Tuesday, 28 February 2017

BRiX BACE-3150, Mint 18.1 XFCE and Screen Tearing

I have written about this problem of horizontal tearing in text in several of the last few posts and it deserves a section on its own where I can mess with ideas.  This is the problem I am talking about.

At Feb 28 2017 this is where I am,

While trying various settings I found 'Synchronise drawing to the vertical blank'.  Now I'm not sure what this means and I will need to do some searching, but there seems to be some improvement.  Below is a screen shot.  It is in Settings, Window Manager Tweaks, and is the third item in the dialog below.

There is still some tearing in text initially, but seems to be disappearing on its own after half a second without my having to move the mouse.

One more setting to play with is under System Settings > Appearance.

There are a few things here like Subpixel Rendering that can improve the display of fonts on LCD displays.

UDDATE a couple of days later.  My Mint 18.1 XFCE is now Mint 18.1 Cinnamon for the moment.

Installing Cinnamon into XFCE and logging into Cinnamon, there is so far none of the text tearing that was plaguing XFCE, so it might just be a window manger problem or something to do with compositing, since as far as I know Cinnamon won;t work with Compiz or Compton.

I'm adding this update logged into Cinnamon and the text is still fine.  However, that doesn't solve all my problems.  I'm back to:

*     No mouswheel scrolling to change workspaces
*     No separate wallpaper for each desktop

So a little hunting around for something else and I found a setting that adds a desktop scroll area to the left and right edges of the screen.  I had just installed Docky so I could use its workspace swithcer applet, but now I can use the green area on the left and right.

That green shaded marker area can be adjusted for width or hidden.  It also works even if a window is under it, which means Docky will be staying in place to reserve space.  That way the scroll bar will still be accessible in a full screen window.

It lives in   System Settings > Extensions

And here's where you set it up.  There will be a warning about it not being compatible with Cinnamon.  I suppose now I will have to copy this into a new post about the Gigabyte BRiX and Mint 18.1 Cinnamon.

Mint 18.1 XFCE Single Click to open desktop icons

One of my last little annoyances about Mint with XFCE has been solved.

I like to use a single click to open files or activate icons.  In most Linux distributions this function is enabled and disabled in the file manager, and because the primary file manager also controls the desktop, changing to single click to open files in the file manager, makes that available on the desktop.

But not in XFCE.  So I was messing around planning to change the default icons that are displayed on the desktop.

I right clicked the desktop, chose the Desktop Settings Option, then Icons -  and there it was staring at me.

[]   Single click to activate items.

So now I have one more little thing sorted out.  Searching the net suggested that double clicking to open a folder or file on the desktop is just something we just have to learn to live with.  but it is not - now I know where to find it.

Monday, 27 February 2017

Gigabyte BRiX BACE-3150 Revisited Micro SD now works

NOTE !!  UPDATED  2017 March 2nd
Micro SD is now also working in Mint 17.3  See special post.

In July 2016 I wrote about the little Gigabyte BRiX  BACE-3150.  At the time it was brand new to me and I was running Linux Mint 17.3 KDE.  Yesterday I wrote about changing the operating system to Mint 18.1 and how I had to give up KDE because the latest version of KDE is loaded with flaws.

Today I would like to go over a few of my likes and dislikes about living with the BRiX because several people have asked me whether such a low powered computer is able to do any 'real' work.

So, first things first.  The BRiX BACE-3150 is really only a higher end intel Atom processor.  A Celeron.  But it happens to have a quad core and 64 bit architecture.  Considering that my 'desktop' computer experience goes back to Z80 processors running cp/m, and I remember just how much work we could do with those, I'm pretty impressed with the BRiX for general purpose computing.

What I am not impressed with is the lack of graphics support in Linux.  But the CPU?  With Mint 18.1 offering an intel microcode driver, the BRiX does most work really well.  I do a lot of work with graphics and a fair bit of video work.  It handles video editing nicely, although it could be faster.  But of course, if you want more power in a small package, there are other BRiX models with full blown i7 or AMD processors.

The graphics problem is rather petty.  It has to do with screen redraw when scrolling a page.  And it did not happen in Mint 17.3.  I first noticed it when I tested Mint 18.1 KDE and now it is in Mint 18.1 XFCE.

For example in Blogger as I type this, every now and then a line of text has little horizontal lines through it.  But the moment I scroll at all, it is crystal clear again.  I couldn't even take a screen shot of the problem because that also clears it,so here's a photo from my phone.   You can see on the line where it says BRiX.  As soon as the mouse takes focus or if I do anything that involves the screen - it goes away.  Again, this is only in Mint 18.1, it doesn't happen in 17.3.

I'm not sure if this fixes the problem above, but so far it seems to reduce it.

While trying various settings I found 'Synchronise drawing to the vertical blank'.  Now I'm not sure what this means and I will need to do some searching, but there seems to be some improvement.  Below is a screen shot.  It is in Settings, Window Manager Tweaks, and is the third item in the dialog below.

As far as playing video goes, there's no problem.  No tearing, nothing.  It is just screen redraws and it doesn't matter if compositing is on or off, or if it is using Compiz or Compton, it works fine except for the little horizontal lines in the page.  It appears it could also be something to do with rendering for mouse focus and I'm still playing with settings.

Booting back into the Mint 17.3 partition, and that problem is gone.  But there are other reasons to put up with the graphics glitch that outweigh the small annoyance.

I am beginning to wonder if it is related to my use of HDMI output.  This model BRiX has only HDMI and VGA, where later models seem to have HDMI and Mini DP.

So, back in Mint 18.1 XFCE and the biggest change is that the BRiX Micro SD reader which had not worked before now works great.  That, along with the 4 USB 3.0 ports gave the BRiX the lead over every other PC I looked at when I needed a replacement work horse.  A trip to Harvey Norman and JB HiFi recently showed almost every computer and notebook still only had one USB 3.0 and the rest USB 2.0.

With cheap Micro SD cards up to 128GB and also 2TB USB hard drives under $100, the Brix is open to lots of storage and fast file transfers.  So the huge number of USB 3.0 ports and the fast Micro Sd are handy, but what is WRONG with the BRiX?

The fan is noisy.  I have heard that and it is partly true if you live in a hot climate as I do.  I set the fan to its high setting because the temperature in the room where the BRiX operates is over 30 degrees Celsius and I work it hard.  But it is far less intrusive than the other computers I use.

It sometimes goes to a weird greenish yellow screen for no apparent reason when running the HDMI output and refuses to come back to the desktop.

I found that plugging in the VGA cable (connected to the same monitor or TV) then switching to that display would let me log out.  And sometimes it wouldn't.  It was more noticeable when coming back to HDMI after using the TV/Monitor as a TV for a while.  Often the only way to get it working again was to kill the power and boot from scratch.

Since moving to Mint 18.1 I find a CTRL ALT DEL will bring up the log in screen and I can simply log in again.  I just realised that at present I have the VGA and HDMI cables both plugged into the BRiX, so I have to test the idea without the VGA plugged in tomorrow.

There's really not much else to complain about.  Just that funny lines thing on some screens / pages and the losing output on HDMI.

I get more work done in the BRiX than on any of my other devices and I am probably happier with it than with any single computer I remember buying, bearing in mind that I always buy simple low end computers with a view to working them hard then replacing them after three years.

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Linux Mint 18.1 XFCE and Gigabyte BRIX BACE-3150

Well, after discovering that Linux running KDE Plasma 5 is definitely and apparently permanently crippled, even on my more powerful systems, I decided that I will have to move the little Celeron powered BRIX away from KDE if I want to begin using mint 18.x.  So here I am back in Linux Mint XFCE after many years.  Because  the BACE-3150 is really not much more than a later version of a notebook Atom, it seemed like a good idea.

XFCE used to be good.  It was fast, clean and although it limited me in some things I wanted to do, it worked.  These days it works even better.  But it still limits some of the little things I like and simply doesn't have some of the polish of KDE.  but it also doesn't have the things I dislike about Gnome, Mate, Cinnamon etc.  And, typical of Clem and his dilligent hard working team - it is very stable.  Which reminds me - it is time for another donation.

Over the years when I have changed my computers to a new operating system, and once I establish that it is working nicely, I donate to support the effort.  It is no different than paying the licence fee for Windows or Mac when you buy a computer with those operating systems on it anyway.  I have also donated to the developers of the software I use most on these computers.

So I spent a few days messing with XFCE and I still can't get past the file manager limitations.  I tweaked Thunar but that was no good, so I installed Nautilus, PCFM, Double commander.  Now as I type this I have Dolphin installing so at least I might get my KIM system back again.  

Ok, Installing Dolphin was a lost cause.  So I am still left without a decent File Manager.  So far there's nothing I can do about that, but there are other things I really do love about XFCE that almost make up for the lousy file managers.  Honestly, Dolphin once it it tweaked with KIM is the main reason I use KDE.

One of my favourite XFCE things is that I can still customise the panel and menus easily.  Another is being able to scroll through my desktops using the mousewheel (mentioned in a previous post), and of course it is easier to see what desktop I am on since I can have a different wallpaper on each desktop.

Now, something I never used for a long time in KDE, and consequently never thought I would miss, is 'Activities.  But it will not be too hard to get used to doing without them again.  My short time trying to use Plasma 5 forced me to use Activities INSTEAD of work spaces, so I suppose I'm not giving up much.

Another interesting thing is that after I loaded the intel CPU driver microcode that showed up as an option in the repositories I suddenly had even better performance.  Unfortunately there's still no onboard graphics driver fix, but the CPU stuff flies.

And I'm not sure if it was just in the Mint 18.1 kernel, or if it was something to do with the microcode also, but the BRIX micro SD card reader now works.  Yet another good reason to upgrade from Mint 17.3 KDE.

I do miss some of the little tweaks I had made to KDE.  I am used to double clicking the tittie bar to roll up or roll down the window, and scrolling the mousewheel on the title bar to change the opacity of a window.

In XFCE, I have the scroll on the title bar rolling the window up or down instead.  And the reality is, while it was 'cute' to be able to change the opacity of a window, I rarely used it.  I do however roll windows up and down (sometimes called shade/unshade) frequently if I wad to tidy up a desktop or access an open file manager window.

I have discovered that I can in fact double click on the title bar to shade a window.  So while I can't change opacity of the window with the mousewheel, I have two methods to shade/roll up a window to see or access what is behind it.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

LibreOffice suddenly very slow in Linux Mint 17 and 18

I have been having serious problems with LibreOffice taking forever to scroll pages and move or resize graphics recently.  I checked Google and found other people have been having this problem for a long time.

Suggestions to fix it range from making sure Hardware Acceleration is ENABLED or DISABLED, Enabling or Disabling GL, messing with memory and anti-aliasing.

None of that worked for me.  So I wondered if it was something to do with the version.  Had some update messed with things?

I downloaded the last version 4.x.x  but when I checked in Synaptic to remove version 5.3, I saw another version 1:5.1.4-0ubuntu1.  So once I removed version 5.3 I simply installed the other version in the repository.

Problem solved for now.  Everything is running smoothly again.  Now, I'm running what is apparently version 1:5.1.4-0ubuntu1, but help calls it Version:
Build ID: 1:5.1.4-0ubuntu1

Whatever it is, it seems to be working fine.  So there must be some sort of drama with Libre 5.3.

Now I have ot fixed in Mint 18.1 XFCE the next step will be to see if the same thing works in my old faithful Mint 17.3  KDE.

Mint 18 XFCE change desktops with mouse scroll wheel

Recently Mint 18.1 was released, so I decided it might be time to try KDE with Plasma 5 again.

It didn't take long to discover that this latest Plasma workspace is still almost useless on Linux with certain hardware.  It leaves mouse trails all over the screen when certain programs are open, especially the Dolphin file manager, and has a number of other annoyances.  As mentioned in a previous post, I like to use different wallpapers on my workspaces and this is still absent from the latest Plasma.  So while I was being frustrated I decided to visit an old friend.

XFCE has been around for a long time, and I used to use it on things like low powered computer and netbooks.  Since the current multimedia computer is a Gigabyte BRiX BACE3150, I thought I might have a look at Mint 18.1 XFCE edition, just for fun.

Now the BRiX has some shortcomings, and one of them is the Intel HD Graphics on board.  I'm not impressed that in some operations in one of my most frequently used programs, Libreoffice Draw, I cannot work with graphics.  Almost every other program works fine.  GIMP and Darktable, even Openshot for video editing.  But LibreOffice cannot resize a simple 150kb PNG logo.

So now we come to the subject of this post.  With XFCE I can have my different wallpaper on each desktop.  But with that I am so used to simply scrolling my mouse wheel on a blank area of the desktop to switch desktops.

Now installing a pager in the panel allows mousewheel switching, but that doesn;t solve the problem.

Luckily there is something called 'Window Manager Tweaks' built into Mint 18.1 XFCE.

And under the 'Workspaces' tab, right at the top is what we are looking for.

Now something else I discovered years ago is that I hate having to change the size of an open window to give myself a spot to scroll on.  That sort of defeats the purpose.

So I got into the habit of creating a little panel on the right (if you are left handed you'd probably do it on the other side) and when a window is maximized, it leaves a little strip down that side for me to scroll on.

When I am in KDE I have a few odd launchers on that panel, but this install of XFCE only has the bare panel.  Here's how it looks.  The small vertical grey rectangle to the right of 'bookmarks'.

Before I found the 'Tweak' settings I had a Workplace Switcher'  in that little side panel, and had the panel positioned about half way down the right hands side where I could conveniently scroll on it with the mouse.
That would still work for anyone with a desktop that doesn'e allow desktop scrolling to change workspaces.