Linux (Fedora) on a Dell Latitude D630 – first impressions

Tux
The new Laptop is almost fully supported under Linux. While the install process wasn’t really easy, the hardware was afterwards detected without a problem.

The new laptop works like a charm. After few days I am already sure that my money was well spent. The hardware is almost fully supported, and everything I tested works like expected.

General hardware support

The general hardware is well supported: CPU, hard disk, RAM, screen, touchpad, bluetooth and USB controllers usually don’t make any problems on modern Linux distributions.
Other hardware also works well: the Intel WLAN card works, also does the Intel Audio. I found some articles mentioning problems in this regard, but this was fixed with recent kernels.

The NVIDIA GPU is also supported – with recent proprietary NVIDIA drivers. I would have liked to have a GPU where high quality free drivers are available, like Intel cards or ATI/AMD cards, but there wasn’t a comparable model out there featuring ATI/AMD, and Intel cards simply don’t have enough power. I just hope that NVIDIA starts a similar Open Source attempt as AMD/ATI. For a start full RandR 1.2 support would already help me to re-use all my RandR scripts I wrote over the time for different monitor setups…

Anyway, with the standard Fedora 8 system for the usual hardware and binary drivers for the NVIDIA card I can – without any problems – suspend and resume this machine.

Hardware quirks, untested hardware

There are two things I have noticed so far which are not working perfect or not at all: the first one are several multimedia keys on the keyboard: the mute/volume up/volume down keys are not working. I hope to solve this by following the guide at the hal quirk page.
Another things which is at least not working as perfect as I would it to work is the hard disk: I get a specific sound once in a while, like 2 till 3 times each minute. It sounds to my untrained ears that the hard disk just writes some small data package. The program powertop suggested to do
echo 1500 > /proc/sys/vm/dirty_writeback_centisecs when I noticed the sound once while powertop was running, but I’m not sure if these things are really related.
The sound is certainly nothing really disturbing, but it is at least noticeable, and I just wonder where this comes from and if it is something I could fix with software improvements.

Besides the here mentioned hardware there is of course hardware I didn’t test yet – like the modem or the docking station connector. I didn’t test the first one because I don’t expect to ever need it, and I didn’t test the second one because the docking station is not here yet.

Real problems

The only real problem I encountered with this machine was the installation – I struggled with it for quite some time until I found a decent way.

First I tried to boot the system using the normal Fedora 8 install DVD – that “failed” while attempting to load /sbin/loader: it just showed a message informing me that it loads the loader, nothing more. The boot up didn’t continue. However, the system didn’t really freeze because I could still restart it with Alt+Ctrl+Del. I’m not sure what the cause is/was.
The second try was an old Ubuntu 7.04 Live CD I still had somewhere – while I didn’t plan to start using Ubuntu for a longer time it would have been an option if Fedora wouldn’t have worked. But that CD failed to load as well.
The third try was an OpenSuse 10.2 Live DVD – that one worked pretty well. And since I already have a long OpenSuse past and since I am pretty used to their system it was really tempting to switch with this laptop. But then I also tried another recent Ubuntu Live DVD – and it worked as well. So I decided to also try a Fedora 8 Live CD – and indeed, the Fedora 8 KDE Live CD worked.

I must admit that I am surprised that there were so many problems. The Dell D630 is a quite old model and out there for quite some time, and I wonder how others have managed to install Linux on it in the past, as it looks to me that only new distributions successfully booth the machine.

19 thoughts on “Linux (Fedora) on a Dell Latitude D630 – first impressions”

  1. I have a Dell D630 and run Fedora 8 on it since New year… I made through the installer with this efter the vmlinux
    floppy.allowed_drive_mask=0 clocksource=acpi_pm

    I don’t have you problems with media buttons. They worked right out of the box and the dockingstation works too. Only thing I found with it is that if you undock it and then dock it again it can hang sometimes.

  2. On my recent D630 with NVidia Quadro, Fedora 8 install worked out of the box, no parameters, no problems.
    However, I used the x86_64 version.

    Regards,
    Pedro Morais

  3. I had no problem installing Fedora on a D630, but i just can’t get the wireless to work. Do you have any tips?

  4. Many dell models have issues with the tickless kernel in f8. As indicated by Mats, try passing some kernel params:

    clocksource=acpi_pm
    nohz=off
    highres=off

    Some combination of these will probably let the system boot. My Inspiron 8600 worked with nohz=off

    A more complete discussion for f8 is here:
    http://fedoraproject.org/wiki/KernelCommonProblems

    -Greg

  5. I have seen a similar problem on a Dell laptop. I do not remember what model if was though. But, it was the same issue….the Fedora 8 install DVD would hang with no error message. However, I was able to boot with the Fedora 8 Live CD and install to HD from there with no issues.

  6. Regarding the hard disk sound: If it sounds like the disk parks its head and then unparks it, your drive firmware may be trying to send your disk into power save mode at the wrong times. This can be caused by overzealous drive firmware or bad distribution defaults.

    If you run a
    smartctl -a /dev/sda | grep Load
    then wait on the click and run it again and the load cycle count has gone up. That is your problem, and it is killing your disk.

    If that is the problem, there was a bunch of flack about it in Ubuntu land a few months back, including a workaround. I had the same thing happen to me with a D820, and in four months my disk had the equivalent of 1.5 years of use.

  7. Hey, I also have a D630 since october last year. Let me tell you my experiences:

    * Install – never had any problem but I installed F7 and then F8 with the liveCD.

    * Sound – sometimes I get no sound after hibernation. I have to manually kill pulseaudio, modprobe -r hda_intel, modprobe hda_intel and launch pulseaudio again.

    * Wireless – I have a ipw3945. Have had no end of problems with it, check
    https://bugzilla.redhat.com/show_bug.cgi?id=428591
    http://www.intellinuxwireless.org/bugzilla/show_bug.cgi?id=1629

    * Disk sound – you’ll see with smarctl -a /dev/sda that your Load_Cycle_Count is increasing at a rate of 2-3 units per sec. I don’t know if this *really* wears out the disk faster but I also find it irritating so I’ve just put

    hdparm -B 254 /dev/sda

    on an init script and on pm-utils’ script dir (the disk resets the “acoustic management” value to 208 on hibernation and sleep). Check these threads:

    http://marc.info/?l=smartmontools-support&m=119429030509698&w=2
    http://marc.info/?l=smartmontools-support&m=119364556211789&w=2

    * Fn keys – check this bug:
    https://bugzilla.redhat.com/show_bug.cgi?id=356091

    Please continue to report your findings!

  8. I installed openSUSE 10.3 on D630 a week ago without any issues and it seems to be working OK (including hibernation, suspend, wifi, bluetooth or smartcards).

  9. Hey, I’ve left you a comment before that does not show up. Maybe it was caught by a SPAM filter?

  10. Mats, are you using Gnome or KDE? It might be that the difference is due to the desktop environment.

    Pedro, I was indeed using the x86 version. Still quitestrange that it worked so good for you.

    Wilfred, which kind of wireless network card do you have? The intel one should work right out of the box!

    Greg, thanks for that link, I didn’t knew that. But since it works now without any further tweaking I guess my problem was fixed by a current kernel update.

    Chris, that doesn’t sound good – thanks for the suggestion, I will try it as soon as I am home.

    Rui, yes, the spam filter ate your post – it is now back. Thanks very much for the detailed comment, I will check the infos regarding the disk and will report here if anything changes.

    Michael, also thanks for the comment – I’m pretty sure now that I will use hdparm as soon as I’m back home😉

  11. liquidat: It is a intel 3945ABG. The kernel modules load, but the card doesn’t work. Actually nobody here who runs fedora 8 and has the intel 3945abg card got it working.😦

  12. Wilfred, doesn’t sound that good. Is there any forum thread looking into the details where I could join? Did you fill a bug report? Did you ask the Intel developers?

  13. It works. I first discovered that laptops have a switch on the side to disable wireless cards, and then installing 2.6.24.5-85 made it work.

  14. have a D630, tried fedora 5 and 9, both installs wont detect the ehternet card (wired). any tips? when it starts network services it only brings up loopback. how can i get it to setup eth0? is there some fancy thing special dell does?

  15. Not sure. I ended up just switching to a version of Redhat with a similar kernel. Then it worked fine. Thanks anyway

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