GNU/Linux on a DELL INSPIRON 4000

Dende Over It


Pentium III 1 GHz
Hard Disk
10 GB
4200rpm, ATA66 DMA
It has only 384kb cache but it performs as my desktop 7200rpm 2MB cache ATA66 hard disk, see below for performace (hdparm)
Screen 14,1"
To use enanched DRI for 3D, use1024x768
ATI Mobility LF 8MB AGP 2X
(aka ATI Mobility M3 or 128)

MotherBoard Intel BX

Network Combo MiniPCI ActionTec
WinModem 56K (Lucent Mars)
Intel 82557 (EEPRO100)
With two separate jack,
working both at the same time
Audio Maestro 3

Bay Hot-Swappable
CD-RW Matsushita (8x4x24x)
FLOPPY 3.14"
ATAPI compatible
Floppy can be connected also by a parallel cable
recognised by BIOS as a standard floppy device
Battery Li-Ion 53WA
Charge time: 2/3 hours (on/off)
Duration: 3-4.5(h)
Doing only man-read or editing,  it lasts 4.5 hours, on intensive working (installing StarOffice from CD and recompiling kernel several times) it lasts about 3 hours
What I tried and it works
(obviously with linux)


OK (TFT very nice)
What I havent yet tried

VIDEO out (tv)
I haven't any PCMCIA car...
Some trouble (but  resolvable)

Suspend to ram
Hot swap device
The miniPCI device remains hung after a suspend, a workaround exist

Dende Little Side A note about Dell support: I read some comments on the net regarding issue with Dell Customer Support. At least here in Italy they were very kind and disponible. I order the notebook on wendesday and it come 6 day later on tuesday.

A note about the machine: The TFT screen is very clear and brillant, keyboard is very confortable (like Acer one), ethernet card is performing very well compared to others I use at work. On other brands (notably Asus, Progress) a combo Ethernet-Modem means that you have only one jack in which you can plug OR the network OR the modem cable (XOR), the one Dell provides (MiniPCI combo modem+10/100) offers two jack and you can use modem and ethernet card simultaneously. Another nice feature is a parallel cable to connect the floppy drive (you can use it togheter whit the CD drive). The bios recognize the floppy and swich the parallel port as it was a standar floppy port (so you can use it without trouble at boot time or later with linux). The chassis is not so filmsy as someone says but is not as solid compared to aluminium-league of IBM T21 or similar. I use it daily, at home and at office,  probabily it is powered on for more than 8hour per working day - I never experience a problem.


Shrinking Windows (that was what it come...)

  1. Copy fips to c:\ (or elsewhere)
  2. Create a recover floppy with windows utilities
  3. Do a defrag (don't think that a new system doesn't need it... but windows can do anything bad also if shutted down:)
  4. Reboot the system with the floppy you create and start in a DOS-like environment
  5. Run fips and shrink the windows partition
note: I read somewere that PartitionMagic for Win98 doesn't work becouse WinME doesn't has a real DOS version

Install your preferred linux distribution (needed XFree > 4.0.2)

I prefer Debian (for a lot of good reasons, but at the end linux is linux). One of the main issue with Debian is the stable version has usually old (but surely stable) packages. So I did a (half-)network installation.
This is what I did:

Configuring kernel-modules for your hardware

Unpack kernel sources: if you did "apt-get  install" you'll find a bzip2 archive in /usr/src . Go where you unpack sources and type make menuconfig (or similar).   Look at my .config file: if you have kernel 2.4.18 simply put it (renaming .config) where you unpack kernel sources and have a look with make menuconfig. Configure the kernel as your needs.  

My kernel was compiled with: ide-scsi emulation for CDRW, EEPRO100 ethernet,  APM, DRI, hard disk DMA, audio maestro 3, USB, some tuning,
not PCMCIA support (at the moment), ecc.)
Do a:
make dep;make bzImage;make modules;make modules_install

Copy your new kernel to a floppy:
cp /where_you_unpack_sources/arch/i386/boot/bzImage /dev/fd0

Reboot with the floppy (keep your debian installation disk in case something went wrong). If all is ok edit /etc/lilo.conf and run lilo -L .

Simply compile your kernel with maestro3 driver. If you compile as a module, put this line in /etc/modules.conf (or, if you are using debian, in /etc/modutils/alias and do a update-modules ).
alias sound-slot-0 maestro3

I download  ltmodem-5.99b.tar.gz from the net.
Unpack and run ./build_module ; ./ltinst2
You'll find the device /dev/ttyLT0 and two modules (lt_modem.o and  lt_serial.o) in   /lib/modules/2.4.x/kernel/drivers/char/
In /etc/modules.conf you should find the line:
alias char-major-62 lt_serial
on debian add the line in /etc/modutils/alias and run update-modules.
Another way is:
cd source
make clean
cp lt_*.o /lib/modules/<version>/kernel/drivers/char
depmod -a
echo "
alias char-major-62 lt_serial" >> /etc/modutils/aliases

On system not-Debian like, the last two lines can be substituted by:
echo "
alias char-major-62 lt_serial" >> /etc/modules.conf

With pppconfig you will easily configure your dial-up network connection.


Unfortunately 8MB ram on the video card is not enough to use the DRI with OpenGl at 1400x1050.
By the way, DRI works perfectly if you start X with 1024x768.
Note that with kernel 2.4.5 I was not able to use DRI succesfully, with 2.4.18 all went OK.
I set a script to start X at that resolution on a different screen (#1 instead of #0) and Quake rocks!
startx -- :1 -depth 16
Note: a TFT 1400x1050 will be quite unusable at different resolution, apart for 3d games where the "fade" on the pixel is not viewable.

I've configured the USB support with some devices (see my .config). As far as now I used USB for connection generic usb mass storage devices, like USB floppy drive and my digital camera (Olympus C700UZ).

Some benchmarks

After enabling kernel-DMA, the hard disk performs as:

dende:/home/enrico# /sbin/hdparm -tT /dev/hda

 Timing buffer-cache reads:   128 MB in  0.93 seconds =137.63 MB/sec
 Timing buffered disk reads:  64 MB in  3.79 seconds = 16.89 MB/sec

Some application startup and re-start-up time:

dende (Dell Ispiron 4000, Intel Pentium III 1Ghz, 128MB)
sahara (Desktop AMD Athlon, 500Mhz, 128MB)

First start
 (i.e. mainly from Disk)
Second start
 (i.e mainly from RAM)

First start
 (i.e. mainly from Disk)  
Second start
 (i.e. mainly from RAM)
mozilla 0.9.1 8,5 3,5-2,5 8 4.9-4.8
new mozilla window <1

jtalk 7.4 2.4 4.5 3.2
soffice 5.2 14.7 <1.5 15 3.6

Time is in seconds.  As you can see, HD speed is about the same as my Desktop and CPU-RAM-Motherboard performance are twice as fast.