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ASUS ExpressGate -- beware of ripoff!

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  • #16
    Well you can install grub onto the stick too and add a small menu.lst to load the ce_bz kernel image. That is enough to show the menu - but I was not able to select the apps.

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    • #17
      Originally posted by mgc8 View Post
      . Shame on you, ASUS!
      Thanks a lot for this thread, as I'm looking for purchasing new pieces of my new computer and was about to pick-up a P5Q-Pro mainly because of Express Gate, which was for me a decisive advantage of this board over the Gigabyte competitor.

      I don't exclude completely the P5Q-Pro now that I've read this thread, but I agree that the shame goes to Asus.

      I've read somewhere in the forums that Mickael has some board around and is preparing an article for testing some recent mobo. I hope there is soon such a test, so I can make my choice having the peace of mind with the linux compatibility.

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      • #18
        Well I still do not own a board with native support for Splashtop, but basically I can not see any point why it would be impossible to boot from external USB. Did anybody try it? RAID/AHCI devices should not be needed that way.

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        • #19
          Originally posted by mgc8 View Post
          I don't really see it like that. First of all, this feature is being marketed as a "separate OS" that you can boot into no matter the state of your installed OS'es. For me this was very important, as I happen to test all sorts of beta software in both Linux and Win, and from time to time it can render the partitions unbootable. Having some tool that is always there on the MB was a big plus. Of course I can always use a USB stick or a CD, but the main point was the convenience of it all.
          I do generally agree that SSD is better (and sexier, as some have mentioned), but splashtop doesn't really have any system rescue functionality so I'm not sure it would help much to be able to boot it if your other partitions are damaged. You'd be much better off with SystemRescueCD or some other liveCD or pendrive linux. Having said that, putting some diagnostic and configuration functionality into splashtop would be a really good idea, though. Asus does at least provide the functionality to install to a USB stick, which is basically an external SSD, albeit slower.

          Secondly, as far as I can see, the "light" version works only from a NTFS partition. This basically means that you need to have WinXp/Vista installed, which is extremely annoying for anyone that doesn't want to have anything to do with those. Sure, you can probably create the partition in Linux and hack around the installer to get the archives on it, but it kindof defeats the purpose.
          It does appear to work on VFAT. For various historical reasons, I have XP installed in a VFAT partition, and Express gate installed with no issues. I think the main limitation is that the SATA controller must be operating in IDE mode with no RAID. Splashtop must be using a kernel too old to support AHCI, and does not have the pieces in place to handle RAID.

          Bottom line is, of course this feature is not the end-all of functionality, but it was an important reason I chose this motherboard over others. When you get down to it, all MB's are basically identical, and differentiate on features like this. I (and surely others) just valued this one above pink PCIe slots... That's why I feel betrayed by ASUS -- all they had to do was clearly label it on the website and packaging, so that it was evident to anyone looking, then I would've made an informed decision. At least it seems they do that on more recent MB's, like the AMD ones.
          I agree that their literature should be better regarding this. It's hard to find much technical information at all about splashtop without downloading the source code. My main gripe here is that if Asus is going to have an HDD versions of Express gate, one thing that would be nice (and the main thing that bugged me) would be for them to provide a way of installing it to a USB stick or a small FAT partition without requiring Windows. I wouldn't really mind using a USB stick in lieu of an internal SSD, but right now, there's no easy and clean way of installing it to USB stick in a non-windows system.


          P.S.: How much did they save on the cost anyway? I mean, the chip is basically a 512MB USB stick soldered to he MB, that would be like 10$ off the shelf... Plus, this motherboard (p5q-pro) is by no means "low cost", it's right in the "upper-midrange" segment, so it really was a lame choice in my opinion.
          I don't know what Asus's cost structure is for their motherboards, but they apparently can't meet their required gross margins with the SSD on the mid-priced MB's. What surprises me is why they don't put a header on the board, which they could do for a few cents, and then make an optional module for the SSD. That way, people with lower-cost motherboards would be able to upgrade just that feature if they wanted to.

          One thing to keep in mind is that Splashtop and Express gate are relatively new tools, and it's entirely likely that they may have missed the mark a little with these first versions. If there is something that could be improved, we should provide feedback. I think the best thing to ask for would be that they document the BIOS hooks into Express gate, so third parties can write their own completely separate instant-boot environments.

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          • #20
            Originally posted by Fixxer_Linux View Post
            I've read somewhere in the forums that Mickael has some board around and is preparing an article for testing some recent mobo. I hope there is soon such a test, so I can make my choice having the peace of mind with the linux compatibility.
            Well, since we're on the subject, I can tell you that linux compatibility is so-so with this board (the p5q-pro that is, I can't discuss other variants as there are differences). First, even with a 2.6.26 kernel, the on-board Ethernet is not functional. It seems the Attansic chips ASUS has a love affair with lately are even more varied: after the atl1 and variants, now we have "atl1e". Fortunately, there is a driver available from the ASUS website but you need to compile it by hand for the time being. Secondly, with the latest lm-sensors, the on-board monitoring is not detected, and all you have are the processor diodes. I don't use on-board sound and RAID so I can't comment on those. Needless to say, also all the "EPU/AI-Nap/Auto overclocking" features of the board are not accessible from Linux (albeit some voices say they are all software anyway).

            All of these are somewhat minor issues that will probably be solved soon, however they preclude the board from working 100% out-of-the-box.

            Other than that, it's lightning fast and stable as far as I can tell, and it's a board I'd recommend if not for the issues discussed.

            Originally posted by drosky
            One thing to keep in mind is that Splashtop and Express gate are relatively new tools, and it's entirely likely that they may have missed the mark a little with these first versions. If there is something that could be improved, we should provide feedback. I think the best thing to ask for would be that they document the BIOS hooks into Express gate, so third parties can write their own completely separate instant-boot environments.
            I completely agree here. Hopefully we'll see some improvement and eventually a true swiss-army-knife Linux embedded in motherboards (ASUS say they plan to have BIOS-updating from SplashTop, at least that would be a plus; maybe in a day far-far-away we can eliminate the BIOS altogether and have Linux manage everything from the get-go)...

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            • #21
              You could try this:

              Code:
              #!/bin/sh
              DEVICE="/dev/USBSTICK"
              IMAGE="FILE.IMG"
              offset=$(($(sfdisk -d $IMAGE|grep start=|head -n1|sed 's/.*start=\s*//;s/,.*//')*512))
              OPTIONS="umask=000,shortname=mixed,quiet,utf8"
              DIR=/tmp/target
              INPUT=/tmp/input
              umount ${DEVICE}1 $INPUT
              mkdir -p $DIR $INPUT
              mount -o loop,offset=$offset,$OPIONS $IMAGE $INPUT
              dd if=/dev/zero of=$DEVICE count=1
              sfdisk -D -uM $DEVICE <<EOT
              ,220,6,*
              ,,b
              EOT
              #install-mbr -p D ${DEVICE}
              lilo -s /dev/null -M ${DEVICE}
              mkdosfs -F16 -nDVMUSB ${DEVICE}1
              mkdosfs -F32 -nDATA ${DEVICE}2
              syslinux -s ${DEVICE}1
              mount -o $OPTIONS ${DEVICE}1 $DIR
              cat > $DIR/syslinux.cfg <<EOT
              default /ce_bz
              EOT
              cp -av $INPUT/* $DIR/
              umount ${DEVICE}1 $INPUT
              sync
              That boots to the menu, but does not work for me. Tried FAT32 and FAT16. (For FAT32 use "b" instead of "6" and -F32 instead of -F16"). Maybe it would be more easy to use what is copied on HD with the install tool.

              Edit: Added -D flag to sfdisk increase boot compatibility with certain boards.
              Edit 2: Don't use awk, use syslinux + lilo instead of grub - should be more portable because grub files are not at the same place in most cases. Instead of lilo you can use install-mbr (usually from the mbr package). I basically worte another variant that only uses lilo, but thats maybe not so ideal when the kernel file is moved.
              Edit 3: Create 2 partitions, one is 220 mb for the system, the rest is fat32 and can be used to store data which you can access later, everything you store on first partition can not accessed.
              Last edited by Kano; 07-25-2008, 12:11 PM.

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              • #22
                Originally posted by mgc8 View Post
                Well, since we're on the subject, I can tell you that linux compatibility is so-so with this board (the p5q-pro that is, I can't discuss other variants as there are differences).
                I can fill in some details for the P5Q-E variant. lm-sensors has the same problem - all you get are the four core temps, no voltages or fan speeds. OTOH, ethernet works fine out of the box, both controllers being Marvell (although the two are slightly different variants). As mentioned, all of the AI and auto overclocking stuff is windows only, but manual overclocking works great and the BIOS automatically adjusts Vcore when you change the FSB frequency.

                One possible snag is that this board has a Marvell PATA controller, which is supported out of the box for kernel 2.6.25 and up, but older distros might have some issues.

                For the distro I'm using (Opensuse 11, kernel 2.6.25), both suspend and hibernate seem to work OK, but hibernate fails to shut the power off around 50% of the time. This may be fixable by setting the power off mode to use power-off instead of ACPI, but I haven't tried yet.

                Since I left SATA set to IDE mode, Express gate works fine off the HDD - goes from splash screen to Firefox loaded in around 15 seconds - which is longer than the advertised 5 seconds, but still quite usable. Although I don't use them as much, some of the other apps, like Pidgin and Skype, load faster (Firefox is the slowest). I also tried installing it to a Sandisk Ultra-II SD card in a Sandisk reader and that worked too, although it was a bit slower, but not too much so.

                EDIT: For Express gate running Skype, load time is around 10 seconds from the Express gate menu to the Skype login dialog.
                Last edited by drosky; 07-23-2008, 06:19 PM.

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                • #23
                  Originally posted by Kano View Post
                  You could try this:

                  ...

                  That boots to the menu, but does not work for me. Tried FAT32 and FAT16. (For FAT32 use "b" instead of "6" and -F32 instead of -F16"). Maybe it would be more easy to use what is copied on HD with the install tool.

                  Edit: Added -D flag to sfdisk increase boot compatibility with certain boards.
                  According to this article:

                  http://www.phoronix.com/scan.php?pag...item&px=NjEwNw

                  Express gate consists of an "appliance engine" running within a virtual environment ("core engine"). The core engine is integrated into the BIOS and contains various hardware drivers (including video).

                  I wonder if what you are doing when you use this method is you are booting just the appliance engine, which essentially presents the menu of appliances, but the appliances themselves require drivers and other capabilities that are provided by the core engine, which is not present when the appliance engine is booted this way.

                  Perhaps it is necessary to extract the core engine from a BIOS image and boot that instead.

                  Comment


                  • #24
                    The article is wrong. In the BIOS is only the startcode to boot the kernel. And the kernel is called ce_bz and can be started with grub too. To get the menu you can use something like:

                    VBoxManage internalcommands createrawvmdk -filename usbstick.vmdk -rawdisk /dev/USBSTICK

                    Vbox can select the vmdk as hd and start the menu, did not try that with VMware, maybe that works better. The apps itself do not work with Vbox. I don't know if the image somewhere checks for ASUS or ASrock hardware, maybe try it on different systems too. It does not boot on my systems however (I do not own Asus boards). If you have got problems with the script maybe try to use gawk instead of awk. What I use is the image which I expect is only copied on the interal usb drive on some deluxe boards 1:1. My script just uses a full usb stick and copies the content to the disk - so you could add your user data in the rest of the space. You can use 256 mb sticks up to 2 gb with fat16. Also it installs grub, of course i copy only the files from a 32 bit install of linux, update the cp lines with stage1/2 to match your system.

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                    • #25
                      Originally posted by Kano View Post
                      The article is wrong. In the BIOS is only the startcode to boot the kernel. And the kernel is called ce_bz and can be started with grub too.
                      OK, well that's good news. The article is old, so maybe they were originally planning to do it as in the article, and then decided on a simpler approach.

                      One possible issue when using VMWare, Vbox, or a different MB is that the image probably doesn't contain drivers for any hardware other than what's on the target MB. I don't know if this would cause the apps to fail to start.

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                      • #26
                        Originally posted by Kano View Post
                        Well this is really interesting. I would like to get those installed files on hd, maybe they are compressed in a common way and could be extracted
                        Some of them are, and I have been able to hack the environment a bit. See new thread in this forum:

                        http://www.phoronix.com/forums/showthread.php?t=11610

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                        • #27
                          Yes, I saw that already, file reported it. Btw. for those who don't want to boot it on real hardware can use this script to install grub inside the loop file. You can then boot it with qemu -hda (mouse does not work) or convert it into a vmdk and try booting it with vbox (i had no success with vmware player).

                          Code:
                          #!/bin/sh
                          IMAGE="FILE.IMG"
                          offset=$(($(sfdisk -d $IMAGE|awk '/start=/{print $4}'|head -n1|sed 's/,//')*512))
                          LOOP="/dev/loop0"
                          OPTIONS="umask=000,shortname=mixed,quiet,utf8"
                          DIR=/tmp/target
                          mkdir -p $DIR
                          losetup -d $LOOP
                          losetup $LOOP $IMAGE
                          umount $DIR
                          mount -o loop,offset=$offset,$OPIONS $IMAGE $DIR
                          mkdir -p $DIR/boot/grub
                          cat > $DIR/boot/grub/menu.lst <<EOT
                          timeout 0
                          title Test
                          kernel /ce_bz
                          EOT
                          cp -v /usr/lib/grub/i386-pc/stage1 $DIR/boot/grub
                          cp -v /usr/lib/grub/i386-pc/stage2 $DIR/boot/grub
                          grub --device-map=/dev/null --batch <<EOT
                          device (hd0) $LOOP
                          root (hd0,0)
                          setup --stage2=$DIR/boot/grub/stage2 (hd0)
                          EOT
                          umount $DIR
                          losetup -d $LOOP
                          To create a vmdk file:

                          Code:
                          qemu-img convert FILE.IMG -O vmdk test.vmdk

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                          • #28
                            I used Kano's script and then could boot Splashtop from my usb key with an ASUS P5LD2 SE. Tried the browser and it started, though I couldn't open web pages as it didn't let me configure my wireless usb stick.
                            And it hung when I clicked the button which would start the actual OS. It's useless without internet connection but I'm still amazed it worked

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                            • #29
                              Originally posted by anyone View Post
                              I used Kano's script and then could boot Splashtop from my usb key with an ASUS P5LD2 SE. Tried the browser and it started, though I couldn't open web pages as it didn't let me configure my wireless usb stick.
                              And it hung when I clicked the button which would start the actual OS. It's useless without internet connection but I'm still amazed it worked
                              That's good news And thanks to Kano for figuring it out. I wonder if the problem with running in VMWare or on a MB very different from the tarbet MB is that the image may not contain the proper hardware drivers for the vmware environment or the foreign MB. The P5LD2 must be close enough to the target MB.

                              Comment


                              • #30
                                Originally posted by Kano View Post
                                Yes, I saw that already, file reported it. Btw.
                                Yah, I didn't think to try that *grin*. I'm sort of new to this..

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