Samsung N210 netbook on Debian GNU/Linux

With the upcoming holidays in sight, I could not resist buying a netbook system to take along with me on my travel to Italy. So yesterday, I received a brand new Samsung N210.

I chose this system because it is not too expensive and it appeared about the best netbook in this price class according to many reviews. Especially the battery time, keyboard and matte screen are praised a lot. It also seemed to work nice in Linux, which was of course also an important requirement.

I have removed the Windows 7 Starter edition which was installed on this system and installed Debian GNU/Linux Squeeze (currently testing) on it. I decided to go for Debian because it is quickly becoming my favourite distribution, now that Mandriva has all kind of difficulties keeping up with innovation and I fear that its future does not seem too bright.

I booted the Debian installer using PXE. So on my DHCP server, I added this in dhcpd.conf:

group {
  allow bootp;
    filename "/pxelinux.0";
    host samsung-n210 {
        hardware ethernet xx:xx:xx:xx:xx:xx;

With being the address of the TFTP server (the same host as the dhcpd in my case).

I installed tftpd-hpa and xinetd, and created this tftpd file in /etc/xinetd.d:

service tftp
   socket_type   = dgram
   protocol   = udp
   wait      = yes
   user      = root
   server      = /usr/sbin/in.tftpd
   server_args   = -p -v -v -v -s /var/lib/tftpboot
   disable      = no
   flags        = IPv4

Then I dumped the contents of netboot.tar.gz of the Debian installer daily builds for AMD64 in /var/lib/tftpboot. Then set up the N210’s BIOS to enable PXE booting and set the network card as first boot device and you should get into the Debian installer.

I had some trouble with the network connection bailing out after some time, but after a few attempts at least I succeeded in installing the Debian base system without X and the system booted correctly. Maybe I was just using a bad network cable.

I installed the gnome-desktop-environment package with apt, which also pulled in X. The graphical environment was working perfectly fine out of the box without any manual configuration needed. Also the webcam was working fine out of the box with Cheese.

The wireless network card works fine once you install the firmware-linux-nonfree package from the non-free repository and to get a nice GUI to connect to wireless networks, I installed network-manager-gnome. Then connecting to my wifi AP protected by WPA2 was a piece of cake and the wireless connection works perfectly stable too.

Actually the only minor problem I met is that the brightness keys are not working. There is a documented solution available to change the brightness (execute # setpci -s 00:02.0 f4.b=ff for maximum brightness).

All in all, I am very happy with this system. Even though it has a 5400 RPM hard drive, which feels a bit slowish during the installation, and has only 1 GB RAM, the system is very fast during normal use in GNOME, especially if you use some more lightweight applications (for example Epiphany or Chromium as web browser). Also with a few adaptations to the desktop and application settings, the small resolution is not really a problem. But maybe I will write some more details about this in a later post.

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