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SUSE on Dell Latitude D505

The quest to get GNU/Linux to run well on a laptop has been a long running challenge. In this piece, Ed looks at his success with OpenSUSE on a Dell Latitude laptop.

There are several variations within the model number D505: LCD size, processor speed, RAM, wifi, etc. Specifications for the model I have --

The Essentials

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 /etc/X11/xorg.conf by hand, and you'll find the driver section near the bottom of the file.

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 intelfb driver 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 background image.

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 builds in s2ram and 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.

Other Distros

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.

Re: SUSE on Dell Latitude D505

I'm running Linux Mint 4 (XFCE) on a d505. The Restricted Drivers utility automated the fwcutter process just fine, but I have not yet managed to get the suspend or hibernate functions to work.

Posted by dirtprof - Apr 26, 2008 | 7:46

Re: SUSE on Dell Latitude D505

On my HP dv9000 (dv9005us) laptop openSUSE 10.3 is the best out of the box experience. But, to boot any other distro I've found that passing three kernel parameters (NOAPIC NOIRQDEBUG IRQPOLL) will get the job done. I'm currently running Kubuntu 7.10 (AMD64) with no issues. I distro hop quite often, but I always come back to openSUSE.

Posted by CJ - Mar 19, 2008 | 18:48

Re: SUSE on Dell Latitude D505

Ubuntu Hardy (8.04) works just perfectly on my D505. Wi-fi, accelerated graphics, everything works OOTB. It's great!

Posted by Brant - Jun 26, 2008 | 12:48

Re: SUSE on Dell Latitude D505

I have a Dell D505 Celeron 1.5 with a broadcome 4309. I'm running Kubuntu 8.04.

Took me a while to find out how to get Wireless running but I finally found that ndiswrapper and fwcutter are the two packages that successfully get it running (as mentioned above). The KWifiManager works nicely as a connection manager. Wireless signal is very weak however.

Pretty painless overall.

Posted by Ben Dexter - Aug 11, 2008 | 1:08

Re: SUSE on Dell Latitude D505

I know I'm late to the party, but I've been running Linux on my d505 for about four years now, and apart from some now-resolved issues with ACPI the hardware has always worked great. I haven't needed ndiswrapper for years, the ipw2100 drivers work fine.

I ran MEPIS for the last few years, now I'm on Kubuntu hardy heron, it works like a charm. ACPI seems to be sorted now too.

My advice: update your BIOS. Dell makes it pretty painless, though you might need to make a DOS boot disk.

Posted by Alan - Jul 8, 2008 | 3:47

Re: SUSE on Dell Latitude D505

On hibernate and suspend, any distro which includes s2ram can be tested with various commandline flags. See the included documentation. You'll find some interesting help here: http://en.opensuse.org/S2ram .

Posted by Ed Hurst - Jun 8, 2008 | 3:19

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