Adventures In External Media With Kubuntu

Uncertainty over hardware support is a perennial Linux bugaboo. Rob Reilly tested various external storage devices on his Asus Kubuntu laptop, including an antique Zip drive, and reports his findings.
Posted January 30, 2009

Rob Reilly

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My new ASUS X83-VM laptop has a very capable, whisper-quiet 320 GB SATA drive. For some jobs, like storing my photos, that disk simply isn't big enough. It was time to look at external USB media options. Good thing the new machine has five USB 2.0 ports.

After successfully installing Kubuntu (kernel version: 2.6.27-11-generic, 64-bit), I searched all over for information about hooking up an external IDE USB drive to recover data from the 2.5 inch disk out of my dead HP Pavilion laptop. I also thought that a 500 GB Western Digital MyBook might work for photo storage duty. Alas, I couldn't find diddly. There was much speculation, but nothing saying "yes, these things work with Linux."

The solution to my media uncertainty...buy the equipment, plug 'em in, cross fingers and see if they work. My substantial financial risk is your informational gain.

Thus begins the adventure into Kubuntu on ASUS external media.

It makes sense to start out with the easy media and work our way up to the more complex.

I've been happily running Kubuntu on my old HP Pavilion for about a year with all hardware working, except for the built-in HP 5-in-one card reader. Nothing I've ever done seemed to make it functional.

Being able to read and write to SD cards has been increasingly important because of their use in modern digital cameras, such as my Nikon DSLR. I could always plug in the USB cable, enable file transfer mode and then access the card through the camera. It was workable, but took a little extra effort.

I found another solution in a SanDisk Micromate reader that came bundled with a recent 4 GB SD purchase. The little external card slot fob worked by plugging it into a USB port, then inserting and mounting the card.

Although my new ASUS laptop doesn't have a 5-in-one, it does has a functioning SD card reader, under Kubuntu. And, the latest version of the OS has a slick file system auto mounter that works very well with the default Dolphin file manager. Just stick the card in the on-board slot and select the "Volume VFAT" item from the device notifier menu to start the Dolphin file manager. You can then drag and drop files to whatever you like. See graphic #1 for a screen shot of the Dolphin file manager and the notifier menu.

I found that if you unmount the card, by right clicking and choosing "Safely Remove Volume (vfat)", that Dolphin will forget what's in it's directories and you'll no longer be able to see some of them on the card. A quick "Reload" from the "View" pull-down tab returns directory visibility to normal.

The USB cable to camera trick works, as does the Micromate reader, on the ASUS. Today, I can have three SD cards available all at once, if needed.

With SD cards covered, let's move on to using my vintage IOMega Zip CD drive.

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Tags: Linux, HP, media, cable, Storage

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