Monday, 27 February 2017

Gigabyte BRiX BACE-3150 Revisited Micro SD now works

NOTE !!  UPDATED  2017 March 2nd
Micro SD is now also working in Mint 17.3  See special post.

In July 2016 I wrote about the little Gigabyte BRiX  BACE-3150.  At the time it was brand new to me and I was running Linux Mint 17.3 KDE.  Yesterday I wrote about changing the operating system to Mint 18.1 and how I had to give up KDE because the latest version of KDE is loaded with flaws.

Today I would like to go over a few of my likes and dislikes about living with the BRiX because several people have asked me whether such a low powered computer is able to do any 'real' work.

So, first things first.  The BRiX BACE-3150 is really only a higher end intel Atom processor.  A Celeron.  But it happens to have a quad core and 64 bit architecture.  Considering that my 'desktop' computer experience goes back to Z80 processors running cp/m, and I remember just how much work we could do with those, I'm pretty impressed with the BRiX for general purpose computing.

What I am not impressed with is the lack of graphics support in Linux.  But the CPU?  With Mint 18.1 offering an intel microcode driver, the BRiX does most work really well.  I do a lot of work with graphics and a fair bit of video work.  It handles video editing nicely, although it could be faster.  But of course, if you want more power in a small package, there are other BRiX models with full blown i7 or AMD processors.

The graphics problem is rather petty.  It has to do with screen redraw when scrolling a page.  And it did not happen in Mint 17.3.  I first noticed it when I tested Mint 18.1 KDE and now it is in Mint 18.1 XFCE.

For example in Blogger as I type this, every now and then a line of text has little horizontal lines through it.  But the moment I scroll at all, it is crystal clear again.  I couldn't even take a screen shot of the problem because that also clears it,so here's a photo from my phone.   You can see on the line where it says BRiX.  As soon as the mouse takes focus or if I do anything that involves the screen - it goes away.  Again, this is only in Mint 18.1, it doesn't happen in 17.3.

I'm not sure if this fixes the problem above, but so far it seems to reduce it.

While trying various settings I found 'Synchronise drawing to the vertical blank'.  Now I'm not sure what this means and I will need to do some searching, but there seems to be some improvement.  Below is a screen shot.  It is in Settings, Window Manager Tweaks, and is the third item in the dialog below.

As far as playing video goes, there's no problem.  No tearing, nothing.  It is just screen redraws and it doesn't matter if compositing is on or off, or if it is using Compiz or Compton, it works fine except for the little horizontal lines in the page.  It appears it could also be something to do with rendering for mouse focus and I'm still playing with settings.

Booting back into the Mint 17.3 partition, and that problem is gone.  But there are other reasons to put up with the graphics glitch that outweigh the small annoyance.

I am beginning to wonder if it is related to my use of HDMI output.  This model BRiX has only HDMI and VGA, where later models seem to have HDMI and Mini DP.

So, back in Mint 18.1 XFCE and the biggest change is that the BRiX Micro SD reader which had not worked before now works great.  That, along with the 4 USB 3.0 ports gave the BRiX the lead over every other PC I looked at when I needed a replacement work horse.  A trip to Harvey Norman and JB HiFi recently showed almost every computer and notebook still only had one USB 3.0 and the rest USB 2.0.

With cheap Micro SD cards up to 128GB and also 2TB USB hard drives under $100, the Brix is open to lots of storage and fast file transfers.  So the huge number of USB 3.0 ports and the fast Micro Sd are handy, but what is WRONG with the BRiX?

The fan is noisy.  I have heard that and it is partly true if you live in a hot climate as I do.  I set the fan to its high setting because the temperature in the room where the BRiX operates is over 30 degrees Celsius and I work it hard.  But it is far less intrusive than the other computers I use.

It sometimes goes to a weird greenish yellow screen for no apparent reason when running the HDMI output and refuses to come back to the desktop.

I found that plugging in the VGA cable (connected to the same monitor or TV) then switching to that display would let me log out.  And sometimes it wouldn't.  It was more noticeable when coming back to HDMI after using the TV/Monitor as a TV for a while.  Often the only way to get it working again was to kill the power and boot from scratch.

Since moving to Mint 18.1 I find a CTRL ALT DEL will bring up the log in screen and I can simply log in again.  I just realised that at present I have the VGA and HDMI cables both plugged into the BRiX, so I have to test the idea without the VGA plugged in tomorrow.

There's really not much else to complain about.  Just that funny lines thing on some screens / pages and the losing output on HDMI.

I get more work done in the BRiX than on any of my other devices and I am probably happier with it than with any single computer I remember buying, bearing in mind that I always buy simple low end computers with a view to working them hard then replacing them after three years.

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