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Monday, May 27, 2013

Running an OpenBSD Laptop

I've been a long time user of OpenBSD for various projects since I worked for Nortel back in the good old days (2004? Wow, that's nine years and counting). My experience with the operating system is mostly on howling servers that you would never run on your desk.

Anyway, I've been working on porting some software to OpenBSD for a couple months and kept thinking to myself
"Boy I should get a proper workstation setup"
At first I was just using an ssh shell to one of my servers and working off that, which was a pain in the ass when the network was slow or out, or otherwise unavailable.

Second thought was,
"Maybe a VM on my main laptop will do?"
Uh, no. I don't like VMs, and to be honest I need a bit more performance than typing into a VM console. I have friend that is a VM hipster who thinks they are the best thing since butter, but I'm just not that kind of guy.

Anyway, after setting up a workstation on a spare P4 that has been sitting on the shelf behind me for a couple years and enjoying the experience, I grabbed a Dell D620 from a local company which sold all its old gear to me for a tuppence.

Power Management

Last year I sat through a talk by Theo de Raadt where he claimed that OpenBSD has the best ACPI implementation of any of the free operating systems. After noticing that the stock installation of OpenBSD ran a little hot on the D620, I opened the acpi(4) man page which said:
"Userland may access acpi by using the apm(4) device."
After a little bit of reading, I concluded that editing rc.conf.local to start the apmd daemon (responsible for handling the power management stuff) in "keep my computer cool mode" should do the trick.

On the advice of a random webpage I un-commented the line in /etc/sysctl.conf which tells the system to suspend whenever the laptop lid is closed.
After a nice demo by Henning Braur after his talk at BSDCan this year I am pleased to confirm a nice suspend and resume experience. Not only does the laptop take a nice nap when the lid is closed, it actually gets out of bed and back to work when its open.


Along with the laptop came a dock, which I specifically wanted to enable a modest transition from mobile to fixed workstation. And after a solid 7 minutes of rummaging through man pages I couldn't find any hooks to detecting when the machine has been docked.

Basically I wanted the following to automatically happen when the laptop is docked
  1. Turn off wifi
  2. Disable suspend on closed lid
  3. Turn on my desktop monitor
  4. Turn off the LVDS laptop panel
1 and 2 require some root permissions which means configuring sudo, 3 and 4 are easy with xrandr (thanks keith packard).

Upon undocking, I want to reverse this behaviour.

So far I have two scripts sitting on my desktop called docked and undocked which I can run to manually cut things over to the preferred state. I suppose this will do for now, since I have other things that need my attention.

Does anyone know of a more elegant way to do this? Or would someone like to write up a small daemon to handle this in the background? Maybe it could be called dockd?


In anycase, getting the system up and running has not been terribly difficult, and I should have no more excuses when it comes to getting to work on the OpenBSD port of FreeSWITCH I was going on about recently.

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