January 22nd, 2010, 13:48
Somebody call security! There's an idiot loose on the forums! :D

Okay, after all my fun with FreeBSD, you would think I might not be too lost, but NetBSD remains a complete cipher to me. I can't find any nifty books which bring it down anywhere close to the "clueless" level. The NetBSD manuals and such are obtuse, and assume a level of expertise somewhere above me.

Can I get a little guidance? Even if only a mere outline. I have tested NetBSD 5 in the form of the Jibbed Live CD, and it runs much faster then FreeBSD could on my laptop. Comments I've seen scattered across the Net indicate this is the norm, in terms of comparison. So maybe I can get this thing to sparkle again.

The machine in question is my Dell Inspirion 4100 laptop. We got 1Ghz CPU, half-GB RAM, Radeon M6 graphics, and native display of 1440x1050. Wifi cards are based on Atheros 5212 and RTL 8180. There is almost no current Linux distro left which will run this thing faster than a crawl. Etch is about to die next month, which is what it has now.

I'm looking at low-end desktop and console use. I know NetBSD can be recompiled to display what I want, but I have a hard time getting past the initial setup. The documents are loaded with server-oriented instructions, and I can't seem to filter out what I need. I'm willing to do the work, and to learn, but not via endless experimentation.

As a side note, I am aware of the NetBSD Desktop project, but this assumes more machine than I can get. I'm willing to run IceWM and forget the fancy multimedia stuff. I don't mind the manual mount/umount stuff. It just has to work, and sometimes on the console, but I can't function long with 80x25, since my laptop makes that just a small patch in the middle of the screen. I can initially connect via onboard 'ex0' (3Com950c) for installation through my home router.

Anyone got time and inclination to lay out the pertinent details?

January 22nd, 2010, 21:39
Chime in anytime Strog. ;)

Wb Bumbler. :D

January 23rd, 2010, 01:58
Awwww. Bad news; that project got shot down. ;(

Okay, maybe later. Thanks, Killer.

January 28th, 2010, 15:42
I'm back! We are good-to-go with the same laptop.

Okay, let's get started on this and I'll bring the machine online as soon as I know more about what I'm doing. Are we ready to proceed?

January 29th, 2010, 12:18
I'll throw some info out there since this is a go again. 8) Good to see you around Bumbler.

The NetBSD Guide is the best place to start. It's similar to the FreeBSD Handbook and should get you started.


The Pkgsrc Guide is along the same lines and will tell you all about installing packages. Pkgsrc is going to be very easy to pick up for anyone that's been using ports on FreeBSD/OpenBSD. Packages are already built so it's probably going to be quicker/easier to set your PKG_PATH to a nearby mirror and download them instead of building on a lower spec machine.


The NetBSD Docs page has a lot of other information on it. You'll lots of stuff here and this is where you'll go to find how to update to stable/current, build kernels, etc.


The IRC #netbsd channel on freenode can be a good place to ask questions. They are fairly knowledgeable and friendly. Many of them are in Europe and can be on at different times of the day. That can be a plus or minus depending on when you want to ask a question or just chat. ;)

The first laptop that I ran *nix on was running NetBSD 1.4.3. I tried a couple different Linux distros on it but they had issues and ran pretty slow. Throw NetBSD on it and everything works and was much faster doing the same things. I currently have an old Compaq Evo 400c (P3 850Mhz, 384Mb ram, etc.) that I was going to run NetBSD on but I ended up running OpenBSD for various reasons. Both run pretty well on the lower spec machines and I think you'd be fine with the Inspiron. 8)

Just ask specific questions when you get to that point and we'll see what we can figure out.

January 29th, 2010, 15:49
Well, I have seen those official documents, and they are the target of my complaint about having too much server-oriented instruction. You see, among the FreeBSD docs are a couple of smaller handbooks, plus the larger handbook itself is careful to distinguish between "just getting it working" and all the wonderful mighty server tasks you can do with it. I don't find that in the NetBSD handbook. The sucker is very taciturn, condensed and assumes too much knowledge for my clueless brain. I love you guys (and gals?), but I wouldn't be bugging you if I could understand the official documents.

The partitioning is not straightforward. It took me three tries, and at that I couldn't figure out about adjusting the size of swap. I realize it's not nearly so critical for NetBSD, but I still felt 128MB was a bit small. Is it? There is no switch to have the installer make an intelligent guess. Further, FreeBSD has scripts to set stuff up, and NetBSD does not.

I researched before I even tried it. Here's what I ran into first off: While some blogs mention the necessity of setting up the networking before installing, claiming it would write the config for you, my first shot didn't bring that result. I did have Internet, but then I had to go back and try to muddle through the six files or so which had to be edited (I'm okay with vi) and the instructions were simply too thin and confusing for me.

So the first thing we gotta do is show by example, without all the extra crap which does not apply, how a fellow at home is going to write a connection for his ethernet connection to a router (which does DHCP and connects to the cable modem). My router is Then how to bring up the interface. I note FreeBSD uses the /etc/netstart script.

I agree that the pkgsrc and pkg add stuff is not that hard, but I couldn't even get online after installing.

The other thing which I must fix ASAP is how to get the kernel to offer the consoles at 1440x1050, because the LCD on my laptop will not adjust the resolution; it simply shows the 80x25 as a tiny box in the middle of the screen. I really do love the console, and could get a lot of work done with it, but not the way it displays by default.

January 30th, 2010, 22:09
I thought you were talking about reading man pages. A great way to learn but might take a little while to get a picture going. ;)

Let's start with the networking since that seems to be an area you are dealing with right now. The NetBSD Network FAQ (http://www.netbsd.org/docs/network/index.html) does mention several files but you don't really need them all for a basic client setup. If your client is DHCP then you won't need to setup default route, DNS, IP aliases or even mess with the hosts file for most things.

A really basic /etc/rc.conf to get started is going to have a hostname (hostname=myhost.mydomain.com) and activate DHCP client (dhclient=YES). Dhclient tries all interfaces by default so you can limit it to your ethernet if you use the dhclient flags (dhclient_flags="fxp0" <--if your ethernet interface is fxp0).



You can restart the network settings using '/etc/rc.d/networking restart' and you can (re)start the dhclient with '/etc/rc.d/dhclient restart' scripts. Of course you can do it all manually too if that's your preference. :P

The NetBSD Guide talks about running the console in 80x50 instead of 80x25 in the console drivers chapter (http://www.netbsd.org/docs/guide/en/chap-cons.html) but you have to recompile a kernel with VESA framebuffer console support if you want to go higher. I haven't done this because I haven't run a console only NetBSD machine (sure plenty of headless, serial console, ssh, etc.) in a long time but I'd be happy to help you set it up if you need it. 8)

January 30th, 2010, 23:54
Ah, simplicity was there, hidden all along. Tomorrow I should be ready to start the installation. I'll bet the PCMCIA wifi cards will be lots of fun.

And for the VESA fb support, that will come after I get something like IceWM working. In my case, ASAP means before the coming week is gone.

January 31st, 2010, 20:38
Okay, I'm sure you'll understand my delaying the laptop while I install FreeBSD on my desktop. I traded machines with my wife, as the one I had was not compatible with FreeBSD and hers was experiencing trouble with Win7. I already know FreeBSD 7 will run on this beast, so I'm doing a fresh install from source. It will take a day or two.

Gigabyte M61PME-S2 mobo
Athlon Dual core 2.2Ghz
Nvidia 6100 chipset
250GB IDE drive
160GB SATA drive (home)
DVD burner

(I kept my 23" Dell LCD monitor, of course)

Lord willing, I can be pretty regular here.

Update: That plan failed. After trying all my famous incantations for X, it refused to read my monitor. A bit of research indicates Xorg is not nearly so smart as the developers think it is. Ugh. I'll run CentOS for now.

February 4th, 2010, 21:18
*sigh* The laptop is essentially dead.

I guess I'll have to wait a little longer.

February 9th, 2010, 19:33
*sigh* The laptop is essentially dead.

I guess I'll have to wait a little longer.

That bites man! Well, we'll always be here, and same with the site. ;)