Saturday, July 08, 2006

Adventures in Linux-Laptop-Land

What is it about Dell and their laptops that they have to change the hardware every few months, even among the same model lines? I used to have a Dell Inspiron 600m, which worked quite well under Debian Sarge, with a decent X screen resolution (1400x1050), working sound, Ethernet and wireless, and working PCMCIA.

I recently got a new laptop, and got the next model up in the Inspiron line (630m), since the 600m was not made anymore. The 630m has proven to be *very* Linux and Free-Unix unfriendly. The video is in Intel 915GM card, with the LCD screen only able to do 1280x800 (what a strange resolution, very wide but narrow). Anyway, pretty much every distro I've tried on it needs the 915resolution hack to work at anything but 1024x768. Then there is the sound card, an Intel ICH6 - needing the latest Alsa drivers to get working headset muting and mic (meaning compile from source). The wireless is a Broadcom bcm4318 (re-branded as an Intel so you can't tell ahead of time), which doesn't work unless you use ndiswrapper. And there is no more PCMCIA - this thing has an ExpressCard slot, which completely pissed me off since it turned my collection of useful PCMCIA cards into junk. The SATA hard drive is not supported by the 2.6.8 kernel in Debian Sarge, meaning 2.4 (oddly enough, the SATA drive *is* supported by the 2.4 kernel installed by default in Sarge) or something like Ubuntu or Red Hat. ACPI suspend worked under Breezy, but hibernate has never worked properly on this thing (perhaps I didn't try hard enough).

I originally had Ubuntu Breezy installed on it, but never could get the sound card to work properly, a problem since I rely on a SIP phone for work. I upgraded to Dapper when it was released, still no-go on the sound card (even after installing the latest CVS Alsa drivers). Same for Debian Sarge and FreeBSD. I poked around, finding that others had some success with sound on this particular laptop under Fedora Core 5, using a particular Alsa version, so I installed it. Now sound works fully, including mic and headphone muting, but it is unusably choppy with Ekiga or any other Linux SIP phone. Grrr..

So I just settled on using Fedora Core 5 on my laptop for the past month or so, sick of all the fiddling, and have been working off my cell phone when I travel. In my office I just have an old PC running Debian that runs Ekiga just fine, but this doesn't travel and defeats the biggest advantage of using an IP phone - being able to transplant your office anywhere. Fedora has its own warts (especially for someone so used to Debian for many years), but I'll save that for another post.

So, again, what is it with the current laptop market, Dell in particular? Full of proprietary hardware that changes every few months (if I had known I was getting a Broadcom wireless chipset, I never would have bought it). I keep hoping that the laptop market will settle on some sort of standard group of hardware components with open specs, but this will probably never happen.

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ARG! said...

Did u check abt the hardware compatibility *before* buying?
How can you crib abt things like PCMCIA cards turning useless? Why go in for such model, if you know it's not designed for your needs?

ARG! said...

I bought a laptop couple of months ago. My only aim was to have a dvd writer in lowest budget.
After doing r-n-d, I bought Acer 2413 NLMi.

1.5 GHz celeron
40 GB hdd,
256 RAM,
4 USB,
dvd writer drive,
PCMCIA slot.

All that for Rs 33,000/-
45 Rs = 1 $.

Doug said...

Yes, I admit to not looking closely at the hardware specs, however, I was "fooled" into a false-sense of security as my 600m had worked great under linux. I figured ther 630m, with similar, but not exact hardware would be OK, too (inlcuding the Intel wireless). Hence my gripe about Dell making what I saw (later) as a big change in hardware in the same model line.

Anonymous said...


I bought a Lenovo T60. And it's works fine. I only have Problems with ekiga and using my mic. But i think that's a alsa Problem. I hear the voice from the mic in my speakers. But the rest, with the ATI Card, WLAN works. I never tested the PCMCIA card thing.