Linux on Dell Laptop (Inspiron 1501) Installation Guide


Purchased June 2007; specs: AMD Turion 52 (dual core), 2x512Mb RAM, 120Gb hard
drive, ATI Radeon Express 256Mb HyperMemory and Broadcom MiniPCI wireless networking card.

Linux distribution to be installed: Fedora Core 7 (http://www.fedoraproject.org). (Update August 2010: still working happily with Fedora 12 – and some of the steps below are now not so complex; for one thing, Fedora 12 has inbuilt wifi drivers that work out of the box with this machine’s chip).

Summary:

Hardware Tested

Works?

USB
optical mouse

No
known problems; auto-detected

Graphics: ATI Radeon Express 256Mb HyperMemory

No
known problems; needs ATI’s binary drivers for full 3D performance (I haven’t tested them).

Ethernet:
Broadcom Corporation BCM4401 100Base-T
Auto-detected; not tested. (Driver known to work with Linux).
Touchpad

No
known problems; auto-detected
Wireless: Broadcom Dell MiniPCI Wireless Card

Works subject to firmware download.

Processor: AMD Turion 52 dual core

No known problems (i.e. automatically scales processor speed);
auto-detected.

Audio
Controller

Auto-detected, no problems.
Modem: Soft modem

Untested; should work with slmodem 2.9 from Livna.

SD card readerAuto-detected, no problems.

DVD(+)/CD rewriterAuto-detected, no problems.

Anything else to mention?

  • I learnt that there is a little bit of misleading advertising
    involved in marketing this machine as having 1024Mb of RAM and 256Mb on
    the graphics card – in fact, the graphics card’s “HyperMemory” is just
    a name of the AMD technology that uses the main system memory for its
    memory. It is not real memory! In fact my machine boots with 894Mb –
    128Mb is taken from the system RAM at all times.
  • A Fedora 7 LiveCD (KDE) failed to launch X; I have not investigated the cause of the problem. Same with the Fedore 8 KDE LiveCD too.

1. Resize the Windows Vista partition

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

  • Boot from CD – use either the gparted CD, or the system rescue CD (use Google to track these down); these both contain gparted, the essential tool.
  • Launch into X Windows if not already. Run gparted, the partitioning tool, and resize your NTFS partition(s).
  • You can create your Linux partitions in the blank space if you want to – but the Fedora installer will do this for you if you don’t.
  • Fedora 9 is promised to have a tool to do all this for you in its own installer and make all this bit redundant.

See also: http://www.hut.fi/%7Etkarvine/linux-windows-dual-boot-resizing-ntfs.html

To boot from CD, you will need to press “F12” whilst booting to get the option to boot from CD.

There may be a Dell diagnostics partition as well as the main Windows
Vista partition. I shrunk and moved both of these. You might not want
to shrink the Vista partition as small as possible, as that might cause
you problems if you ever want to use it. About 5 Gb of free space should be plenty spare. This operation can take a long time. If gparted
complains that it can’t do all that you’ve asked, then break the
operation up into a number of smaller ones – that overcame the problem
for me.

When finished, you should have unpartitioned space left on your hard
disk. The Fedora installation will partition this for you. At this
stage, I didn’t bother checking if Windows Vista still booted – I left
that for later. (It didn’t, but it was fixable, using the Windows Vista recovery CD; however you may then need to apply a fix again to get Linux booting again as Windows has a habit of playing with your booting process).

In fact my Windows Vista installation behaved very strangely once I tried it out, and I ended up reinstalling it, after which it worked perfectly. If you’re trying this on a computer that has already been used with Vista, then back up your data!

2. Install Fedora Core 7

Again, you will (or might) need to press “F12” to get a boot menu to boot from your CD or DVD.

This all went smoothly for me.


3. Update RPMs

Some drivers were faulty on the default Fedora Core 7 installation, and the Broadcom driver has had some changes – so make sure you update to the latest versions of everything – that is, get all the updates.

That’s simply a matter of running "pirut" from the command line, or "Software Updater" from the "System" menu on your desktop.

If you get your Fedora from Fedora Unity (http://www.fedoraunity.org) then they may have a version with the updates included to save you time.

Reboot to make any kernel update made active.

4. Broadcom Wifi

To get the built-in Broadcom wifi card (802.11g) working, you need to download and install some firmware for the device.

The procedure for this has changed a bit lately; here’s what it was for me:

$ su -
# cd /tmp
# wget http://downloads.openwrt.org/sources/broadcom-wl-4.80.53.0.tar.bz2
# tar -xf broadcom-wl-4.80.53.0.tar.bz2
# cd broadcom-wl-4.80.53.0.tar.bz2
# yum -y install b43-fwcutter
# b43-fwcutter -w /lib/firmware kmod/wl_apsta.o

The kernel log than gives this dire warning:

b43-phy0 debug: Loading firmware version 351.126 (2006-07-29 05:54:02)
b43-phy0 warning: You are using an old firmware image. Support for old firmware will be removed in July 2008.
b43-phy0 warning: You must go to http://linuxwireless.org/en/users/Drivers/b43#devicefirmware and download the latest firmware (version 4).

However, the firmware extraction tool in Fedora 7 (b43-fwcutter) is at too old a version to deal with new firmware (it needs version 0.11, but is version 0.08). Presumably they’ll fix this soon.

To actually use the card, your best option is "NetworkManager". You may also need to press Fn-F2 in order to activate it (the WiFi LED needs to be on).

5. Miscellaneous/finishing off

– Install NTFS-3g if you’re keeping Windows and want to access your files from Linux: "yum install ntfs-3g" (then read the manual – "man ntfs-3g")

– ACPI has on the odd occasion thrown a strange error when on battery, and caused the power manager to shut the machine down believing that the battery is about to go when it isn’t.

– "Suspend to RAM" doesn’t work for me, but "Suspend to Disk" does.


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