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Dell + Linux = A Joke


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#1 OFFLINE   raymac46

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Posted 14 October 2011 - 10:19 AM

Let me start by saying that if I get an older desktop and want to install some flavor of Linux, there is nothing better than Dell in my experience.The Dell business machines or cheap consumer desktops usually have Linux friendly Intel graphics (pedestrian but nice.) You are pretty much guaranteed to get a GUI. Since few of them have wifi you get to choose your discrete wifi card if you want it, so you know that will work. With video on more expensive consumer desktops you might get lucky and get a discrete Nvidia card, but if not ATi’s older stuff usually works. You can always pull the card and put in something that’ll work. That’s the good news about Dell.Now the bad news. Dell doesn’t make laptops that work worth a hoot with Linux. Right now I’m typing this post in Windows 7 on a lovely 2010 model Dell Inspiron notebook. It’s got a quad core processor, nice graphics and is great for watching video or doing any office task you want.However it’s as Linux wifi unfriendly as any machine I’ve ever had. The wifi card is a Broadcom N solution and although Linux generally has wifi drivers for Broadcom A/B/G there’s no easy one for N outside of ndiswrapper. You won’t even see the wifi card in Linux apps like Network Manager.The only way to run Linux on this notebook is through VirtualBox - and that works very well since the Windows 7 host takes care of wifi and the Linux guests think they are connected via Ethernet so they don’t complain. I have at least 4 installs on here in VB.Now on to the ugly. For a while Dell was actually selling machines with Ubuntu pre-installed. Great idea, eh? Think again. I currently have an Inspiron Mini 12 netbook that belonged to my daughter. She always hated it, eventually got a used Lenovo notebook to replace it. Now she has an iPad so this machine was gathering dust in her office and I brought it home.It has an Atom 1.6 processor, 40 GB hard drive and 1 GB of RAM. Dell originally sold it with either Vista or Ubuntu 8.04. Vista was a terrible hog so nobody liked it and most Windows users tried to go back to XP. However on the surface this machine looks perfect for Linux.That’s where the typical Dell hardware jinx comes in though. The wifi is not Linux friendly Intel - it’s Broadcom B/G. The video is a weird Intel GMA 500 made by a third party and not well supported by Intel at all.Dell kludged their way around it all by making a special version of Ubuntu 8.04 with a proprietary Linux video driver and Broadcom B/G driver support. However it had a special kernel that was not standard Ubuntu and not upgradable. Anyone who tried to install Ubuntu 8.10 or 9.04 was guaranteed to blow up their install - no video, no wifi. Add to that the brain dead Dell user interface - you think Unity is ugly - and you had a really nasty Linux piece of work. No wonder my daughter didn’t like it.Well a few months ago I thought I had this all fixed with Mandriva 2010.2 . This distro provides Broadcom B/G support and GMA 500 graphics support out of the box with the Mandriva One release. I installed it, blew off Ubuntu and everything seemed to be fine. My daughter however was so jaded by now she didn’t bother using it, even though in my eyes it ran way better and was upgradable.So yesterday I asked if I could bring it home. I have a holiday coming up soon and I thought this 12 inch netbook might be a better companion than my 8.9 inch 512 MB RAM Acer Aspire One.I have it now, and last night I tried upgrading everything - including a new kernel. When I did so the wifi was totally broken and I could not log in at all. I could see the wifi card but it wouldn’t work. I had to plug in an Ethernet cable and surf the Mandriva site where I got clear instructions on how to install Broadcom firmware and Modprobe the b43 driver. Everything now works great, the video is still supported and the little netbook is finally the type of Linux machine you’d expect to get out of the box.But you didn’t get that machine from Dell. And that makes me at turns angry and sad. Angry because Dell’s pre-install attempt at Linux is a joke. Sad because the average consumer would never get to see how nice a Linux netbook can run if you have decent hardware support and an upgrade path.

Edited by raymac46, 14 October 2011 - 02:15 PM.



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#2 ONLINE   securitybreach

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Posted 14 October 2011 - 10:27 AM

I completely agree, Dell failed at delivering a decent Linux experience out of the box and it is a shame that they used a special kernel that was not upgradeable (without breakage). Shame on you Dell!!
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#3 OFFLINE   V.T. Eric Layton

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Posted 14 October 2011 - 12:41 PM

Well, I've only had experience with one Dell laptop, my Inspiron 1521. It happily zips along with Slackware. There were some bumps and scratches along the way to getting it installed and running, but it wasn't nothing too serious. I've had much worse experiences with Linux on other hardware.

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#4 ONLINE   securitybreach

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Posted 14 October 2011 - 12:41 PM

View PostV.T. Eric Layton, on Oct 14 2011, 11:41 AM, said:

Well, I've only had experience with one Dell laptop, my Inspiron 1521. It happily zips along with Slackware. There were some bumps and scratches along the way to getting it installed and running, but it wasn't nothing too serious. I've had much worse experiences with Linux on other hardware.
Well I was discussing the Dell laptops that came with Ubuntu preloaded as I have had no problems with "normal" Dells running Linux.
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#5 OFFLINE   V.T. Eric Layton

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Posted 14 October 2011 - 12:44 PM

AH! Dellbuntu machines. Hmm... well, I don't know diddly-do about them. Can't be as bad as those old Lenovo laptops, huh? ;)

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#6 OFFLINE   raymac46

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Posted 14 October 2011 - 01:35 PM

View PostV.T. Eric Layton, on Oct 14 2011, 12:41 PM, said:

Well, I've only had experience with one Dell laptop, my Inspiron 1521. It happily zips along with Slackware. There were some bumps and scratches along the way to getting it installed and running, but it wasn't nothing too serious. I've had much worse experiences with Linux on other hardware.
Looks as if that laptop has the b/g type Broadcom 4311 which will be supported if you install the firmware. Not the optimal solution for Linux but you can get it to work. Similar to the BCM 4312 adapter in my Inspiron Mini 12.I don't mind troubleshooting problems if I do the installation (that is expected.) However if a company sells you a pre-installed system it should work out of the box and also be upgradable. It should not be "Buy Linux at your own risk. We recommend Windows 7."

Edited by raymac46, 14 October 2011 - 01:39 PM.



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#7 OFFLINE   V.T. Eric Layton

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Posted 14 October 2011 - 01:51 PM

Oh, I have no wireless issues at all with my lappy and Slackware. It took a bit to get it working, if I remember, but it was mostly configuration within Slack, not driver/firmware issues. Oh, and I had to turn the MANUAL wifi switch on the side of the laptop to the "on" position. ;)Scratch the above. I went back and read my thread here about my wireless adventures in that lappy. It's an interesting thread, but here is the AHA! moment:http://forums.scotsn...h...st&p=308063Funny how the bad stuff seems to be not so bad once it's in the rear view mirror. ;)

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#8 OFFLINE   Urmas

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Posted 14 October 2011 - 01:58 PM

There is an easy, affordable remedy for laptop wifi woes... a new/refurbished "minicard" (an Intel, for example) costs $20-30. Easy to swap. This won't change the fact that -- lust like Ray and others say -- Dell's "Linux friendliness" is... um... eh... well...   ;)

#9 OFFLINE   raymac46

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Posted 14 October 2011 - 02:04 PM

View PostUrmas, on Oct 14 2011, 01:58 PM, said:

There is an easy, affordable remedy for laptop wifi woes... a new/refurbished "minicard" (an Intel, for example) costs $20-30. Easy to swap. This won't change the fact that -- lust like Ray and others say -- Dell's "Linux friendliness" is... um... eh... well...   ;)
Yes indeed and another reason to look for Intel Centrino technology if you're picking up a laptop for Linux installation.


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#10 OFFLINE   raymac46

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Posted 14 October 2011 - 02:11 PM

View PostV.T. Eric Layton, on Oct 14 2011, 01:51 PM, said:

Oh, I have no wireless issues at all with my lappy and Slackware. It took a bit to get it working, if I remember, but it was mostly configuration within Slack, not driver/firmware issues. Oh, and I had to turn the MANUAL wifi switch on the side of the laptop to the "on" position. ;)Scratch the above. I went back and read my thread here about my wireless adventures in that lappy. It's an interesting thread, but here is the AHA! moment:http://forums.scotsn...h...st&p=308063Funny how the bad stuff seems to be not so bad once it's in the rear view mirror. ;)
Yep. That's exactly what I had to do. Make sure I had b43fw-cutter installed, download the firmware and get the cutter to put the firmware in the right directory. Then modprobe the driver, and I was in business. Of course if you have Intel or Atheros it works out of the box..... ;)


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#11 OFFLINE   raymac46

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Posted 15 October 2011 - 02:16 PM

Well after further research it looks as if the latest versions of the b43 driver do support the Broadcom 43224 chipset in my Dell notebook's 1520 B/G/N wireless card. So it should be possible to get it running under an installed version of Linux. Maybe I'll have to tone down my rant a little.It would still be better if Dell put Intel or Atheros wifi cards into their Linux pre-installs though.


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#12 OFFLINE   colin.p

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Posted 15 October 2011 - 04:55 PM

I'm a little confused (Ha, like that's never happened). What exactly is the difference between a "normal" Dell laptop/netbook, and a ubuntu laptop/netbook?The biggest reason I bought Dell, was because at one time they came with ubuntu. So. I figured that all the "stuff" should work.I installed lucid on my daughter's mini 1012 and everything worked, first time, everytime. It, however, uses an Atheros wifi card, but it worked fine in ubuntu. As a matter of fact, it took alot of screwing around to get it to work in XP, the original OS on it. I had to use a different Atheros driver, not the one Dell had installed, to get wifi to work in XP.As far as my 1545, I just had to use the ethernet connection to "apt-get" the broadcom sta driver, and it works fine as well. It however, is a bare-bones machine, with everything "on-board". Both machines use lucid. I won't install a newer version until "pinhead possum" comes out in 12.04.

Edited by colin.p, 15 October 2011 - 04:57 PM.

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#13 OFFLINE   raymac46

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Posted 16 October 2011 - 11:18 AM

View Postcolin.p, on Oct 15 2011, 04:55 PM, said:

I'm a little confused (Ha, like that's never happened). What exactly is the difference between a "normal" Dell laptop/netbook, and a ubuntu laptop/netbook?The biggest reason I bought Dell, was because at one time they came with ubuntu. So. I figured that all the "stuff" should work.I installed lucid on my daughter's mini 1012 and everything worked, first time, everytime. It, however, uses an Atheros wifi card, but it worked fine in ubuntu. As a matter of fact, it took alot of screwing around to get it to work in XP, the original OS on it. I had to use a different Atheros driver, not the one Dell had installed, to get wifi to work in XP.As far as my 1545, I just had to use the ethernet connection to "apt-get" the broadcom sta driver, and it works fine as well. It however, is a bare-bones machine, with everything "on-board". Both machines use lucid. I won't install a newer version until "pinhead possum" comes out in 12.04.
I would postulate that something that Dell sold with Ubuntu pre-installed would count as a Dellbuntu machine, and anything that started out with XP/Vista/Windows 7 that you want to install and run Linux on yourself would be a "normal" Dell. My complaint is not so much about "normal" Dells as it appears you can now deal with Broadcom if you know what you're doing. It's the machines that come with Ubuntu pre-installed in some sort of kludgey way that isn't standard and won't allow for an upgrade path. That was the case with the Inspiron Mini 12 and to me indicates that Dell wasn't really all that serious about making a good Linux O/S based machine. I can't see how anybody would be happy with a Linux distro that allowed no upgrade path or the opportunity to switch to another distro without breaking the wifi and video. It took a fair bit of research on my part to find a distro that supported the Poulsbo video out of the box. (Mandriva does.) Then I had to deal with Broadcom wifi when this could have easily been avoided with an Atheros chipset (Acer Linux based machines feature Atheros.) Fortunately Mandriva has the tools needed and clear instructions. Also I've been dealing with Linux wifi since 2008 and have plenty of scars and experience. Would a new user have this, especially one who just bought the Linux pre-installed? Doubtful.Bottom line: If you want to install a distro on a Dell laptop and run yourself and know your way around Linux...good karma. You might need to connect via Ethernet cable to configure the wireless.If you wanted to try out Linux pre-installed and decided that the Inspiron Mini12 was the machine to do it with..bad karma.I've heard it said that one of the secrets to Linux adoption is to get machines out there with Linux pre-installed. It appears to be true if you count Android as Linux. However Dell's record as a Linux supporter has to be called into question if this Inspiron Mini 12 is any example. It would have been better to buy it with Vista, blow off Microsoft and install a decent Linux distro myself. Right now it's a lovely little machine with Mandriva, and I know how to keep it upgraded and working. It was a dog as it came from the factory though.


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#14 OFFLINE   Cluttermagnet

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Posted 19 October 2011 - 04:16 AM

I'm seeing this as a cautionary tale, raymac. I was initially so happy to see Michael Dell thumb his nose at MS and offer Linux on PC's. Sad to hear, a couple of years later, that it was so poorly done, however. When Betty and I finally get time to do a little shopping, we will be looking at things like "Centrino processor", more so than any particular brand names- and avoiding Broadcom wifi, just on general principles, etc.Meanwhile, Betty has healed enough to climb stairs several times a day. She has returned to using her Gateway desktop upstairs, but she definitely wants a laptop for downstairs kitchen table browsing now.

Edited by Cluttermagnet, 19 October 2011 - 04:17 AM.

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#15 ONLINE   securitybreach

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Posted 19 October 2011 - 09:10 AM

View PostCluttermagnet, on Oct 19 2011, 03:16 AM, said:

Meanwhile, Betty has healed enough to climb stairs several times a day. She has returned to using her Gateway desktop upstairs, but she definitely wants a laptop for downstairs kitchen table browsing now.
Great news!!! :thumbup:
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#16 OFFLINE   V.T. Eric Layton

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Posted 19 October 2011 - 12:53 PM

View PostCluttermagnet, on Oct 19 2011, 04:16 AM, said:

Meanwhile, Betty has healed enough to climb stairs several times a day. She has returned to using her Gateway desktop upstairs, but she definitely wants a laptop for downstairs kitchen table browsing now.
:thumbup: :thumbsup: ;)

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#17 OFFLINE   raymac46

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Posted 20 October 2011 - 06:31 PM

View PostCluttermagnet, on Oct 19 2011, 04:16 AM, said:

I'm seeing this as a cautionary tale, raymac. I was initially so happy to see Michael Dell thumb his nose at MS and offer Linux on PC's. Sad to hear, a couple of years later, that it was so poorly done, however. When Betty and I finally get time to do a little shopping, we will be looking at things like "Centrino processor", more so than any particular brand names- and avoiding Broadcom wifi, just on general principles, etc.Meanwhile, Betty has healed enough to climb stairs several times a day. She has returned to using her Gateway desktop upstairs, but she definitely wants a laptop for downstairs kitchen table browsing now.
Glad to hear she's improving.  :hysterical: I think there is enough expertise here to get you going with Broadcom. With some of the latest kernels and Broadcom chips it is possible to get wifi working out of the box. Sadly that was not the case with Mandriva 2010.2 and the Broadcom chip in the Inspiron Mini12.However an Intel wifi card goes a long way toward avoiding problems so look for Centrino Technology, or ask if you can get an Intel wifi card installed where you buy your laptop.Again it's not so much the fact that the laptop had Linux unfriendly hardware - those all too common problems were overcome with the right distro and some clear howto instructions. It's the fact that Dell basically took a machine designed to run Vista and put a kludgey non-upgradable Linux install on it and considered the job done.

Edited by raymac46, 20 October 2011 - 06:36 PM.



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#18 OFFLINE   raymac46

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Posted 19 March 2012 - 12:20 PM

Just an update on this Dell Mini 12 situation. I'm still running Mandriva 2010.2 on it and I've tried Bodhi Linux and the new Mandriva 2011 Live CDs. All give me a GUI. However none provide the native 1280X800 resolution of the Mini 12. Instead I get 1024X768 which sort of squashes the display but is still workable I guess.
I did some more investigation and reading through the Xorg.0.log and I have found out that I'm not using the Poulsbo driver at all now. Mandriva stopped building it after the 2.6.33.5 kernel and I'm using 2.6.33.7 now. You guessed it - fallback to VESA. Same thing with 2.6.39 in Mandriva 2011 and 3.0.12 in Bodhi Linux.
That's OK for this rather cruddy little netbook where all I do with it is get email and web surf on holidays. It looks as if when kernel 3.2 gets into general use there'll be an actual open source psb-gfx driver right in the kernel. It's only 2D but it should be working with Fedora 17 and Ubuntu 12.04. So that will be the next chapter in how to make Linux video work on the most Linux unfriendly piece of Dell hardware I have ever seen. A machine that came with Linux pre-installed. Go figure.


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#19 OFFLINE   raymac46

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Posted 19 March 2012 - 09:37 PM

I am now testing out Xubuntu 12.04 on the Mini 12 from a USB  thumbdrive. I have had to blacklist/remove a poulsbo module and then modprobe psb_gfx which is the FOSS poulsbo driver. After that I am getting full 1280X800 resolution on this machine. I am going to play around a bit with this Beta version of Xubuntu and if it works well I may install it. I have the wireless working. The USB drive has persistence so my settings will get saved until the next session.
Maybe at long last the problem of Mini 12 video will be solved. Still no 3D but I can live without that.


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#20 OFFLINE   sunrat

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Posted 19 March 2012 - 10:28 PM

Nice one, Ray.
There is usually a way around problems like these. In some distros it's more of a PITA than others though.
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#21 OFFLINE   raymac46

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Posted 20 March 2012 - 08:29 AM

QUOTE (sunrat @ Mar 19 2012, 09:28 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Nice one, Ray.
There is usually a way around problems like these. In some distros it's more of a PITA than others though.

Yeah bleeding edge Beta distro on a trailing edge netbook. That's Linux for you.
I know I've belabored this issue but Dell usually makes such Linux friendly hardware - even if the machine came with some form of Windows. It really bugs me that I encouraged my daughter to try Linux pre-installed on a machine like this one. Poor implementation, kludge job on the video, no upgrade path - very disappointing. Sarah's moved on to an iPad and I doubt she'll want to try Linux again, even on an old machine I know works well.
I haven't met anything yet I can't get Linux to work on though. I haven't tried anything older than a Pentium 166 but I did get that to work - 15 year old laptop with no CD-ROM. So I'm certainly not giving up on a 4 year old netbook.


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#22 OFFLINE   raymac46

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Posted 20 March 2012 - 03:54 PM

Interesting that if I run the live system off a USB stick and remove/add the modules manually, everything works fine and I get the native resolution on the dell  Mini 12 monitor. If I install and try blacklisting the poulsbo  module I end up with a black screen even though the psb_gfx module appears to be there. Apparently there are some kernel parameters that still conflict if you have an installed system.
If I just install and let the poulsbo module load in the kernel then I fall back to good old Vesa at 1024X768.
I think Ubuntu still has some work to do to get this driver working out of the box.


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#23 OFFLINE   raymac46

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Posted 20 March 2012 - 08:45 PM

Well finally got it working on the installed system. I had to learn about Grub 2 and how to modify the /etc/default/grub file to blacklist poulsbo and change the console to tty1 (this fixes a video handoff in the grub configuration script that caused a black screen.) Reminds me of the good old days doing all this.  hysterical.gif


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