RedHat Linux 6.2 on a Dell Inspiron 3800

Table of Contents

Introduction

This page contains a description of my experience installing RedHat Linux 6.2 on a Dell Inspiron 3800 laptop. You can feel free to contact me if you have any questions about the install, I'll offer advice if I'm able (linux-related questions only please).

IMPORTANT NOTE:
Also, an aside about this model for Windows users. I dual-boot the system (Windows 98 SE), and when I first got mine, I had a lot of problems with intermittent reboots and freezes that occured seemingly at random. I talked to tech support nearly a dozen times, and eventually on my own found this web page containing a review by Jeffrey Tseng at Hardware Central, which advised people that removing the custom touchpad/trackpoint drivers could fix the problem he was having, which sounded identical to mine (click here for the full printable version). I did this, and sure enough, the problem stopped. So, fearing that some sort of mainboard or overheating problem was still at the root of this, I had the mainboard replaced and then, subsequently, the system replaced. This made the reboots less frequent (when the drivers were enabled) but did not solve the problem. Currently, I'm just living with the custom drivers disabled and the sytem is rock-solid. The BIOS has had a new version since I bought it, and I've made sure all the drivers are the newest versions. The problem is completely reliable, with the drivers enabled I get freezes and reboots, with them disabled, it's stable. With the drivers disabled in Windows, you lose some advanced features to customize the trackpoint and touchpad, but it's not really a big loss. I still would recommend this system as a good one to purchase. As far as I can tell, Linux seems not to be affected by this issue.

About the Inspiron

Here is a list of the my Inspiron's features (with upgrades indicated):

Installing Linux

Initial steps

The first thing I did was repartitioned the hard drive to have a 1.5 GB partition for Linux and 3.3 GB for Windows 98. The techniques for doing this are well documented elsewhere, and fips is a good freeware tool for this purpose. I'm going to get a bigger hard drive at some point, but for now I'll live with this configuration.

To start the installtion, I put the DVD-ROM drive in the media bay and attached the floppy drive to the parallel port with the included cable (this is necessary to create a boot disk during installation). I modified the BIOS so that the DVD-ROM was the first boot device, put the RedHat 6.2 CD in the drive, and rebooted the machine with the Netgear PC Card in the top slot (Socket 1).

The RedHat 6.2 initial installation screen came up just fine as the machine booted from the CD-ROM. I tried just going into the standard graphical installation, but this didn't seem to work (all I got was a blank screen). So, I rebooted and tried text mode. This worked just fine. I chose a custom installation and picked the packages I needed, to conserve disk space.

Partitions

I choose to have only 2 linux partitions, one for root (/) of 1.3 GB and a 128 MB swap. I'll probably divide these further when I get a bigger hard drive, but with limited space I think it's safer to stick with one big partition.

Touchpad/Trackpoint

I chose Alps Glidepoint (PS/2) for a mouse. Worked fine for me.

X configuration

The X probe found a "Generic Mach 64" video card and chose the Mach64 Xserver for me. I chose "LCD Panel 1024x768" when asked in the Xconfigurator. It then probed my system and I accepted the default setting.

At this point the system rebooted and up came my RedHat 6.2 login prompt. So, this is what I did next.

Sound

To my knowledge, there are four ways to get sound to work with the ESS Maestro 3i chipset that is on this laptop. I have only tried the demo of the commerical 4Front Technologies driver, which seemed to work fine, but I removed it as I was waiting for a free driver, and didn't need sound badly enough to pay for it.

  1. There is a commerical driver made by 4Front Technologies that works with the 3i. You can download a time-limited demo which you can try out before purchasing. I tried this and it worked OK for me, but I chose not to continue using it.

  2. Apparently, you can get the 3i to work in Sound Blaster Pro compatibility mode. Please refer to Andy Loening's page for a description.

  3. The author of the Maestro 2 series drivers has one in development available for the Maestro 3i here. I've heard of people using it successfully, but I haven't personally tried it.

  4. I received an email from Graham Steel who has setup sound on his Inspiron 3800 with ALSA, the Advanced Linux Sound Architecture project. You can go to his page to find instructions on how ALSA worked for him.

Networking

The output of the "lsmod" command showed that the tulip module was correctly loaded for the Netgear PC Card. I typed "cardctl config" and "cardctl ident" to see that the Netgear card was recognized properly. At this point, I proceeded to use "linuxconf" to configure the network settings for my LAN.

Summary

So that's it for my installation of Linux. I must say, it went very well and the only (minor) problem was that the graphical installation didn't work and I had to use the text mode. Also, I should note that I know that Metrolink and Xi Graphics make commercial accelerated X-servers that should work on this laptop. For better X performance, you might want to look into them.

General Resources:

These pages were last modified on Wednesday, January 10, 2001

Copyright © 2000 Matthew A. Smith. All rights reserved.