Linux on Dell Laptop (Inspiron 5150) Installation Guide

Purchased July 2004; specs: Mobile P4 (2.8GHz), 2x256Mb RAM, 30Gb hard drive, 32Mb nVidia GeForce FX Go5200.
Also a Netgear WG511T PC card was separately purchased to use with a Netgear DG834G wireless router.

Linux distribution to be installed: Fedora Core 2 (
(Update 12th July 2005 - now working with Fedora Core 4).


USB optical mouse
No known problems; auto-detected
Graphics: nVidia GeForce FX Go5200 (32Mb)
No known problems; needs nVidia's binary drivers for full 3D performance.
Ethernet: Broadcom Corporation BCM4401 100Base-T No known problems; auto-detected
Touchpad: Synaptics Touchpad
No known problems; auto-detected
Wireless: Netgear WG511T (Atheros AR5212 802.11abg)
No known problems; can require manual compilation of drivers from source
Processor: Intel Mobile Pentium 4 2.8GHz
No known problems (i.e. automatically scales processor speed); auto-detected
Audio Controller: Intel 82801DB (ICH4) AC'97
artsd under KDE sometimes fails to start and has to be started manually- otherwise no problems; auto-detected
Firewire: Texas Instruments PCI4510 Controller
Untried. No plans to test it.
Mini PCI controller
Untried. No plans to test it.
Modem: 82801DB (ICH4) AC'97 Modem Controller
Works with slmodem 2.9.9 from Livna.

1. Resize the Windows XP partition

This step is only necessary if you want to keep the Windows XP installation.

a) Boot Knoppix, and use qtparted (running as root).

To boot from CD, you may need to go into the BIOS (press F2). Be careful to press F2 early, otherwise you'll get to the Dell EULA screen and accidentally agree to that (which could harm your chances of getting a Windows refund later on).

Knoppix 3.3 didn't work (CPU detection/SMP problem); for Knoppix 3.4 I used "knoppix lang=uk xmodule=vesa screen=1024x768"; other tips suggested using "nosmp" but it worked without for me (you may need this option if your processor has hyperthreading).

There may be a Dell diagnostics partition; keep this. You can access it by configuring GRUB with this item:

title=Dell Diagnostics
root (hd0,0)
chainloader +1

(This is something to do after Fedora Core 2 has been installed - I mention it now because if you're not aware of it then you may end up erasing the partition, not realising its purpose).

b) Note the disk geometry:

Issue the command: "/sbin/fdisk -l" to print the current partition table
to screen in non-interactive mode. There's probably only one disk.

Write down the drive geometry as reported at the beginning of the output
from fdisk. This is reported as number of Cylinders, Heads, and Sectors
(hence the name CHS). This is necessary to work around a Fedora Core 2 installer bug.

For me: 3648 cylinders, 255 heads, 63 sectors.

2. Install Fedora Core 2

Ensure BIOS is booting first from CD; give the BIOS settings a once-over.
When running the installation CD, run the installer with the known geometry (only needed if you're keeping the Windows partition):

Example: linux hdc=3648,255,63 (

I burnt CD 1, and then used an NFS installation using a server on my other machine. NFS server is easy to set up using system-config-nfs; don't forget to open the firewall ports.

Command line was then "linux askmethod hdc=3648,255,63"

Configure XFree86 with generic Vesa driver (because of the need for binary NVIDIA drivers - nv driver won't work).

3. Update RPMs

Install the latest kernel. (NVIDIA and Atheros drivers have version-dependent kernel modules).

Might as well update whatever else can be found too; I checked /etc/sysconfig/rhn/sources and put in a UK mirror:

yum fedora-core-2$ARCH/os/
yum updates-released-fc2$ARCH/

My desktop machine also has:

yum dag$ARCH/dag
yum freshrpms$ARCH/freshrpms
yum fedora-us-stable-2$ARCH/RPMS.stable
yum livna-stable-fc2$ARCH/yum/stable
yum atrpms-fc2$ARCH/at-stable

You'll need to install the repositories' GPG keys before using them; copies are in the "atrpms" package from


4. NVIDIA drivers

Make sure that you're running the same kernel version that you're installing for,

rpm -Uvh

Configure Xorg to use the newly installed drivers. /usr/share/doc/nvidia-graphics6106-1.0_6106/XF86Config.sample is useful. (I booted into single user mode for this stage).

5. Madwifi drivers

rpm -Uvh
rpm -Uvh

Those RPMs don't work with the Netgear DG834G access point which I have; you must compile and install yourself with the following environment variable set:


Some information on this at:

My command sequence was:

rpm -Uvh   # needed package
cd /tmp
cvs -z3 -d:pserver:[email protected]:/cvsroot/madwifi co madwifi
cd madwifi/
make install

Add to /etc/modprobe.conf:

"alias ath0 ath_pci"

Create  /etc/sysconfig/network-scripts/ifcfg-ath0 :
ESSID=any (or SSID if it is not broadcast)

Do "/sbin/ifup ath0". In future, it should come up automatically; even though you have "ONBOOT=no", it is started by the PCMCIA hotplug functionality.

Look at status with "/sbin/ifconfig ath0" and "/sbin/iwconfig ath0". To check your reception and hotspots, "watch -n 1 /sbin/iwconfig ath0" is useful.

6. Miscellaneous/finishing off

- Install NTFS RPM if you're keeping Windows: (N.B. In the US, this may not be legal because of software patents - I am in Europe).

- '/sbin/lspci' shows an Intel AC'97 Modem Controller - I need to look at to get it working. I haven't done this yet. Update: many hours of trying, but no joy.
Update: Works on Fedora Core 4 with slmodem-alsa package from .

- ACPI doesn't appear to work completely; in the default Fedora configuration, pressing the power button is meant to invoke "/sbin/shutdown -h now", but in fact it does nothing. Battery/AC power usage is detected correctly, though. by default, the function keys for suspend and CRT/LCD do nothing, though I've not tried plugging into a standard monitor so don't know what would happen there.

THE END! Congratulations - you can now do some real work... or ask Dell for your Windows refund... (I didn't - they double charged me and it was so much hassle to get a refund for the double charging that I had no stamina left for anything else...)