64-bit Ubuntu 8.04 on Dell Latitude D830

It seems I will be writing about Ubuntu and laptops some more, but so be it.

My new work laptop, a nice Dell Latitude D830 arrived a few days ago, and I have been trying to cram the not-yet-officially-released version of Ubuntu 8.04 (Hardy Heron) into it. And mind you, the 64-bit version at that. It could be said a fair share of my problems seem to be due to using pre-release software, since after I got over the initial hurdles and upgraded, things are better. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

First I tried to use gparted 0.3 LiveCD to repartition the drive, but that did not work since 0.3 did not recognize the hard drive. I figured this was a good time to upgrade my gparted LiveCD so I burned the 0.3.6 version. Unfortunately that failed to grok the display on the laptop. I ended up using either 32-bit 8.04 beta or 32-bit 7.10 to resize the partitions. I divided the 160 GB, 7200 RPM drive as follows: 20 GB Windows XP (it shipped with it), 20 GB Ubuntu OS files mounted as /, the rest into extended partition which I divided into 6 GB swap and the rest mounted as /home. I chose ext3 for the OS and home partitions.

The 64-bit 8.04 failed in the installation mode because it could not grok the display. In LiveCD mode it eventually – after minutes of black screen – came up with a message saying it could not figure out a proper display. By manually configuring to Dell, 1600×1200 laptop and clicking the wide screen checkbox I thought I would be on my way. But the screen went black after that. After numerous tries I finally figured to try virtual consoles: Ctrl+Alt+F2 showed text login, 7 showed black screen, 8 showed dmesg and 9 surprisingly showed the LiveCD desktop! From there I was able to start the actual installation. The installation itself went smoothly until the 82% percent mark where it got stuck checking mirrors. Doing some searches it seemed like I might get lucky by waiting for 15 minutes, which is what I did, and the install eventually passed that and finished.

Rebooting after install still showed no splash screen, just blackness until login prompt. I decided to enable the nVidia drivers, which downgraded my effective screen resolution from 1920×1200 to something like 1600×1200. I got around that by installing nvidia-settings and using that to write a new xorg.conf. I also noticed that I was unable to connect to my home wireless, but after bringing all packages up to date that too started working. The splash screen also started working after all upgrades.

The remaining problems that I have become aware, compared to my D820, are that coming back from suspend I am greeted with white screen. Apparently this is an nVidia bug that happens with compiz. A workaround is to just blindly type your password, or hit Alt+S which will give a new login view. Occasionally after this the display is extremely slow: the workaround is to switch to another virtual console and back (Ctrl+Alt+F2, Ctrl+Alt+F7). Another minor problem is that the hardware wireless light is not working. The bluetooth light isn’t working, but it did not work in the D820 either. The synaptics tweak I explained on the D820 page was also needed for the touchpad.

The D830 also suffered from a serious problem that could trash the hard drive much sooner than expected. Turning on laptop mode and HD power management as described here solved the problem without needing to do the other hacks.

VMWare Server also proved to be problematic, since the new kernel in 8.04 is not compatible with VMWare. Luckily I found a fix for that too. First I installed xinetd, g++ and ia32-libs and then followed the instructions on the ubuntu forums.

I plan on writing a proper page listing all the hardware, and any tweaks needed, like I did with the D820.

Update: I finally wrote a full writeup.

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  1. Best Laptop:

    Hmmm… so recommended or not recommended?

    Sounds like you had quite a few bugs but perhaps there are laptop specific?

  2. Heikki Toivonen:

    I definitely recommend the Dell Latitude D830. It works great with the 64-bit Ubuntu 8.04 *now*. Most of my problems were fixed either by the time of the official release or within the first couple of months. The 64-bit version also added new issues, but there are now even 64-bit Flash and Java plugins so things are great. The bluetooth support is still not working (although I haven’t tested recently), so I’d say that is the only caveat if you need bluetooth.