Linux on Inspiron 1150

This page is here as a resource for others interested in installing Linux on a Dell Inspiron 1150. Overall, my impression of this system is that it is inexpensive, powerful, and has adequate hardware support to be a worthwhile investment for home or office use.

The Hardware

P4 2.8 GHz, 512 MB ram, 40 GB hd
15 inch XGA, 1024x768 resolution
Synaptics touch pad
2 USB 2.0 ports
VGA out
1 PC-card slot (previously PCMCIA)
CD/DVD drive
Internal Dell 1350 802.11b/g wireless card
Integrated network card
Internal 56K modem
8-cell Li-ion battery

The Software

The computer comes with Microsoft XP home edition pre-installed, but no disks are included. The system ran for 5 minutes using XP to test the hardware, then it was erased. I usually use Knoppix as a way to get a quick Debian installation. This method has several advantages:

  • It is a live-CD so you can boot and test off CD to see what the install will look like without committing anything to the hard-drive
  • Debian is usually installed via network, or several CD's, so installing from single CD distro is usually more convenient
  • Re-installation is simple

Unfortunately, Knoppix 3.7 is running an older 2.4 kernel which omits important things like Intel speedstep (aka "frequency scaling"). Knoppix 3.8 has a new 2.6 kernel, but wouldn't recognize the keyboard or touch-pad upon boot. After considering the options, I decided to use a Knoppix-like distro called Kanotix which has better hardware support. I installed 2005-2 which has a new kernel and an impressive array of utilities, applications, and other programs.

Installing from Kanotix is as simple as:

  • boot from the live-CD
  • open a shell and type "kanotix-installer"
  • follow the prompts to repartition, configure, and install the OS
  • reboot

What Worked

Most subsystems installed perfectly using this method including:

  • video
  • sound
  • CD
  • keyboard
  • Synaptics touch-pad (mostly)
  • USB devices including automounting of CD/DVD writers, external HDs, etc.
  • Wired ethernet adapter
  • Power-management including battery monitoring, CPU frequency scaling, aka Intel speedstep (via powernowd), fan goes on at 55°C, off at 52°C, but passive cooling is adequate when CPU load is minimal (CPU temp stays at approx 52°C).

What Needed Tweaking

The 802.11b/g card is not recognized by the system. Fortunately, the included ndiswrapper utility greatly facilitates the task at hand.

  • Connect to Internet using the wired ethernet port
  • On the dell support page for the 1150, find and download the drivers for the Dell 1350 internal wireless network card
  • Unzip all the files of this driver (e.g. unzip r94827.exe) into it's own directory
  • From the menu: Kanotix -> Network/Internet -> ndiswrapper configuration
  • Select the file bcmwl5a.inf which you just extracted, the ndiswrapper will do its magic and create the device wlan0
  • Use iwconfig from the shell to configure wlan0 as appropriate (e.g. channel, essid, etc.)
  • ifconfig eth0 down and pump -i wlan0 and you're on the air!

The Synaptics touch-pad works almost perfectly. A minor problem is that the default behavior is to emulate cursor-movement keys when vertical motion is detected at the right-hand edge, or horizontal motion is detected at the bottom edge. While a good idea in theory, the horizontal implementation is much to sensitive and makes using Firefox a frustrating experience as you are always jumping forward or backward in the history of page visits. I suggest eliminating the horizontal scrolling behavior by inserting Option "HorizScrollDelta" "0" in the appropriate Section "InputDevice" in /etc/X11/XF86Config-4.

The only other thing to mention is a boot-problem related to Dell shipping their laptops with 3 preconfigured partitions:

  1. A small ( < 1GB) diagnostic partition
  2. The main NTFS Windows XP partition
  3. A significant (approx 3 GB) ghost partition which probably allows Dell to reinstall the OS quickly if necessary

The Kanotix install uses a standard GRUB method. I chose to make the Linux partition bootable. But because Dell has apparently modified the standard boot-loader, upon the first HD boot, the computer reported an error message to the effect of BAD PBR. The solution is to install grub to the MBR (master boot record). This overwrites Dell's modified boot-loader, allowing the computer to boot properly.

What Wasn't Tested

I did not test the internal modem. It is a winmodem.

Linux On Laptops