New Shack PC – Linux

The last few years, I have been using an old hand me down laptop for my ham radio activities. The old one had little memory, the battery that didn’t last very long, was starting to boot unreliably, even after a Windows reinstall, and a few other issues. So I bought an open box Dell laptop at a discount from a local retailer. It has 8GB of RAM and a 1 TB disk drive and i5 processor. While it’s not a top of the line laptop, it’ll work for what I have intended. Also the screen isn’t the highest resolution but since it’s dedicated to ham radio usage only it won’t be a problem.

My main goal with this project is to use Linux more for my ham radio activities. I now work professionally in the Linux world so I would like to carry that experience into my ham radio hobby. I am setting this up as a dual boot system, keeping Windows 10 that came on it, and then installing OpenSUSE Leap 42.2 as my Linux distribution. I know Ubuntu seems to be the most popular distribution, but I am most familiar with SUSE Enterprise Linux, so OpenSUSE draws on that experience. I run openSUSE 42.2 on my work laptop on a daily basis so I am very familiar with it.

I thought I would post about the steps I am taking to achieve this so if anyone else decides to do something similar, I will have shared what I went through. I will try to follow this up later with posts about using various Linux applications for ham radio like CQRLog, WSJT-X and other things I find useful.

I will use the Windows install for a few things. My old ham radio laptop was running Windows so I can duplicate it’s capabilities if needed. One of those jobs is some Windows software that I bought from RT Systems for programming my radios. I’ll eventually investigate Linux alternatives such as Chirp but that will be low on the priority list.

The first steps I took in the process are:

  • Boot into BIOS/uefi and disable Secure Boot. I don’t need this.
  • Boot up Windows, create user account, and fully make sure all updates are installed, and any initial setup.
  • Make a Windows 10 recovery USB thumb drive. This is built into Windows 10.
  • Download the restore image from Dell to restore the laptop if needed.
  • Run the Windows Disk Cleanup utility to remove all unneeded files including any previous version of Windows left behind after the updates, and all update related files. I check all the boxes in the cleanup utility including system files.
  • Defragment the C: drive. This is needed so I can shrink the C: partition
  • Use diskmgmt.msc to shrink the main Windows 10 partition to about 450GB. That will leave about 430GB of free space to use for Linux installation. I had to disable system protection, pagefile and hibernation in order to get the drive to shrink to where I wanted it. These are unmovable files and might hamper the  ability to shrink the disk. After shrinking, I reenabled all of those.
  • VERY IMPORTANT STEP: Use Clonezilla to make a complete cloned backup of the entire disk drive so I can put Humpty back together if something bad happens or I make a mistake. This will backup all the partitions to a set of files on a USB drive, and allow me to completely restore the drive and partitions.  I now have 3 ways to restore the system. Clonezilla backup, restore image I downloaded, and the Windows Recovery thumb drive I created.
  • Install Dropbox as I’ll use that to transfer some things from the old laptop to the new one.

BACKUPS are very IMPORTANT as is the ability to UNDO something even if it means a full restore. NOTE: Clonezilla doesn’t backup empty space to the resulting backup is smaller that the drive that’s being cloned.

Now it’s time to install Linux. I made a bootable thumb drive from the openSUSE Leap 42.2 iso. This was done using dd on my work Linux laptop. The website to download openSUSE from is: http://www.opensuse.org.  There are two openSUSE distributions. Leap is a point release and Tumbleweed is a rolling release and always at the bleeding edge. If you want something stable then Leap is the way to go. It’s also what I run on my work laptop as my primary OS.

I booted from the Leap thumb drive, and went through a normal install. From the free space I created by shrinking the Windows partition, I made a 4GB swap partition, a 50GB / (root) partition and assigned the rest of the space to /home which is where all my data will reside.

When Linux is installed, it installs the Grub2 bootloader which is able to detect Windows 10 and make it a selection at boot time. When you boot the system, a Grub2 menu will display allowing the choice of which operating system to boot. You can also choose which one boots as default when the grub2 timer expires.

One thing I found . . . When I booted back into Windows, it assigned drive letters to the Linux partitions which is something I did not want. I started up diskmgmt.msc in Windows and removed the drive letter associations from the 3 Linux partitions. That way Windows won’t mount the Linux partitions and possibly cause an issue.

At this point, I have a dual boot system and am ready to go. So far on the Linux side I have installed the following:

  • Terminator – A nice terminal program
  • cqrlog & mysql – Popular Linux Ham Radio Logging program. I exported my log from HRD (ver 5.24) on the old computer and imported it into cqrlog.
  • tqsl – I made a backup of my certificate using tqsl on the old Windows computer and was able to restore it using tqsl on the new Linux installation.

One last thing before moving on. I took another Clonezilla backup of the entire laptop drive. Now I have two Clonezilla backups and could restore either one if I desired. 

Just a note on Virtual Machine vs Dual boot. I use VM’s daily on my work laptop and my other personal laptop so I am very accustomed to their use. On my work laptop I run Linux full time with Windows 10 in a virtual machine along with about 10 other Linux VM’s (not all running at once). For the ham laptop I wanted two things. To run Linux as full time as possible for my ham radio hobby, and for the operating system to have direct access to the hardware without the virtualization layer in the middle.

More to come!


Wayne Patton, K5UNX, is a regular contributor to AmateurRadio.com and writes from Arkansas, USA. Contact him at [email protected].

7 Responses to “New Shack PC – Linux”

  • Larry WB8LBZ:

    Hi Wayne,
    Nice write-up. I think Linux is an area hams can use to expand their hobby.There is lots of SDR capability that windows only hams don’t know about. I learned something from your process of making back-ups. I’m a Ubuntu fan that has not made the leap from Windows 7.

    73, Larry WB8LBZ
    El Paso

  • Don KB2YSI:

    For those that would like to taste Linux and have some of the popular ham radio software already installed: https://www.debian.org/blends/hamradio/

    It is a live distribution that can be used of a USB stick or a DVD.

  • Bruce/ND8I:

    Nice writeup. I’ve been using VirtualBox (https://www.virtualbox.org/) on my Windows machine. This allows me to create and run multiple operating systems without affecting my Windows system (except for snagging a chunk of harddrive space).

    If you’ve got some extra space on your harddrive, it’s a reasonable approach to playing with multiple operating systems, including Linux.

  • K4IVE, Kevin:

    That is pretty much how I have all my computers configured. I use a work computer that had a HDD failure for a Linux-only Ham radio workstation.
    Ditto on the use of Clonezilla for backups! It has saved my butt many times!

    Kevin

  • Phil ZL2OWL:

    Nice one Wayne – very interesting. Please keep us in the look. Many thanks.

    73 & best wishes for 2017.

    ZL2OWL Phil

  • Moe KG5QKF:

    Good write up. Linux does make older computers work better. I am with the mxlinux project (https://mxlinux.org/about-us), and there are several of us HAMS who use this community built Linux distro for our own. I personally have given “new life” to older computers and laptops (Windows 95-XP-2000) with our MX Linux distro for students who had no computers.

    Besides the wheel and sliced bread, I think Linux is the next best thing.

    kG5QKF Moe

  • Jodi:

    Hai citato anche gli avtvciriseini sistemi missilistici del Pentagono, come da inoppugnabile prova presentata in “Zero”?Oppure lo scandaloso fatto che il Grande Mazinga quel giorno era in manutenzione per colpa di un parente del cugino di Bush?

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