Continuing Saga – Dell E521 vs. Linux. Fight!

By now, I feel pretty punch drunk.  My Dell E521 has been kicking my beehind for quite a few days as I’ve tried to install PCLinuxOS 2007 Final.

I’ve used all the boot options in my arsenal and couldn’t stop it from freezing after 30 minutes.

I turned off ACPI, turned it on, turned on APM, turned it off.  Disabled every service I could possibly disable, then turned them on.  No matter what I did, it seemed that it always froze at the wrong time…that time being just after I blogged that I had solved the problem (see previous post).  Actually, can you just ignore that previous post? 😉

Thanks to a comment by reader jsnyder, I was told of an unreleased version of the Dell E521 BIOS (version 1.1.8).  After a BIOS flash, PCLinuxOS Final ran all weekend long without a single freezeup.  Go figure :)  Where can you get this unreleased BIOS from?  Why, it’s rather simple…the Dell public download ftp server of course!

Connect to:  ftp://ftp.us.dell.com/bios/
Look for:  DME521-010108.EXE

Install and enjoy your Linux desktop not freezing!  Thanks again to jsnyder for pointing out that there was another version of the BIOS out there.  My PCLinuxOS 2007 E521 thanks you (as do I).  Hopefully, this will also help others out there that are having similar problems.

Dell and Ubuntu – The most Logical Decision?

Most people by now have heard that Dell will be preinstalling Ubuntu Feisty Fawn 7.04 on a few laptops and desktops. This is fantastic opportunity for Linux…a landmark opportunity. I know that this was done in response to the large popularity of Ubuntu and it’s solid performance and I’m happy that it was chosen over Suse or Fedora.

However, I question whether this was the logical decision to be made…was it the smartest for the end user? Allow me to ellaborate:

Readers of this blog know that I use Ubuntu at work for servers. I also love Kubuntu (I’m not a gnome fan). So my problem isn’t with (K)Ubuntu itself…it works for me. My problem is that Gnome in general may not work for the consumer. If you’re not convinced, do a comparison on adding a printer in Gnome and KDE. Record the number of steps and note any confusing dialogue that pops up…then compare at the end. Still not convinced? I can’t help you understand where I’m coming from then.

Sure, there are those of us out there that are pretty Linux savvy and we can hum along quite easily with Ubuntu…but what of the person who’s looking to try Linux? What will happen when they power up their new Dell Laptop and can’t find a control panel? What happens when an error message just spits out random characters of data as many gnome error messages do?

If there is one thing in all usability studies or guides that is uniform it’s this…that people will resist change. Now, how much change Gnome is from what they are used to is up for debate and I’m not about to debate it here. My feelings are that Gnome isn’t the right choice for new users…and that’s a personal opinion only…and it’s one I’ve found to be true when converting family members to Linux.

So, I ask the question…is Ubuntu and the Gnome desktop the most logical decision for Dell? In my opinion, it isn’t. What do you think?

Dell and the Linux Desktop

There’s quite a bit of speculation going on at what distribution of Linux Dell will choose to put onto its desktops or if they’ll even attempt to put Linux on the desktop.

In my opinion, it would be smart for them to do this…mainly because there is so much marketing momentum behind this right now they’d be a fool not to take advantage of it…and they didn’t have to pay a dime for it either. Most companies would kill for their blog to receive as much attention as the Dell Linux Blog and Idea Storm has gotten in the past few months…and they’d kill for the huge amounts of media attention the Dell Linux Survey and Announcement of Certified Linux Computers are also getting.

I think Dell will ride this Linux wave in…but not how most people think they will. Most people think Dell will listen to tons of people filling out the surveys telling them Ubuntu. But examining this from a business perspective and Ubuntu becomes the lowest choice on the totem pole. I believe they’ll surprise everyone with a different move that would get them the most out of their business AND personal Computer lines. I think they will (if they choose any distribution at all) choose Fedora Core or RHEL Desktop and not Ubuntu.

Why would they do this? To be tied to Red Hat more of course. This allows them to do less to certify their hardware for Red Hat and you can bet that if Linux is on the desktop pre-installed that they’ll offer it on the server. I think this would be a good deal for both Red Hat and for Dell…even though it’s Fedora it opens the door a bit and since Fedora is a test ground for RHEL, choosing it is beneficial all around.

I believe (since we’re speculating here) that Dell will snuggle up to Red Hat as much as they possibly can and that it will benefit both of their businesses in a HUGE way.

The thing that makes me think this is Red Hat’s sudden (re)interest in the desktop has odd timing. Is it purely coincidental? Is it random chance? Is it just speculation? Who knows. One thing is for certain…when a company get’s big, nothing it does is pure chance.

And what of Novell? If we truly want to speculate, Novell is also a better choice than Ubuntu…because of the existing agreement with Microsoft, Suse also looks better for Dell because of their own ties to Microsoft. So, we’ve got two distros that have more going for them than Ubuntu does…which may or may not be a good thing. So who will Dell choose if they choose at all?

Anyone else care to speculate?

Dell Dimension E521 with Linux

I bought a Dimension E521n to replace my server last week. I previously built a system myself with an AMD Duron Processor and an add on IDE Controller so I could load it up with hard drives for a file server. The only downside to this was that the fan I bought for this server I built was loud…REALLY loud. When we moved to a different apartment this past year we lost our spare room (office) and the computer went into my bedroom.  Needless to say, it’s LOUD at night when sleeping.

To replace this loud server I bought the E521-n series so Microsoft didn’t get any of my money. For those of you who don’t know, the N series desktops from Dell come with no operating system. Dell also claims that these computers are ‘ready for Linux’…but there are some problems associated with them. I was able to get ClarkConnect back on my server and pop in the IDE Controller PCI card (E521’s are completely SATA) after solving a couple of problems.

First and foremost, you have to make sure your E521 is running BIOS version 1.1.4 (Released January 2007). If you don’t, you’ll have USB problems all over the place. Second, when booting Linux, add the boot parameter acpi=noirq. If you can’t pass this parameter to your kernel you may need to completely turn off acpi using the ‘noacpi‘ parameter. The only downside to this is that your fan will run continuously and cause a bit more noise than it should.

When installing ClarkConnect 4.0, there is a routine for adding parameters to the kernel before GRUB writes to the MBR. I used this to pass the acpi=noirq parameter and after booting everything worked. Without passing this parameter, I received Kernel panics.

It’s also been reported that some kernels cannot find the broadcom module for the onboard LAN device. With ClarkConnect, this wasn’t a problem. I’ve heard that the Fedora Xen kernel has problems with this.

I’m going to list some links here for your reference that helped me in my quest:

ClarkConnect
Dell E521 and Linux Wiki Page
Yet Another Linux Blog and the USB Problem
Hardware Support for E521 N Series @ Ubuntu Forums

Hope this information helps someone with their problems! For those of you running Ubuntu, you’ll have to add ‘noapic irqpoll pci=routeirq’ to your boot parameters to get things rocking.

Dell E521, Linux, Freezing USB Mouse Problem Resolved

I hit a snag this past week while testing a few beta releases with the latest kernels. I bought an AMD X2 3800 Dell E521 with a Gig of RAM for US $409 and free shipping during a dealnews.com dealfest…I feel I got a good deal. So I’ve been waiting to put my favorite distro, PCLinuxOS on it…waiting for the release of .94 due out sometime this month. In the meantime, Windows XP has been on that computer and I’ve been dual booting distros I’d like to try.

The snag I hit came when booting into just about any 2.6.X environment in Linux…the mouse would be fine one minute, and then a few minutes into things the mouse would freeze. This is a USB Logitech mouse…and I found it odd that it would freeze up but the printer (HP PSC 1210v) would work just fine.

After a bit of research when pointed in the right direction of the kernel developer for PCLinuxOS, I came to realize that I wasn’t alone. Many on Ubuntu’s forums and also Linuxquestions, and Linuxforums had reported the same problems…most without any resolution. The good news is that I found a resolution to my problems 😀

Update the BIOS! I did a major forehead smack when it was the last thing I thought of when it should have been the first. After updating the BIOS to the latest and greatest version from dell.com, I was back in business with no freezes of my USB Mouse. Hopefully, if you also run a Dell E521, you won’t bash your head repeatedly against the wall like I did.