written in May 2003
last update May 23 2003

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SuSE 8.2 on the X5 force

On May 7th 2003 I installed the SuSE 8.2 distribution on my X5 force notebook computer.
The basic installation went through without any major problems.
I just repeat the technical description of the notebook here (from my main X5-Linux page).

The Gericom X5 force Notebook

This 2002 notebook has the following key features:

  • Pentium 4-M 1.6GHz
  • 256 MB DDR RAM
  • VIA P4X266A chip set
  • GeForce 4 go with 32 MB
  • Combo Drive (CD-RW writer and DVD reader)
  • 30 GB harddisk
  • internal mini-USB WLAN 802.11b adapter
  • 1 CompactFlash card slot
  • AC'97 compatible sound
  • 10/100 Mbit Ethernet built-in
  • Modem built-in
  • Fast Irda built-in
  • Firewire 1394
  • 3 USB 2.0 connectors

In contrast to earlier Gericom computers this one is not loud (most of the time almost quiet) and has a robust feel. And it is comparitively slim (3.5 cm) and light (2.6 kg).

SuSE 8.2 Linux installation

1. Basic installation

Before I started I had my harddisk already partitioned like this:

  • /dev/hda1 9GB Windows XP
  • /dev/hda2 512MB swap
  • /dev/hda3 10GB Reiserfs for SuSE 8.0
  • /dev/hda4 7GB ext2fs for Debian 3

Of course YaST suggested to use hda3 for the new installation, which was not what I wanted. I had to be careful to change the partitioning section to use hda4 with Reiserfs and to leave alone hda3, my reliable workhorse system.

(I also changed the country from Germany to Austria, which is just a cosmetic change because both countries are of course in the same time zone.)

The most time consuming part of installing Linux is usually the selection of the wanted software. While I always intend to shorten this to a minimum because I can install programs afterwards I regularily get stucked in the deep sea of Linux applications... when I look up again it is one hour later, and I thought I spent at most 3 minutes...

Finally I made one mistake: I forbid YaST to write the boot manager into the MBR of the harddisk. I wanted to maintain the boot manager with the SuSE 8.0 on hda3. In that moment I did not realize that I simply was in the middle of the 8.2 installation and could not easily switch to the other system to call lilo there.

The situation was I had the first phase of the 8.2 installation ready but I could not reboot. Of course I could have booted 8.0 now but I had no idea what to define in lilo.conf in order to boot up the new 8.2 correctly. I tried to guess the correct entry but this resulted in a kernel panic... Yes for a moment I started to panic...

Here it pays off to install from a DVD which contains certain safety systems. I just had to boot from the DVD again, start a "install" again, and after selecting the language I could choose "start an existing installation". This left me the choice between 8.0 and 8.2, I chose 8.2 and finalized the installation. I prepared the lilo.conf of hda3, rebooted into the old system, called lilo, and the problem was solved...

2. Result of basic installation


Except Knoppix this was the first Linux installation I have done on any desktop or notebook computer where the damn X11 thing was working without any interaction, twiddling, reading tons of man pages, googling support databases or whatever on my side.
It just worked from the start. Fine, although I don't understand why this should be a problem in the first place. Usually the installers could do all kinds of flashy graphics from the beginning, until it came to X11, when the problems began. This seems to be over, thank God.

The X11 driver used was nv, which is not 3D accelerated.


Like with SuSE 8.0 sound worked but with really bad quality. The sound hardware is part of the VIA 8233 south bridge. I do not know if the problem is just the wrong sound module as defined in modules.conf or if the problem was the alsa version.


Ethernet worked instantly.


The linux-wlan-ng project PRISM2 drivers are included in the 8.2 distribution, version is 0.1.16-pre9. When switching on the WLAN module the modules (p80211 and prism2_usb) are loaded. But the interface does not get configured. I edited the config files in /etc/wlan/ but to no avail. When I resorted to my own script "ws" (see here) the wireless network went up okay. Or so I thought. Some days later I got severe problems with the wlan installation (see below).

Combo drive (CD CDR CDRW DVD)

In contrast to the older 8.0 the new version 8.2 recognizes combo drives correctly. You can use the drive instantly for reading CDROMs and DVDROMs and for burning CDRs and CDRWs. Viewing an unencrypted DVD movie works but at least with the default settings of Xine the playback is not running smoothly. I do not know enough neither to tweak the settings of this program for smooth playback nor to add the necessary plug-ins for viewing commercial DVDs. - When I tried to erase a CDRW I got error messages and the CDRW did not get cleared, IMHO a minor problem. I tested this just with the new K3B client, maybe another one would be better.

Meanwhile I got an email telling me to try the '-immed' option to cdrecord which would solve the problem to blank a CDRW. Yes, thank you, this works fine (on the command line).

Power Management

"Management" would be nice, but Linux is still way behind in this area. Sorry.
SuSE 8.2 does not start the acpid daemon, I don't know why. It is installed and you just have to activate it in the YaST runlevel editor. Afterwards you have at least a working power reading in the KDE system tray, and you get warnings when the battery is getting low. Real power management like the PowerBooks have had more than 10 years ago is not in sight for Linux (and is far from perfect with Windows notebooks either). In contrast to 8.0 the new distro does not do anything when you close the lid of the display. I hope to find some config feature where I can define I want to switch off the LCD illumination when the lid is closed. The 8.0 did this automatically.

Other hardware features

I can not tell you about the integrated modem, the firewire connector, or the video out quality, because I did not check these out (yet).

3. Completing the installation manually

3D acceleration

Today (2003-05-12) I downloaded the brand new Nvidia unified Linux GeForce driver using their suggested new single installer utility. I read the README which demanded to shut down X11 and call the installer in text mode. I did so. The installer utility worked perfectly.
Then a decision was to be made:
In the README it was said I should edit the /etc/X11/XF86Config manually, mainly to change 'nv' into 'nvidia' and check the correct set of loadable modules.
The nvidia installer program suggested to use YaST to "activate" the 3D features.
I decided to edit the file manually.

After a restart the Nvidia logo greeted just before the xdm login screen appeared. I started the 'gears' program. 3D performance was 275 fps with the nv driver, now it is 1945 fps, quite an improvement, and TuxRacer runs smoothly.

Sound quality

For SuSE 8.0 I had good success with installing Alsa version 0.9.0pre6 so I did the same in 8.2 and voilà sound quality is good now. Prerequisite was to install the kernel sources and to configure and build the kernel and modules (but not to install them). This was necessary anyway for me to be able to experiment with the linux-wlan-ng driver versions.

Wireless Network

I had a hard time with the mini-USB WLAN module. As said before, the 0.1.16-pre9 kernel modules and drivers were already included in the standard install. But after some days I got problems: After calling my script ws network access was okay but only for some minutes. Then either networking or the complete system froze. I could not find out what had changed since the initial state.

After some frustrating experiments I decided to install other drivers. I tried the linux-wlan-ng-0.1.16-pre6 which I use in 8.0 reliably since several months. But for some reason beyond me I could not even compile this version. Next I tried the newer 0.2.0 version. Compilation and installation went fine. And it works, but it is not so easy to start it as in SuSE 8.0. Until now (2003-05-12) I do not know why I need sometimes one, sometimes two and seldomly some more cycles of shut-module-off/wait/switch-module-on/call-script until the network is up and running.

Also, as with 8.0, with the 0.2.x drivers kismet sniffing does not work for me. No solution up to now.

Okay enough experiments, enough crashes. I fixed two small problems in the source code of linux-wlan-ng-0.1.16-pre6 so that it compiles on the SuSE 8.2 (newer gcc? newer libs?) without errors (but tons of warnings). After installation my system is stable again, WLAN works, and wireless sniffing works too. 0.1.16-pre6 is still the best version of the linux-wlan-ng project, at least for mini-USB WLAN modules.


I am not sure if I will ever need it, but I just activated the internal modem of the X5 notebook and it runs nicely. I followed the hint of Gerd Fleischer to load the missing softlink package from DVD and then configure by calling smartlink-softmodem-config. Finally use YaST to finish the modem setup (device /dev/ttySL0) and your provider data. Nice: You can add many provider entries. The Kinternet icon in the KDE system tray then allows easy switching of the active provider profile.

Still I will not have much use of that modem. Much more interesting would be the IrDA port for using the cellular phone modem for mobile internet access. But I could not get this going nor do I know of anybody else having succeeded in activation of the infrared port on the X5.


After some disappointments with my first SuSE 8.2 installation on my desktop PC I was quite happy about the smooth basic install on the X5 force notebook. Fine tuning and problem solving for the remaining parts took longer and took more energy than I had hoped. But still it seems to be save to say the new SuSE is the best distro I have tested so far. And I begin to really like it.



In the meantime I have used the system quite a lot. I have to say that it is quite complete and I like the applications very much. (K3B, Kopete, Bluefish, Quanta, Mozilla, GQView, Lyx, OpenOffice.org and many other programs have become mature productive software.) I have finally activated all my )( programs and web development and so on and I use it daily.
But I have to say also that this installation is simply instable. I have frequent system crashes.
The problems I can name are:

  • mysql sometimes starts up while booting, but in 2 out of 3 cases it fails to come up.
  • Calling my ws script after the system is fully booted succeeds in 1 out of 4 cases only. Switching the WLAN device off and on, then calling ws again works in 1 out of 2 cases. If trying this too often, the complete system crashes.
  • Sometimes the WLAN starts up and ping works, but it feels not quite okay somehow... network access is a bit slower than usual... This is a sign that it will crash after some more ten minutes of network activity or so. It will either just stop the network, or it will crash completely...
  • There are sporadic crashes. No obvious reason. My feeling is crashing liklyhood increases significantly when I use my GPS mouse (serial-USB-adapter).

My other Linux (SuSE 8.0) never crashed since many months on just the same hardware. (Needless to say my SuSE 8.2 on the desktop computer is rock solid, has never crashed. But it does not have WLAN nor GPS nor any other exotic hardware.)

Right now I am writing in SuSE 8.2 and I am quite convinced it will not crash now: The WLAN started up on the first try, this is a good sign. And of course I do not use the GPS thing now.

2003-09-12, 2004-06-15

Instability is simply not acceptable for a Linux system.

2003: After some weeks of trying this and that I gave up on SuSE 8.2 on this machine.
The 8.0 installation is still working reliably but the current versions of kismet and gpsDrive need more modern libraries. So I am waiting for a newer SuSE version...
2004: For my experiences with the 9.1 release of the SuSE distro see this page.




2003-05-12 rudolf mittelmann

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