreds of HTPC cases to choose from, ranging from the cheap and downright ugly to those that incorporate nifty touch screens and a lot of other features that I really don’t need.  My requirements are a smallish low profile case with a nice clean look with good build quality.  Here are some cases that caught my eye:


Omaura TF8

Omaura TF8

The Omaura TF8 has a nice clean simply look but further research shows quality problems with this case and distribution problems.  Dell was selling Omaura cases for a short time but apparently they no longer handle them, presumably because of all the problems users have reported.  I couldn’t find the case available from any other US distributors, but I think I’ll pass anyway based on what I’ve read so far.  Too bad…



Here’s an interesting case made by A-Tech Fabrication.  It’s a passively cooled Mini ITX case made from CNC machined aluminum and features a proprietary CPU/GPU cooling solution which directs heat to the finned case.  I love the clean minimalistic look and high build quality, but high quality comes with a high price tag.  Nice case, but expensive…



OrigenAE S10V

I keep gravitating towards the OrigenAE S10V slimline case.  I think it’s the best looking Micro ATX case in this group and is highly regarded among enthusiasts for it’s exceptional build quality.  While I don’t need a VFD, the display on this case is larger than normal and should actually be readable from a distance.  I also understand that the display is compatible with Linux.  Things that concern me are cooling and the high price – around $390.00 US




MCubed HFX-519

MCubed HFX-519

The MCubed HFX-519 is another passively cooled case with a similar minimalistic look as the A-Tech Fab case.  Though cheaper than the A-Tech case, it’s still expensive at around $340.00 US and I was unable to locate a US distributor for the case.  More info here.



Thermaltake VC7001SNS

Thermaltake VC7001SNS

Here’s another interesting slimline case that caught my eye made by Thermaltake.  The Mozart Sx VC7001SNS features an attractive front with VFD display and numerous control buttons.  The VC7000SNS is also available and excludes the buttons, which I probably wouldn’t use anyway.  See Thermaltake’s site for more details on these cases.  Newegg is currently selling the case for about $200.00 US, unfortunately reviews concerning this case are not encouraging.  Users are reporting problems getting the 2nd generation VFDs to work under Linux and there are some problems using PCI tuner cards in this case.  While I don’t plan on using a tuner card, I like to leave my options open.  I’ll probably stay away from this case, but I do like the look and the price isn’t bad compared to some of the others here.




Lian Li PC-C37B

Lian Li PC-C37B

I recently came across photos of this case by Lian Li.  I am not familiar with Lian Li but the case gets fairly decent reviews at newegg.  This case currently retails for around $155 and looks decent, but I’m not getting the warm fuzzies over it.  I haven’t had a chance to pull up any reviews on the case yet.  Perhaps I could be persuaded by some glorifying reviews.



Silverston LC19B

Silverstone LC19B

The Silverstone LC19B is yet another slimline Micro ATX case that looks stylish and simplistic.  It retails for around $200.00 US.  I haven’t had a chance to research this case but intend on finding out more about it.  It might be a strong contender.


August 30, 2008

This blog has been created as a means to document the steps involved in my creation of a home theater PC based around Linux and MythTV.  This blog will be updated in conjunction with working out details of the system from the ground up.  The build is in the early planning stages at this point but must be capable of driving the Sony KDS-55A2000 in our family room.  The Sony is a 55″ LCOS HDTV capable of 1080p resolution over the HDMI connection.  The HDTV is connected via DVI to a Motorola DCT-6200 cable box with two firewire ports on the back of the box which I will discuss later.

Sony KDS-55A2000 HDTV

My computer background is both Windows and Linux and I believe that both have their place.  I use Windows at work for CAD design and use both Windows and Linux at home.  I’m choosing Linux for this build for a couple of reasons.  First, I know just enough to be dangerous and I’m currently using Debian on a headless server at home and the command line is familiar territory.  Aside from the Debian server, there are two other Linux boxes in our home including the smallest – a Nokia 770 tablet.  Secondly, aside from the time put into it, Linux is free!

As with most Linux projects, there will be speed bumps along the way and challenges to overcome.  With this in mind, hopefully someone else can benefit from my adventures and misadventures with Linux and MythTV.

Stay tuned!