written in June 2004
last update Dec 16 2004

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SuSE 9.1 on the X5 force

On May 7th 2004 I installed the SuSE 9.1 distribution on my X5 force notebook computer.
The basic installation went through without any major problems until the step "online update".
The online update failed, because the download of the new kernel ceased in the middle of the process. I retried using a different server, which also failed. After a restart I could continue the rest of the basic installation.
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). I have seen more modern Centrino notebooks which are thicker or heavier...

SuSE 9.1 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 Reiserfs for the instable 8.2

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.)

Update: when you do the online-update inside the installation procedure, be sure to deselect any kernel updates. After the installation has finished completely you can (and should) do YOU again and load the kernel update.

2. Result of basic installation


The installer configures the nv driver for the Nvidia GForce mobile graphics adapter, which is okay but has no 3D acceleration. For installing the 3D-enabled closed-source drivers from Nvidia you can do YOU again and select the nvidia driver (near the end of the list of applicable patches).


Like with SuSE 8.0 sound worked but with really bad quality. This was a disappointment because kernel 2.6 builds on the newest alsa technology.


Ethernet worked instantly.


The linux-wlan-ng project PRISM2 drivers are included in the 9.1 distribution, version is 0.2.1-pre20. When switching on the WLAN module the modules (p80211 and prism2_usb) are loaded. But the interface does not get configured. First I tried to get it done using YaST, which now includes a complete tool for WiFi devices. But even with the help of Gerd Fleischer I could not get this YaST module to configure my WEP encryptet WLAN correctly. After hours I gave up and edited the config files in /etc/wlan/ as recommended in the driver README, but also to no avail. Finally I resorted to manual configuration. When I resorted to my own script "ws" (see here) the wireless network went up okay and as it turned out later, rock solid. Nice.

Combo drive (CD CDR CDRW DVD)

The new 9.1 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 does not work: SuSE castrated any DVD functionality. I loaded the full xine application with libs from the net and added the necessary plug-ins for viewing commercial DVDs. Then DVD viewing worked, but of course I prefer to view movies on my other notebook with its 17" wide screen...

Power Management

Still, Linux is way behind in the area of practical power management. Sorry.
If you do not just read specs but really use notebook computers for real work, you have to notice that Macintosh computers are way ahead of the field in this respect. "Sleep" (as the Mac kind of suspend is called) really works, and it works instantly, and with any amount and mixture of open applications, for up to two weeks. Just close the lid, and it sleeps. Just open the lid again and it is instantly ready to continue where you left.
In Windows the situation is a little less user friendly, because the user has to decide between different kinds of suspend, and this choice is to be made in a different way on different XP installations, sometimes in BIOS, sometimes in Windows settings, sometimes in manufacturer specific tools. Also in order to choose one kind of suspend (suspend-to-RAM, suspend-to-disk) you have to guess how long your computer will be suspended... suspend-to-RAM is good for some hours, suspend-to-disk for any amount of time, but it takes quite some time to get into or out of this state.
SuSE Linux now has a YaST module for power management, but... do not expect this tool to resolve the complexities and problems around suspending a Linux system. Kernel 2.6 is by far better than 2.4 but still not ready to suspend reliably... at least not my X5 force.

Another topic of power management is energy conservation when the computer is running. On the Mac PowerBook the difference between heavy use and almost idle is like 1:3, meaning under heavy use (gaming) I get one-and-a-half hours per battery, on almost idle usage like web page editing with dimmed screen I get over 4.5 hours of battery life. For PC Intel-based hardware the difference is much smaller, like 1:1.5 under Windows. And Linux seems to have a hard time to get even that 1:1.5 elongation out of the Pentium based machines when CPU load is low...

Other hardware features

I can not tell you about the integrated modem, or the video out quality, because I did not check these out (yet). An external firewire hard disk was recognized and formatted by YaST, but when rebooting without the disk the system hang. The messages suggested a severe problem with the root partition /, unrecoverable with the ReiserFS fschk program! It recommended to call the repair utility manually, but it did not find a problem. The next try to boot failed just like the first one, with a fatal file system error. Was my Linux system lost? I felt some panic coming up... Had I ruined my whole installation with just that damned little firewire experiment?
No, in reality it was just that YaST had written a permanent entry into /etc/fstab for the external disk, so the system hang when trying to mount the no-longer-existing-disk, and the error message was simple bullshit - sorry, misleading... Easy to fix once I found the reason of the problem.

3. Completing the installation manually

3D acceleration

After the nvidia driver was loaded by YOU it was necessary to start sax2 to enable 3D acceleration.

Sound quality

Sorry but I have forgotten how to fix the sound problem. There is a note on the SuSE portal which explains how to fix sound under KDE. I walked through the lengthy instructions, but as far as I can remember no single step was applicable to my system, or changed anything. But finally the sound was okay... Maybe it was essential to reduce the default volume settings in the driver options from 100% to 96%. (You do this in the YaST sound card module.)

Internet Anywhere

(Oct 2004)

One thing I did not have in my previous installations of Linux systems was Internet access anywhere via GPRS data connections (GPRS is a packet oriented data service of GSM mobile phone networks.) My Macintosh PowerBook has Bluetooth built in, so I can go online anywhere using my T610 mobile phone as a wireless modem. Similarily even my tiny cheap PDA Palm Zire 21 can go online for emailing via infrared and GPRS with my T610. So why not achieve the same functionality with my dependable X5 Linux machine?

In order to do GPRS communication on my Linux notebook computer, there were two different challenges to master:
(1) installation and configuration of a Bluetooth USB stick
(2) installation and configuration of ppp to use GPRS services.

To make a long story short: It works now. But it was not really easy... a lot of googling, reading and experimentation was necessary.

My solution is far from perfect, but it will allow me to check and write email abroad, which is what I need. Also when wardriving I will be able to download a missing map while on the road.

I have a description of what I did here.

Finally I cannot resist to remark that the Linux LiveCD Knoppix 3.4 has a menu command for opening GPRS communication which works completely automatic, it does anything for you inclusive setting up Bluetooth, device pairing, and figuring out the ppp configuration as needed by your GSM provider... wonderful. Could not be better.
Knoppix is again ahead of the field...


After some weeks of heavy use for surfing, web site maintenance, wardriving, image manipulation (using the new GIMP2) and some other things I have to say the new 9.1 prof. edition of SuSE was worth its high price. I like the idea to have supported SuSE for its engagement in open source projects, and on the same time to legally install this very same software on some other computers in our house and for some friends. The distro release 9.1 is much better IMHO as some Linux magazine reports suggest...

Caveat: I know this page is written rather personal and not real technical. I invite you to read Gerd Fleischer's X5 page for more exact information on Linux on the Gericom X5 notebook.


Oct 21 2004: GPRS via Bluetooth - see above.




2004-06-15 rudolf mittelmann

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