Mandriva Linux 2009.0 on a Dell Latitude E6400

Introduction

A few weeks ago the hard drive in my Apple Powerbook G4 which I was using at work, had died. As this machine was already a few years old, it was already planned to be replaced soon. The hard drive crash only accelerated things a bit.

I wanted a not too heavy laptop with 14″ screen and a high resolution (1440×900) screen and an Intel CPU of the latest generation (style Core 2 Duo P8400/P8600/T9400). Lenovo’s Thinkpad T400 with such a high resolution screen seemed to be difficult (impossible?) to find here in Belgium currently and generally Thinkpads are rather costly here. HP’s Elitebook 6930p did not seem to be shipping in Belgium yet. So in the end, I chose a Dell Latitude E6400. Also a big advantage of Dell, is that I could easily choose in detail which features I preferred, while you are limited to standard models with most other brands.

Specifications

So here are the specifications of the Dell E6400 machine I have now:

  • Intel Core 2 Duo P8400 (2,26 Ghz, 3MB cache)
  • 4 GB RAM
  • Intel G45 chipset graphics card
  • DVD+/-RW
  • 160 GB hard drive
  • Intel based 1Gbps Ethernet
  • Intel WiFI 5300 wireless card
  • Bluetooth
  • SD card reader
  • SmartCard reader
  • Firewire, eSATA, USB, VGA, DisplayPort outputs
  • Dell Simple E-Port docking station

Mandriva Linux 2009.0 on Dell Latitude E6400

On my Powerbook I used Debian Testing (Lenny), because it supports the PowerPC architecture very well and is very stable. I was very pleased with this distribution. Even as a desktop OS, I personally liked it much better than Ubuntu. On this new machine, I decided to install Mandriva because it permits me to follow Cooker if I want and also permits me to create and use custom packages more easily (I’m not too experienced in creating DEB packages).

Installation

I did a network installation of Mandriva 2009.0 x86_64 edition, which I started with a CD burnt from the boot.iso file which can be found on every Mandriva mirror in the install/images directory. I had some trouble in finding a reliable mirror at first, but once I found one, the installation itself went fine. If you are installing from a CD or DVD set, be sure to install all available updates at the end of the installation. By the time you are reading this, this might solve some of the problems I encountered with the just released Mandriva 2009.0 and which I will discuss here.

X lock ups

Once the installation had finished, I booted Mandriva for the first time. Unfortunately, every time as soon as the X server started up, the machine completely locked up though. In the end, this turned out to be a problem with the Intel X driver. A fixed version is currently available in the main/testing repository. If you are suffering from this problem, in the boot loader press F2 with the Mandriva line selected, and then add 3 at the end of the kernel line, in order to start the linux system in console mode. Log in as root, and run

# urpmi http://ftp.free.fr/mirrors/ftp.mandriva.com/MandrivaLinux/official/2009.0/x86_64/media/main/testing/x11-driver-video-intel-2.4.2-7mdv2009.0.x86_64.rpm

to install the fixed driver from testing. Then run

# init 5

to go to init lever 5 (graphical mode).

Speaker noise

Another problem was that as soon as the sound drivers were loaded, a loud noise came out of the speakers. To fix this, open the volume control in LInux, and deactivate the Analog Loopback 1 and 2 switches (in GNOME, you will need to click on the Preferences button first, and check the checkboxes next to Analog Loopback 1 and 2 to show these switches). I also completely muted PC Beep because even on the lowest level, the console beep was still extremely loud.

Kernel choice

Because my laptop has 4GB of RAM, the installer decided to install kernel-server instead of kernel-desktop. However this is not needed if you installed Mandriva’s x86_64 edition. To check whether you are suffering from this problem, run

$ uname -a


If it installed the server kernel, you can install the desktop kernel by running

# urpmi kernel-desktop-latest


The desktop kernel will give you better performance and battery lifetime than the server kernel. Another alternative is kernel-tmb-desktop-latest, which I had also good experiences with.

If you installed Mandriva’s i586 edition, you will need the server kernel to support 4GB of RAM. That’s why you really should try to install the x86_64 edition if you have that much RAM.

Intel VT

Because I want to make use of the Intel VT (virtualisation features in Intel CPUs), I went in the BIOS (press F2 when the Dell logo appears when starting up the machine) and enabled these features. After that, Linux became extremely unstable. Kernel oopses happened during start up, in some cases completely locking up the OS when booting. I could fix this by adding intel_iommu=off to the kernel command line. At the boot loader, again select the Mandriva 2009.0 line and press F2 and add this option. To make this permanently, start up the Mandriva Control Center (“Configure your computer” in the program menu Tools – System Tools), go to the Boot category and choose “Set up boot system”. Click on the next button, and then for all Linux kernel, click on Modify and add intel_iommu=off to the Append field.

Wireless and Bluetooth

After the installation, be sure to also start up the drakroam wireless utility, in order to make it install all needed tools to use the wireless networking card because the installer did not install these by default. To use the wireless network card, don’t forget to enable the wireless functionality with the wireless kill switch at the right side of the laptop. I have the impression that it’s best to make sure this is enabled at boot, otherwise the wireless does not always seem to work when enabling later on.

In order to use the Bluetooth, I had to install the gnome-bluetooth package myself. For KDE, you will need to install kdebluetooth4. The pin can be set in the text file /etc/bluetooth/pin.

Other things

Currently I have not yet tried the SmartCard and SD card readers and I did not succeed yet in setting up a dual screen configuration with a flat panel connected to the VGA output on the docking station. For some reason, xrandr only permits me to use a 640×480 resolution on the external monitor, possibly because it seems to ignore the Virtual lines I added to my xorg.conf. I’ll need to investigate this a bit more to find out what is really going wrong here. Suspending the machine also seems problematic: when I tried this, the machine locked up completely when it resumed.

I did not buy this laptop with the integrated webcam, however according to what I read on the Internet, it should also work out of the box with Linux kernerl 2.6.27, which is used by Mandriva 2009.0.

Conclusion

All in all, I’m pretty satisfied with this laptop. The specifications are nice and the price we got from Dell was nice (much cheaper than the standard prices on the Dell website). The biggest disadvantage of this laptop is that parts of the casing seem to be made of cheap plastic. It does not feel as sturdy as a Thinkpad or HP laptop. Time will tell whether that’s a real problem. The most important things can be get working with Mandriva 2009.0 without too much problems and I guess I will find solutions too for the remaining bits in the near future.

Links

15 Replies to “Mandriva Linux 2009.0 on a Dell Latitude E6400”

  1. Did you encrypt your partitions? Is that easily doable with Mandriva?
    I think it’s a very important feature, especially on a laptop (in case it gets lost, searched at the border, etc.)…

  2. Personally I did not encrypt my partitions. Since Mandriva 2009.0, this is now easily doable from the partitioner. However, currently there is a bug preventing from entering the passphrase at boot up.

    http://wiki.mandriva.com/en/2009.0_Errata#Encrypted_partitions_are_not_mounted_during_boot

    This will be fixed by an update, hopefully soon.

    Of course you can always set up a non-system partition or loopback file system with LUKS, and then let GNOME automount it as you access it. That is already working fine now.

  3. Frederik,
    does the touchpad scroll work? How about synaptics? If you do a
    “cat /proc/bus/input/devices”, how does the touchpad show up? Is there some entry saying something about “ALPS”, or does it just show a “PS/2” mouse?
    Thanks very much.
    –hasi

  4. Yes, the touchpad is recognized by the Synaptics driver on Mandriva Linux and all advanced functionalities work and can be configured with the gsynaptics tool. This is because Mandriva has patched the synaptics kernel driver to recognize the ALPS touchpad in the Dell Latitude E6400 and E6500 series.

    The patch in question can be found here:
    http://lkml.org/lkml/2008/9/7/133

  5. wow, that is good news!
    I knew about the patch, but re-compiling kernels takes a lot of time, and I am not (yet) the expert at it. So I’ll try Mandriva! I already downloaded the iso. Thanx!
    Best,
    –hasi

  6. Any clues in how to install the wireless card under gnome? I checked already and the wireless-tools package is already installed but there is no module for the card. (At least that is what gnome is telling me).

    When I try to add it through the wizard the only option that I get is using a windows driver and a wrapper.

    Any clues?

  7. If you have Mandriva 2009.0 and the Intel wireless card, like I do, it is very easy: make sure the wifi switch on the laptop is on, then right click on the network applet in the notification area (next to your clock in GNOME), choose Wireless Networks and then choose Manager Wireless Networks. When you try this the first time, it’s best to have wired connection available as it will possibly need to download some stuff.

    However, if you have a Broadcom based wireless card, it will be more difficult because Broadcom refuses to support Linux with free/open source drivers. Then your best option is to use the windows driver in Linux with ndiswrapper or to use the proprietary driver.

  8. Installation from Live CD (32bit)

    The installation was quite tricky, due to the same issue with the intel driver mentioned above. Without a special trick, the computer will freeze DURING installation (thus being a totally dead end), so that the method described above won’t work.
    This is what I did (it’s actually quite easy to do, I am just trying to be as detailed as possible for less experienced users):
    1) Boot from the live CD
    2) Wait until the GUI with the first question for user input comes up (I believe it’s about keyboard or language
    3) Press Ctrl-Alt-F1 to switch to the console. Logon as “guest” (blank password)
    4) Edit /etc/X11/xorg.conf in text mode using vi as root (same username and blank pw)
    5) In “Section Device”, look for the line the says
    Driver “intel”
    6) Replace it by
    Driver “vesa”
    7) Press Ctrl-Alt-F7 to switch back to graphical user mode
    8) Press Ctrl-Alt-Backspace to restart X
    9) I don’t remember for sure here. I guess you get the kdm logon window and you need to log in (“guest”)
    10) Proceed with installation as usual (in reduced VESA resolution)
    11) Boot your computer
    12) Get the update for the intel driver as described in a post above
    13) Change driver back from “vesa” to “intel”
    14) Restart X or reboot

  9. For me (on x86_64) it did not freeze during the installation, nor did it freeze with kernel-desktop. Only when using kernel-server, it froze. It seems the behaviour may vary between different versions and systems. Thanks for informing us about the work-around.

  10. Mandriva ROCKS!

    I am so happy about getting (almost) everything to work finally on my E6400 in Mandriva! For me, this puts an end on a long and painful search for a distro that works well for me!

    The E6400 really needs a recent kernel to get the hardware to work. On the other hand, I am also a KDE 3 addict, and this is what was my problem: many distros have now stopped providing KDE 3 with their recent releases. Thus, my beloved Kubuntu was no longer an option. Same for Fedora and a few others. I tried openSUSE 11.1 beta2, but that really did not work well (performance issues, unsatisfactory repositories).

    In Mandriva, on the other hand, things just work! This has by far been my smoothest experience, since! Many of these little things just work and are smooth. I love it!!!

  11. Dear Frederik,
    I have problems with my eth connection. It’s running (ping works fine), but if I use the Internet (or tring a system-update), the connection crashes (ping says: destination host unreachable).
    When I do a /etc/init.d/network restart it doesn’t show errors, but it doesn’t start (ping says: network is unreachable).
    /etc/init.d/netwok-up stop/start doesn’t work either.
    Have you got a clue for me?
    Martin

  12. Hi Martin,

    I had similar problems when I enabled Intel VT in the BIOS. The network connection did not work anymore a few seconds after I started transferring some data. I work-around this problem by adding intel_iommu=off to the kernel boot message (you’ll need to edit /boot/grub/menu.lst)

  13. Dear Frederik,
    thanks for hyperfast reaction. Now (even with VT) the ethernet and wireless works perfect!!
    Thank you!!
    Martin

  14. Dear Fred,

    thanks for the excellent information, I am thinking of buying this machine and am interested to know if there is an option in the BIOS to boot from SDHC?

    Would you please try this with any .ISO and let us know how it works?

    Regards, UNF

  15. With the latest A06 BIOS, I did not immediately find any option to boot from the SDHC reader. I don’t have the possibility to to test this in practice, so I’m unable to answer your question, I’m afraid.

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