Linux on Dell Inspiron 1100

Hardware

Dell Inspiron 1100, BIOS rev A22
256MB RAM, 40GB hard drive, Combo DVD/CD-RW.

Partitioning

I initially tried resizing the XP partition using ntfsresize from a knoppix CD. It would only free up about 5GB of space. I rebooted into XP and ran the defrag utility. ntfsresize still wouldn't give me more space. I guess some immovable file got stored near the end of the partition and XP defrag wouldn't move it.

I searched the internet for repartitioning utilities. I wasn't about to shell out $70+ dollars for a utility I was going to use once. I found BootIt-NG, a free download from http://terabyteunlimited.com/. They would like you to buy it for $34.95 but the free download works for partitioning. It can be booted from diskette or can create an image for burning to a bootable CD. Once booted, its partitioning software can be used to repartition the disk (there is no need to install BootIt-NG's multi-boot manager). I resized the XP partition to about 10GB, rebooted to XP and ran the disk check. It ran clean.

There is a small parition (40MB) on the hard drive used by Dell during setup. I understand this can be deleted. I left it there but it would probably make a good /boot partition. I added a small boot partition and used the rest of the drive for an extended partition. Inside this I created a 256MB swap partition, a 25GB linux partition, and left 3GB to create a shared VFAT partition (I created and initialized this partition from XP). This last partition can be used to transfer files from linux to XP (linux can read the XP partition so transferring files the other way is no problem) and for files used by both operating systems (like my MP3 collection).

Linux Installation

I recently bought a desktop machine and decided to try Debian. I had been happy with SuSE on my previous systems but keeping software up-to-date isn't easy without constantly buying the latest SuSE kits and upgrading. I thought Debian might work better in this regard.

I was contemplating installing Debian on the laptop but there were a couple of things about Debian that irked me. I had been hearing good things about Gentoo so I decided to try it. I hit Gentoo's homepage at http://www.gentoo.org/ and followed the link to the ix86 installation documentation. Installation was pretty straight forward.

The thing that's cool about Gentoo is everything gets custom built according to your preferences. It's hard for other distributions to get some things right because they only have one configuration for most of the kits they offer. In order to allow customization, they'd need one kit for Gnome users and another for KDE users. Gentoo only needs one kit which it customizes based on your stated preferences and then builds just for you. It knows Apache is dependant on your Perl installation so if a new version of Perl comes out, it automatically rebuilds Apache to use it. This was one of my problems with SuSE and other distributions - I had to have two (or three!) versions of perl installed to support everything. The distribution's utilities used 5.005, Apache was built against 5.6.0, and I wanted to use the latest which was 5.8.0 (5.8.1 is out but I haven't installed it yet on my SuSE system). Gentoo even has kits for many perl modules so upgrading to a new perl ought to reinstall your favorite modules!

It seemed all the hardware worked from the gentoo installation CD. There are some things to consider while installing Gentoo to the hard drive.

Configuring XFree86

Apparently, the BIOS only allocates 1MB of RAM to the video card on boot. XFree86 can allocate more RAM to the card but can't tell the BIOS it did so. Therefore, the BIOS won't enable modes requiring more video RAM. There's a utility available (and a better description of the problem) at http://www.chzsoft.com.ar/855patch.html that takes care of this. I invoke this utility at boot time with '845patch 16384' which allocates 16MB to the video card. I run X at 1024x768x24 successfully with this setting.

I configured X with 'xf86config'. Monitor specs are horizontal sync 31.5-48.5, vertical refresh 59-75. Device driver is i810.

I originally had the mouse set to use PS/2 protocol but I have since loaded synaptics touchpad support. The setup is pretty well spelled out in /usr/doc/xfree86-4.3.0-r3/synaptics/INSTALL.gz.

Miscellaneous

I installed mplayer and was able to play a movie from DVD with the command 'mplayer dvd:/1 -dvd-device /dev/hda'. gmplayer also worked.

Burning CD's works with cdrecord with 'dev=ATAPI:0,0,0'.

The ALSA mixer controls work as follows:

I successfully recorded my band by running a wire from 'control room out' on our mixer to the mic input (careful! that's a line level signal into a microphone input!). This is a mono input which is good enough for us for now. I'll be looking into either USB or PCMCIA options for better recording abilities.

The hard disk is /dev/hdc and the DVD/CD-RW is /dev/hda.

If you have the framebuffer support setup properly in your kernel build, you can get full screen console by appending 'vga=773' to the kernel boot parameters. That's 48x128 with the default font. 96x128 is achievable with the some console fonts.

pfau at nbpfaus.net