Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Wanted: Acer Aspire 5551 seeks distro

It took a while but last weekend I finally got a replacement for the long dead Thinkpad. This must be a common scenario. A predominantly Linux user goes out to get a new laptop and has no idea if some of the new hardware will work with his preferred choice of distros. Fortunately, I had already checked the point most likely to be problematic, the wireless chip. In a previous model it was Atheros. Unfortunately, I assumed this was the case for the entire line-up and found out to my dismay that the Aspire 5551 actually comes with a Broadcom chip. This meant trouble going by everything I'd read.
Here's the spec: Triple-core Phenom II X3 N830 Processor, 320GB WD Hard Drive, 4GB of Memory, ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4250, Broadcom Corporation NetLink BCM57780 Gigabit Ethernet PCIe (rev 01) and Broadcom 4357 (Chip 4322) for wireless. Battery life seems to be around 3 hrs 20 mins.

I'm quite happy with this so far, and Windows 7 Home Premium, the first Microsoft OS to run in my home since W2K, is not too bad either after removing a lot of the pre-installed additional software. I'm gonna keep it around to have one Windows installation for the odd game of Thief or Baldurs Gate, although the last one is said to be working well in Wine too. The graphics chip is not the best out there but these are quite old games. I'm hoping it will play S.T.A.L.K.E.R too.

So after the initial clean up the search for a fitting distro. I figured this would be the perfect time to finally do an install of PCBSD or even FreeBSD. However, due to Acer having used up already three primary partitions there was only one more possible, and I wasn't willing to give up all the remaining space and my ability to install more distros later on. Shame though, maybe another time.

Re-partitioned the drive for six 10GB sections for multi-booting, set up /var, /tmp and swap partitions as you do, set up a massive /home partition and still space to spare, so far unallocated.

Scientific Linux 5.4 installed from live CD and the updated to the latest looked good and professional and worked well, except that after following this guide wireless still did not work. It's for SL 4 so perhaps it is outdated.

Naturally my first bet would be Salix, but unfortunately it had trouble determining my variant of the tg3 wired network going by the error messages on boot, so no connection. There is a good guide on how to get Broadcom wireless going in Salix, and it doesn't seem too complicated, but I prefer to do this with a wired connection already working.
Salix is essentially Slackware so, rightly or wrongly I'm assuming it will have the same problem, more importantly though is that I'm not actually at my home and do not have access to the Slackware DVD (I have the PCBSD DVD with me though).

Next was PCLinuxOS 2010.7 Openbox, which is supposed to have good support for wireless. It failed to start Xorg due to problems recognising the graphics card.

Then a netinstall of Frugalware 1.3 which I had not tried since version 0.7 'Sayshell'. It looked promising and even pulled all the codecs with the multimedia applications during install, but when rebooting suddenly failed to recognise my keyboard. The artwork is also a bit on the ugly side, but it's not a deal breaker. Not having keyboard input is.

I bit the bullet and downloaded openSUSE 11.3, Xfce community edition live CD though, but it failed to start Xfce due to a dbus error and dumped me at twm.

Now all these above problems can probably be fixed with perseverance, but at the moment life has caught up with me again and I'm job searching and haven't fully finished moving, so it should be relatively quick. Haven't had trouble like this in a long time, but that's probably because I usually work with older hardware that I know well. It looks like the critics still have a point.

I ended up installing Kubuntu 10.04 with its proprietary driver installer which proved to be just the ticket. It works fine but KDE 4 still reminds me too much of Windows 7 to the point of confusion, so I may need to change it to one of the other derivatives. I'll also keep Scientific Linux on this laptop as it seems the most professional, and try to get the wireless working in time.

Still on the list of distros to test are Archbang and Sabayon. What are your thoughts? Which distro works for you? Any tips on the above issues? Keep them coming.


1 comment:

  1. Dear Barnaby,

    For those who want to install linux on an Acer laptop it's important to know that the first partition is for the W7 this contains the windows installation partition (PQSERVICE). Second partition is the boot piece of Windows, this one is the one for grub to boot. And the final partition is what they call the C:\ drive.
    If you bought the laptop fresh don't boot up windows yet, resize the third partition is say half and create the free space as an extended partition. Now let W7 finish the pre-installation leaving you with room to spare for your favourite Linux distro in the extended zone.


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