posted by Binh Nguyen on Wed 7th Jan 2004 18:08 UTC
IconWhen Knoppix was first released it was heralded as revolutionary in the Linux world. Its autodetection and configuration capabilities were unsurpassed. Many of my colleagues remarked that if 'KNOPPIX can't do it, Linux can't do it'. Theoretically, one would be able to get a Knoppix CD, pop it into an arbitrary system, run it, save one's data to a partition, USB stick, etc....), reboot and the existing system would be left completely as it was before the CD was placed in the system.

In terms of Linux time, many a eon has passed since its inception and yet there are few other distributions that are able to claim the same level of usability (even with the inclusion of commercial distributions such as Redhat, Suse and Mandrake Linux).

Even so, many attempts have been made to emulate the success of this Debian based distribution and the instant gratification that can seem to be rare at times in the Linux world. For example, of the major distributions Suse, Lindows and Mandrake have already made forays into this difficult area. Given the fact that we are in the midst of multi-gigabyte operating systems that we there would be such a competant one that could be run entirely from a CDROM is stupendous. Not only that, but that the minimum system requirements (see http://www.knopper.net/knoppix/index-en.html#requirements) would be so miniscule (82 MB RAM, CDROM drive, SVGA card, Intel compatible CPU (i486 or better)).

For this reason, I have decided to put these specifications to the test and see how it would perform. The base/reference/test system is an NEC Versa SX laptop with the following hardware configuration

- Intel Celeron 233 MHz
- 256 MB RAM
- IBM-DKLA-24320 4GB HDD
- Trident 2MB Cyber 9388/9388-1
- Toshiba CD-ROM XM-1702B
- Linksys WPC11 Instant Wireless Network PC Card
- Ricoh R/RL/RB/5C478(2), R5C522 or Compatible CardBus Controller
- ESS Maestro2E PCI Audiodrive (WDM)
- Intel(r) 82371AB/EB PCI to USB Universal Host Controller
- Intel(r) 82371AB/EB PCI Bus Master IDE Controller

More detailed specifications can be found at http://support.necsam.com/download/VersaSXug.pdf

The version of KNOPPIX being reviewed is

KNOPPIX version V3.3-2003-11-14-EN.iso File version 11/14/2003 3:20AM Purdue University Mirror RELEASE: 2003-11-14-BETA

Please note that this version is a BETA release. Consideration of this fact must be taken into account and some latitude given.

For those who aren't in the know the official Knoppix website is http://www.knopper.net/knoppix/index-en.html. You have the choice of downloading the ISO image file from the website (or any of its mirrors) and burning to CD or obtaining it via local Linux user groups and/or computer shops. Its quite possible that it will appear as cover CDs of some Linux magazines.

Once you have obtained you Knoppix CD you simply place it in your CD drive, enable CD booting in the BIOS and reboot. For those of us who have slightly more antiquated systems (and hence BIOSes) there is also the option of building a boot floppy which would then automatically boot the Knoppix CD.

First impressions have a lasting effect and this is also the case here.

The average load time experienced was approximately five minutes.

The results obtained are tabulated below and are calculated from the time the boot prompt is displayed to the point at which the default KDE desktop environment has been completely loaded into memory.

Load time, 11:08:02 Start, 11:13:20 End
            5:51:20 Start,  5:57:00 End
            8:17:00 Start,  8:22:30 End
For a normal operating system such a lacksidasical load time would be unacceptable. However, we must place things into perspective and take into account the 'live' nature of this distribution.

Even so, I still believe that this is somewhat of a large period of time for a person to wait.

Bootup is like any other hard disk based distribution. We are greeted with something that resembles the lilo/grub boot prompt with a Knoppix splashscreen. Hit F2 to display a series of 'cheatcodes' which will allow someone to change the window manager to be loaded, keyboard locale, screen resolution, toggle blind support and toggle whether hardware autodetection, etc.... Alterntively, press Enter to proceed normally or wait for the boot prompt to time out.

Knoppix will then go through a period of hardware autodetection with PCMCIA card configuration commencing first, then USB, mouse, soundcard, video, monitor, networking and finally mounting of removable storage devices such as hard disk partitions, USB sticks, Zip disks, etc....

From what I could see all hardware detection and configuration ended with success with the exception of the soundcard. This was to be expected though seeing as the device is classified as a WDM device (see http://www.webopedia.com/TERM/W/WDM.html). The NTFS formatted hard drive (normally running Windows 2003 Server, Enterprise Edition) was automounted and an icon was waiting for me on the desktop to read its contents. The choice and naming of the mounting points was rather interesting though being at /KNOPPIX/cdrom and /KNOPPIX/floppy. This could pose a problem to new users to KNOPPIX. Nonetheless, this is offset by the ease of use of the KDE desktop environment. Further to this, I must wonder about the purpose of the /KNOPPIX/none directory. Could someone please advise me of the reasoning behind this directory within the KNOPPIX filesystem hierarchy and whether there could have been a more logical name for it?

To my surprise the Linksys card was correctly found. Not only that, but it was also configured correctly for Internet access, with all details about name servers and DHCP being correctly determined.

Table of contents
  1. "Knoppix review, Page 1"
  2. "Knoppix review, Page 2"
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