Linux on a Dell Studio 17

Abstract

This describes how one user installed Linux on a Dell Studio 17. The installation is incomplete (there are still minor buglets to work out) and will be added to when problems are solved. In the meantime, this is a good starting point for other users inclined to try the same installation.

Introduction: Why Bother?

Several factors induced my attempt to install Linux on a Dell Studio 17. First, I have been an avid Unix user since 1989 and had come to a point in my professional career and in Linux's maturity where I could just about get away with running everything on Linux rather than Microsoft Windows.

My household had three computers: my Acer 290 laptop running XP, my wife's Dell Latitude running the same, and a dual-booting eMachine that we used as a file and print server. I had been hobbying around on the eMachine to play with Linux, and my wife got tired of me locking her out of her printer and financial backups.

And then, the Acer's power supply gave out.

I had sworn an oath to install Linux the instant I had a new laptop, and this was my chance. Having dealt with the Acer for too long, I figured that I needed a 17'' screen for my software development and consulting work. No, I am not a multimedia mogul or a World of Warcraft gamer, but the big screens are still useful for text. My first Unix environment included a 19'' screen on a DECStation 3100, and I just got spoiled by the ability to run 2x2 Emacs buffers so that I could see two source files, one header file, and the compiler runs all on one screen.

After a day and a half of research, I found that a properly configured Dell Studio 17 got me everything I needed and a lot of what I wanted, including some future-proofing. I was running fine on 2GB before, but having 4GB should keep me going for a few more years (until this, too, frotzes). I like to run my computers into the ground before they become obsolete.

 

Bill of Materials

The hardware is a factory-customized Linux Studio 17. It contains:
    A ruby-red paintjob on the top of the clamshell \(which neither Microsoft nor Linux have a driver for\ldots\) Intel Core 2 Duo T5750 at2.00 GHz) Vista Home Premium SP1 4GB Shared Dual Channel DDR2 Standard (non-backlit) keyboard) Basic 17 inch 1440x900 screen) 256MB ATI MOBILITY RADEON HD 3650 250GB hard drive 8X Slot Load CD / DVD Burner (Dual Layer DVD+/-R Drive) High Definition Audio 2.0 (basic sound Dell 1397 Wireless-G Card (their name for a Broadcom BC4310) Integrated 2.0M Pixel Webcam Dell Wireless 370 Bluetooth Internal (2.0) No Fingerprint reader
From there, I added two self-burned DVD-ROMs: Ubuntu 8.04 for AMD64, and a self-booting gparted disk.

Procedure

Upon recieving the Studio, I booted into Windows and did the basic start up (who am I, what time zone am I in, etc.). I then rebooted with the gparted disk to make partitions. I know that I can install Ubuntu like a Windows app right into the NTFS, but I want to be able to run independantly of Windows.

From gparted, I shrunk the main Windows partition down to 50GB, so it's still there should I need it.

I created a new extended partition of about 105 GB. There, I made a 50 GB ext3 partition to drop linux on, a 50 GB ext2 partion to play with making my own Linux on (hey, everybody needs a hobby\ldots), and made the last 5 GB into a swap partition. This leaves about 45 GB unpartioned and unformatted, so that's for future expansion.

I swapped out the gparted disk for the ubuntu disk. I did a fairly vanilla install, mounting the first linux partition as ``/'', the second one as ``/mnt/alt\_linux'', and gave it the swap partition.

Upon first login, I was prompted to accept two non-free drivers: the ATI accelerated graphics driver, and one simply called ``wl''. I accepted both; it turns out that ``wl'' is the one for the wireless. If you look up the Dell 1397 (aka the Broadcom 4310), you see a lot of Linux-heads swearing at Dell for not saying what it is in the first place (true that), and being useless because there was no driver available. They seem to have made good on the second complaint.

 

Current Problems

For whatever reason, the numeric keypad on the right is screwed up. The four keys at the top (pgUp, pgDown, home, end) all work, and the numlock key toggles the numlock LED, but that's about it. I tried to capture the codes by typing them into an Emacs buffer and using M-x view-lossage, and the only other key on the numpad that emits a code is the 5 key. Numlock or not, it generates .

The switch screen key (fn-F8) seems to toggle between two modes: just the onboard display and duping the onboard display to the SVGA port. Amusingly, closing the clamshell shuts down not only the onboard display, but blacks out the SVGA external monitor. What I'm looking for is the ability to tell the system to ignore the clamshell, shut down the onboard, and feed my external flatscreen at its native resolution of 1680x1050.

 

Current Undetermined

This is simply the stuff I haven't checked yet.

I have not tested the SD/MMC card slot, the HDMI port, the PC Card slot, or the firewire. I haven't yet tried to connect a Bluetooth to it, and I don't know if I can disable the touchpad when I add a USB mouse. That gets annoying: I'm good at palming the touchpad by touch-typing.

The antenna switch on the left turns out the bluetooth light, but not the wifi one. I expected that to be reversed, but I may be the confused party.

 

 
Rob Mandeville