Setting up Linux (Debian in particular) on a Dell Inspiron 4000

by Alex Suzuki, <as at cynox dot ch>

My Dell Inspiron 4000

it looks great, doesn't it?
  • Pentium III processor with 700 Mhz, goes down to 550 when running off the battery
  • 14.1 inch SXGA+ (1400x1050) display
  • ATI Rage Mobility M3 (8M video RAM)
  • 256 MB RAM
  • 20G IDE hard drive
  • 8x DVD-ROM
  • Floppy drive (can be swapped with the DVD-ROM, or attached externall via the parallel port, haven't tried that yet)
  • ActionTec Internal NIC 10/100 and V.90 Modem


Preparing the notebook to run Linux

The Inspiron 4000 came preconfigured with one suspend to disk partition at the beginning of the drive, and the rest was FAT32-formatted Winbloze space. I decided not to purge Windows, because you never know, and sometimes it may come useful to have a Windows environment handy, anyway. I decided to use Partition Magic 5 by Powerquest to shrink my Windows partition to about 5 gigabytes, which worked very well without any errors. I left out the defragmentation part because I have only once booted into Windows since I got the laptop, so the fragmentation should be minimal.
You don't need Partition Magic to do that, some Linux distributions (like SuSE and Mandrake, these are the only two others I know about) even offer you the tools during installation.

Installation, hardware setup

Installation with Debian was very straightforward, although I used special install disks that allow you to make ReiserFS-partitions, a journaling filesystem that is faster than ext2 and requires much less time to fix when the machine crashes. You shouldn't encounter any problems during the install.

NIC

The network card (you need to choose the eepro100 module) worked right out of the box without any problems.

Internal Modem (ActionTec V.90)

I was really lucky that I got a Winmodem (most internal modems are Winmodems, they let the CPU do most of the job) that actually works with Linux. You can download .debs or even sourcecode from the following site: http://www.heby.de/ltmodem

Soundcard (Maestro 3I)

Since I upgraded my debian potato (2.2r3) install shortly after install to testing (also known as woody), I decided to use an up-to-date kernel aswell. I chose the stock 2.4.4 kernel from kernel.org. I noticed that most people that installed the Inspiron 4000 used the ALSA drivers, but I chose to use the experimental kernel drivers in 2.4.4. In order to use them, you need to activate the option "Prompt for development and/or incomplete drivers" in the "Code maturity level options" menu. I chose to compile the general sound support (module name: soundcore) and the ESS Maestro 3/Allegro driver (module name: maestro3) as modules. This worked fine.

Software setup

X

I installed XFree 4.0.3 as in debian/woody. I ran XFree86 -configure to create a generic XF86Config-4 file, and added some of the options I found on other Inspiron 4000 pages, but somehow X kept crashing, leaving a very dangerous-looking pattern on the display. I digged around with Google and found a dell site which actually offered an XF86Config file designed for the Inspiron 4000, but unfortunately in the RPM format. Actually debian offers a tool called "alien" to convert RPMs to debs, but I've never used it, and since I had a SuSE box handy, I just installed the RPM there, and extracted the file. You can download my slightly modified version here, or the default one from Dell here. Of course if you have an RPM-based system (most of you probably have one), you will be fine with the RPM. With this convenient file, X works beautifully, atleast on my box.

APM/Power management

I compiled my 2.4.4 kernel with APM support included, and added the apm=on append parameter in /etc/lilo.conf, but somehow the Inspiron 4000 didn't manage to power-off on shutdown. I then used ACPI instead, installed acpid (apt-get install acpid), and the shutdown now works. I have no idea if suspend to disk works, I haven't tried yet, and I fear that it will not work. I also fail to get a battery readout with ACPI, but this seems to be because of the very early stage of development of ACPI support. With APM the battery readout works fine, so I will eventually switch back to APM. This page seems to have a good deal of information about APM features, you may be better of reading that page. I will eventually try to apply those solutions as soon as I get to it.

Other resources

Conclusion

The installation was very smooth for me. I don't know about other laptops since this is my first one, but the Inspiron 4000 is definitely one of the better models for Linux. After having read through a couple of discussions and mailinglists, the overall "linux compatibility" of Dell laptops seems to be quite good.

Enjoy Linux on your laptop!

If you have any additional information or suggestions, please feel free to drop me an e-mail: <as at cynox dot ch>
Please also visit my personal page, and sign the guestbook :-)