First Time Linux

Knoppix on a Dell Inspiron 510m

picture of laptop

From the trying it out section, we now have a range of tests with which to check out the new 510m. Booting the fresh machine from the hard drive brings up a scary-looking "press any key to accept the terms of the EULA License Agreement" screen, but selecting the CD drive from the bios setup menu brings up the familiar Knoppix boot screen.

The first things to check are the easy ones - does it boot, does it read the CD, does the screen work at the right resolutions (preferably without smudges or hot pixels!). Then we can start to check out the peripherals, as we did before.

Having read that the 1400x1050 resolution setting is missing from the BIOS due to a Dell bug, I play safe and boot with a safer "knoppix screen=1280x1024 keyboard=gb" - and sure enough, everything works as expected. The only surprises are a complaint about an unrecognised screen mode (selecting any from the list offered seems to meet with success) and a startup sound-clip ("initiating startup sequence"). In amongst the bootup messages it spots the mobile processor (Pentium 1.6GHz) and loads appropriate modules to manage the power and temperature. The screen works, I can even change the brightness with the Fn key and the up and down arrows. The Konqueror browser works, the applications like KStars and Xaos work, and the machine is pleasingly quiet (when it's not accessing the CD). The keyboard might take some getting used to (with noticeably more give in the left-hand side than the right, and a "boingy" sound on the left when typing fast), but it all works.

Peripherals are beautifully easy, the thumb drive is instantly recognised and easily mounted, and the GPS can be read by both garble and minicom. The Canon IXUS is also recognised by gphoto2 through the USB port, which just leaves the parallel port card reader. As the laptop has no PS/2 keyboard port for the card reader's power, this is a rather academic exercise, but using the desktop's keyboard port for the power, everything works fine as before, at least with the 2.4 kernel.

Two new interfaces which we can test, which weren't available on the desktop machine, are the infrared and the firewire (IEEE1394) ports. Initially, the infrared tests weren't too successful, with no recognition of a mobile phone (update: phone now recognised, but not much more). Firewire tests went better though, with a video camera being spotted immediately in dmesg when plugged in, and the application dvgrab able to grab video from the camera (although only with a command line interface).

The modem, ethernet and S-video ports haven't been tested yet.

The problem with the screen resolution is still there, and although the 1280x1024 is adequate, it's not the ideal resolution for the LCD display and so the picture isn't as sharp as it could be. This is most noticeable in white-on-black console windows, whereby some lines are sharp and others noticeably less clear. Googling for this brings up a patch from Alain Poirier (sorry, link for apoirier no longer available), which alters the resolution table presented by the BIOS, and allows the proper resolution to be used. This works beautifully on this machine (which is the same model as that used by the patch author), and gives a dramatic improvement in the display quality. The tiny program needs to be run before launching the window manager though, so the only way I've found to do it with Knoppix so far is to boot into mode 2, mount the hard drives, run the 855resolution program and then run init 5 to launch X.

Other experiences

Other people who have written about their fun with a Dell Inspiron 510m and linux:

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