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Table of contents

    - Available Hardware
    - Sofware Configuration
    - Mouse
    - Video Card
    - Network
    - Modem
    - Hard drive
    - ACPI
    - Sound
    - USB
    - Firewire
    - DVD/CD Burner












Debian on a Dell Inspiron 5150 

Note : Below are details on how I got Debian running on my machine, and I'm by no means an expert in Debian. So there could be things that I might have done wrong or could have done differently. If you do find any mistakes I have made and i might be able improve the performance of the system,  please drop me a line at comments@dfernando.com. Your suggestions would be much appreciated.

Updated : 2 September 2004

Available Hardware

Hardware Description Status
CPU Intel Pentium IV 3.06 GHz

Video card
64MB DDR nVidia®  GeForceTM  FX Go5200 Go AGP 4X Graphics fully functional with 3D support
Ethernet controller: Broadcom Corporation BCM4401, Wireless: Dell TrueMobile 802.11b, 11Mbps
Intel Corp. 82801DB (ICH4) AC'97 Modem Controller
Hard drive
IDE 30GB Ultra ATA Hard Drive work
Advance Configuration Power Interface
partially work
Intel Corp. 82801DB (ICH4) AC'97 Audio Controller
USB2 Controller: Intel Corp. 82801DB
Texas Instruments PCI4510 IEEE-1394 Controller
not checked yet
DVD/CD burner
Insternal  4xDVD +RW with CDRW
CD burning work

Software configuration

Debian release

Currently I'm running Debian testing, but all of the above hardware bar Wireless was working properly on stable as well. It hasn't been long since I moved to testing, but purely to check out the latest packages and play around. I didn't have a wireless access point at home to test on stable, so didn't bother with wireless then. I'm sure there shouldn't be any problems getting wireless working on stable as well.

If you wanna move to testing, below are the apt sources. Since I live in Australia, those are for Aussie base use. You should be able to find a full list of apt source sites at http://www.apt-get.org. Inside australia use those below.

deb ftp://mirror.aarnet.edu.au/pub/linux/debian testing main contrib non-free
deb ftp://mirror.aarnet.edu.au/pub/linux/debian-non-US testing/non-US main contrib non-free
deb http://security.debian.org/ testing/updates main

Kernel used

At the time of this document being created, kernel-2.4.25 is being used.

Well folks now I am using 2.6.5 kernel and all working fine, expect for the modem of course. I'm not really gonna rewrite everything below. As far as compiling is concern, theres no make dep clean ...etc. Just do make and make modules_install to install module components. How to compile the kernel is of couse written quite clearly in the kernel README file.

Now I'm about to get my hands on kernel and I will update here if there are any major changes.


I got a reminder from a reader that i have forgotten to write about Touchpad, whether it works or not. So here i am updating it, Touchpad works fine and i am able to use it with the USB mouse simultaneously. In the kernel under Divice Drivers -> Input Device Support, I have got PCI PS/2 Keyboard and Mouse as a module and Mice -> PS/2 mouse built into the kernel.

Under XConfig I've got two entries, theres the "Configured Mouse" and the "Generic Mouse". The values are as below.

Section "InputDevice"
        Identifier      "Configured Mouse"
        Driver          "mouse"
        Option          "CorePointer"
        Option          "Device"                "/dev/psaux"
        Option          "Protocol"              "PS/2"
        Option          "Emulate3Buttons"       "true"
        Option          "ZAxisMapping"          "4 5"

Section "InputDevice"
        Identifier      "Generic Mouse"
        Driver          "mouse"
        Option          "SendCoreEvents"        "true"
        Option          "Device"                "/dev/input/mice"
        Option          "Protocol"              "ImPS/2"
        Option          "Emulate3Buttons"       "true"
        Option          "ZAxisMapping"          "4 5"

Video Card

I suppose Xserver configurations comes under here. Before moving to X setup, I should emphasise the driver I used here. As my graphics card is a NVIDIA, I downloaded to drivers from their website. The driver is NVIDIA-Linux-x86-1.0-5336-pkg1.run and very easy to install, just run the script and it does everything for you. To download the drivers, just go to NVIDIA website and click on drivers. Once the driver is built, you need to modconf and load the nvidia module. To check if the module is loaded properly, type lsmod on a console and see if nvidia appears. If it's there, job done !!

Next move to X configuration. Under Debian you need xserver-xfree86 (for stable and testing). If you install xserver-xfree86 now, the configuration dialog box should appear. If you had xserver-xfree86 installed before and want to reconfigure, type dpkg-reconfigure xserver-xfree86.  That'll take you to the configuration dialog box. Below are the values I used on xserver configuration.

    X server drivers   :   nvidia
    Video card identifier   :   Generic Video Card (could give any name you like)
    Video card's bus identifier   :   PCI:01:00:0 (to find out the identifier use lspci)
    Video card memory   :   64000 (check your video card specs)
    XKB rule set   :   xfree86
    Keyboard model   :   pc104
    Keyboard layout   :   us
    Keyboard variant   :   (left blank)
    Keyboard options   :   (left blank)
    Mouse port   :   /dev/psaux
    Mouse   :   PS/2
    Emulate 3 button mouse   :   Yes
    Mouse scroll   :   Yes
    Monitor identifier   :   Generic (choose any name you desire)
    Is monitor LCD device   :   Yes
    Method for selecting monitor characteristics   :   Advance
    Horizontal sync range   :   30-60
    Vertical refresh range   :   50-75
    Video modes X server could use   :   1280x1024, 1280x960, 1152x864
    Color depth   :   24

For  next question, hit ok and for last two questions answer yes. X configuration is done !!!

After successful X configuration, if you type startx on a console, Xwindows should start.

3D acceleration

Just thought of checking my video card performance, used glxgears and the results are as follows.

8370 frames in 5.0 seconds = 1674.000 FPS
9315 frames in 5.0 seconds = 1863.000 FPS
9300 frames in 5.0 seconds = 1860.000 FPS
9315 frames in 5.0 seconds = 1863.000 FPS
9333 frames in 5.0 seconds = 1866.600 FPS
9360 frames in 5.0 seconds = 1872.000 FPS
9295 frames in 5.0 seconds = 1859.000 FPS
9341 frames in 5.0 seconds = 1868.200 FPS
9285 frames in 5.0 seconds = 1857.000 FPS


Ethernet (RJ45) :

The internal ethernet card on my machine is a Broadcom 100Base-T. It wasn't too hard to get it working using the drivers in the kernel. I hope by now, you have some kind of an idea how to compile a kernel. Anyways here's a brief howto, to get the ethernet working.

I assume by now, you have the kernel source installed in /usr/src. Change directory to kernel source and execute make menuconfig. This should take you to kernel configuration main menu (as you would know by now). Here select network device support and in network device support screen select Ethernet (10 or 100Mbit). Here under PCI and on board controllers select Broadcom 4400 ethernet support. Note that this driver can be compiled into the kernel or compiled as a module. I compiled into the kernel, which is much easier. Once the driver is selected, exit from all the screens and when asked if you would like to save your kernel configurations, answer yes.

Next would be building the kernel, easy, just execute the command line below.

    make dep clean bzImage modules modules_install

If the compilation is successful, this would generate the kernel image as bzImage in arch/i386/boot/ in the kernel source directory. Copy the bzImage to the boot directoy, add an entry in the /etc/lilo.conf and update lilo by executing lilo. Done !!! Reboot to the kernel image you just created and ethernet should be up and running. Of course you would need to configure the ethernet to connecte to the network. That's a different topic.

To find more about kernel compiling, refer the README in the kernel source directory, to configure the ethernet to your network, use etherconf. To install etherconf, do apt-get install etherconf or to reconfigure do dpkg-reconfigure etherconf.

Wireless (PCMCIA card) :

This bit was a bit tricky at first, but with the 2.4.25 kernel, its quite straight forward. My PCMCIA card is a Dell TrueMobile card and there's kernel support on 2.4.25 and on 2.6.x kernels as well. I have tested on 2.6.5 kernel and work fine.

Anyhow as per usual back to the kernel configuration. In the kernel you have to select everything below.
  • General Support
    • PCMCIA/CardBus support
    • Cardbus support
  • Network Options
    • Packet socket
    • Socket filtering
  • Network Device support
    • Wireless LAN
    • Hermes chipset 802.11b support (Orinoco/Prism2/Symbol)
    • Hermes PCMCIA card support
    • Cisco/Aironet 34X/35X/4500/4800 PCMCIA cards
Once again the drivers above can be compiled into the kernel or as modules. In my case I compiled them as modules and loaded the modules later using modconf. Once all the drivers are selected, build the kernel and you know the drill. Next install pcmcia-cs using apt-get.

When you reboot to the kernel just built, the card manager should start and when you plug the card, the computer should make a beep. If all has gone well, if you do ifconfig there should be an entry as sl0. To configure the network connection, use etherconf. Mmmmm...... hope i didn't forget anything here. Don't think so, i'm sure thats all i did. VOILA!!!! wireless up and running.


Well finally I managed to get the modem running. Works all good and no complains about it. I do have to say a special thanks to Berti, who emailed me about how he got it working and I pretty much followed his directions. So heres how I got it working.

First of all I have to mention that I got it working under 2.6.5 kernel, I didn't really try it on 2.4.x kernel, but I was told by Berti it works well under 2.4 as well. Following is what the modem device on Inspiron 5150.

    Modem: Intel Corp. 82801DB/DBL/DBM (ICH4/ICH4-L/ICH4-M) AC'97 Modem Controller

To get this modem working, it needs ALSA support enable on the kernel. So on the kernel config, go to Device Drivers -> Sound -> Advanced Linux Sound Architecture -> PCI Devices and enable Intel i8x0/MX440; AMD768/8111 modems. If you compile this as a module, then before using the modem you would need to load the module called snd_intel8x0m. Next download slmodem-2.9.9.tar.gz from www.smlink.com and untar the file. Then by following the README, build and install drivers with ALSA support. To build driver with ALSA support you would need the following packages.
  • alsa-base
  • alsa-headers
  • alsa-utils
Next install sl-modem-daemon using apt-get. When using sl-modem-daemon, make sure you use it with ALSA option on. Now you can use what ever your preferred dial-up application to dial. I use wvdial, works like a charm.

Hard Drive

The machine has a 30 Gig hard drive and I'm using ext3 as my FS type.  I'm not really sure about what to expect from the hard drive and don't really wanna be too anal about the disk access speed. But just to satisfiy my enthusiasm, I did a disk read speed check using hdparm. The result is as below.

Timing buffer-cache reads:   1916 MB in  2.00 seconds = 1003.65  MB/sec


As I have mentioned above, I've only got partial luck with ACPI. Under kernel ACPI support there are 6 options that would apply to to Dell laptop. They are AC Adopter, Battery, Button, Fan, Processor and Thermal Zone. Apart from Fan, everyone else is functional.

Not sure if I mentioned ealier, anyway I am using Gnome 2.4 as my desktop manager and I've got Gkrellm running as well. On gnome I've got the battery and AC adopter displayed and on Gkrellm I've got temperature displayed. I guess I do make good use of these utils, not sure what i could have done with the fan. On gkrellm, there is an option to display the fan speed, but that doesn't seem to be working.

Unfortunately I can't get suspend working. I tried using apm, but I get error message saying my BIOS does not support apm, not nice. I surely would have loved to just close lid after work and take home and start just where I left. I've seen some had got suspend work for a certain degree, and suggesting methods to get it working, but haven't been able to give it a go. I guess I'll leave this section as work in progress, and I will update here as I progress.


I'm a great fan of music and could not do any work with out it. So sound was one of the first to get fully funtional. It was very much straight forward getting sound to work. Going back to the kernel, under the section sound, activate sound card support and choose the right driver, which is

Intel ICH (i8xx), SiS 7012, NVidia nForce Audio or AMD 768/811x

and compile the kernel. I use  XMMS as my mp3 player, but there are many mp3 players, just use any work well for you.


Well so far I've only used external mouse on the USB port and works nicely. Oh by the way it configured to use USB2. To get USB mouse working, I've added the following drivers in the kernel as modules.

EHCI HCD (USB 2.0) support
USB Human Interface Device (full HID) support
HID input layer support

Once the kernel is built and in use, make sure you load the modules to get the working.


Haven't had a chance to check if this works. Don't own any device that could be plugged to firewire.anyway :-)  If I do get it working and get a chance to play around, I will post the result here.

DVD/CD Burner

I've got the CD burner working, but haven't checked the DVD burninng. I'm not that sure how to get the dvd burner running either. Anyways to get the cd burner working, I compiled the kernel the dvd/cd burner as a scsi device. The device is loaded as sr0 and cd burning works just fine. Followings what I've done on the kernel,

Under ATA/IDE support, I chose SCSI emulator support as module and next under SCSI Support, I've got SCSI CD-ROM Support and SCSI generic support as mudules. To check if cd drive is emulated as a scsi properly, after boot up, check the dmesg and see if below entry are on it.

scsi0 : SCSI host adapter emulation for IDE ATAPI devices
Vendor: HL-DT-ST  Model: DVD+RW GCA-4040N  Rev: C108
Type:   CD-ROM                             ANSI SCSI revision: 02
Attached scsi CD-ROM sr0 at scsi0, channel 0, id 0, lun 0
sr0: scsi3-mmc drive: 24x/24x writer cd/rw xa/form2 cdda tray

If you can see the above entries in dmesg, you shouldn't have any problems with cd burning.

Thats all folks.

Good luck and enjoy the great OS Debian.

More Linux on Laptops

To get more info on Linux on different laptops, i recommend having a look at the site below.


A great site, I found very helpful setting up my own laptop.

Dell and Linux

Finally Dell has come to sense and  developed a linux support web site (about time). Don't expect to find whole load of support, but at least they do direct to some usefully linux support sites.



A top site for linux on mobile computer devices. You can find plenty of tips and tricks here. Check it out, I'm sure you'll find it very useful.


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