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Raspberry Pi 400 Daily Driver

Learning to use a Raspberry Pi 400 laptop as an everyday computer and sharing the results.

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After buying a Raspberry Pi 400 and Vilros Pidock 400 for the PiCarts project, I decided to see if I could use the setup as my main computer and not just a development platform. It's not very powerful relative to most modern desktops, but I'm patient and willing to learn. I've only owned 3 new computers in my life, this being one of them. It's cheap, portable, and very unique as a laptop. Being so cheap, I'm not afraid of something bad happening to it. This project page is to document my adventures in using only a Raspberry Pi 400 for my computing needs. I'll be doing audio and video editing, graphics design work, hardware and software development, some gaming, and the usual daily tasks like web browsing. I started adding logs relating to using the Pi 400 on another project, but this is big enough to be its own project page.

I hope this helps convince others that the Pi 4 and Pi 400 are viable every day computers. I hope to help them grow.

This project consists of a Raspberry Pi 400 revision 1.0, running Pop!_OS 20.10 from a Samsung Bar 32GB USB 3.0 flash drive, docked in a Vilros Pidock 400. The SD card slot is used as extra storage as needed. The system runs from 12 volts DC and has no internal battery. It has a very nice 1080p IPS display with a full sized HDMI input. Audio is split from HDMI and sent out to a headphone jack. It has no internal speakers. The Pi 400 is overclocked to 2.2GHz without active cooling. The mouse is a standard Raspberry Pi mouse that came with the full desktop kit. 

The end goal is to see just how much a Pi 400 can really accomplish as an every day computer for the masses. The keyboard form factor will encourage more people to use one, as it did with me. I like the GPIO, but can't stand the mess of wires and the bare board of the Pi 4. The laptop dock takes it to another level of convenient most people would be familiar with. I've not had any interest in using a Pi as a desktop until the 400 came out. 

The hope is that more native software and custom hardware will become available for the Pi 400 as it gains popularity. I plan to develop games that incorporate hardware on the GPIO pins such as environmental sensors and displays. I don't yet have the skills to complete that project, but I've started it and the Pi 400 is helping me keep going with it's convenience. System76 has played a massive role in helping the Pi with the release of Pop!_OS 21.10 for the Raspberry Pi. It was the only full Ubuntu OS I could get to boot and run on the Pi 400. Without it, I wouldn't be running the Pi as a daily driver. Raspberry Pi OS is too cumbersome for me to work with on a daily basis. Pop!_OS has become my favorite OS and I will continue to use it on my Pi and other systems. 

Long live the Pi 400, spiritual successor to the great keyboard PCs of the past. 

  • 1 × Raspberry Pi 400 The main computer
  • 1 × Vilros Pidock 400 Turns Pi 400 into a laptop
  • 1 × 1/4 Inch Rubber Bumpers Used to keep the laptop screen from hitting keyboard when closed
  • 1 × 32GB Samsung Bar flash drive Used as initial boot drive instead of booting from SD cards
  • 1 × 256 GB Samsung Fit Flash Drive Used for media and data storage

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  • Gaming on the Pi: Steam Link

    Dustin3 hours ago 0 comments

    I finally got Steam Link running on my Pi 400 and am really enjoying it. I'm currently typing this on my Pi laptop, into the Firefox browser running on my gaming laptop. I thought Steam Link would only allow me to play games over the network, but it's pleasantly surprised me by letting me control the entire OS. I was actually looking at hardware just today to make the gaming laptop easier to access. I was getting tired of having to switch to the other keyboard and track pad to do anything. This is a nice change of pace. I may still set up a proper remote desktop client in the near future.

    As far as networking goes, I plugged the Pi 400 into the laptop using a cheap Cat6 ethernet cable. It's plenty responsive, even at the limited 90Mb/s of the Steam Link software. This is a known limitation, probably caused by porting over the settings from the original Steam Link hardware. This limitation is what makes me want to set up proper remote desktop. The Pi 400 may not be very powerful, but it does seem to make an excellent remote client for more powerful machines. I shared the laptop wifi connection over ethernet to get internet to the Pi, and it hasn't much, if any affect on internet speeds. If I had to guess, I'd say its because the laptop has a better antenna and gets a stronger signal than the Pi where I am located at the moment. I may end up sharing the laptop internet connection to my old wifi router and using that to connect everything else to. The end goal is to be able to take a high powered laptop, my Pi 400 laptop, and a small but speedy wifi router on the road with me and run them all from a vehicle battery, portable battery bank, and random outlets. I really just want to see if it's possible to travel super light and still take all of the tech comforts of home with me. I think it would be quite fun to play my Steam games on top of a mountain or something stupid. Not everything I do has to make sense. It would just be nice to have a portable set up to take with me and share with friends and people I meet. I'm also looking into a VR headset that could travel and run off the laptop I'm saving up for. Vanishing Realms was the first VR game I ever played and it became one of my favorite games of all times. I'd love to be able to play that wherever I go and share a VR experience with others who may not be able to afford such a set up. I know I couldn't for the longest time. Still can't justify it yet. Anyway, the Pi running Steam Link is the first step in playing decent games on this humble, yet capable little PC. It runs very well, and I can already play games on it that never had ARM releases. Like Golf with Your Friends. Love that one.

    There was a trade off I had to make to get this to work: I can't run Steam Link on my favorite Pi OS. Pop!_OS is based on Ubuntu 20.10, which is unsupported and will not run Steam Link. Luckily, I have an SD card with Raspberry Pi OS Bullseye on it. Oh wait...Steam Lin won't run on that either... Luckily again I have an SD card with Raspberry Pi OS Buster on it, which runs great. I'll be keeping a boot drive with Buster on it for gaming and general goofing off. It's not my preferred OS, but it is still quite capable. One of the best features of the Pi is that the boot drive can be changed out very quickly. Unlike my laptop, which is going down for an upgrade from Linux Mint 19.3 to Pop!_OS. I love mint, but Pop is my new favorite. I'll be installing Pop on a different SSD and swapping them out in case I run into problems with Pop and need to revert. I've been running Mint on this PC since I got it, and on everything else since 2018 or so. I'm hoping that Pop will have better hardware support for my GPU(GTX 765M) and give me better gaming results, which would make the Pi experience even better.

    Overall, I'm very happy with everything so far, and have learned quite a bit just trying to get Steam Link working on the Pi 400. I don't game often, and it's mostly because I usually don't have the time,...

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  • Cooling Update and Random Thoughts

    Dustin2 days ago 0 comments

    Cooling Update

    I've been using the Pi on and off all day and I do think the little cooling fan is helping the LCD driver board. It does seem significantly cooler. I can feel the air coming from the fan when I check now. I'm guessing the little bearings had to warm up and loosen to really get it spinning. I can feel it running when typing, but it's silent. The Pi still runs very hot, but that's to be expected and dealt with later.

    Random Thoughts

    I really like that my entire laptop is white with no branding at all. It's the least distracting computer I have ever used or seen in my entire life. I love that. It's a tool for creating things, and shouldn't get in the way. I have considered loading it up with fun stickers, but I really like how low key it is. That and no one would have a clue what it is if they just looked at it. A Pi enthusiast might notice it, especially if they saw the Pi button on the keyboard. Being white, it does show dirt easier, but that helps me remember to clean it. I might get the Vilros rubber keyboard cover for the Pi 400 and see how I like that. Sometimes I'm gross AND need to use my computer. Like when cooking. This would be pretty neat for watching videos on while cooking. Except the screen splatter...

  • Pidock 400 Active Cooling 1: LCD Driver Board

    Dustin2 days ago 0 comments

    Disassembly

    Getting the Pidock 400 apart was far easier than I thought it would be. It looked like there was super glue holding the front corners together, but it was just some crappy plastic work. It's held together by clips and quite easy to get into with some sort of prying tool. I used a small flat head screwdriver. The hinge covers are side specific, so just switch them if they leave a gap on the back side. There is a bit of 3M VHB tape that holds down the center bit at the back. This may be tough to remove, so take your time. I was luck in that someone put tape on the bottom AND top but never peeled the backing off the lid side, so it came right apart. I left it like that for easy disassembly. I'd use adhesive double sided Velcro there in the future. I used to use it for RC planes and it was very handy. I don't have a picture of the case open without the fan installed, but there is actually a small grate there with mounting holes for a fan. I have 4 of these fans on hand...Perfection.

    Underside of the Pidock 400 deck
    Here's the underside of the Pidock deck. Bottom center is the touchpad hardware. It's actually braced under the buttons. Not bad.
    Pidock 400 Internals, fan mounted
    Here's the inside of the Pidock 400, fan screwed in place with brass wood screws I had laying around.

    Fan Installation

    Installing the fan was far easier than I thought. There is a place with screw mounts and vent holes that seem to be designed for the exact size fan I had on hand. The holes line up, everything fits, the cables even reach the 5 volt socket on the board. I ended up pulling off the black plastic end on the ground cable of the fan, as the two side by side wouldn't fit into the socket on the LCD driver board. This worked well enough and I used tape to hold the wires down. This worked better than I thought it would.  Not too much to say, so check out the pictures.

    Underside of Pidoc 400 LCD driver board
    On the underside of the board is a 5 volt power socket. I know it's 5 volts because it's labeled on the top of the board. That label is what made me turn the board over. I was expecting to find solder pads and have to solder the fan wires on.
    Top of Pidock 400 LCD driver board, showing the 5 volt and ground labels
    Here is the label that go me interested in he underside of he board, where I discovered a 5 vol socket.
    Fan wih modified wires in Pidock 400
    Here's how I go he fan wires to connect o he socket on he LCD driver board. Used a small pick tool to release he plastic sheath on the wire. I ended up taking it off the ground instead of the positive, as pictured here. It works just fine once taped down.
    Fan connected to Pidock 400 LCD driver board.
    Here's the fan connected to the driver board, minus the tape that holds it in place. The wires are very loose, so the tape was not optional. A proper plug is what I should use, but tape is what I have.

    Assembly

    After verifying the fan runs and the Pi boots and has video, I assembled the case. I ran into some trouble getting the corner over the driver board clipped in, but I suspect it's because the entire case has warped since it has been in use. I know good plastic mold making when I see it, and this is decent, but not great. It looks like proper trash compared to my Hilti hammer drill, but Hilti is known for proper industrial quality, not budget niche electronics. Overall, this thing is great quality for the price. I would personally pay double for better plastic, more ventilation, tons of cooling, an SSD mount and adapter cable, keyboard light above the display, power button on the case, and built in battery and speakers. That would make a proper Pi 400 laptop, which would make me very happy. I might just design that one of these days. If I ever have the time, skill, and energy. Until then, the Pidock 400 will work fine. The rest of the assembly went just fine. I did get the hinge covers on the wrong side, which left a puzzling gap. I immediately suspected they weren't symmetrical as I first thought, and a closer look at the tabs verified they are different lengths. Switching them around had it back together once more. The entire bottom seems to have warped, causing the Pi to sit up a little higher than it should. I may heat the case and gently straighten...

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  • New Software and Boot Drive Considerations

    Dustin2 days ago 0 comments

    New Software

    I finally have a stable system and am ready to get back to work on a few projects. For this I installed Kid3 for editing metadata on media files, Krename for batch renaming files, and ConvertAll which I use for figuring out unit conversions without having to wait for the browser to load or needing internet. I try to do as much offline and local as possible. I don't always have internet access. I used to use Metamorphose2 for batch file renaming, but I haven't been able to install it for quite sometime. I wonder if it's been discontinued or something. Kid3 is what I normally use, so no learning curve there. I still need a backup solution since my usual TimeShift won't get through a restore operation without crashing. I've been cloning the boot drive to an SD card. Just finished doing so a few minutes ago before installing any new software. Just never know when something will ruin the OS like the audio fiasco after system updates.

    Boot Drive Considerations

    I really need to settle on a boot drive. I've found that my Samsung Bar 32GB flash drive is decent, but it gets incredibly hot and slows way down. I really want a 1TB super tiny portable SSD but they're about $160USD and I don't want to spend that on just a single drive right now. For the same price I can get 5 good SD cards, a SATA to USB 3.0 adapter to use with my 256GB Samsung flash drive, a cooling fan for the Pidock 400, 512GB SD card, and a 256GB Samsung Bar Plus flash drive. I'd just use the 512GB SD card as a boot drive, but I have had countless SD cards corrupted by the Raspberry Pi. A single system crash can be all it takes to ruin them. My 256GB SD card for 4K video recording was permanently ruined by this very Pi 400. That was fun AND expensive. I won't run from SD anymore. My recovery system is Raspberry Pi OS with a write protected OS so it's less likely to die when I trp a breaker and shut everything off by accident. For now, I will just use the SATA SSD I have as a boot drive. It will be tucked neatly under the Pi, and not attached directly to the super hot USB ports. It's older, but far faster than the flash drives and SD cards, and will be thermally insulated. I will also have the option to upgrade the SSD in the future. Ultimately I want an NVME SSD to boot from, but I may ot have enough physical space inside the Pidock. I don't want things dangling all over the place off my Pi. It's annoying and how things get broken or left behind. I'll be opening up the Pidock 400 soon to see what kind of space I have to work with. I'm not above drilling holes, cutting notches, adding fans and power supplies and batteries, and just generally hacking it up a bit. It's very close to a perfect Pi laptop already, might as well finish the job and share the results.

  • Teaching Others?

    Dustin3 days ago 0 comments

    I've always loved the library. Especially my local hometown library. I finally live close to it and want to spend more time there and contribute something useful. It's where I spent the most productive and peaceful days of my rather stressful childhood. I get the library email newsletter and it's always a good read. I love sharing knowledge and teaching as much as gathering knowledge and learning. It all brings me immense joy for whatever reason. I'm trying to think of ways to use my Pi and what I'm doing here to teach others. Maybe I could take it in and demonstrate what's possible with such a simple and affordable system? All I know is that I want to teach classes at my library. I just need to figure out what and how. I'm probably one of the most tech savvy person in my entire home town right now. I'm probably the only one with an interest in teaching classes at the local library. I'll keep thinking on it and see what I come up with. Maybe I teach video editing and creative work on the Pi and send a few people home with a Pi 400 kit and a custom OS image to work with. Endless possibilities. Oh how I miss the antique oak tables and plush leather arm chairs of that gorgeous old library...

  • Video Editing: Thermal Throttling

    Dustin3 days ago 0 comments

    It finally happened: I got my tortured Pi 400 to thermal throttle. It took longer than I expected. I've been rendering videos on and off all day and finally did it with Handbrake. It rendered a short 4K clip at 1080p, very high quality settings, and I got the little flashing thermometer symbol in the top right of the screen. The system never crashed so I'm ok with it. Active cooling is definitely coming. I want to get the system set up for daily use before I start worrying about extra hardware.

    Anyway, I hit an interesting milestone. I' considered turning down the overclock from 2.2GHz to 2.0GHz, but I want to see what happens and how long the Pi lasts. I may order a backup/secondary Pi 400 soon anyway. Good stuff.

  • Video Editing 1: Successful Attempt #1

    Dustin3 days ago 0 comments

    I finally got this thing working and am ready to try to make a video. I'll start by outlining the overall process. After I install Handbrake...

    Done.

    There are two ways I can do this right now, as I am starting with 4K video files. The first is to just shove them into Kdenlive and let it render them down into proxy versions that I can actually work with. The second is to run all the files through Handbrake ahead of time to compress the files down to 1080p before I try to edit them. If I do this, I'll be rendering the files twice: Once to drop from 4K to 1080p, then again in Kdenlive to drop them down further for proxy versions. Thinking about it, the proxy render is unavoidable due to the low power nature of the Pi 400. Proxy rendering may be faster if I start with 1080p videos, but I'm not sure. If I know I will be making a video and have time, I'll compress the video files ahead of time. Otherwise, I may just see if Kdenlive can make proxy files in a reasonable time. I was writing this log as I go in Firefox, but want to free up system resources so I will switch over to WordGrinder and paste the log back into here when done. Saving the draft. Never mind, can't get what I have into WordGrinder, using notepad... I forgot to install VLC Media Player. The whole audio failure has really thrown me through a loop here. At least I get to open a ton of programs and windows at once and see how the system handles it. I'd say far better than before. I'm guessing there was an update somewhere that crippled the entire system. It feels much ore responsive.

    Testing Kdenlive with a 4K file first, as I have them handy. I suspect the videos I have labeled as "final" are already 1080p, judging by the file size. I'll try to find the 4K version of one of these files and test both in Kdenlive. VLC codec info confirms this is a 1080p version of the file. Labeling it in the file name. It turns out I don't have the original 4k file handy. I do have a bunch of 4k files shot from a different point of view. They all need converted to 1080p for this project, which will be a good test. I just spent the past 15 minutes or so just organizing the media for this project. It really needed cleaned up. I have a folder template for video projects that makes it easy to organize everything. I have a log file where I typed up notes originally. I need to go back through it and figure out where I left off. Had I not done all of that, I'd be rather overwhelmed with this project right now. Most of the work here is just organizing and preparing for the creative work. So far, the Pi has hadled things admirable. Pop!_OS has done exactly as it was supposed to and stayed out of my way. I haven't had any OS distractions after I set up the floating windows exceptions, which stops certain windows from resizing automatically. Specifically I set up VLC and Kdenlive to ignore tiling requests. This means they both open full screen every time. VLC freaks out when it opens a video and tiling tries to put it somewhere. It was slowing things down.
    I need a to do list for this right now:

    Set up battery bank as UPS for the Pi as the power in my camper goes out randomly when I turn on too many things.
    Watch, name, and organize the unsorted 4k files. Requires modifying the config.txt to allow 4k playback, which I disabled. Alternatively, I can simply let Handbrake compress them down to 1080p. This is the better solution as it needs done anyway.

    Switch to a text editor with autosave in case the system locks up or power is lost.

    Test Kdenlive with 4k and 1080p videos.

    Do the actual creative work and render the final video.

    There is a lot to do here, but it is coming along nicely. I will start with setting up the battery bank as a UPS to make sure I will have stable power. Well that failed quite nicely. The battery bank was causing the Pi to throw the low voltage alarm, so I went back to wall power. I have a 12 volt battery bank in mind that can run the Pidock 400 and Pi 400, but it’s...

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  • Creating a Custom Pop!_OS Pi 400 Image

    Dustin4 days ago 0 comments

    After the recent audio failure under the OS, and losing an entire day to sorting it out, I've decided to create my own system image. I'll install and test everything needed for daily use, then clone the system to an image file, write to a drive, and verify it still works. I couldn't imagine a non Linux or non tech savvy person trying to sort this crap out. I'm struggling with it and I've been daily driving Linux for a few years now. When done, I'll have an image that can do video editing and all the stuff I need. I'll get hardware acceleration sorted out as well. I'll find a way to share the images I make in case anyone ever wants them. I'll add the to the "Files" section of the project page and maybe my GitHub page as well. This has been a nightmare. I'm still creating a new recovery drive that I can use to flash drives with on the Pi 400. It's very tedious. 

    Anyway, keep an eye out for up to date, verified system images on this page. They'll be Pop!_OS at first and maybe some Raspberry Pi OS images later down the road. 

  • Pi 400 Video Editing: Fail #1

    Dustin4 days ago 0 comments

    I'm sitting down to start creating a video I started a while ago and never finished. I'll be doing it on the Pi 400 of course. Pi 400, Vilros Pidock 400, in ear monitors, kdenlive, Audacity, extra patience.

    The first step is to review all the footage and decide what I want to use in this video. This is probably the most difficult step for me. I could use so many different clips in so many different combinations with may different audio clips or music tracks. It's the part where I have to decide what story to tell and how to tell it. I have a little YouTube channel where I experiment with videos, and a mascot named Mr. Fish. It's one of those electronic flopping fish cat toys. I have footage of him flopping about and doing different things. I call this video project "A Day in the Life of Mr. Fish." It's fairly simple, but I have to find the most hilarious order to put the clips and find the audio I want to use. Having started this months ago and forgotten about it, I only vaguely remember where I left off. Luckily I started taking notes and sorting files. I have a folder called "Final" that has all the video files I originally decided to use. They're good, but I will review all files again and revise the list. Just watching all the files can be tedious at times as they're 4K and the Pi does struggle ever so slightly to play them. Luckily VLC Media Player seems to be rather quick about it. I couldn't imagine streaming 4K to the PI. I could actually edit 4K video and render in 4K on the Pi as long as I use the kdenlive proxy settings and be patient. I'll try a 4K project later. Perhaps just a 4K version of the same video. I'll be rendering this one in 1080p. I've found that shooting in 4K and rendering in 1080p actually gives a better picture than shooting in 1080p.

    Currently copying all the project files from a flash drive to the main boot drive. I could leave them on the flash drive, but I want to make sure I have access to them even if I have to plug something else into the other USB 3.0 port. It's copying very slowly for some reason. About 5MB/s. Not sure why. Hoping the read speeds will be better when I go to edit the videos. Researching what kind of video editing/gaming machine I could build with a Pi while I wait... $75 for top of the line CM4 module, $35 for the carrier board. $110, plus a GPU. Not bad. It has 2 camera connectors on it, which would allow me to actually use the thing to record the videos as well as edit and upload them... I think I'll revisit my idea to make a portable video production studio made using Raspberry Pi hardware... If this project goes well, I'll create a project page and get started on it as I go. Still copying files...Copy complete. Waiting on Jeff Geerling to get a GPU working to really worry about the GPU aspect of the CM4 video station idea.

    Reviewing files and such. No audio...No audio devices available... Saving log draft, restarting PC... Many hours have passed working on this and I'm now so annoyed I've decided to reinstall the entire OS and start from scratch. I really hate this about working with Linux. I was keeping plenty of TimeShift backups on an SD card, but the restore doesn't work and just crashes the program. I have no simple way to restore the system. From now on I will just clone the damn boot drive for backups and be done with it. Creating a new boot drive now so I can format the current one. Very frustrating. Luckily I keep all on OS files on separate drives so I don't have to worry about pulling personal data and can just wipe the drive. Now I have to waste all that time to reinstall all my programs and set everything back up again... I guess that's one of the hidden costs of using a beta OS. Adding my overclock settings to the config.txt file on the fresh install to help speed things up initially. I could have used my other laptop to flash the drives, but I want to stick with the theme of only using the Pi 400. Makes things really interesting with only 3 USB ports...

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  • Initial Video Production Testing

    Dustin4 days ago 0 comments

    One of my favorite hobbies is video production. I feel I currently suck at it, and am still learning the workflow and deciding on tools, but I enjoy it all the same. I have an MSI GE60 from 2013 that I've been using, but wanted to get away from that giant old power hog and try out the Pi 400 as a video editing system. I've got all my project files from an unfinished video project loaded onto the Pi, and have decided on a few software tools already. I will be using kdenlive for the video editing, Audacity for audio editing, and Inkscape for image editing. kdenlive is set up to create proxy clips for any video file over 480 pixels. This will allow me to play back and scrub through the files at a decent speed on this Pi. I will be working with 4K video files shot with a GoPro Hero 7 Silver, and audio files recorded on a Zoom H5 audio recorder.

    I'm using a Pi 400 overclocked to 2GHz, running Pop!_OS 21.10 from a 32GB Samsung Bar flash drive on the USB 3.0 port. The project files reside on that boot drive. Read and write speeds are acceptable, and far better than running from micro SD. I'll be using the display on the Vilros Pidock 400 for the video monitor, and either my MEE Audio M6 Pro in ear monitors(fancy headphones), or my Creative Stage Air Bluetooth sound bar for audio monitoring. I'll likely edit with the monitors and check the final result on the sound bar.

    Between the 4K video files, high bit rate audio files, limited power of the Pi 400, heat issues caused by the Pidock 400, and untested GPU hardware acceleration, this should be a great test of what the Pi is really capable of. I know there are a few videos out there where kdenlive is used to make videos n the Pi 400, but I want to know what it would be like to learn the entire process on a Pi and use only the Pi for video production. In the future I will add active cooling to the Pidock and overclock the Pi even further for better performance. When I get around to verifying GPU hardware acceleration for FFMPEG, I will turn it on in kdenlive and test performance on various file types and resolutions.

    For now, I am going with a fairly stock Pi set up running under Pop!_OS using the software available from the PopShop. This is a setup attainable for the average person who just needs something super cheap and simple to get started. Results of the next test in the next log entry.

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