Knowing Knoppix/Identifying hardware

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Common hardware[edit]

Knoppix has built-in hardware identification. This means Knoppix can identify the make and model of a huge range of common PC components, such as processors, graphics cards, network cards, and so on. To use the hardware identification:

  1. Click K Menu.
  2. Click System.
  3. Click Info Center.
  4. The Info Center application will come up. On the left side are the various categories. Click a category to view the details.

The most useful categories are:

  • Processor (Central Processing Unit).
  • Memory (Random Access Memory, or RAM).
  • Partitions (partitions on hard disks and other drives).
  • PCI (Peripheral Component Interconnect cards).
  • PCMCIA (credit-card sized cards for laptops. PCMCIA stands for Personal Computer Manufacturer Interface Adapter).
  • Storage Devices (hard disks and other drives).
  • USB Devices (Universal Serial Bus peripherals).
Note 
If you plug in a new USB device, and you are already on the USB Devices page, choose any other category and then select USB Devices again to refresh the list.

Listing hard disks[edit]

To get a listing of the hard disk drives in the computer, including the make and model of each one:

  1. Click the Konsole (bottom row, 6th from the left).
  2. Enter the following command, then press Enter.
    dmesg
  3. The dmesg command shows the “kernel messages”. You will get quite a lot of output. Scroll up about two-thirds of the way until you see lines like this:
    hda: ST320410A, ATA DISK drive
    hdc: JLMS XJ-HD165H, ATAPI CD/DVD-ROM drive
    hdd: LITE-ON LTR-52327S, ATAPI CD/RW drive

    The example above is from a computer with IDE drives. It has one hard disk drive and two CD drives. The primary master (hda) is a “Seagate Technology 320410A” hard disk drive. “ATA” stands for “AT Attachment”. The secondary master (hdc) is a DVD drive and the secondary slave (hdd) is a CD writer.
Tip
To see only the lines from dmesg that contain the letters “hd”, enter:
dmesg | grep hd
The “|” character is a vertical bar, not a capital “i”.
On a UK keyboard layout, the vertical bar is on the key between “Z” and the left “Shift”.

Limitations[edit]

The ability to identify hardware is tremendously useful. However, there are limitations you should know about.

Hardware newer than Knoppix[edit]

The most important limitation is that Knoppix cannot accurately identify PCI and PCMCIA hardware that is newer than Knoppix is. USB and Firewire devices work differently and are not subject to this limitation.

This book comes with Knoppix version 3.3, which is dated September 2003. Knoppix should be able to identify most hardware made before that date (except the very old or very rare).

However, Knoppix version 3.3 may only be able to identify PCI and PCMCIA hardware made after September 2003 as an “Unknown device”. A newer version of Knoppix may help. A newer version can be obtained from the Knoppix web site and from other vendors.

Winmodems[edit]

The vast majority of modems made these days are winmodems. A winmodem is a modem that relies on the CPU for some of it's communication routines. This is done to save a few components and reduce manufacturing costs. Winmodems tend not to work well with Linux. A common example is the Intel 537 series of PCI internal modem cards.

Knoppix can only tell you what a winmodem identifies itself as, in its hardware. Knoppix cannot tell you about the Windows-specific software needed to get it working in Windows. For example, in the case of Intel 537 based winmodems, there are many different vendor-specific Windows drivers, which may be incompatible with each other. However, these cards will all be reported the same in Knoppix. That is more a limitation of the hardware, rather than a limitation of Knoppix.

Identified does not mean supported[edit]

Knoppix may not have driver support for all the hardware it can identify. In other words, just because Knoppix tells you the make and model of a device does not mean it actually works in Knoppix. For example, the Intel 536EP internal modem PCI card is accurately identified; but it is not usable because it requires proprietary software that cannot be distributed with Knoppix.

Not guaranteed[edit]

The identification provided by Knoppix may be wrong. This is because Knoppix is not perfect (sorry). However, it is pretty reliable. For example, in two years of using Knoppix every day, I have had only one instance of wrongly identified hardware (a fairly obscure sound card).

The hardware identification strings are mostly provided by Linux users, rather than the hardware vendors themselves. However, the hardware vendors are not perfect either. Sometimes the Linux users' identification corrects mistakes made by hardware vendors!