There are several variations within the model number D505: LCD size, processor speed, RAM, wifi, etc. Specifications for the model I have --
With openSUSE 10.3, using the KDE disk (but having tested the GNOME interface, too), the boot and install was pretty typical of SUSE any other time. I recommend you set the resolution to 1024x768 during at the first boot screen. One critical gotcha: While SaX is probing the hardware, do not touch the touchpad, or the machine will lock up and you'll have to reboot and start over.
Video: The default
intel driver is
faulty. Once everything is installed and running, you really should
change to the
i810 driver. Otherwise you'll run into
display corruption errors, especially in conjunction with the suspend
modes. This requires editing your
hand, and you'll find the driver section near the bottom of the
A particular problem with Dell BIOS is the A10 and A11 BIOS updates cripple something in Linux. Most people have display problems, primarily a section of screen at the top either black or garbled, with the display offset downward by that band. The last known good BIOS update is A09. Even if it requires a downgrade, you may want to consider this.
Depending on your tastes, fonts will probably look better without
anti-aliasing. Since the default 1024x768 brings us a 91dpi, I
recommend you manually set it to 92dpi, which is much sharper, being a
standard font size. In GNOME, simply select a forced 92 in the
configuration panel. For KDE, edit your
/opt/kde3/share/config/kdm/kdmrc -- at the line which says
ServerArgsLocal=-nolisten tcp (around line 480) append
-dpi 92 and that should take care of it.
For the Commandline Brotherhood, you'll be delighted to know SUSE is
the one distro I know of which includes the
in the kernel by default. Thus, if you set the initial framebuffer to
1024x768 during the installation, SUSE writes it as the default console
resolution. You get a sharp display with SUSE's sexy framebuffer
Suspend Modes: Should work out of the box. I set
the power button to initiate "Suspend to disk" and the
Fn+ESC switch to initiate "Suspend to RAM". Then, if you
are using the
i810 video driver, there should be no screen
corruptions or black outs as many have found on Dell laptops. SUSE
s2disk which handle all
the gory details of which drivers to unload, reload, etc.
Wifi: From what I understand, the folks writing the
fwcutter utility have dropped support for the specific
chipset in the onboard wireless adapter. In my experience, no amount of
tweaking and testing would give me a fileset which would load. You'll
need to use NDISwrapper if you want it to work. SUSE has plenty of details on
their website regarding procedures. I found this device pretty weak
in my use, and got much better results using a PCI-card. Still, it will
work more or less as advertised. While SUSE won't recognize the
Fn+F2 keystroke to toggle the wifi on and off, the system
will still respond appropriately.
Modem: I did not test the modem. From what I understand, it's not worth it. You'll have to purchase the firmware or accept a much slower connection speed (14.4k). For a little more money, you can get a real modem in the form of a PCI-card, most of which have a good Linux driver. Consider older, used modem cards.
I couldn't get any of the Ubuntus (7.10) to boot. Older releases might work, but you'll end up with older packages. Vanilla Debian can work if you do lots of building and scripting, including a custom kernel. Frankly, the scripting is beyond my skill level. FreeBSD will work just fine, but does not offer any form of suspend-to-disk. You'll need to do an awful lot of work just getting suspend-to-ram to work. It's not a priority with FreeBSD developers. However, I note the display issues don't exist with it. Red Hat and clones will also work, but the suspend modes require moderate scripting and custom kernels for suspend modes. I haven't tested the latest versions, but they claim there is better laptop support. I'm not interested in testing other distributions of Linux.
Feel free to contact me with specific questions I didn't cover.
Ed Hurst is associate editor of Open for Business.