Mike Sampson

Linux Systems Administrator




02 Sep 2010


Lately I have been experimenting with some of the netbook specific Linux distros on my Dell Mini 9. There are several distos aimed at netbooks available. I looked at Moblin, ChromeOS, Ubuntu Netbook Remix and Jolicloud. They were all fairly impressive though I did miss the simplicity and versatility of Arch Linux and decided to reinstall Arch Linux. I installed Arch Linux to a single ext4 partition with a 512M swap partition. I had been having some trouble with the Broadcom wireless adapter so I replaced it with a spare Intel wireless adapter I had on hand. No more out of tree kernel modules as the Broadcom card required the wl driver from AUR which made kernel updates interesting if I didn't have an ethernet port handy.

I recently watched a webcast by Chris Mason the lead developer of btrfs and one of the things covered was the ability to convert extX to btrfs via btrfs-convert. I decided to give this a try and on a 16GB SSD, with 2GB used, it only took a minute or so to convert. One nifty feature is that the btrfs is created in the empty part of the extX filesystem with the extX filesystem being saved as a sparse file inside a dedicated subvolume:

[mike@mini|~] $ sudo btrfs subvolume list /
ID 256 top level 5 path ext2_saved
[mike@mini|~] $ ls -lh /ext2_saved/
total 1.9G
-r-------- 1 root root 14G Jan  1  1970 image

This makes it possible to revert to the extX filesystem at any point if btrfs does not live up to expectations. The process is explained much more clearly on the btrfs wiki.

As usual of late I installed extlinux as a boot loader. Due to the COW nature of btrfs extlinux installs in a slightly different manner to extX. Instead of installing as a file inside the filesystem it installs in the slack space inside the partition directly following the boot sector:

btrfs has to install the ldlinux.sys in the first 64K blank area, which is not managered by btrfs tree, so actually this is not installed as files. since the cow feature of btrfs will move the ldlinux.sys every where

I normally use Xmonad as my WM however I wanted something a little slimmer dependency wise for my netbook. I looked at scrotwm for a while and eventually ended up with i3. So far I am impressed with it. It works pretty much out of the box though I am intending to customize it a little more. i3 is written in C, has great documentation and features a simple IPC interface for control/status integration with external apps. It also has good multi-monitor support though I haven't tried it yet. I may give it a trial on my main workstation.

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