eComStation v2.0 RC1 - Let's install it!

Since the latest Release Candidate for eComStation has been released and it has some new interesting features as well. We wanted to take a look at it to see how easy it is to install. Why? Well, for many users the installations procedure has been and still are a painfull chapter when it comes to OS2 and eComStation. So with this article we will primary focus on how easy this RC1 release installs on various hardware.

The hardware
So to give this new version of eComStation a test ride we need some hardware to test it on and we have done our best to test it on various hardware of various age. Hopefully this should give us an indication of how easy or hard it is to install the new version of eComStation. Also to be mentioned is that we won't try to break our necks to get it installed, so at one point or another we will give up without doing extensive tweaking of the system. We will keep the tweaking part for the next article where we will look deeper on the new features. The focus is primary to figure out how well it installs and nothing else.

Here are the systems that we used for this review;

Workstations:
  • ABit IS7-E using Matrox G550 and with Intel P4 2.66 GHz FSB 800MHz
  • Shuttle XPC Barebone SK22G2 with AMD Athlon 64 X2 CPU
Notebooks:
  • Acer Aspire 1350 with AMD XP 2600+
  • Dell Inspiron 8600 with Intel Pentium M processor 1.4 GHz
  • Lenovo ThinkPad T60 with Intel T2400 (1.83GHz)
  • LG F1 22PTV with Intel T2250 (1.73GHz)
When it comes to the ABit IS7-E workstation and the Dell Inspirion 8600 notebook the earlier version of eComStation v1.2r installs without too much tweaking. So we know at least that it's doable on those two mentioned systems. The LG F1 22PTV, Shuttle XPC Barebone SK22G2 and ThinkPad T60 are in this case the newbies when it comes to install eComStation; but we guess that we'll figure out how it will go.

As mentioned above the Shuttle XPC Barebone SK22G2 is using a AMD X2 CPU (dual core) and in the last beta dual core support didn't work out as it should (at least v2.22 of ACPI is needed for VIA chipset); but with this new Release Candidate 1 it works as it should and works excellent. No traps or crashes at all; so this is really promising. The Lenovo ThinkPad T60 and LG F1 22PTV is as well a dual core system so it's going to be interesting to see how it works out.

We will primary show pictures taken during the installation on the Dell Inspiron 8600 (this is the reason for the 16:9 ration of the screen) and make comments on the various hardware regarding issues, flaws and other comments and suggestions that might be needed.

For more information about this release of eComStation v2.0 RC1, we're referring to the ReadMe and WhatsNew file for updates and changes compared with earlier betas and releases. But the biggest and most interesting highlights for the future 2.0 release would be following:

  • Bootable JFS-volume
  • Genmac wrapper (supported wifi cards)
  • ACPI support
  • Multicore CPU support
  • Samba client support

Step 1 - Booting the CD
One thing that we guess most users really enjoy when it comes to eComStation is that we don't need to use any boot diskettes any more. Nothing new itself, but for new eComStation users, this is worth mentioning that those days are over. Only reason there could be to create a set of installation diskettes is if you need to tweak the installation and this can't be done from the installation program itself. So the first screen you'll see if you want to boot from hard disk or from the cd-rom. In our case we want to boot from the cd-rom of course since it's a fresh new installation.

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Step 2 - Installation values
The next screen gives you the possibilities whether you want to boot with default values or if you want to tweak the installation values to work better with the hardware you have. This is really something that we needed in the old days and now we got it.

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Step 3 - MemDisk initializing
The next screen you'll see is the MemDisk initializing the boot image to get further on to the first step of the installation.

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Step 4 - eComStation boot logo
And if we at least can get by this screen, eComStation logo screen, well that's usually a good sign. For those of you that have fought the installation battle earlier know that there isn't anything more frustrating to have the system to halt directly after it has loaded the kernel.

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Step 5 - CD check
Next screen that needs your attention is the possibility of checking the CD, but since we already did this when burning the CD image it kind of seems a bit waste of time to do this once again. For some reason its painful slow when having the installations program doing it's own check. If you choose to answer yes, plan in to have your dinner at this point or take the dog for a walk.

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Step 5 - Preboot hard disk integrity check
Here the ThinkPad produced a warning during the preboot hard disk integrity check that kind of got our attention; there is an error on the disk that needs to be fixed before eComStation can be installed and it as well offers to fix it as well. It's just that we as well get a warning that we could loose the content of the hard drive and if we choose to continue, it's our own decision. Great! Well, the system has been ghosted earlier to keep intact versions of the pre-installed configuration of the disk.

To be mentioned here as well, if you choose to create more than one partition for multi OS installation you need some kind of boot loader that offers the possibility of choosing OS. If you choose to install either OS2 Boot Manager, AirBoot or any other loader that alters the Master Boot Record (MBR) you should know then that the blue ThinkVantage button won't work any more, due to that the code needed to load the service partition on the ThinkPad are kept in the MBR. So either make backup of the MBR or make sure that you use a boot loader that installs on the first primary partition on the disk such as LILO or GRUB.


Step 6 - SNAP driver loading
Next screen worth showing is the SNAP drivers loading; in most cases you should be able to pass by this portion as well, if not, you might need to reboot and disable the use of the SNAP drivers during the first phase of the installation as well.

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Step 7 - Keyboard layout
Finally, we're now at the first screen where the system ask us to pick a keyboard layout; nice feature is that you're able to test if you get what you expect when typing on your keyboard.

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Step 8 & 9 - License and choice of installation
Jumping a screen (license agreement) the next choice to be done is if we either want to make an easy installation or advanced installation. We did go for the easy installation at first, but due that we ran into problems with the Dell Inspiron 8600 notebook we had to pick the advanced installation when taking the photos and the rest of the system has after that as well been done via advanced installation.

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Step 10 - Providing license key
Next we need to provide the installation program with a valid eComStation license key and a suggestion is that you keep this on a diskette and then open up the text file to provide the system with the key. Here we noticed a big improvement regarding the how the system handles USB-diskette drives; earlier when connecting a diskette drive at this point it wouldn't let me access the content. But now when trying to access the diskette with the license key, it works directly - so no reboot needed here. We kind of expected to reboot the system here since We forgot to attach the USB-diskette drive before booting the installation CD. The USB-stick should be formatted with FAT16 file system. Just buy the smallest and cheapest unit to store passwords, licenses etc.

On the Acer Aspire 1350 it doesn't work to provide the license key via USB-stick and this is due to that ACPI is loaded when booting the installation CD. The same goes for when the system is installed as a whole. (no parameter changes the fact that USB does not work if ACPI is loaded).

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Step 11 - Partition, creating volume & formatting
Next that we need to fix is to set up a partition to be installed at and format it; good news is that when we now create a volume to install the system to; there is no need to reboot as needed earlier. In this case I've created a 2GB partition to be used for the installation and it was formatted on the fly by using JFS.

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Step 12 - Pick time zone
Next we need to set the country and time zone settings and this is done quickly and we now have some more parameters to be defined directly during the installation. In earlier version we need to tweak the time zone settings in config.sys to get this correct.

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Step 13 - Hardware detection
Next when continuing from the locals screen we'll see the hardware detection window.

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Step 13 - Hardware configuration
Above step should give us any issues and we didn't have any problem to pass by this step to get to the next where we have the possibility to alter the hardware settings the system picks for us. In our case we ran into problem with the Dell Inspiron 8600 and SNAP. When the system rebooted after the first installation phase, it halts on the SNAP drivers. So as you can see we have chosen here in this step to make use of the Generic VGA support. Problem is that this also gave us some problems with Dell Inspiron 8600. Actually whatever settings we picked here for the Dell Inspiron 8600 we never managed to get the system to get along with the Inspiron. Unfortunately, this isn't the only issue we ran into with the Inspiron.

When it comes to the ABit IS7-E we didn't have any problems at all since this workstation is running with a Matrox G550 graphic card and installing with the default SNAP-drivers worked without any problem.

LG F1 22PTV works almost fine with the native SNAP support for the Intel 950GM but the desktop gets bigger than the screen.

The Shuttle XPC Barebone SK22G2 works fine when installed using the VESA-mode; not an optimal solution but it works. Also mixing ACPI and APM might not be the best thing to do; so suggestion that you avoid installing APM support if you plan to use ACPI.

And finally the ThinkPad and the Acer Aspire 1350 work with SNAP in VESA-mode is what will be offered since the ATI Mobility Radeon X1400 and S3 Pro Savage DDR KM400 isn't supported in native SNAP mode.

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Step 14 - Multimedia configuration
When it comes to audio hardware the installation program picked the correct drivers for all system except the ThinkPad that uses SoundMAX HD Audio.

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Step 15 - System configuration
Next we have to select the components we want to install and the only change we made here was that we disabled the legacy software support for DOS and Windows 3.x. Got no use for it, so why install it?

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Step 16 - Network adapter configuration
Next we need to configure the network adapter to use for the system and on the Dell Inspiron 8600 the installation program figured out that we have an Intel wireless NIC installed so it suggested to make use of the GenMac Wrapper driver. Problem is that whatever we did we never managed to get the system to work with it. When re-booting the system for the second part of the installation it halts on the GenMac drivers, it just won't let us get by it. Next what we did for the Dell Inspiron 8600 system is to pick the Broadcom 4401 drivers instead since this has been supported for a while and as well I've been using this driver earlier together with the eCS v1.2R. Interesting enough this driver won't work either or at least in the second part of the installation it halts as well on this driver. So it's clearly seems that something is really wrong here with the base system. We know for the facts that the Broadcom driver works with the Inspiron system; but now - it won't. For the rest of the system it worked fine.

The ABit IS7-E has an on-board Realtek NIC that works fine with this release of eComStation. But, for now, it's goodnight for the Dell Inspiron 8600 system to get any further on the installation.

The datasheet for the Shuttle XPC Barebone SK22G2 tells us the adapter is a VIA VT6103. There is no driver for the VT6103 card that we know so we selected the driver for VT6102 instead. It works really well and the card reports itself as a VT6102 in the hardware manager after a completed installation. Perhaps it's a typo or a marketing issue from Shuttle? The card didn't give us any problems at all when it comes to adapter configuration. VIA and eCS has not been a good combination until now but things seems to have improved a lot and that is excellent.

Both the LG F1 22PTV and ThinkPad T60 has Intel PRO/Wireless 3945ABG wifi card and interesting enough the provided driver in the RC1 release doesn't work. But, good news is that there will soon be a newer version available that works with Intel PRO/Wireless 3945ABG (the version working is currently only for testing). Still the ThinkPad's T60 Intel PRO/1000 PL network card wasn't installed when making this quick installation.

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Step 17 - Network configuration
Network configuration in our case doesn't offer anything that we need to alter either so, here we can skip quickly over to the next screen.

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Step 18 - TCP/IP configuration
Next is the TCP/IP configuration and here we usually prefer to set up the systems with a fixed IP instead of DHCP. Primary reason since its easier to keep track of the system and if you wants to run Apache and connect from other system it's highly recommended to use fixed IP.

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Step 19 - LAN configuration
And now we almost done with the first phase of the installation; since we're now asked to enter the Workstation ID and LAN domain, to make it easy here we will make use of the default values here.

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Step 20 - Installation GENGRADD error
With above screen to be the last one where we have to make any choices and decisions the system now starts to copy files to the hard drive. As mentioned earlier we ran into problem with the both GenMac Wrapper and the SNAP drivers on the Dell Inspiron 8600. Interesting is that it seems that the GENGRADD driver as well wants to fight us and gives us a nice error as well...

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Step 21 - Boot error #1 / GenMac Wrapper
When it comes to the GenMac Wrapper driver this is how far we managed to get with it when booting the second part of the installation.

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Step 21 - Boot error #2 / Broadcom
We also had some problems with the Broadcom drivers and this is how far we got with it on the Dell Inspiron 8600:

{mosimage}


Step 21 - Boot error #3 / USB-drivers
When it comes to the ABit IS7-E it also gave us some strange errors during boot; couple of times it halts on the USB-drivers and hardware reset of the system did the trick to get it to boot again. A couple of times it seems that it halts directly after that we booted the kernel and the only thing to get it to proper boot again was to perform a hardware reset as well. I've never seen this kind of behaviour in earlier version of OS2 and eComStation. So there is something that doesn't seem right.

Step 21 - Boot error #3 / ACPI traps the system
Choosing ACPI can makes the Acer Aspire 1350 trap at second boot.



Step 22 - End of installation
But, when we finally got the system to boot the last step of the installation; we are presented with the End of eComStation Installation Windows where we're able to make the last configurations needed for our purpose.

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Step 22 - End of installation / increasing the resolution
In our case we want to increase the resolution of the system to a bit higher and by default we have the SNAP applications to help us with this.

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Step 22 - End of installation / correct resolution
After a reboot the screen has now been set to 1152x864 resolutions.

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Conclusion
Based on above test and that it's the Release Candidate 1 that we have tested, we actually had our hopes to see that the latest eComStation would be easier to install than the earlier versions. Problem is that on all above tested system the eCS v2.0 RC1 actually gives us either problem during the installations or won't install at all due to problem with either on-board graphic chipset or due to the network cards used. On ABit IS7-E system it installed without any visual errors, but it couple of times during the re-boots and start-up it hangs directly when loading the kernel, so that is clearly not good.

Another issue reported within the forum is the problem sending out mail via smtp server from both the Beta 4 and RC1 release with encrypted mails, gives mail server time-outs; so far no solution has been provided or clue what the problem itself is. For more information regarding this issue, please check following thread in the forum.

Following needs to be improved before the final version is released:
  • ACPI-support
  • Graphics support (critical)
  • PC-Card / PCMCIA
  • Wireless support (highly critical)
Also the legacy NDIS support isn't really to any use today in the mixed OS environment today, so here we clearly hope that there will be an implementation of SAMBA with a supporting GUI in the final release.

Clearly this new version of eComStation needs to be tested much more than it has been done during the beta phase and we sure hope that there will be at least a Release Candidate 2 that will be open and available for more people. And when looking at this initial test results we can say that standard workstation hardware is a clear choice when picking hardware to install on. Problem is that most people today upgrade their system to notebooks, so clearly better notebook support is needed.


Hardware references:
Thanks to Mikael Elf who provided this article with the test specifications for the Acer Aspire 1350 and LG F1 22PTV.

Kim Haverblad & Björn Söderström

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