Linux on a modern laptop -- what works and what doesn't
OK, so I told you about this HP Pavilion DV6825ed laptop on which I
installed Mandriva 2009. To jog your memory: it was originally a Vista
machine which sorta ran OK but got b0rked because the owner's father wanted
to set up a separate user data partition and used the wrong tool, not
knowing that tried and tested tools such as Partition Magic don't work on
Vista. OK, his bad. He then called HP's help desk for help (in the form of
an installable Vista disk), which he didn't get, at least up to this very
date, over four weeks after the event.
In the true way of dealing with buyers of proprietary crapware, he got told
all kinds of fairy tales, lies and excuses, among which the following:
#1: "You should have made a restore disk immediately after switching the
machine on." -- This man /made/ a restore disk, but it didn't work. AFAICT,
this so-called "restore disk" contains nothing more than the equivalent of
a single cp command, which looks for a particular image file in a
particular place on the machine's hard disk, and restores this image.
Great. Whoever thought out this "restore" mechanism should be hanged by his
balls, because it effectively prevents any succesful restore operation in
case of a serious HD problem -- the single most common hardware problem in
all the history of computer use.
#2: "We can't supply you with an installable image because Microsoft doesn't
allow this." -- Nice one. Blame the party whose crapware is indeed
protected by all sorts of ludicrous measures. Can't tell if this is true or
not, but I wouldn't be surprised.
#3: "We can only supply an installable image within three months after
purchase." -- Ooh, slick! So this thing about Microsoft not allowing this
was a lie? And after three months, regardless of the problems causing the
preinstalled software to become unusable, up to and including hardware
problems, the problems are your own? Great going there, buddies! If your
customers didn't hate proprietary software and everything that comes with
it, they sure do now!
Anyway, HP told the hapless victim that the Vista DVD image for this laptop
was coming forth, but couldn't give a definite delivery date. Or even week.
Or month, for that matter (wanna bet on the year, anyone?). From our
esteemed mr. Funkenbusch I heard that it may easily take several months for
a request like this to lead to results. Whichs is a bit hard to believe,
considering that upon request, these people can have a brand new laptop
delivered to your doorstep within 24 hours, just like the current one. Then
again, this is exactly the kind of service I'd expect from Microsoft and
their minions and peddlers. All sales, no service. And YOU are the one
getting screwed. Heck, I didn't migrate to Linux for nothing over a decade
Anyway, let's see, what are the options at this junction:
1) Buy a retail copy of this "Vista Premium" crapware for, wat? Oh yeah, at
least another $175. No way José, especially as this particular user
actually didn't like Vista at all.
2) Install XP -- which was actually the user's wish, were it not for the
fact that this is an especially cumbersome process, requiring things
like "slipstreaming" drivers for the new hardware and such into an existing
XP CD. OK, as soon as the girl's father has a week or two to spare and
nothing else to do during that time, he's going to try this. But he'd
rather pull his own teeth with a pair of pliers first.
c) Install Linux.
This third option was where I came in. I first installed Mandriva 2009, but
the girl didn't like it any more than I did -- mostly because of KDE4,
which aims to "unclutter" the desktop, but in my opinion makes it darn near
impossible to gain easy and clear access to the file and folder structure.
But I was a bit pressed for time, and the girl needed her machine for
college -- and she could at least use the machine for her word processing,
spreadsheet and MSN needs.
So this weekend I went back and installed Mandriva 2008.1. And this time, I
had the time to sit down with the girl and check out everything -- both
what she wanted and how Mandriva handled the machine. And I wasn't
- After the DVD installation (15 minutes and perhaps half a dozen mouse
clicks), most things worked perfect right away: the sound, the ethernet
connection, the hotkeys -- even the integrated web cam worked right away.
- After adding extra software sources through easyurpmi.zarb.org, installing
accelerated video drivers was a breeze; glxgears ran up to 3000fps in its
original window size.
- The only thing left non-functional was the wireless card, a Broadcom
BCM4315. This card was a real PITA -- it's almost incredible, but no
reference whatsoever to it can be found on Broadcom's web site (just go to
[url]http://www.broadcom.com/[/url] and enter BCM4315 in the search box). And if
Broadcom doesn't know about its own hardware, we can forget about any Linux
drivers. So much for proprietary crap.
Anyway, after a bit of Internet searching, I stumbled upon the golden tip:
to search Dell's Web site for "Wireless 1395 XP" drivers. And indeed, after
downloading almost 100MB (ouch!) of proprietary rubbish I managed to
extract the much-needed bcmwl5.inf and bcmwl5.sys files (less than a few
MB's altogether) for use with ndiswrapper. And sure enough, after another
15 minutes of downloading and installing this proprietary mess, the
wireless interface works flawlessly at last.
So here's the summary for installing Linux on this laptop:
- Almost everyting worked first go, except accelerated video and wireless;
- After adding extra software sources, accelerated video was installed
- And after hunting down the right Windows drivers, getting wireless working
was a breeze.
Total time spent? Um, not quite sure ... somewhere between one and two
Laptop functionality? Everything. Period.
And what about the promised replacement Vista disk with all that proprietary
goodness? We're still waiting for it ...