Thursday, May 13, 2010

Installing Ubuntu Netbook Remix 10.04 on a Dell 700m

At home, I have an older Dell 700m laptop which has had linux installed on it in one form or another for a few years. I have a soft spot for this laptop due to its small size and decent performance, even though a newer Toshiba I bought recently has more power. So, I thought that with Ubuntu 10.04 now out, I'd give the netbook remix a try.

For those of you not familiar with the netbook remix distribution of Ubuntu, it "is optimised to run on a new category of affordable Internet-centric devices called netbooks. It includes a new consumer-friendly interface that allows users to quickly and easily get on-line and use their favourite applications." Specifically, it has been designed to start up quickly and sports a user interface suitable for smaller sized screens, like the one that the Dell 700m sports.

So I downloaded the Ubuntu Netbook Remix ISO and burned it to a CD. Newer laptops and netbooks support booting froma USB device, but I wasn't sure if the 700m supported this, and so went with the sure thing. Sliding the CD into the CD-ROM tray, I reboot the computer and wait.

Hrm. After a minute or two, the computer has stopped accessing the CD, but the screen is black. Hrm. I try a few kernel boot options from the grub menu (like noacpi, and a few others), and continue to receive the black screen devoid of all things linuxy. You know what? After banging my head on the 10.04 server install, I am now getting a bit irate. I'm at home, spending what little free time I have trying to get this SOB working, and it just isn't giving me the time of day - time to shut it down for the evening before I go supernova.

Fast forward to the next day. Doing a bit of research on the Ubuntu Forums (a good support site, although a bit overwhelmed right now due to the release), I find that I am not alone. It turns out that laptops sporting the Intel 855GM video chipset (and others in that family) were having severe problems with the kernel. I find this especially ironic, since according to the netbook remix site, "Canonical has collaborated with Intel...". *snort*

There is a workaround (or two, or three, or four) for this problem, and I appended the "i915.modeset=1" kernel boot parameter to the grub configuration, and I was then able to get video (which is always helpful for those of us with eyes). So the install finally went through to completion, and I had a netbook install on my Dell 700m.

Unfortunately, the 3D portion of the Intel drivers must not be enabled, because performance of the 3D enabled netbook launcher is atrocious. We are talking about several second delays when switching categories, slow/nonexistent feedback when launching an application. Once you get a normal application launched, then it performs fine (like chrome or the gnome terminal app).

So, that is where it stands so far. I am expecting a kernel update in the very near future to sort out the Intel video bug, and then everything will be fine. However, I pity the fool who tries to install the netbook remix with a similar video chipset, and isn't very familiar with linux.


  1. I think they rolled out Lynx too soon. It feels like an early RC instead. Still, once it's running, it's noticeably faster than Koala. Getting it there, though ... sheesh.

  2. I have a 700m as well and of course ran into the same issues as you. I have resolved them though by following the workarounds on this bug tracker:

    Just click on the bug link on the page above for the full thread.

  3. Brant,

    I think that you are 100% correct. I understand tha mean that the release is stable on Day 1. However, this release seems WAY TOO buggy, and that a little bit more stability is a good thing, especially with an LTS release where you can expect many new users...

  4. ruffneckc - Thanks for the tip! I've installed the ppa and updated my packages, and the video seems to be 100% improved.

    The only thing I am noticing now is that when typing into a HTML text box (like for this comment), the systems bogs down a bit for a time, my keypresses are buffered, and then they show up a few seconds later. Very odd. I'll do some more testing with other apps and see if this is something specific to chromium or if it show up in other apps as well.

    Thanks again!

  5. Did you guys ever figure out how to get the native 1280x800 resolution? I am stuck at 1024x768.

  6. I get native 1280x800 on my 700m, even before applying the ppa's that fix the video issue. I suggest searching the ubuntu forums.

  7. My xorg.conf is empty after I applied your patch. I am unaware of why it would be this way, so I am hesitant to copy others xorg.conf's.

  8. Kevin,

    Regarding a nonexistant/empty xorg.conf file, see here.

    And as ruffneckc said, I also had 1280x800 on my 700m (making sure to use the i915.modeset=1 kernel parameter) before using the PPA. The PPA deals with the speed (or lack thereof) of the graphics driver.


  9. Seems i915.modeset=1 works at 1280x800 until I run:
    sudo add-apt-repository ppa:xorg-edgers/ppa
    sudo apt-get update
    sudo apt-get upgrade

    Then I get the hardware acceleration, but only at 1024x768 and i915.modeset=1 ends in a black screen. Strange...

  10. Got it. After installing everything I had to run:

    sudo aptitude dist-upgrade

    because some of the packages were being held back using the first method. I am all set up. Thanks for the help guys.

  11. saved me an hour of 'wtf is going on'. ty

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  13. Sure lynx is the best ubuntu ever but on a netbook?...i think i will try jolicloud.

    did it work?? would you recomend it ? i was going to have one done but cant get any feedback...thanks