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Linux on an IPC WebNote Laptop
Posted by admin on Sunday, December 08, 2002 - 04:28 PM
Hardware admin writes "Here is how I found installing and using Linux on an IPC WebNote Laptop (aka lots of other brands, including NovaTech Performer 2). Here is a summary of my laptop spec: -

IPC WebNote,
SiS 650 Graphics Chipset,
20 GB Hard Disk,
Pentium 4 Celeron 1.7 GHz,
Internal Smart-Link compatible WinModem,
Intel 8x0 Audio Chipset,
SiS 900 10/100 LAN,
2x USB ports.

Initially, I tried to install SuSE 8.0 on my nice, new laptop. While it installed without problems, I then was unable to get the graphics working. I tried the SiS driver, but this simply didn't work.
I was able to get it to work with a VESA driver, but the resolution and colour depth was pretty poor.

I then decided to try a newer distro which (I hoped) may be more supportive of my new hardware. For this job, I chose Mandrake 9.0.

Mandrake installed without problems (although I was unable to get the drive to read Mandrake from DVD) and amazingly, I had graphics!
Well, just about. The X-server takes a while to start as it appears that the support for the newer SiS chipsets is still experimental. There is, rather unfortunately, no OpenGL Acceleration of the graphics which means that things are pretty slow.
I believe there are several other drivers available (including a closed-source one from SiS) but I believe they are have about the same support.
I am hoping that support will improve with the next release of XFree86 in early 2003 - which I shall report back on.

I then found that all my other hardware had been configured and was working - apart from the modem.
I knew the WinModem would be a problem, but I actually found it relatively easy.
The modem is advertised as being Smart-Link compatible, so I surfed on over the Smart Link site and downloaded their modem driver for Linux.
You can download this driver here.
I simply decompressed the file, then read and followed the easy installation instructions.
I was then quite amazed when it worked!
The driver creates a device called /dev/ttySL0 which can be accessed just like any other modem.

Next, I attempted to see if I could get the CD-Writer working. This was pretty easy, but the barrier I did find was that X-CDRoast wanted to know what speeds it could write at - which were not easily available.
To save you searching, they are 8x write and re-write and 24x CD read.

Now, after all this success, there has to be some failure surely? Of course there has.
I was unable to get the external VGA working, as it appears that this has to be done in the X configuration file and is NOT easy :-(
If you want to have a go, there are instructions here.

Probably the most irritating hardware incompatabilty, is with the battery/power monitoring which is simply not supported at all.
This means that you have no way of knowing how much power you have left :-(

And to summarise which hardware works and doesn't (green is full support, orange is partial support, and red is no support): -

SiS 650 Graphics Chipset
Internal Smart-Link compatible WinModem
Intel 8x0 Audio Chipset
SiS 900 10/100 LAN
USB ports
Power/Battery Monitoring

I think most people could do OK with this laptop - apart from the odd piece of hardware which doesn't work, it's a good and cheap laptop.
If you're considering buying one, check out NovaTech's site. They are one of the few retailers to sell laptops without an OS and I can recommend them.

UPDATE: 30/03/2003
The new XFree86 version 4.3.0 release adds increased support for the SiS 650 (and other newer) chipsets, but according to the release notes the "SiS 3D driver has had to be disabled because no one has yet taken up the challenge to port it to Mesa 4.x".

This new release in included in all the new distribution releases including SuSE 8.2, Redhat 9 and Mandrake 9.1.

Well, some improvement is better than no improvement... maybe we'll get 3D support in the next release."

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