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.
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
- 160 GB hard drive
- Intel based 1Gbps Ethernet
- Intel WiFI 5300 wireless card
- 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).
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.