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November 21, 2005

Winner for the Sony Vaio VGN-TX1XP Laptop: SuSE Linux

Filed under: — brendan @ 21:02 GMT

I tried Fedora Core 4, then Ubuntu, then Debian 3.1, then Fedora Core 4 again (without ATRPMS which caused problems the first time), and finally SuSE Linux 10.0, which is definitely the winner.

Some bits learned along the way:

  1. The Fedora Core 4 installation program, when asked to leave the existing partitions (two Windows XP ones, to keep the C: and D: drives created by Sony but shrunk down by Partition Magic), did leave them but actually changed their order in the partition table. This broke Windows; I had to boot with a Knoppix CD and use fdisk to fix the partition table to put the C: and D: drives back in positions 1 and 2 of the partitions, moving Fedora to the rest. That and a quick edit of /boot/grub/grub.conf to fix the root partition it knew about, invoke grub-install and all was good. Well, almost: I installed ATRPMS, and it had some trouble with duplicate versions of things being installed. Next time I won’t force apt-get. 🙂
  2. Ubuntu 5.10 “The Breezy Badger” got caught in an infinite loop while figuring out the video hardware. I found this both with the Live CD version and a regular full install. I haven’t yet tried to figure out which script is failing.
  3. Next came Debian 3.1 “Sarge”. Its startup didn’t give me a working X-Windows til after I edited my /etc/X11/XF86Config-4. No i810 driver for the Intel 915GM video card. The TX1XP’s trackpad didn’t work even with gpm (the console-based cursor movement); I had to make it boot under one of its 2.6.* kernels to have it work. And, it had no ipw2200 driver at all for the TX1XP’s wireless card. Bummer, I really like Debian but perhaps it’s not best for a really-new laptop.
  4. Back to Fedora Core 4, this time without ATRPMS. The ipw2200 wireless driver and the i810 support for its 1366×768 screen weren’t working by default—you have to do a hefty update of everything to make them even hope to work. I did discover I needed to invoke up2date --nosig to make it not pause after every F’in package to ask me if it’s okay that the package wasn’t GPG-signed. It needs a “ignore now and always” sort of option. Later I realized in the initial up2date dialogs, there’s an option that lets you not require valid signatures on stuff before installation. Oh well. Next, I found a sonypi driver on someone’s website which I could try to control the brightness of the screen. (People are having trouble getting the Fn button to work properly on the Vaio.)
  5. Then I saw my local news agent had a copy of Linux Format, a UK-based Linux mag that has CDs & DVDs of incalculable enjoyment. This time around, they had SuSE 10.0. Yay! I’d been thinking about trying it out but never considered a download. It worked like a dream!

I was able to make the display use the whole screen just by changing the /etc/X11/XF86Config to have this entry in its install-generated Modes section:

Modeline “1366×768” 88.03 1366 1424 1680 1816 768 770 782 808

(I found this via Google from someone else’s post on a totally different topic.) Then the Screen section just needed "1366x768" added to each of the Modes lines. To be consistent, I copied the other post’s values in Monitor to be

HorizSync 31.5 – 90.0

though I’m not positive it’s necessary.

SuSE already has the sonypi driver for brightness, letting me just invoke

powersave -k 4

choosing a number from 1 to 8 on how bright I want the screen to be. Update: With thanks to ph030’s great bits about his experiences putting Gentoo on the TX1XP, you can also install the spicctrl package. It “uses the Sony Programmable I/O Control device (SPIC), which is part of most Sony Vaio laptops, to perform several functions, such as changing the display brightness, controlling
Bluetooth power, or reporting battery status.” The first practical use of this for me has been to turn off Bluetooth so it’s not using any battery. The command spicctrl -l 0 does the trick, but I found it helpful to put these lines in my /etc/rc.d/boot.local:

# Turn off bluetooth by default.
test -x /usr/bin/spicctrl && /usr/bin/spicctrl -l 0

I haven’t managed to change the brightness with it instead of powersave, but I’ve not spent much time using it.

I tried making the laptop sleep as well as it did under Windows, but I’m only halfway there. I edited /etc/sysconfig/powersave/sleep to make DISABLE_USER_SUSPEND2RAM be yes but this did NOT work—it could sleep okay, but it never woke up properly. And DISABLE_USER_STANDBY never works. I did get suspend-to-disk to work, though (aka hibernation). For this, I edited /etc/sysconfig/powersave/cpufreq/events and changed EVENT_BUTTON_LID_CLOSED to be suspend_to_disk.

When the screen saver blanks the screen, it actually turns it off, where all of the others could only ever make the display turn to black but still obviously still be physically emitting light from the screen. My first guess is how the others had a hard time using anything but the vesa driver in the Device section of its XF86Config or XF86Config-4, while this is happily using i810.

Finally, as was suggested by rcpowersaved in /var/log/messages when it started up, I changed /etc/sysconfig/powersave/cpufreq to CPUFREQD_MODULE to be speedstep_centrino.

SuSE has been working really well, though I have one complaint: the SuSE 10.0 “OSS” version omits a lot of stuff compared to the “EvalDVD” version. In particular, both vpnc and ncftp are noticably missing. I downloaded the 3.6Gb ISO image of the DVD version mainly to get those files. Now I just need to mount it and get the RPMS from it that I want.

Why doesn’t Novell make it possible to download any of the RPMs that’re in the DVD image? Thus you could make YaST2 just point to the right place to get “all” packages, instead of the less complete set that’s on the OSS version?

Update (originally in a later post): Jem Matzan has a great article in The Jem Report which addresses this directly. He explains how to set up YaST to be able to automatically get stuff you’re missing like Thunderbird, MP3 support, and Java. It has the other parts I’m missing, including ncftp and vpnc. Yay! I could also finally get the NetworkManager packages, which I came to really enjoy when I was using Fedora Core 4. Thank you, Jem!

It’s a wonderful laptop so far. (Wouldn’t it be cool if Sony gave you stuff like a second AC adapter for free when you make comments in a public fashion in support of their products? 🙂 )

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