SL54 Live – The Overnight Test Results

This is part three in my series on running Scientific Linux on my Acer Aspire One and testing ath5k wifi for timeouts, which plagued my use of Linux on my AA1 to the point that I ultimately chose to only use Windows XP on it. Part one is here. Part two is here.

Just a few quick notes from where I left off, which was that I probably wouldn’t do yet another update. I booted from USB again with a SD card inserted and can now verify the left side card reader works. I didn’t bother testing the one on the right side, but the left one works in standard Linux form: if a card is detected at boot, it works; if it’s not inserted at boot, it isn’t detected and doesn’t work.

Moreover, after reinserting the card after unmounting it, it again auto-mounted (grrrr) and was correctly identified as coming from a camera and I was prompted to see if I wanted to import the photos. I chose no and if (more like when) I install I’ll make sure to change the setting (in Gnome: System – Preferences – Removable Drives and Media; then click off the relevant boxes in the dialog) so it doesn’t auto-mount stuff like that.

So, how did well did wifi perform in a little overnight test? Very well!

It’s been up about 14 hours as I begin to write this without any crazy wifi issues I endured previously. In the above shot, the line count of dmesg rose nine lines overnight; those messages relate to authenticate and reassociate with my router. I also kept count of lines in /var/log/messages relating to noise floor calibration timeouts. There was only one overnight and it didn’t miss a beat.

That’s not to say there weren’t any scares overnight. I noticed a few times that the audio streams I was playing had stopped. Each time I looked, though, I noticed there was no loss of my wifi signal to my router — perhaps the problem was with my Internet connection or with particular streams (two of them were coming from the same service). Each time I was able to get back on Firefox, find another stream, and play audio. I admit I was surprised each time. I was expecting it to do what it’s always done.

The benchmark for pass-fail is not very high in this instance. I can’t recall an uptime greater than six to eight hours under any of the previous Linux distros I ran on my AA1, certainly not with any of the later kernels (> 2.6.26?). I don’t know if suspending and resuming helped or hurt that, but I know if I was trying to work and had it on for significant periods of time it would eventually crap out on me and persist through reboots (into both Linux and Windows — which really, really shouldn’t happen).

Again, I don’t know if the problem is specific to the driver, the 80211 stack, or even wpa_supplicant. I get frequent hits on this blog about such timeouts related to ath5k like those I experienced and wrote about here. It’s clear from some of the search terms that other Aspire One owners have had this issue, but I suspect it could be wider-spread and, thus, beyond one of the suggestions that it could be an AA1 design flaw or something. I couldn’t accept that because the problem is specific to Linux — never has happened in Windows, and the only times it’s affected me in Windows is following a reboot after it failed in Linux. I also read the developer lists and noted there were many reports of similar issues. Some blamed “noisy environments” and others seemed to pin it down on changes in wpa_supplicant. I couldn’t narrow it down to my router because it happened at home, at work, at my in-laws’, and seemingly everywhere.

Regardless of what the issue is, I’m quite pleased that Scientific Linux proved much more stable in my little overnight test than other distros have done in much shorter time frames, including trying madwifi instead of ath5k. Nothing worked correctly.

Off and on the phone while writing this, but I’m right now at 15 hours uptime on the AA1 with SL54 running off USB. Wifi is still working without floods to dmesg indicating any trouble at all. It’s performing like it’s supposed to. I also know that most of the hardware seems to work properly and was properly detected and configured, even to the quirks/tweaks for Acer-specific hardware.

I’m also more comfortable with the focus on stability and security rather than on rapid development changes (I’ll have a post about that soon). There are only a few things that I’d want to update myself — cups, emacs, etc. — but most of the rest I can live with. I don’t know how much the lengthy release cycle will mean because I don’t see myself holding onto it until 2014. But who knows.

I actually feel comfortable enough to install it, and I was secretly hoping for a quick fail on this so I’d have no reason to not sell it (or give it away). I probably can’t install right away because I haven’t even looked at how much space I have available (what was left for TinyCore is very small because I’d had so many problems with wifi that I didn’t see ever installing anything else on it) and if I might need to shrink and/or combine Windows partitions. Also as I noted yesterday, SL 5.5 is now in beta and should be released very soon (dittos CentOS, which I haven’t ruled out yet). I haven’t decided if I’ll wait for it to hit -release but the release may happen before I get around to installing unless I find more time in the next week or so.

UPDATE: I left SL54 running on the Aspire One all day since it wasn’t needed. Used it a couple times to surf, and I also streamed audio (doubles as a test to make sure it still has a wifi connection). It just hit the 24-hour uptime mark. Look at that wifi icon — that’s all you have to know. It worked.

The only extra lines related to wlan in dmesg pertained to reassociating with the router. Dittos my tail of /var/log/messages, which showed only one floor calibration message early this morning (noted above, IIRC). I never felt any warmth in the area of the palm rest where the card is located that would indicate it was overheating in some manner.

I figure if it’s good for 24 hours of uptime without any drama, it’s probably going to be good enough for longer. Hopefully I’ll find some time soon to install it, maybe even before SL 5.5 hits -release status.

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