Review of Mandrake 9.2 Download Edition
Being a clubmember, I have had the opportunity to get my hands on the download edition of Mandrake 9.2 via bittorrent as soon as Mandrake made that news known. To see which kernel and programs are part of this edition, please check distrowatch.
The installation went smooth and nice; you can read about all the steps I took here. Note: use the upgrade function at your own risk. It can certainly work, but there are too many people with problems (on forums etc) due to the upgrade function in the installer to omit this warning. I did a clean install, and the only thing that didn't go 'as advertised' was the configuration of my network postscript printer. It just didn't print out the testpage; I figured I'd not gotten the right address and port number, so later I booted into my old Mandrake 9.1 install to find everything was the same. Back in 9.2, I just printed a test page, and it printed out 2 -- the one from the installation process and the one I just ordered.
For the configuration of my system, I followed mostly the same steps as I took with Mandrake 9.1. You can read the whole story here. Basically, I installed the Nvidia drivers (the installer set things up to use the 2D 'nv' driver, which worked fine during the short time I used it), after installing the appropriate kernel sources (which are not included in the download edition to make space for some much requested language things). I then configured my sources for the installer to function correctly. For more ample instructions of setting up sources, please go to www.zebulon.org.uk/ICML0.HTML (you may want to browse that site for other hints and tips too). Next to that, easyurpmi is up again, with the correct info on Mandrake 9.2. (This paragraph used to read: "For those who cannot access the mirror information: easyurpmi is out of commission for this moment, but you can adapt the results for Mandrake 9.1 to reflect the correct directories and listfiles for Mandrake 9.2.") The system downloaded the synthesis lists, and was ready to have me install software with the urpmi command or with the graphical software installer (start => configuration => configure your computer // Mandrake Control Center ; Software Management => RpmDrake).
Supposedly, Mandrake even outranks Debian in terms of precompiled packages (I know, Gentoo users won't care about this race); in any case, the number of available packages is astounding.
The user experience in terms of startup speeds was as follows:
After the install I configured the machine for use; I installed the Nvidia drivers to have 3D acceleration (had my old XF86config file handy) and setup my sources according to the information on: http://www.zebulon.org.uk/ICML0.HTML. Basically I added the PLF, Contrib and MandrakeClub repositories; each time I added one the system downloaded the 'hdlist' files which are a couple of megabytes each. The Update repositories are added when you click the update icon in the Mandrake Control Center, Software Management section. It proposes a bunch of mirrors from which you have to choose one.
From there on it was all downhill; any program can simply be installed with
The good: its looks and feel. It's a pleasure to use. BTW about the looks: I haven't even grabbed the fonts from my windows partition yet, and maybe I won't do that this time around.
I borrowed a flash-card and a keychain sized USB-reader. After hooking it up to one of the usb ports I was slightly disappointed that no icon appeared on my desktop (as happens when I switch my scanner on, or when I plug in the webcam). Then I realised that this would go under storage and I had switched off "Display devices on desktop" in KDE-CC, LookNFeel, Behavior. Sure enough, Mandrake 9.2 automatically created the directory /mnt/removable and mounted the flash memory. I could read from and write to this memory without any problem (no commands necessary, it was mounted rw as my username, not as root). Very nice!
My 1GB of RAM gets used completely, I don't have to compile a new kernel to use more than 896MB (don't recall if that is the exact limit, but it's close enough). I guess at install time the 1GB of RAM was detected and the "...up-4GB" kernel was automatically used.
The system wouldn't start with my webcam plugged in. It mentioned something like: unable to load module pwc and just hung. Since I knew 'pwc' is the module for my webcam (and pwcx for the proprietary decompressor module for vga resolution), I knew what to try next. Sure enough, unplugging helped to boot the system, but plugging in at any time would immediately crash it completely (no more response, not even via ssh, and nothing after unplugging again). A short glance on http://qa.mandrakesoft.com shows that this was know in the beta stadium. It was apparently a kernel problem for which there is a simple workaround. Just execute the following command (as root):
Something else that people complained about: the kernel-source is not included in the download edition. It is in contrib, so if you configure your sources and have a network connection,
I also borrowed an external usb2 harddrive. The same as with the flash-card happened, it was automatically mounted to /mnt/removable1. Unfortunately I was not able to transfer data at the USB2 speeds, the maximum speed I got was around 1MB/s, which is USB1.1 -- at over 95% cpu usage. I am not sure if this is actually my motherboard revision, I have the Asus A7V333 V1.01 and it wouldn't surprise me if USB2 is actually not completely properly implemented. It may also be linux, but I know plenty of people who have USB2 equipment working at full USB2 speeds (for a harddrive, a transfer speed of 5 to 10MB or more can be expected -- usually the harddrive is the limiting factor, not the USB2 bandwidth), even on A7V8 series motherboards (which are very similar).
Update! (22 Jan 2004) The external USB2 harddrive can work at high speed (20MB/s) -- if I mount it by hand, instead of letting supermount do its thing, it works ok. I had the following in my /etc/fstab:
Sometimes artefacts show up when scrolling in certain apps, notably in OOo but also in Konqueror -- horizontal stripes, that don't disappear when scrolling them out of sight and back; minimising and restoring the window helps in those cases, but it is not so nice.
The strong points of Mandrake 9.2, such as:
Naturally, your mileage may vary, there is no such thing as the perfect Linux distribution, but if you get the ease and pleasure of use that I got out of Mandrake, it may well be enough for you to stop thinking about which system you are on and whether to change it and actually use your computer to get some work done.