Wednesday, October 15, 2008

D600 and Linux...

So a while back I purchased my old work laptop - a Dell D600. I initially put Win2k on it b/c that is what I had and my wife wanted Windows and it was easy. Recently we got her a new laptop - a nice HP Core Duo system running Vista Ultimate. She's happy; and I've had a little bit of free time.

So I put Linux - specifically Gentoo 2008.0 - on the D600. It took a little work, but nothing I wasn't up to. The install was really smooth - and would have been smoother if I had followed the directions the first time around. (Fortunately Linux is designed well, so while I rebuilt it, I didn't have to go back to the CD and no wireless. So I was able to do more over the wireless!)

So now I'm running a very recent Linux Kernel - 2.6.25. The ATI Video card (ATI Mobility FireGL 9000 Rev 1/Radeon R250) is natively supported with the radeon driver. The wireless (Broadcom 4306, Rev 2) and wired (Broadcom NetXtreme BCM5702X rev 2) NICs are natively supported too. In fact, pretty much everything is natively supported - sound, etc.

The downside, though, is that the ATI drivers don't support the video card any more. However, the open source driver does just fine.

So why am I writing this? Well, mostly to note that the support is now native - at least with Gentoo. In setting up the system, I have noticed that a lot of information on the Net mentions adding patches and other stuff. And really, the only big thing I had to do with Gentoo was the following - and this is only stuff specific to the D600:

1. Make sure to set the 'Dell Laptop' stuff when compiling the Linux Kernel. It's pretty evident in the various menus used to configure the kernel (e.g. make menuconfig).

2. I had to install the Wireless Firmware - which required some special work due to licensing restrictions, which basically consisted of downloading the firmware from a website, extracting it to /lib/firmware, and running a small program (also from the website, though I think Gentoo might have it in Portage too) to align it with the kernel. After that, it was like running any other NIC - though it came up as wlanX instead of ethX - but that's okay.

3. Configuring X was a pain. Mostly because the ATI drivers don't work, and it's hard to know the monitor and video card information on your own. I'll have to post more on this another day - but suffice it to say that it's not too hard to get a well working system.

4. Sound was pretty easy. I've got a pure ALSA set-up; and once Alsa mixer was installed and I enabled the various volumes - especially the 'Headphones' and 'External Amplifier' I got sound without a problem. The "External Amplifier" drives the Internal Speakers. Kind of doesn't make sense - but works very well.

5. I installed a few extra things laptop related - namely 'gkrellm'. Sadly, I can't quite remember all of them. The other thing was enabling the 'dell' USE flag for 'sys-apps/hal'.

6. I use KDE, and there is some information out there regarding using the 'latitude' keyboard. As I said, I paid a little attention during the various build phases and made sure 'dell' and 'latitude' stuff was enabled. And once I set KDE to use the "Dell Latitude series laptop" keyboard layout (Control Center->Regional & Accessibility->Keyboard Layout->Keyboard model), it just worked! Volume Up/Down/Mute just worked!

Needless to say, the year of the Linux Desktop is certainly upon us when it has finally become extremely easy to configure a system and get near full usage out of it, and not necessarily with manufacturer support at that - by that I mean, a number of the parts companies haven't released full specs or helped much with drivers; yet, I still get nearly as much out of it as I do under Windows - likely more since Linux is more resource friendly than Windows is.

(WinXP SP-2 wasn't bad on the system when I had it a while back; but as far as Windows went, Win2k SP4 was the prime for it. Now, I'm sitting quite pretty with a nice KDE 3.5.9 desktop, doing things that Win2k - likely even WinXP - could barely dream of. In fact, soon I'll be sitting pretty doing things that even Vista has a hard time dreaming of once KDE 4.1 or so is more easily able to install under Gentoo - right now, Portage 2.1 is keeping it from getting installed since it needs Portage 2.2, which isn't quite ready yet. Hopefully soon.)

Well any how...the last few weeks have been a dream for me. Oh - and my Win2k installation? I'll likely only be booting it using Bochs or some other emulator that can use the hard drive partition! Or may be I'll finish cleaning it up (getting the photos off of it) and then convert it to more disk space for Linux...I certainly don't need Windows here any more!

Hope someone finds this useful. Enjoy!

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