I had been putting off installing Debian Linux on my ‘new’ IBM T40 for quite a while mostly because I was nervous about all the hassles involved in repartitioning, boot loaders, etc. Since the convention I’d been working on is now over, and I have some more time until my next event, I decided to finally take the plunge. Really, my aging T23 was starting to knuckle under with everything I was running on it, it really was time to step up to the plate and take the plunge.
First, the hardware. The laptop is an IBM Thinkpad T40. It has a 1.4ghz Pentium M class processor, a 34gig HD, and 768meg of RAM. This unit also has the nicer screen on it, so the video is 1400×1050 driven by a Radeon 9000 video processor. I have both battery bays filled, so I get about 8 hours of constant usage on it.
The big issue that had me worried was that the machine already had an OS installed on it, that being (yech) Windows XP. Now, I couldn’t just nuke it from orbit (for it is, truly, the only way to be sure, because on occasion I need to run Windows, and in fact it was my best mobile platform for playing Puzzle Pirates at the moment. So the only other option was a re-partition and dual-boot install
I have not had great experience in the past going against The Will Of Bill and actually deigning to installing something OTHER than his beloved spawn of evil on a machine. Windows has a nasty habit of taking over all aspects of a machine, whether it owns them or not (such as rewriting the boot sector of the drive so that ONLY Windows can boot, nothing else). The second trick was there was no partition on the drive to install Linux onto, so the very first step was finding a way to repartition the drive -without- destroying the existing Windows installation
Traditionally, this is done with a tool called Partition magic (from some bizarre chain of distributors and developers. I can’t tell WHO owns the durned thing now). This is a great tool, and does a very simple task. It can resize an existing partition to make room for a new partition without destroying the data. Neat, huh? Problem is, the tool is $80-ish. Even for just a one-off use. I set about finding an alternate plan
Opensource to the rescue!
I can’t for the life of me remember who pointed me at this, but the folks over at the Linux System Rescue CD site have put together one heckuva cool distribution CD. Download one image, and you get a veritable cornucopia of tools and applications for doing system maintenance. Burn the CD, boot it on your machine, and you can do just about anything system maintenance related you need.
In this case, the CD had a utility called QT Parted, a self-professed QT-based Partition Magic clone. It could run without an X server, and ran right off the CD without any problems. Lickity split, I had resized my XP partition down to something reasonable, and things STILL worked. Wonder of wonders! I was ready to proceed with a nice 20gig partition ready to be filled. By the way, I can’t say enough nice things about this utility. It was clean, easy to use, intuitive, and Just Plain Worked. Kudos to everyone who made it a reality.
Once the disk had been reconfigured, I was ready to do my install. I’m a big fan of Debian Linux, if only for it’s outstanding package management and ease of updating. The Debian team had been working for a while on a new installer CD, so I decided to give it a try.
The ‘testing’ branch of the Debian project is called ‘Sarge’. Even though it’s labelled ‘Testing’, I have never had a broken package or misbehaving app in it. It is generally about 2-3 months behind the ‘general’ populace in cutting edge software, but in that time folks have figured out whether an app is stable enough to be used day to day, or still needs work.
I looked around and found the Sarge RC2 installer image, and downloaded it. The iso burned fine to a CD, and I popped it into the laptop and booted it. I had run the original Sarge installer many months ago, and it was a bit of a rough ride, with some things not configuring properly, and one or two lockups in the process.
I had expected some networking issues with the internal wireless card on the laptop, so rather than depend on that for package instlalation, I tethered the laptop to the world via a normal ethernet cable. The installer came up perfectly, identified the ethernet port on the laptop, and asked some rudimentary questions. It installed a Grub boot loader on the drive (careful of the Xp partition which it sensed and took into account), and then asked what packages I might want to install. I gave it the basics (desktop environment etc), and after giving me the Hi sign saying it’ll take about 45 minutes to download and install my packages, off it went
So far so good. After 45 minutes of chewing up my bandwidth and rattling the hard drive, all the packages were installed, and was time to reboot. Everything came up clean, but the X server only started in 800×600 mode (this laptop has a 1400×1050 screen. Ta heck with that!). A little noodling with Xfree86 -configure, and a new XF86Config file was born. Dropped that in place, restarted gdm with /etc/init.d/gdm restart, and I was in business
Everything just worked. The boot loader worked, KDE came up great, sound was working, networking was working, and the mouse was working. Score!
And now the bad news
There are a few bumps. For the most part, this was by far the cleanest and easiest laptop installation I’ve ever done. Having said that, one or two things are still out of whack, but honestly, I’m only about 3 hours into using the machine (I’m typing on for this article).
- I upgraded my kernel (using kernel-image-2.6.8), and my sound has stopped working. This is a minor annoyance, and I haven’t dug into it at all, but it is something I need to fix.
- Wireless – the wireless card that is built into the T40 is unsupported in the standard configurations. I may need to compile in my own modules to make this work, and I’m -really- not looking forward to that. At the moment, I’ve snarfed my Lucent card from the old laptop, and I’m using that, but I’d like to have the internal one working soon
- I don’t have a docking station. Hardly Debians fault, but I’m whining here.
It works! And it works WELL! And it’s a HECK of a lot faster than my old machine. Onward!
It’s a day later, and I’ve made a lot of progress fixing some of the more annoying problems, using a bunch of googling and some help on various IRC channels. Here’s some helpful tidbits:
- ipw2100 driver
Through some apt-get juggling, the ipw2100-source package was installed from the ‘contrib’ section of apt. Using module-assistant, the module was compiled and configured. Note that you need to install the firmware as well, which is documented on the ipw2100 site. The interface is live and working fine now!
- Soundcard issues
The issue appears to be with the T40’s internal modem, which modprobe initializes as a sound board. Since I have absolutely no interest in ever using the internal modem, it was just a matter of telling the module to not load. This was accomplished by putting ‘snd-intel8x0m’ at the end of /etc/hotplug/blacklist. Rebooted, and lo, we have sound!
Next on the agenda is to work out ACPI issues to get suspend and battery indicators working correctly.