Linux on a Gateway Solo 450
Last updated July 7, 2008.
I'm running Ubuntu 8.04 (also know as Hardy Heron) after umpteen years of
running Fedora Core 3. I wasn't going to bother upgrading this machine
any more since I'm planning to get a new one Real Soon Now, but circumstances
intervened -- I needed some functionality that just wasn't working
on FC3, and I needed it now. So I bit the bullet and installed
a fresh copy of Ubuntu (backed up all of my data first, of course,
and in the process discovered gigabytes of stuff I Just Didn't Need.
Nothing like a good disk wipe to help with the housecleaning).
Notes on previous installations are here,
but I notice in looking at them that there have been lots of changes
since I last updated them. In the first place, I now have an 80GB
hard drive with the partitioning split just about evenly between
Windows XP and Linux. Also, at some point I upgraded to FC3, but
I see that I didn't bother to document the upgrade -- which probably
means that the upgrade was relatively painless.
One advantage of Ubuntu over older installations is that you
can run the "LiveCD" version off the installation disk before
you go and actually do an installation. By doing this I was
able to tell that all the pieces of hardware I was really interested
in were going to work -- networking, display, wireless, touchpad, etc.
Another advantage of Ubuntu over older installations (or disadvantage,
depending on how you look at it) is that the installation fits
on one CD -- only the most basic functionality is installed
from the CD. The rest is installed over the InterWebs during
installation, or after installation, or in many cases not installed at
all. This may sound like a pain, but it turns out not to be that
bad -- one of the nice features is that if you type a command in
a shell prompt it will tell you that it can't find it and give you
the command to download it and install it. I don't know who thought
of that feature but it's pretty slick, especially for us command-line
types. Barring this, the Synaptics package manager is fairly straightfoward.
Barring that, it's fairly easy to find the name of the package you're
looking for by searching the web. When I first started with this notebook
that sort of support wasn't really available.
Things that work:
- Suspend actually works! It's cool. It even pays attention to
the "Standby" key on the keyboard (actually Fn+F4). When it
comes out of suspend it reconnects to the network and everything.
I can suspend it at work, take it home, bring it back up, and
it connects to the home network just fine. I don't have to be
jealous of my wife's MacBook any more (at least as far as fast
startups are concerned). However note that suspend
doesn't work if you use the "vga=791" flag for booting
Upate, 07 July 2008: but note that ACPI may have
to be deactivated, in which case suspend doesn't work.
See the entry on "kacpi_notify" below.
- Hibernate also works, although I'm not sure why you would
want to use it. I suppose if you're going to have the machine
off and unplugged for a long time but don't want to save the
state of whatever you're doing it might be useful. But it takes
almost as long to go into and out of hibernate as a full
shutdown/reboot. What's the point?
- Sound -- worked fine out of the box. Plays ogg format and
mp3's; don't know yet what else. For now at least I'm using
the Rythmbox Music Player which was part of the standard
- CD's: No problems.
- Wireless works fine, although as on most platforms configuring
it for multiple locations is a pain. I installed Wifi-radar
to deal with that but haven't yet had a chance to use it much.
- X worked out of the box but performance seems sluggish. As
an example, "Extreme Tux Racer" is almost unplayable because
screen refreshes are so slow. It doesn't seem to be related to
the DRI problems I had in previous
installations; it's more likely that X itself is just
slower and demands more horsepower than it used to. But at
this point I don't think this is worth pursuing.
- USB: no problems. Minor annoyance: when I plug in my
digital camera it reads back all the filename in upper
case, which screws up all the scripts I wrote to handle
Things I haven't checked yet:
- The modem. And I'm not even going to try. Who uses
modems any more?
- Firewire (aka 1384): I don't have any Firewire devices
so I'm not going to test it.
- DVD's: Haven't figured out yet how to handle the
CSS decoding issue on Ubuntu. Don't know if I'm goint to
- During installation I stumbled across a bug that's been
widely reported where the installer hung at 15% while
detecting file systems'. I ended up booting into the LiveCD
session and using fdisk to clear out and set up the partitions I
wanted to use. Then I did a "manual partition" during the
installation. I suspect that it got lost trying to walk through
the Windows and FC3 data on the disk; I also suspect that if I did
a totally clean build (where I just wiped out the existing
partitions and started over) it would have been fine. I don't
know why they don't have an option of saying "please don't look
at the data on the disk; I don't want to use any of it and I don't
want you to use any of it".
- After installation I was restoring files from my backup, and I
noticed that things were taking longer and longer and the fan was
running all the time. Getting focus on any window was taking
longer and longer, and when I managed to run "top" I noticed that
a process called kacpi-notify was taking up 30 to 50% of the cpu.
A quick web search showed that
others have had the same problem. Based on the hints in
that posting, I opened /etc/default/acpid and changed
the line reading 'MODULES="all"' to 'MODULES="battery ac button"'.
I suspect that the acpi code was trying to control the processor and/or fan
speed when the load got heavy and was not having much success, resulting
in a thermal-positive-feedback loop. I rebooted after this change
and the problem has not returned.
Upate, 07 July 2008: Well, it appears the problem has not gone
away. Some further web surfing uncovers yet more people complaining about
this issue; see for example this thread. Even Linus weighed in two years ago. The problem is
annoying enough that I took the drastic step of disabling ACPI, which means
that suspend no longer works.
To disable suspend: edit /boot/grub/menu.lst (you'll have to sudo to
do this), where you'll see a line like this:
kernel /vmlinuz-2.6.24-19-generic root=UUID=74bd1623-14e1-4520-a4ec-d66b493c425a ro quiet splash
Add "acpi=off" to the line, like this:
kernel /vmlinuz-2.6.24-19-generic root=UUID=74bd1623-14e1-4520-a4ec-d66b493c425a ro quiet splash acpi=off
Further upate, 07 July 2008: one problem with turning
off ACPI is that shutdown no longer works. Maybe I'll send Linus
an email and see if anybody fixed the problem. Otherwise, I'm about
to give up and get a Mac.
Tips and Tricks
- Those of you are coming from the RedHat/Fedora camp will have to
get used to doing things using "
sudo" instead of having a root account to handle
administrative tasks. I'm still getting used to the concept -- it
makes me nervouse that my password is essentially the root
password on the machine. But I've been getting used to it because
my server has been running Ubuntu for a while now, plus that's the
way OS X does things.
- Also, the layout of files is different from the RedHat layout.
Not a lot different but different enough to be annoying at times;
for example, all the init scripts are in /etc/init.d, not
/etc/rc.d/init.d. And there's no "service" utility for
turning services on and off.
|Processor: ||1.4 GHz Mobile Pentium 4|
|Memory: ||256MB DDR SDRAM|
|Hard Drive: ||60GB|
|Video: ||ATI Radeon Mobility M6 w/ 32MB DDRAM|
|Display: ||15 inch XGA (1024x768) TFT 32-bit|
|CD-ROM: ||modular 8x/8x/24x CDRW / 8x DVD Combo|
Email me if you have questions
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Copyright © 2008 David W. Strauss