After 8 years of dragging around a brick disguised as a laptop, I decided that I deserved an upgrade. I’m now the proud owner of an LG T1 Express Dual. Naturally, my first task was to fire it up, insert an Ubuntu CD and destroy all traces of Windows XP. If you’re in the market for one of these machines and interested in Linux compatibility, here are some short notes.
I’m not big on aesthetics when it comes to computers, but my first comment is that this is one pretty laptop. 1.9 kg, 21 mm thick (yes thick, not thin), a bright 1200×800 widescreen LCD and all the ports and functionality that you could ask for. For the price, its features are pretty impressive. The HDD is a little small (60 GB) and a little slow (4200 RPM), but I figure that massive storage and super-fast disk access are not priorities for a laptop.
Ubuntu 6.06 installation
I downloaded ubuntu-6.06-desktop-i386.iso. This boots the machine as a live CD, then offers you the option of installing to the HDD. Installation was pretty smooth, apart from disk partitioning. I found the new graphical interface to parted rather confusing and would have preferred the old text-based system. The latter is available with ubuntu-6.06-alternate-i386.iso.
After installation, the machine rebooted without problems. Quick check for hardware recognition revealed the following:
- Sound: no problems at all, ALSA configured and working correctly
- Wireless: no problems at all, wireless card configured as eth0
- DVD: no problems
- X server: configured for 1280×800 but max. resolution only 1024×768
- LAN: not recognised
- CPU: 386 kernel installed, no dual core
Not a bad start then, but a couple of problems to solve.
It’s pretty rare that Linux can’t configure a network card these days, but the T1 manages it! This is discussed in depth at the Ubuntu forums, where you’ll find a lot of confusion regarding patches and so on. The driver that you need is the et131x for Agere network cards.
All you need to do is head over to this website and grab this file. Unpack it and go to the source code. Your machine will need the packages (1) build-essentials (from the install CD), (2) linux-headers-386 (from the Ubuntu packages site, via a machine with working ethernet) and a linux-source package won’t do any harm either. Make sure you get the right version number for your install (2.6.15-2* for 6.06). If “sudo dpkg -i <package-name>” complains about dependencies, just keep downloading what it asks for on your other machine and transferring via USB stick until it shuts up.
Once you have the required headers and source, it’s just “make” then “sudo make install”, “sudo depmod” and reboot. Your LAN should now come up as eth1.
By default, Ubuntu installs the “safe” 386 kernel. For dual core to work you need SMP support, which means a 686 kernel. Something like “sudo apt-get install linux-686-smp” should do the trick. This will install the correct kernel and auto-configure grub. These kernel image packages are fantastic – I can’t believe the hours I used to spend compiling kernels from source. Reboot, run “cat /proc/cpuinfo” and you should see your 2 CPUs.
Graphics on the T1 uses the Intel GMA 950 chipset. The X.org /etc/X11/xorg.conf file was configured with the correct driver (i810) and maximum resolution (1200×800). The initial lack of widescreen is well documented for this chipset and is easily solved by “sudo apt-get install 915resolution”. Once this package is installed you can run “915resolution -l” to see available resolutions. You’ll probably want to add a few to xorg.conf for use with external monitors and so on.
All in all, I was pretty pleased with the setup, although lack of LAN makes life difficult initially. I’ve read that the GMA 950 performance is not great but it’s fine for me – it handles an intensive program such as Celestia pretty well. Similarly, other people have had sound problems but mine is just fine and for a laptop, I’d say it’s pretty good sound. I was especially pleased with the seamless wireless setup. Connecting to my wireless router was a simple case of “iwlist eth0 scanning” to find the ESSID, then “iwconfig eth0 essid ESSID” and “dhclient eth0”.
Performance is good, it looks good and it’s truly portable. Recommended.