Greetings, everyone!

Yes, it’s been quite a while since my last post. Lots of personal trials have gotten in the way since I last blogged about anything, but thankfully (big thanks to “The One Above”) those trials were overcome. I’ve also been busy with work and getting things ready for Phase II of our return to in-person instruction.

Now that all of that is done, it’s time to get back to some geeky stuff.

Or better said, “gEeeky stuff!” 🤓

As you’ve read in my previous posts, I’ve revived my venerable and battle-scarred ASUS Eee PC 901 so I can have a really portable laptop to run OpenBSD. Over the summer, it was running as an OpenSSH server as it sat atop the PS4 Pro in the room. However, I decided to buy a new battery for it so that I could take it on the go once again (another blog post is in the works about what took its place 😉).

While the Eee PC 901 has been great since I’ve gone mobile with it, the 901’s internal storage was becoming a problem. My Eee PC 901 configuration has an internal primary 4 GB SSD (more on this later) and an easily accessible but significantly slower secondary 16 GB SSD underneath. I had the 4 GB SSD configured as the root partition and the 16 GB SSD configured as my home partition. With all of the software I installed, I had about 10% or so of available space in the root partition, so while things were tight, I still had some room to play around with.

One day, out of nowhere, I noticed that OpenBSD was complaining that the root partition was out of space after I conducted a sysupgrade to a current snapshot. Once it managed to boot, a quick “df -h” showed something rather odd. All of a sudden, my root partition is only showing 3.6 GB of space and I’m “over capacity” at 103% capacity!

My Eee PC 901’s screen showing only 3.6 GB on what should be a 4 GB partition.

The only explanation for this is that the internal SSD was failing (remember, this is a 10+ year old netbook and most of these components were cheaply made). The only way for me to claim back some space was to uninstall Firefox and a few other packages. I had my space back, but I’ve now lost the whole reason for using my netbook. Sure, I could use lynx/links/etc., but I wanted to access my Mastodon timeline and other “modern” web sites from here. I did install Luakit and used it for a while, but as great as that was, there were some rough edges that didn’t make it useful enough to replace Firefox (Chromium was even bigger so that was out of the question). All of that on top of data loss validated my decision to purchase a new SSD for this netbook.

I already knew that the secondary SSD was attached to a Mini-PCIe slot. I started my search for a replacement and came across a lot of affordable mSATA SSDs and was about ready to make a purchase when I became hesitant of what I was reading. I noticed that many vendors were referring to these as “Mini-PCIe mSATA” SSDs. Something didn’t seem right, so I decided to investigate further before committing to a purchase.

After doing some extensive searching and researching (be sure to skim the comments; very important), I realized that replacing the original drive was not as easy as it seemed. I won’t go into too many details, but the gist of it is that while Mini-PCIe and mSATA connectors look the same physically, they are wired differently. Thus, inserting a mSATA SSD drive into a Mini-PCIe won’t work. Additionally, the Eee PC 901’s Mini-PCIe SSD interface is PATA, not SATA! Thus, I’d need to find an adapter to make this work.

My Amazon order for the mSATA SSD and the mSATA to Mini-PCIe adapter.

I did manage to find an adapter on Amazon that was specifically for using mSATA SSDs on the Eee PC netbooks, so I finally decided to purchase that along with a cheap 120 GB SSD. Granted, the read-write performance on this SSD was paltry compared to the Samsung 860 EVO I purchased for my PS4 Pro, but it was way faster than the 15 Mb/s that the original secondary SSD gave me. So, the order was put in and, in time, the SSD and the adapter arrived.

The SSD and adapter in my grubby hand.

The time came for me to crack open the Eee PC 901 and get to work. I flipped the Eee PC over and removed the bottom cover exposing the RAM, SSD, and other components. The old secondary SSD was removed and the adapter and new SSD was inserted. I closed everything back up, fired up the Eee PC, and hoped for the best.

My left hand holding the new SSD as I begin the replacement process. The bottom of the Eee PC 901 is exposed as I replace the old SSD still attached.

After turning the Eee PC on and going into the BIOS, I checked to see if it detected the new drive. I was pleased to see that the new drive was detected, but noticed that the old primary one was now disabled (not sure what’s happening here, but I imagine it has something to do with the adapter). Not a problem since I wasn’t going to use the 4 GB partition anyway, but I could not find a way to change the boot priority of the new drive. So now, whenever the Eee PC goes through the BIOS checks, it complains that there’s no primary boot drive and prompts me to hit F1 to continue. I guess I can live with this for now since my main concern was whether I could boot from it at all, so I plugged a USB drive with the OpenBSD 6.8-beta snapshot installation and off I went installing onto the new SSD with one large root partition since I had enough space to do so.

The installation went through without a problem, but the moment of truth was still to come: will this SSD boot even though it’s not the primary? After everything was installed, I rebooted and the BIOS warned me again about the lack of a primary drive and to hit F1. After hitting F1, I was happy to see the OpenBSD bootloader at the prompt running from the new SSD! It booted just fine and a LOT faster than the original internal 4 GB drive. I proceeded to bring my files back from the backup I made before starting this process and configure everything the way I had it previously as well.

The Eee PC 901’s BIOS showing only the 120 GB SSD detected as the “primary slave”.

Remember earlier in this blog post when I mentioned the 4 GB internal SSD? I learned that this is actually a removable SSD just like the 16 GB SSD! All this time, I was under the impression that the 4 GB SSD was soldered to the mainboard, and mainly because that’s what I had always read online! I guess some models do have it soldered to the board, but mine was on another Mini-PCIe slot on the inside of the 901. Since I had to open it up to resolve an issue that I thought was related to the internal power cable for the power jack, I figured I’d get in there and see if I could move the new SSD to that primary slot. Unfortunately, the 4 GB SSD is half-height, which means that my full-height SSD with the adapter was not going to fit at all. I did manage to find a Mini-PCIe extender ribbon on Amazon, so I may get that in the future to have it finally work as the primary and bypass the F1 message. For the time being, I can live with that minor nuisance.

I also found out that my power issues were related to the new SSD touching the aluminum foil plating on the inside of the bottom cover (the adapter brings the SSD up off the mainboard so it’s close enough to possibly make contact), and a piece of thin cardboard between the SSD and aluminum foil solved that problem.

To date, I’m completely happy with my upgrade purchase and it’s breathed some real life into this little netbook. I’ve been able to use it for some work-related tasks, but I can’t push it too much due to its lowly CPU and RAM. Still, it performs a lot better than it did with the original drives and it continue to be a great attention grabber when I take it on the go. 😊

Coffee and computing on my upgraded ASUS EeePC 901.
OpenBSD 6.7 artwork by Jonni Phillips

Hello again, everyone! Time for another blog post, this time about a new release of OpenBSD which came out on Tuesday, 2020-05-19. On this date, version 6.7 was unleashed to the world, bringing with it FFS2 as the default filesystem for most architectures, several SMP improvements, new and improved drivers and improved ARM CPU support. You can read more about it here.

And, as is always the case with an OpenBSD release, there’s some new artwork, this time by artist Jonni Phillips, and it’s definitely a sign of the times. It’s called “Coral Fever”.

“Coral Fever” by Jonni Phillips

So, how is OpenBSD 6.7? Great, actually! Though I had been running what would be 6.7-release for a while now since I run the -current snapshots, I had to redo my installation on the Toshiba Portege M400 in order to get the goodness of FFS2. Everything seems to be quite stable as it has always been, so I’m quite happy.

Anyway, that’s all I wanted to share this time. If you want to give it a try, be sure to download it from the OpenBSD website and either get it on some hardware or in a virtual machine. Have fun!