Dual Boot Ubuntu and Vista on Dell Inspiron 1720

I just got a new Dell Inspiron 1720. A little background information on why we got this laptop... Previously we had one Desktop computer and a MythTV server/frontend and a TV in a separate room. The TV was a huge CRT TV, but not only that, the TV and couch took up en entire room. We recently got a 24" LCD for the desktop computer and decided that we could use that as our "TV" and computer and get rid of the TV room and use it for something else. We then found ourselves in the situation where one of us wants to watch TV and the other wants to use the computer so we definitely needed another computer. A laptop was the best idea as it allow us to use it as a MythTV frontend and watch TV from bed or any other place in the house. So in summary, we replaced a TV room, massive CRT TV and couch with a 17" widescreen laptop.

Unfortunately, the Dell Inspiron 1720 only comes with Vista. I thought about installing XP, but then I read about how I would have to get SATA drivers and slip stream them into the Windows XP CD and that Dell didn't have XP sound drivers for the 1720. In other words installing XP would be a huge PITA. Since I don't plan on using Windows that much anyways, I figure I can live with Vista. I will tweak it a bit anyways to get rid of its annoyances and I can live with the slightly worse gaming performance (which should improve over the next few years anyways, I suspect).

Here are all the steps I took to get Linux and Vista working on my Dell 1720.

Prepare for Linux:

  • Tell BIOS to boot from CD. Reconfigure BIOS to try booting from CD first so I don't have to remember to hit F12 while booting.
  • Reinstall Vista without Dell crap. I popped the Vista CD in the drive and booted to the CD. I deleted all 4 existing partitions (recovery partition, EISA partition, Windows Vista C: partition, and Dell media direct partition). I don't need the media direct and EISA junk. I then had to add the SATA driver from the Drivers and Utilities CD or else the installation would hang later on. I created one 120 GB partition for Vista.
  • Install Vista drivers. With the freshly installed Vista, all the drivers will be missing, most notably, the NVIDIA video drivers. I downloaded these from the Dell website along with a bunch of other drivers (sound driver required for microphone to work).
  • I downloaded Ubuntu 64-bit Live CD and burned it on another computer.

Installing Ubuntu: After selecting the first boot option from the Live CD it started to boot, but then the screen went completely blank (not just black but completely-turned-off-black. It turns out this is because the splash screen fails. X never did load. I pressed CTRL-ALT-F1 and then pressed Enter and the login prompt appeared (you may just see "running local boot scripts", until you press Enter. This is because the boot sequence steps run in parallel and the login prompt already started above). I then typed "startx" and X/Gnome loaded (I can't remember if it worked right away...I may have fiddled with the "Driver" setting in the "Device" section, by setting it to "nv"). I then installed Ubuntu and told the installer to automatically partition and use up all the remaining free space on the drive. When it came time to reboot, the screen went dead again on shut down and although I waited a long time, the computer never restarted and I had to power it down manually, then power up.

Fixing the "dead screen" on boot up and shutdown/reboot: Open up /boot/grub/menu.lst and remove all occurrences of the word "splash" and "quiet". Getting rid of the splash screen makes bootup a bit more interactive (rather than seeing a blank screen), but more importantly it allows the it to shut down properly.

Wireless/wi-fi: When ordering the laptop from Dell's website I chose the "Intel Corporation PRO/Wireless 3945ABG Network Connection (rev 02)" which I had heard had better Linux support (without using ndiswrapper), but wireless still did not work out-of-the-box. I changed two things at once, so I am not sure which made it work. The first thing I did was update all packages and brought in upgrades from gutsy-updates and gutsy-proposed repositories (of course you need to plug into a wired network to do that)). I installed and upgraded all linux-restricted-modules* packages. The second thing I did was to copy and paste my WEP key, rather than typing it out by end. Now wireless works great. The Network Manager applet is so easy to use.

Wireless Update: wireless seems to lock up after a while and a process called "ipw3945" uses 100% cpu. Using the laptop as a MythTV frontend requires a stable network connection so the fact that the wireless doesn't work sucks. I've tried using the MythTv Player in Vista and it does the job but it just doesn't compare to MythTV's own frontend. I have heard that the ipw3945 module that comes with Gutsy is basically deprecated and has been replaced with the iwlwifi module from Intel. The easiest way to get it is to use kernel 2.6.24 which comes from with the next release of Ubuntu, Hardy Heron (currently in Beta, to be released in a few weeks).

Sound: Sound didn't work out-of-the-box. I installed the "linux-backports-modules-generic" package from gutsy-backports and now it works. Since Ubuntu's volume control and the button on the laptop case both control the Master volume, I used "alsamixer" to increase the PCM volume to max.

Video: My screen was stuck in 800x600 mode. Running sudo dpkg-reconfigure -phigh xserver-xorg created an xorg.conf file that gave me maximum 1920x1200 resolution. The nvidia driver doesn't work though, it complains that my GeForce 8600M GT is not supported. After updated some kernel packages in previous steps, now when I enable the nvidia driver in the "Restricted Drivers Manager" it works.

DVD: I followed these instructions for DVD playback in Ubuntu.

Hardware Sensors: I ran sensors-detect and no hardware sensors were detected.

That's about it! I'll update this page with any other tips or tricks as I find them.

Top 10 Reasons to Choose Linux over Vista

Some people have asked me if they should upgrade to Vista. I usually suggest that they instead switch operating systems completely. Especially if they are the types that use their computer for web browsing and email. Here are ten reasons why I think all Windows users should at least think about Linux this time instead of Vista.

  • Digital Rights Management - Why cripple your computer and yourself with DRM when you can just use Linux?
  • Security - No more worms, viruses (look at this very short list of Linux viruses), virus scanners, spyware, pestware.
  • Beryl - Totally kick-ass effects and Mac OS X expose-like feature. Compared to Microsoft's Aero product, it is a lot better and is getting better all the time.
  • Ubuntu - I would be reluctant to recommend Linux to the general public if it were not for Ubuntu. It has truly made the "Linux Desktop" a reality.
  • Google - Google has given us the best mail application, a decent word processor and spreadsheet application, a feed reader, a Calendar, and so much more, all over the web so not only are these applications not tied to any particular computer, they also don't tie you to any particular OS. (Also, Google ported Picasa, the best photo management software to Linux recently).
  • Firefox - How could one use all those applications from Google and others if it were not for Firefox, the cross-platform IE-killer?
  • OpenOffice - For all your old Microsoft Office documents and new documents, this does the job. No need to be tied to Windows and Microsoft Office anymore.
  • Software choice - Tons more applications. Linux has a huge variety of choice when it comes to applications. There is even choice when it comes to your desktop environment (KDE, Gnome, etc...).
  • Cost - Linux is free, Windows is expensive. As hardware prices have come down (while the price of Windows hasn't), this expense is becoming a larger percentage cost.
  • Linux (no matter what flavour you get) is updated multiple times per year with the latest and greatest. With distributions like Ubuntu these updates can be installed seamlessly, never needing a clean install again. Don't settle for crap from Microsoft, a company that took 5.5 years to deliver a marginally better OS than the last one.

Ok, clearly 10 isn't enough, here are some more...

  • Software Installation - With Linux with the press of a button you can install a program and all its dependencies. Not only that but smart package managers like apt-get can remove dependencies that are no longer required by any other program.
  • Stability - There is no such thing as the blue screen of death in Linux. Actually the blue screen is now a rare occurrence in XP but I saw it happen twice on two different machines in the past month, so it is definitely still there. Linux users are known to brag about their computer's "uptime" -- the amount of time their computer has been turned on since the last reboot. Linux lock-ups or crashes can occur but it is generally agreed that these are far less likely to occur than with Windows.
  • Minimal Hardware Requirements - You can run Linux on almost anything. I run it on a 500MHz laptop with 256MB RAM just fine. I just chose a lighter desktop manager. If you are running Windows XP right now, your computer will only get slower with Vista. Switching to Linux might allow you to keep the hardware you have now for another few years comfortably.

(Update 2007/02/23) Wow, my first time on digg. A lot of the comments on digg were pretty negative but at least 88 people dugg it (actual number was higher since surely some people buried it). The audience was not really techies but more people like my grandma, parents, sister people who would actually learn something from the article and can mostly understand the gist of it. So I don't really care if some geeks are pulling their hair out. Someone even insulted my website, another took a jab at my credibility because I blogged about the new Canada Food Guide. Another had some comments about my resume which is at least 4 or 5 years out of date. Anyways, this says way more about the digg readership or at least a vocal minority of it. It was fun to get on digg though in a significant way.


Subscribe to RSS - vista