Context I feared that my 2.5-year old De…

Context

I feared that my 2.5-year old Dell Insprion 1525n (yes, it came with no Windows!) was growing weak with "age" (effective age = age * roughness of handling), and therefore, I decided to make use of Thanksgiving deals to get a Lenovo ThinkPad Edge 14".

My Hell Perspiron (as I nickname it) gets as hot as hell and shuts off with the slightest processor load. Plus, the SATA hard-disk is showing signs of impending gradual failure. So I think it was a good decision anyway.

First Looks

From what I hear, this laptop is not really a *ThinkPad* (as in a T-series ThinkPad), but is a ThinkPad nevertheless πŸ˜‰ — that’s enough.

So let’s see. I paid $640 + $50 tax + $0 shipping for it instead of the projected price of $1100+ and the "usual" total price of $860. It came via UPS, free shipping.

Unlike stuff I read online, my laptop doesn’t have a glossy back — no fingerprints etc. I’m not very bothered about the TrackPoint. It kind-of does get into the way, but not much. The keyboard design and feel is extremely good. It feels very nice typing on it.

However, by default, one needs to hold down the ‘Fn’ key to input F1 thru F12! Without Fn depressed, these correspond by default to mute, change volume, brightness etc. I was really frustrated by this, but a little Googling found me a solution (mentioned later). There’s another thing I do not like: which is that Ctrl and Fn are flipped across from their positions in Dell (and I think most other laptops). But this is a feature of all ThinkPads, it seems. Thankfully, Lenovo has some very nice BIOS options that let you configure these behaviors.

Installing Debian

Booting the installer
During first boot, after randomly answer the Windows configuration questions, it detected my WiFi network and connected. I learned from my friend Kumar Appaiah about UNetBootIn. I had originally planned to follow an article that a couple of us compiled this wiki page. But I gave UNetBootIn a try, and it failed. However, it installed WinGRUB successfully. The kernel refused to load, saying "Invalid file format" or something to that effect. So I got back to Windows and obtained the kernel and initrd.gz for the Debian installer from IITM’s FTP server and booted into the installer as outlined on the wiki page.

Partitioning
Kumar recommended that I try LVM. So I created a non-LVM physical /boot partition (required), and an LVM physical volume, that I split into several logical volumes. I also left 5 GB in a non-LVM physical partition, just in case. I deleted ThinkPad’s boot drive, which might have been a bad idea :-S.

Installing Packages
I used the default mirror in the US: http://ftp.us.debian.org. It turns out that the U of Texas mirror (ftp.utexas.edu) is much faster even when I’m at home.

Post Install
Post install, Debian booted into a command-line. It took me a little work to get basic stuff setup (bash completion etc.) and then I installed KDE (aptitude install kde-standard) and booted into it. It turns out that testing now has KDE 4.4.5.

Hardware
Here’s the output of lspci on my Thinkpad:

00:00.0 Host bridge: Intel Corporation Core Processor DRAM Controller (rev 02)
00:02.0 VGA compatible controller: Intel Corporation Core Processor Integrated Graphics Controller (rev 02)
00:16.0 Communication controller: Intel Corporation 5 Series/3400 Series Chipset HECI Controller (rev 06)
00:1a.0 USB Controller: Intel Corporation 5 Series/3400 Series Chipset USB2 Enhanced Host Controller (rev 06)
00:1b.0 Audio device: Intel Corporation 5 Series/3400 Series Chipset High Definition Audio (rev 06)
00:1c.0 PCI bridge: Intel Corporation 5 Series/3400 Series Chipset PCI Express Root Port 1 (rev 06)
00:1c.1 PCI bridge: Intel Corporation 5 Series/3400 Series Chipset PCI Express Root Port 2 (rev 06)
00:1c.2 PCI bridge: Intel Corporation 5 Series/3400 Series Chipset PCI Express Root Port 3 (rev 06)
00:1c.3 PCI bridge: Intel Corporation 5 Series/3400 Series Chipset PCI Express Root Port 4 (rev 06)
00:1c.4 PCI bridge: Intel Corporation 5 Series/3400 Series Chipset PCI Express Root Port 5 (rev 06)
00:1c.5 PCI bridge: Intel Corporation 5 Series/3400 Series Chipset PCI Express Root Port 6 (rev 06)
00:1d.0 USB Controller: Intel Corporation 5 Series/3400 Series Chipset USB2 Enhanced Host Controller (rev 06)
00:1e.0 PCI bridge: Intel Corporation 82801 Mobile PCI Bridge (rev a6)
00:1f.0 ISA bridge: Intel Corporation Mobile 5 Series Chipset LPC Interface Controller (rev 06)
00:1f.2 SATA controller: Intel Corporation 5 Series/3400 Series Chipset 4 port SATA AHCI Controller (rev 06)
00:1f.3 SMBus: Intel Corporation 5 Series/3400 Series Chipset SMBus Controller (rev 06)
00:1f.6 Signal processing controller: Intel Corporation 5 Series/3400 Series Chipset Thermal Subsystem (rev 06)
03:00.0 Network controller: Realtek Semiconductor Co., Ltd. RTL8191SEvB Wireless LAN Controller (rev 10)
09:00.0 Ethernet controller: Realtek Semiconductor Co., Ltd. RTL8111/8168B PCI Express Gigabit Ethernet controller (rev 03)
ff:00.0 Host bridge: Intel Corporation Core Processor QuickPath Architecture Generic Non-core Registers (rev 02)
ff:00.1 Host bridge: Intel Corporation Core Processor QuickPath Architecture System Address Decoder (rev 02)
ff:02.0 Host bridge: Intel Corporation Core Processor QPI Link 0 (rev 02)
ff:02.1 Host bridge: Intel Corporation Core Processor QPI Physical 0 (rev 02)
ff:02.2 Host bridge: Intel Corporation Core Processor Reserved (rev 02)
ff:02.3 Host bridge: Intel Corporation Core Processor Reserved (rev 02)

The lines that really matter to me are:

00:02.0 VGA compatible controller: Intel Corporation Core Processor Integrated Graphics Controller (rev 02)
03:00.0 Network controller: Realtek Semiconductor Co., Ltd. RTL8191SEvB Wireless LAN Controller (rev 10)

The graphics card is not a fancy NVidia, and is at least not an immediate concern. It should work out of the box though. At least I see a graphical display πŸ™‚

WiFi did not work out-of-the-box. I have an RTL8191SEvB controller, as indicated above (AFAIK, not all ThinkPad Edge 14s have the same). A little Googling pointed me to a blogpost, which pointed me to the RTL8191 drivers on RealTek’s page. I like to use wpa_supplicant, because I’m comfortable with that. So I used wpa_passphrase to generate the configuration for wpa_supplicant, and put that into /etc/wpa_supplicant.conf (created the file). Then, got rid of the network-manager service and ran wpa_supplicant:


wpa_passphrase essid passphrase

  1. copy-paste output into /etc/wpa_supplicant.conf

/etc/init.d/network-manager stop
wpa_supplicant -Dwext -i wlan0 -c /etc/wpa_supplicant.conf &
dhclient wlan0

and my WiFi worked. Of course, this is temporary.

Changing the behavior of Fn key
A little more Google told me that I could set the behavior of ‘Fn’ keys and swap the ‘Ctrl’ and ‘Fn’ key positions with the BIOS configuration utility. I rebooted, hit ‘Enter’ to get to the BIOS, (Fn +) F1 to edit the BIOS configuration, and went to ‘Keyboard’ to find these relieving options. Changed the behavior of F1…F12 to ‘Legacy’, and swapped the Ctrl and Fn keys. I’m now comfortable!

Touchpad

The touchpad, on Linux, works just the way I want it to by default — no tap to click; vertical scroll by sliding your finger on the right edge of the touchpad (in Windows, you had to use multitouch by default to do this, which I don’t like).

First Impressions, Summarized

So far, I think the Lenovo ThinkPad Edge 14" is a very nice laptop. No complaints at all — it looks a lot sturdier than a Dell Inspiron (like the rest of the ThinkPads), has a matte finish, I could work around my complaints with the keyboard, getting WiFi working wasn’t as bothersome as it usually is etc. The only thing I didn’t like, is that it came with Windows 7 installed and an ugly sticker that proclaims the same.

Advertisements