How To: Check Your Hard Drive Health With A Linux LiveCD

Previously, I wrote a guide on monitoring your drive’s status with S.M.A.R.T. tools from a running system [see Check your HDD’s S.M.A.R.T. Status].  Although these programs work well for checking the live status of your hard drive, you may run across a situation where you cannot boot the operating system to access these programs.

If you system does not boot, it may be necessary to use a boot disc to check the S.M.A.R.T. status of your hard drive.  This is easily done with a Linux LiveCD such as Knoppix and a program called smartctl.  Although almost all versions of Linux come with this utility preinstalled, I recommending using Knoppix for booting your system, as it tends to have better out-of-the-box hardware support, especially for older hardware.

Important Note: For reasons unknown, the smartctl utility is not included in the newest version of Knoppix 6.0.1.  For this reason, it is necessary to use Knoppix 5.3.1 DVD or Knoppix 5.1.1 CD/DVD.

Download Knoppix 5.1.1 LiveCD via FTP.

Download Knoppix 5.3.1 LiveDVD via BitTorrent.

The Process

Once you have downloaded and burned the LiveCD ISO image, insert the disc into your CD/DVD drive and boot from it.  Unless there are hardware problems, your computer will automatically boot to the KDE Linux Desktop.  If you are not able to boot, enter failsafe at the Boot: prompt.  The KDE desktop looks like this:

Knoppix 5.3.1 Desktop
Knoppix 5.3.1 Desktop

When the desktop is shown, select the terminal icon as shown below.


Type the following command to check the first hard drive on the system:

smartctl –all /dev/hda | less

This will check the S.M.A.R.T. attributes of the hard drive and display then on the screen in scrollable form.  A description of the common attributes can be found here.

When you have reviewed the S.M.A.R.T. attributes of your drive, you can simply press q to return to the terminal input.  Type reboot at there terminal to reboot the computer and eject the LiveCD.

How often have you used a Linux LiveCD to help diagnose your computer?  Is there another Linux program or LiveCD that you use to check your hard drive S.M.A.R.T. status?  Let us know by commenting below.

How To: Add Panels (Toolbars) to a Secondary Display in Ubuntu 9.04

If you’re using multiple monitors in Ubuntu, you may find it frustrating that the Panels (Windows users will recognize these as toolbars) are only available on your primary display.  This means that if you’re working with applications on a secondary monitor, you have to look back to your primary to do any application switching, as shown below:


Adding panels to a secondary monitor is not difficult, but is not particularly intuitive either.  Here’s how to do it:

  1. Right click on any panel and select New Panel. By default, this will probably create a Panel on the right side of your primary display.panels2
  2. Right click the newly created Panel and select Properties.panels3
  3. Set Orientation to Bottom and uncheck the Expand button.  This will create a small movable Panel at the bottom of your primary display.panels4
  4. Drag the new Panel to your secondary display, allowing it to automatically dock to the bottom of the screen.
  5. Right click the Panel and select Properties again.
  6. Check the Expand box and click Close.  Now that you have a full length Panel on your secondary display, we need to make it display a list of your open applications.
  7. Right click the Panel and select Add To Panel.panels5
  8. Type Window List into the search box and click the Add button.panels6
  9. If necessary, you can adjust the position of the Window List by grabbing the far left end and sliding it to a desired location.

There are dozens of additional items you can add to your newly created Panel, so feel free to play around with it and come up with an ideal customized setup.

Have any tips on creating the perfect workspace?  Share them in the comments!

How To: Install Adobe AIR in Ubuntu 9.04

adobe_airAdobe AIR is a platform that allows software developers to build rich Internet applications that run outside the browser on multiple operating systems.  A few examples of applications that are based on the Adobe AIR platform are Twhirl and TweetDeck.

To install Adobe AIR in Ubuntu:

  1. Navigate to and click the “Download Now” button.
  2. Open Terminal (under Applications –> Accessories –> Terminal)
  3. Navigate to the directory where you saved the Adobe AIR .bin file (AdobeAIRInstaller.bin).
  4. Type chmod +x AdobeAIRInstaller.bin and press enter.
  5. Type sudo ./AdobeAIRInstaller.bin and press enter.

The typically Adobe AIR installer will now open and follow the on-screen instructions.  Once the Adobe AIR framework has been installed, you can launch any .air file and it will automatically be installed.

How To: Install and Configure Nvidia Drivers in Ubuntu 9.04

ubuntu-logo1Although Ubuntu has fantastic driver support in recent editions, I had some initial difficulty getting the Nvidia graphics drivers (for my GeForce 8600GT) properly installed and configured in Ubuntu 9.04 “Jaunty Jackalope”.  The built-in video drivers supported multiple monitors, but I was only able to drag windows halfway across the secondary monitor before they would become “stuck”.  In addition, graphical shading and transparency effects were nonexistant.


In previous versions of Ubuntu, I recall being prompted to install and enable Nvidia’s restricted video drivers (these drivers are not enabled by default because they are not open source and freely available).  However, I was not prompted to enable any restricted video drivers in 9.04 so I had to acquire the drivers manually.

This process is fairly straightforward, but be warned: it does involve the use of the Terminal and you should only proceed if you know how to work in that environment.  For you intrepid readers, feel free to check out a crash course in Terminal to better prepare yourself.


  1. Open the Terminal (Under Applications –> Accessories –> Terminal).
  2. Type sudo apt-get install nvidia-glx-180 and press enter.  If prompted, enter your administrator password.
  3. Note: nvidia-glx-180 is currently the most recent version of Nvidia’s Linux drivers at the time of this writing.  To make sure you’re getting the most recent drivers, check out Nvidia’s driver page.

  4. Once the Nvidia drivers have been successfully installed, you will need to reconfigure Xorg.conf, which is a file specifying the display settings for your system.  This can be done automatically by typing the command sudo nvidia-xconfig and pressing enter.
  5. Restart the X server.  This can be done easily by logging out of Ubuntu and logging back in, but if you still have problems a restart will work as well.
  6. Nvidia drivers are now installed!
  7. To enable multiple monitors:
    1. Open up the Terminal again and type sudo nvidia-settings (this is also available under System –> Administration –> Nvidia X Server Settings).  This will open a Nvidia monitor configuration window.
    2. Locate your secondary monitor, which will probably be displayed as (Disabled).
    3. Select the monitor and click Configure, then select TwinView.  Press OK.
    4. Click Save to X Configuration File, then click Apply.
    5. Your multiple monitors should now function properly.

Once the Nvidia drivers are installed, you’ll notice better visual effects and full-fledged multiple monitor support.

Have any tips or suggestions involving Nvidia drivers and Ubuntu?  Share them in the comments!

Ubuntu 9.04 “Jaunty Jackalope” Released

ubuntu-logo1Ubuntu – currently the world’s most popular Linux distribution – released it’s newest version today named “Jaunty Jackalope” which offers some major improvements over previous versions.  Available in desktop, server, and netbook editions, Ubuntu 9.04 offers faster boot-up times (23 seconds on a solid state drive!), better device compatibility, and new software such as Firefox 3 and 3.0.

In the back-end, Ubuntu 9.04 includes Gnome 2.26 which boasts better multi-monitor handling, as well as server 1.6 which provides support for new video cards and better video performance.  Long-time Ubuntu users will notice a new notification style and preferences and added support for the Ext-4 file system.

Ubuntu 9.04 server edition comes equipped with Eucalyptus, which is an open source technology that allows users to create their own private cloud computing servers.

Check back for guides and reviews of Ubuntu 9.04 and Ubuntu-related software coming soon.