Tag Archives: Arch Linux

Linux 4.5 on a Bay Trail tablet

This post is a short update to my original article on booting Arch Linux on a Bay Trail tablet.

I originally wrote this for 4.4.5, but I wasn’t fast enough, and 4.5 was released before the post was completed, so might as well continue with a 4.5 kernel.

To simplify the build process I took the PKGBUILD for linux-mainline in AUR and modified it to build a mainline kernel with patches for SDIO WiFi on BayTrail.

If you’d like to build the kernel yourself (and you happen to run Arch Linux) you can download the PKGBUILD.

The firmware for the rtl8723bs card is in its own package, in keeping with the Arch Linux best practices for separating firmware from the kernel package. Download the firmware PKGBUILD.

Or, if you’d rather just have a newer kernel on your tablet which is already running Arch Linux, you can download the pre-built kernel package, and the firmware package.

I will be submitting both of these packages to AUR shortly.

Turns out you can actually get GRUB working with a menu if you build a standalone version of grub. However, the issue is that even though the grub menu works, there’s some issue with modesetting and you’ll never see any console after grub hands off to the kernel. You can download the standalone version of grub if you want to try, I wasn’t able to get any usable installer environment out of it. You can download standalone grub for ia32 (i686), you will also need grub.cfg.

$ tar -Jxf bootia32.tar.xz
$ cp bootia32.efi /mnt/archiso/EFI/boot/bootia32.efi
$ cp grub.cfg /mnt/archiso/EFI/boot/grub.cfg

Since grub video handoff isn’t working well, the only way I was able to successfully boot was to drop to command line by pressing c at the menu, and typing the following:

set root=hd0,msdos1
linux /arch/boot/x86_64/vmlinuz archisobasedir=arch archisolabel=ARCH_201603 video=VGA-1:[email protected]
initrd /arch/boot/x86_64/archiso.img
boot

There is a small issue with kernel oops, which has been present since at least 4.4.5:

[  164.281827] NMI watchdog: Watchdog detected hard LOCKUP on cpu 2
[  164.281913] Modules linked in:
[  164.281962]  intel_rapl intel_soc_dts_thermal intel_powerclamp coretemp kvm_intel kvm irqbypass crct10dif_pclmul crc32_pclmul ghash_clmulni_intel aesni_intel aes_x86_64 lrw iTCO_wdt snd_soc_sst_bytcr_rt5640 iTCO_vendor_support hid_multitouch gf128mul glue_helper dcdbas ablk_helper cryptd pcspkr hci_uart snd_intel_sst_acpi mei_txe joydev input_leds snd_intel_sst_core btbcm snd_soc_rt5640 evdev snd_soc_sst_mfld_platform mousedev btintel mei lpc_ich mac_hid snd_soc_rl6231 thermal snd_soc_sst_match dw_dmac dw_dmac_core tpm_crb snd_soc_core bluetooth processor_thermal_device int3400_thermal int3403_thermal acpi_thermal_rel int3402_thermal i2c_hid int340x_thermal_zone snd_compress intel_soc_dts_iosf tpm_tis rfkill_gpio snd_pcm_dmaengine battery ac97_bus ac spi_pxa2xx_platform crc16 tpm snd_pcm i2c_designware_platform
[  164.283185]  acpi_pad i2c_designware_core 8250_dw snd_timer snd processor soundcore sch_fq_codel nfs lockd grace sunrpc fscache ip_tables x_tables overlay squashfs loop nls_iso8859_1 nls_cp437 vfat fat sd_mod uas usb_storage scsi_mod hid_generic usbhid hid i915 mmc_block button i2c_algo_bit drm_kms_helper syscopyarea sysfillrect sysimgblt fb_sys_fops crc32c_intel xhci_pci drm xhci_hcd intel_gtt wmi serio video sdhci_acpi sdhci led_class r8723bs(O) cfg80211 rfkill mmc_core
[  164.283978] CPU: 2 PID: 0 Comm: swapper/2 Tainted: G           O    4.5.0-byt #1
[  164.284073] Hardware name: Dell Inc. Venue 8 Pro 3845/XXXXXX, BIOS A02 12/29/2014
[  164.284169]  0000000000000086 9ad5a4512f59852f ffff880039d05b50 ffffffff812d25d1
[  164.284284]  0000000000000000 0000000000000000 ffff880039d05b68 ffffffff81116550
[  164.284399]  ffff880038ca8000 ffff880039d05ba0 ffffffff81156b4c 0000000000000001
[  164.284513] Call Trace:
[  164.284552]    [] dump_stack+0x63/0x82
[  164.284645]  [] watchdog_overflow_callback+0xe0/0xf0
[  164.284733]  [] __perf_event_overflow+0x8c/0x1d0
[  164.284815]  [] perf_event_overflow+0x14/0x20
[  164.284894]  [] intel_pmu_handle_irq+0x1e1/0x460
[  164.284980]  [] perf_event_nmi_handler+0x28/0x50
[  164.285062]  [] nmi_handle+0x5e/0x130
[  164.285133]  [] default_do_nmi+0x48/0x120
[  164.285207]  [] do_nmi+0xe2/0x130
[  164.285274]  [] end_repeat_nmi+0x1a/0x1e
[  164.285349]  [] ? poll_idle+0x39/0x80
[  164.285420]  [] ? poll_idle+0x39/0x80
[  164.285490]  [] ? poll_idle+0x39/0x80
[  164.285558]  <>  [] cpuidle_enter_state+0xf3/0x2f0
[  164.285655]  [] cpuidle_enter+0x17/0x20
[  164.285728]  [] call_cpuidle+0x2a/0x40
[  164.285800]  [] cpu_startup_entry+0x2c5/0x3a0
[  164.285878]  [] start_secondary+0x165/0x1a0
[  164.285964] INFO: NMI handler (perf_event_nmi_handler) took too long to run: 4.144 msecs
[  164.286069] perf interrupt took too long (32852 > 2495), lowering kernel.perf_event_max_sample_rate to 50100
[  172.707012] perf interrupt took too long (32619 > 4960), lowering kernel.perf_event_max_sample_rate to 25200

You’ll see a lot of these, however WiFi still continues to work, and the tablet didn’t kernel panic for me in the installer environment.

Hopefully someone finds this useful. I’ll have a write up on installing and using Arch Linux on the tablet in the coming weeks.

Arch Linux and SDIO WiFi on a Bay Trail tablet

tl;dr If you just came to download the bootable USB stick filesystem to boot your tablet, click here.

You will need to format a USB key (minimum 1GB) with a VFAT/FAT32 filesystem with the label ARCH_201512, unzip the contents of the file to the USB key, and read the section marked Grub near the bottom of this post to boot! It shouldn’t require Linux to set up the USB key.

I highly recommend you make a backup of the tablet before you proceed to install Linux. The easiest/fastest/laziest way I have found is to use dd and pigz to make a block for block backup of the internal EMMC onto an ext4 formatted microSD card (as the archive will exceed the 4GB limit of VFAT).


So, you have a Bay Trail based tablet, in my case a Dell Venue 8 Pro (model 3845), and you want to install Linux on it. Chances are pretty good that your tablet will use SDIO for WiFi, and this means that you will start the installer and quickly realize you have no WiFi. Bummer. Hope you’ve got a USB to Ethernet adapter with you, and a USB OTG hub with 3 ports.

Or, you could compile a custom kernel with patches for the SDIO WiFi chipset, put it into the Arch Linux installer, and then have glorious WiFi for your installation.

I chose the second option, because USB ethernet adapters are slow. And now I will tell you how I did it, so you too can do it too.

First: you need to have a computer which can build a normal Linux kernel. I run Arch Linux also on my laptop, so just install the development tools and you can start:

$ sudo pacman -S base-devel arch-install-scripts squashfs-tools

Go download the latest stable Linux kernel from kernel.org, I used the following: https://cdn.kernel.org/pub/linux/kernel/v4.x/linux-4.3.2.tar.xz

Then you need to download the source code for the rtl8723bs WiFi chipset module (it is not in mainline yet):
https://github.com/hadess/rtl8723bs

Decompress the Linux source you downloaded earlier:

$ tar -xf linux-4.3.2.tar.xz

And decompress the rtl8723bs driver you downloaded earlier:

$ unzip rtl8723bs-master.zip

Don’t forget to apply the patches from the rtl8723bs driver:

$ cd linux-4.3.2
linux-4.3.2 ~$ patch -p1 < ../rtl8723bs-master/patches/0001-PM-QoS-Add-pm_qos_cancel_request_lazy-that-doesn-t-s.patch 
patching file include/linux/pm_qos.h
patching file kernel/power/qos.c
linux-4.3.2 ~$ patch -p1 < ../rtl8723bs-master/patches/0001-mmc-sdhci-get-runtime-pm-when-sdio-irq-is-enabled.patch    
patching file drivers/mmc/host/sdhci.c
Hunk #1 succeeded at 1731 (offset -13 lines).
Hunk #2 succeeded at 1743 (offset -13 lines).
linux-4.3.2 ~$ patch -p1 < ../rtl8723bs-master/patches/0002-mmc-sdhci-Support-maximum-DMA-latency-request-via-PM.patch 
patching file drivers/mmc/host/sdhci.c
Hunk #2 succeeded at 1402 (offset 2 lines).
Hunk #3 succeeded at 1427 (offset 2 lines).
Hunk #4 succeeded at 2206 (offset 2 lines).
Hunk #5 succeeded at 2279 (offset 2 lines).
Hunk #6 succeeded at 2911 (offset 2 lines).
Hunk #7 succeeded at 3407 (offset 2 lines).
Hunk #8 succeeded at 3472 (offset 2 lines).
Hunk #9 succeeded at 3529 (offset 2 lines).
patching file drivers/mmc/host/sdhci.h
Hunk #2 succeeded at 428 (offset 5 lines).
linux-4.3.2 ~$ patch -p1 < ../rtl8723bs-master/patches/0003-mmc-sdhci-acpi-Fix-device-hang-on-Intel-BayTrail.patch     
patching file drivers/mmc/host/sdhci-acpi.c
linux-4.3.2 ~$ patch -p1 < ../rtl8723bs-master/patches/0004-mmc-sdhci-pci-Fix-device-hang-on-Intel-BayTrail.patch  
patching file drivers/mmc/host/sdhci-pci.c

If any of the patches fail to apply, do not proceed with building the kernel, you will not build a working kernel with SDIO WiFi support.

Moving right along, I stole the stock Arch Linux configuration from the 2015.12 installer ISO and ran make oldconfig to bring it up to date on Linux 4.3.2.

Here is a copy of the .config which you will want to use. The .config is inside the zip file, just move the zip file to the linux-4.3.2 directory and unzip.

Verify that everything is cool with the .config file you decompressed (if you use a newer kernel this will prompt you to answer questions about new features supported which are not in the config file):

linux-4.3.2 ~$ make oldconfig
scripts/kconfig/conf  --oldconfig Kconfig
#
# configuration written to .config
#
linux-4.3.2 ~$ make -j 9

Now wait a really long time. I will never understand why Arch Linux includes kernel modules for USB webcams in their text-only installer media…

Now, while this is happening, download the latest Arch Linux live installation media, because we’re going to open it up and replace the kernel and squashfs:
https://www.archlinux.org/download/

I followed the excellent Arch Wiki instructions to remaster the install ISO:
https://wiki.archlinux.org/index.php/Remastering_the_Install_ISO

Mount the ISO somewhere:

$ mkdir /tmp/archlinux-iso
$ sudo mount -o loop archlinux-2015.12.01-dual.iso /tmp/archlinux-iso

Since I have 16GB of RAM, I just do everything in /tmp because it’s a ramdisk and faster than an SSD:

$ cp /tmp/archlinux-iso/arch/x86_64/airootfs.sfs /tmp/
$ cd /tmp/
$ unsquashfs airootfs.sfs

Now, hopefully by now your kernel has finished building and we can install it to the recently unsquashed install ISO:

linux-4.3.2 ~$ sudo make INSTALL_MOD_PATH=/tmp/squashfs-root modules_install
linux-4.3.2 ~$ sudo cp arch/x86/boot/bzImage /tmp/squashfs-root/boot/vmlinuz

This will install our kernel modules to the squashfs-root folder. Feel free to delete the modules from the previous kernel version if you want to save space (for me this was 4.2.5-1-ARCH):

$ sudo rm -rf /tmp/squashfs-root/lib/modules/4.2.5-1-ARCH/

Now, we need to build the rtl8723bs module:

$ cd rtl8723bs-master
rtl8723bs-master ~$ make KSRC=~/linux-4.3.2 KVER=4.3.2-ARCH
  (output omitted for brevity)
  Building modules, stage 2.
  MODPOST 1 modules
  CC      /home/hmartin/rtl8723bs-master/r8723bs.mod.o
  LD [M]  /home/hmartin/rtl8723bs-master/r8723bs.ko
make[1]: Leaving directory '/home/hmartin/linux-4.3.2'
rtl8723bs-master ~$ sudo cp r8723bs.ko /tmp/squashfs-root/lib/modules/4.3.2-ARCH/kernel/drivers/net/wireless/
rtl8723bs-master ~$ sudo chmod 0644 /tmp/squashfs-root/lib/modules/4.3.2-ARCH/kernel/drivers/net/wireless/r8723bs.ko
rtl8723bs-master ~$ sudo cp -n rtl8723bs_nic.bin /tmp/squashfs-root/lib/firmware/rtlwifi/rtl8723bs_nic.bin
rtl8723bs-master ~$ sudo cp -n rtl8723bs_wowlan.bin /tmp/squashfs-root/lib/firmware/rtlwifi/rtl8723bs_wowlan.bin

Okay, now we need to chroot into the decompressed squashfs filesystem to create an initrd. We need to modify /etc/mkinitcpio.conf in the squashfs root so we can generate an initrd with the correct modules and options, otherwise your tablet won’t boot with the new kernel:

$ sudo arch-chroot /tmp/squashfs-root
(chroot) $ depmod -a 4.3.2-ARCH
(chroot) $ vi /etc/mkinitcpio.conf
- MODULES=""
+ MODULES="r8723bs"
- HOOKS="base udev autodetect modconf block filesystems keyboard fsck"
+ HOOKS="base udev memdisk archiso_shutdown archiso archiso_loop_mnt archiso_pxe_common archiso_pxe_nbd archiso_pxe_http archiso_pxe_nfs archiso_k
ms block pcmcia filesystems keyboard"
- #COMPRESSION="xz"
+ COMPRESSION="xz"

Earlier we installed the 4.3.2-ARCH kernel modules, and also copied the kernel to /boot/ within the decompressed squashfs filesystem. Now we are going to use the modules, the vmlinuz kernel in /tmp/squashfs-root/boot/, and the above modifications to the /etc/mkinitcpio.conf file to generate a new initrd which we will call archiso.img:

(chroot) $ mkinitcpio -k /boot/vmlinuz -c /etc/mkinitcpio.conf -g /boot/archiso.img -k 4.3.2-ARCH
==> Starting build: 4.3.2-ARCH
  -> Running build hook: [base]
  -> Running build hook: [udev]
  -> Running build hook: [memdisk]
  -> Running build hook: [archiso_shutdown]
  -> Running build hook: [archiso]
  -> Running build hook: [archiso_loop_mnt]
  -> Running build hook: [archiso_pxe_common]
==> WARNING: Possibly missing firmware for module: liquidio
  -> Running build hook: [archiso_pxe_nbd]
  -> Running build hook: [archiso_pxe_http]
  -> Running build hook: [archiso_pxe_nfs]
  -> Running build hook: [archiso_kms]
  -> Running build hook: [block]
==> WARNING: Possibly missing firmware for module: wd719x
==> WARNING: Possibly missing firmware for module: aic94xx
  -> Running build hook: [pcmcia]
  -> Running build hook: [filesystems]
  -> Running build hook: [keyboard]
==> Generating module dependencies
==> Creating xz-compressed initcpio image: /boot/archiso.img
==> Image generation successful

Pack the contents of squashfs-root back into a squashfs image:

/tmp ~$ mksquashfs squashfs-root airootfs.sfs

Okay, now it’s time to create the USB boot media. You will need at least a 1GB USB key for this, and you will lose all the data current on the USB key.

If your stick was previously formatted with a FAT32 partition, skip this step:

$ sudo fdisk /dev/sdX

Welcome to fdisk (util-linux 2.27.1).
Changes will remain in memory only, until you decide to write them.
Be careful before using the write command.

Device does not contain a recognized partition table.
Created a new DOS disklabel with disk identifier 0xfa02f14c.

Command (m for help): o
Created a new DOS disklabel with disk identifier 0xf1b89f31.

Command (m for help): n
Partition type
   p   primary (0 primary, 0 extended, 4 free)
   e   extended (container for logical partitions)
Select (default p): p
Partition number (1-4, default 1): 1
First sector (2048-2097151, default 2048): 
Last sector, +sectors or +size{K,M,G,T,P} (2048-2097151, default 2097151): 

Created a new partition 1 of type 'Linux' and of size 1023 MiB.

Command (m for help): t
Selected partition 1
Partition type (type L to list all types): c
Changed type of partition 'Linux' to 'W95 FAT32 (LBA)'.

Command (m for help): w
The partition table has been altered.
Calling ioctl() to re-read partition table.

Now format and mount the USB key, this will erase all data on the USB key:

$ sudo mkfs.vfat -n ARCH_201512 /dev/sdX1
$ mkdir /tmp/archlinux-usb
$ sudo mount /dev/sdX1 /tmp/archlinux-usb

Copy the contents of the Arch installation ISO you mounted earlier to the USB key:

$ sudo cp -R /tmp/archlinux-iso/* /tmp/archlinux-usb/

Now, we need to replace the kernel, initrd, and squashfs filesystem on the USB key with the ones we made:

$ sudo cp /tmp/squashfs-root/boot/vmlinuz /tmp/archlinux-usb/arch/boot/x86_64/vmlinuz
$ sudo cp /tmp/squashfs-root/boot/archiso.img /tmp/archlinux-usb/arch/boot/x86_64/archiso.img
$ sudo cp /tmp/airootfs.sfs /tmp/archlinux-usb/arch/x86_64/airootfs.sfs
$ cd /tmp
/tmp ~$ echo $(md5sum airootfs.sfs) | sudo tee /tmp/archlinux-usb/arch/x86_64/airootfs.md5

Feel free to delete the i686 squashfs, since we did not compile an i686 kernel:

$ sudo rm /tmp/archlinux-usb/arch/i686/airootfs.*

If you’re building the boot media yourself, you will also need to put bootia32.efi in /tmp/archlinux-usb/EFI/boot/bootia32.efi since Bay Trail tablets only have 32-bit UEFI (the CPU is 64-bit). Download bootia32.efi here.


In summary:

  1. We downloaded Linux kernel from kernel.org
  2. We downloaded the rtl8723bs driver from GitHub
  3. We applied the patches required for SDIO from rtl8723bs to the kernel source
  4. We compiled the kernel and modules using the default Arch Linux .config file
  5. We decompressed the squashfs filesystem present on the Arch Linux ISO
  6. We installed the kernel modules compiled earlier
  7. We compiled and installed the r8723bs kernel module in the decompressed squashfs filesystem
  8. We used chroot to run depmod and generate a new initrd using mkinitcpio inside the decompressed squashfs filesystem
  9. (optional) We deleted old kernel modules from the decompressed squashfs filesystem
  10. We recompressed the squashfs filesystem
  11. We formatted our USB installation media
  12. We copied the unmodified Arch Linux ISO contents to the USB installation media
  13. We replaced vmlinuz, initrd (archiso.img). and the x86_64 compressed squashfs filesystem on the USB installation media
  14. We installed bootia32.efi on the USB installation media

Grub

There is an issue with the install media which I haven’t bothered to diagnose. Grub will not display the normal boot menu, so you have to type in the commands manually. You need a keyboard anyway to configure WiFi and start SSH, so you might as well get one out now…

set root=hd0,msdos1
linux /arch/boot/x86_64/vmlinuz archisobasedir=arch archisolabel=ARCH_201512 nomodeset
initrd /arch/boot/x86_64/archiso.img
boot

Wireless

If all goes well, you will have a booted tablet with a wlan0 device. Follow the Arch instructions to configure wireless.

Or, create /etc/wpa_supplicant/MyNetwork.conf with your network details:

ctrl_interface=/var/run/wpa_supplicant
update_config=1
country=US

network={
  ssid="MyNetwork"
  psk="Staple Horse Battery XKCD"
}

Up the interface with wpa_supplicant:

$ wpa_supplicant -Dnl80211 -iwlan0 -c/etc/wpa_supplicant/MyNetwork.conf

If all goes well, wpa_supplicant will find and connect to your network, but you still won’t have an IP address, so switch to another TTY (e.g. ctrl+alt+F2) and run dhclient to get an IP address:

$ dhclient wlan0

Set a root password and start SSH:

$ passwd
$ systemctl start sshd

Find the IP address of your tablet:

$ ip addr

Now you should be able to SSH to your tablet from another computer, and complete the installation (I have censored my MAC addresses):
venue_8_pro_archiso_wlan-clean


Notes: I haven’t actually installed Arch Linux on my Dell Venue 8 Pro (3845) yet. I need to use it over the holidays and want it to work. I will try to post a follow up in the next few months about my experience installing and using Arch Linux on it.

Also, I did this and wrote the post in one afternoon. Usually when I post something here, I work on it for several days and then sit on the draft in case there are any mistakes. However, since I am leaving for Christmas vacation shortly, I wanted to get this out quickly so people could read it over the holidays. There may be errors or omissions in the article which prevent it from working exactly as written. If I discover any errors, I will update the article to correct them.

CompuLab MintBox 2 Review

CompuLab’s MintBox 2 is a small embedded computer designed for home, office or industrial applications that retails for $599 US. The MintBox 2 ships with Linux Mint 15 “Olivia” on it, which was supported until January 2014 (last month).

The specifications of the MintBox 2 are:
Intel Core i5 3337U (Dual-core 1.8GHz, 2.7GHz turbo, 17W)
4GB RAM (2x2GB; DDR3 1333 CL9 SODIMMs)
500GB hard drive (2.5″, 5400RPM, Hitachi HCC547550A9E380)
Dual Gigabit Ethernet (Intel and Realtek 8111F; both integrated)
Realtek 802.11b/g/n 2.4GHz WiFi/Bluetooth 3.0 combo card (RTL8723AE; half-height mini-PCIe)

Also present are two eSATA ports (SATA 300), a full size mini-PCIe which can also double as mSATA, DisplayPort and HDMI (CEC is not supported) video outputs, and 3.5mm audio in/out which also support S/PDIF (coax).

The MintBox 2 comes with a 60 month warranty (5 years), with the hard drive being covered for 24 months (2 years).

The shipping configuration uses legacy booting and partitions instead of EFI booting and LVM.

Disk /dev/sda: 465.8 GiB, 500107862016 bytes, 976773168 sectors
Units: sectors of 1 * 512 = 512 bytes
Sector size (logical/physical): 512 bytes / 4096 bytes
I/O size (minimum/optimal): 4096 bytes / 4096 bytes
Disklabel type: dos
Disk identifier: 0x16ad26de

Device Boot Start End Blocks Id System
/dev/sda1 * 2048 968752047 484375000 83 Linux
/dev/sda2 968752048 976773167 4010560 82 Linux swap / Solaris

Encrypting user’s home is supported and offers reasonable speeds, but since user data is stored on the same partition as the OS you may run into trouble if you try to upgrade Linux Mint or install another distribution.

The MintBox 2 supposedly supports up to 16GB of memory, and indeed I had no issues with the 4GB installed, or with an 8GB (2x4GB) kit from Patriot memory. I tried three different 16GB kits (G.SKILL, Patriot, Micron) in the MintBox 2, and all three were incompatible. As such, I highly recommend you consult the list of approved memory modules before purchasing a 16GB kit for the MintBox 2. I am awaiting a 16GB kit that was certified to work with the MintBox 2 and will update this post when it arrives.

People familiar with Linux Mint will know what the standard user interface is like, and the MintBox 2 does not deviate from it apart from a cheeky MintBox 2 wallpaper. Everything works out of the box, with ethernet and wireless configured for DHCP. Suspend to RAM works well and performance is on par with other dual-core computers running Linux Mint.

I installed Arch Linux on my MintBox 2 using EFI boot. This requires reformatting the hard drive completely to use a GPT partitioning scheme. An EFI service partition is required to store the grub boot loader, unless you opt to use the EFI stub in the linux kernel (which I did not). You will also have to boot from live media and use the efibootmgr tool to insert a boot record into EFI nvram to point to your boot loader or you will be sitting sadly in the [seemingly] useless EFI shell wondering why it won’t boot.

As with most other consumer electronics, there is little to no option to tweak in the EFI configuration utility (“BIOS”). There are no voltage monitors, and only the CPU temperature sensor is available over SMBus. Users do not have control over CPU speed, C-states, memory frequency or timings. There is an option for whether the full-height mini-PCIe slot is mSATA or regular mini-PCIe, and users can choose to enable or disable Virtualization (VT-x; VT-d is not supported by the HM76 chipset).

The December 2013 firmware update provides users with the ability to pre-define how much memory to share with the IGP (128MB, 256MB or 512MB) which is reserved and unavailable to the OS. I believe previous firmware versions dynamically allocate VRAM based on the Intel IGP driver requests from the OS.

Depending on the workload the CPU temperature can vary from mid-40s to mid-70s (Celsius), but is almost never hotter. This is average for a mobile CPU and well within safe limits. The stock RAM hits mid-60s in heavy use, but DIMMs with 16 chips (as opposed to 8) run in the mid-70s.

CompuLab support was a little lacklustre at first, but improved tremendously after I discussed my issues with the MintBox product manager. They issued an RMA and replaced the unit to see if the compatibility issue was isolated, but the replacement has the same issues.

Overall the MintBox 2 is a very nice computer. The MintBox 2 is a fanless design, which is very nice from a noise perspective but certainly won’t win it any awards in the design department. The connectivity options are very nice, and exceed what other manufacturers are offering in a small form-factor fanless PC.

I was torn between buying a MintBox 2 and a Mac Mini. I liked the MintBox 2 connectivity options, even though it lacks ThunderBolt, and the fanless design was a bonus. The MintBox 2 also uses a lower TDP CPU than the Mac Mini (17W versus 35W), but is clocked lower.

If you want to buy a computer that works out of the box with Linux and don’t mind paying a premium for it, then the MintBox 2 is an excellent choice. However, the Mac Mini does give you more connectivity options (4xUSB 3.0, FW800 and ThunderBolt) and is compatible with almost all 16GB memory kits available on the market.

Pros:
+ Low-power
+ Fanless
+ I/O options without purchasing expensive adaptors
+ 5-year warranty

Cons:
– Limited support for 16GB of RAM
– Limited I/O (no ThunderBolt)
– RMA requires shipping the unit to CompuLab’s US or Israel office which means about 2 weeks without your computer (as opposed to bringing the Mac Mini in to an Apple store and getting it fixed/replaced within a day or two)

Update: I installed the Corsair CT2CP102464BF1339 16GB kit and it seems to be working well in the MintBox. I also measured the power usage of the MintBox. At idle the MintBox draws 11W (110V mains) and under full load it draws around 27W.