ThinkPad X40 problem with Xubuntu

11:11am 23rd November 2008

I've been having some problems installing Xubuntu 8.04 and 8.10 on an old IBM ThinkPad X40 I've got here, and I thought I'd share the solution. I initially thought the problem was hardware related, but it was replicated on two identical units, and after I purchased a brand new hard drive for both of them.

The problem was that after installing Xubuntu, the laptop would boot fine once or twice, but after that, boots would fail and I would get the following error:

Could not start the X server (your 
graphical environment) due to some internal 
error. Please contact your system administrator
or check your syslog to diagnose. In the 
meantime this display will be disabled.  Please 
restart GDM when the problem is corrected.

I would then be given a CLI log in prompt. Logging in dropped me into a read only file system, and not even sudo would allow me to edit any files.

To skip to the end of this story, I believe that the problem is related to and combination of the drivers in use for the X40 hardware, hot un-docking of the UltraBase docking station, and the JFS file system. JFS is usually my filesystem of choice on Linux, but so far, reinstalling Xubuntu using ext3 seems to have solved the problem.

Posted by Phil on 2009-02-20 02:14:11.171904+00
Just curious: I'm considering purchasing a used X40 to run Linux on (Ubuntu 8.10) - do you find that hibernate works OK with 8.10? How about suspend to ram?
Posted by Naz on 2009-02-14 02:05:14.851275+00
Oh well. Happy belated birthday then! ;)
Posted by belal on 2008-12-28 10:29:20.431405+00
This post was made on my birthday. Also the where's Naz feature shows you as being in Melbourne, when my calculations say you should be in Singapore.

Linux - 3 Months On

3:09pm 30th August 2008

So I've been using Linux now for about 3 months, and it's been a fun, if somewhat wild, ride. I can safely say that I will never be going back to Windows. The shortcomings of that platform have been mounting up over the years and now that I've actually used a different operating system on a daily basis, it has become painfully apparent that I have been frog-boiled into being satisfied with the pile of rubbish that is Microsoft Windows.

I have a Lenovo ThinkPad T61p. I have been a fan of the ThinkPads for many years, however I am ever so slightly disappointed with the T61p's build quality being not quite up to standard when compared to old ThinkPads. The old T40 for instance feels like it would survive a war. Don't get me wrong, the T61p is an excellent unit, still far better than anything Dell, HP or Toshiba have to offer, outdone only by the Panasonic Toughbooks. I love it and I highly recommend it. It proved to be a great choice for Linux. The vast majority of things worked out of the box; Audio, Bluetooth, WiFi, networking and even my USB HSDPA modem. I've collated a list of packages that I add on to the default Xubuntu install. They are:

sudo aptitude install openoffice.org wine vim nfs-common namp \
bluetooth bluez-gnome filezilla gnome-alsamixer tor nmap wine \
epiphany-browser openssh-server kate ubuntu-restricted-extras \
xchat powertop

These packages add useful functionality as well as GUI tools for the Bluetooth and audio devices in the laptop. Note that they also contain the non-free packages for playing DVDs, MP3s, Flash and other common proprietary formats. It bears mentioning that the Debian package management system is absolutely amazing. Trying out software is easy, and you can do it confident that it will not break your system. Upgrading software versions is handled completely automatically. I can take a default install of Xubuntu, run the above command, and know that my system is running the latest vesion without any headache at all. Setting up a new machine is now a 1 minute post install job as opposed to a few hours on Windows.

The Debian repository contains just about every software tool imaginable, which means that you don't even have to search for software on the web any more; you just look for it in Synaptic, and click install. Removal is equally easy. This has made trying out many tools when looking for a good solution to a problem a snap.

One issue I had to fix up was distorted fonts after installing the binary nVidia driver on the T61p. The default driver worked, but when I installed the nVidia binary driver, desktop fonts were rendered out of proportion. To solve this I put the following in /etc/X11/xorg.conf under the "Device" section:

Option "UseEdidDpi"   "false"
Option "Dpi"          "92 x 92"

This took me a while to figure out, and the correct Dpi value was discovered by trial and error. Once set, this fixed the look of screen fonts after the installation of the nVidia binary driver, which messed up all proportionality on the desktop.

Other than that, it was smooth sailing, no other hiccups.I have to say that Xfce is not quite as polished as Gnome or KDE, but it certainly does have a lighter weight feel to it. Applications load very snappily, and the panels are customizable enough to set things up in a way that really lets you work far faster.

Xubuntu does not have much by the way of Bluetooth nice GUIs, so I used the CLI to turn Bluetooth on and off. It works fine, and can be scripted to an icon on the desktop or a hotkey if you do it often enough. The commands are:

echo enable | sudo tee /proc/acpi/ibm/bluetooth
echo disable | sudo tee /proc/acpi/ibm/bluetooth

Since moving to Linux, I've developed an affinity for the CLI, something I haven't used much since my now long past DOS days. To me, it was previously just a quick and nasty way to do basic diagnostics in Windows or basic server admin tasks on Linux. On the Linux desktop however, I find myself using it more and more as a primary means of getting things done. I have also taken to the increased use of hotkeys, even when using the GUI desktop. In short, Linux has put a vaster array of tools at my disposal, accelerating my working day. This is a very welcome surprise, as I always thought that moving to Linux would involve a long and drawn out readjustment period while I rediscovered all the little tasks that come up in the course of using a PC for more than just word processing, web and email.

On a side note, when I needed a highly portable computer, I bought a second hand IBM ThinkPad X40. These are old, but awesome machines. Small, light, tough as nails, they have my vote for the best laptop ever made. They are very well featured and specced for an ultra-portable given their age, certainly far more powerful than any of the netbooks such as the Asus eeePC. They run Xubuntu magnificently. Thus, my need for ultra portable computing is met without resorting to one of those awful netbooks (which I view as the mutant children of PDAs and laptops). A second hand X40 is half the price of an eeePC, yet it is only slightly bigger, far more powerful and has a full size screen. IBM have also managed to fit a full sized keyboard of superlative quality on it, despite the machine being a 12 inch unit. If you're thinking of getting a netbook, don't. X40s are available on eBay and are a far better choice. They also work 100% out of the box with Linux, no hassles.

Running my old Windows applications presented a slight issue. The main app for me being the UltraEdit/UEStudio programming editors. They run in Wine, however in too unstable a manner to be considered usable for work. I have temporarily moved to Kate which I am finding is quite up to the task of heavy code slinging. Microsoft Office, however, is not so easy. While I actually prefer working with OpenOffice, there are times that I need to work with MS Office documents. To solve this I have decided that dual boot is the solution. My laptop has a 1920x1200 screen, and none of the VM solutions I tried emulated a graphics card capable of doing this res with anything resembling usable performance. My use of MS Office is infrequent enough that booting into Windows won't be too much of an issue. It also allows me to play the odd Windows game as well, should such a thing take my fancy.

All of these benefits are magnified when I consider that I can provision a Linux machine in minutes, with no worries about licenses and other such rubbish. I attempted to install Windows XP on my laptop, but the key failed authentication because the media I was using did not match the key; I had a Windows XP Professional SP2 OEM key sticker on the laptop, but a retail disc. I called Microsoft to ask if there was a way around it. Their solution; buy a replacement media at an exorbitant price. No thanks. After much mucking about, I eventually found an OEM disc from another old PC to install from, but that experience highlighted to me a prime benefit of open source software. The fact that Xubuntu is lightweight enough to run on even low power machines means that I can deploy my full familiar desktop environment on just about any old computer I like without worrying about cost at all.

So, After many years and several abortive attempts, I am now well and truly a Linux user. Not just on my servers, but on my desktop and both of my laptops. For me, 2008 is the year of Linux on the desktop.

Finally. s/Windows/Linux/g;

6:29pm 24th May 2008

I've been a Linux user for about 4 years now, but only on servers. I have been putting off familiarizing myself with Linux on the desktop for a very, very long time now, due to laziness and complacency. However, finally, I have the motivation needed to switch. And switch I have. A big thanks to Microsoft for making Vista the steaming pile of manure that it is. Had the prospect of having to eventually use it not been so horrifying, I probably would have just ignored Linux yet again and stuck with what I know. The chasm between what I expect my computer to do, and what Windows can actually deliver has been growing over the years, but with Vista, I am no longer able to build a bridge between the two, although my growing list of discontents is the subject of a whole other blog entry.

While this has been happening, Linux distributions have really grown in leaps and bounds. After a short selection process I have settled on Xubuntu as the first distro to try, and wow is it sweet. It's Ubuntu, configured to default to the excellent and very lightweight Xfce desktop system. Most of the hardware works out of the box with no hassles. The only exceptions have been the hardware volume controls (this is a ThinkPad T61p laptop) and the microphone, but those are minor and I think a little more tinkering should get them up and running. I've also got an issue with hibernate, but suspend works fine and I use that most of the time anyway. I think these issues will likely get fixed with the ThinkPad drivers are updated for the hardware in the new models.

Notably, the only windows app that I didn't want to switch away from, UEStudio, was able to run just fine under WINE, and getting it to work proved to be a snap. Moving my Thunderbird email files was as easy as copying the files across and things like USB flash drives, the ThinkPad light and even my Huawei E220 HSDPA modem work fine (although I haven't managed to get it to connect to my Optus service as yet). All in all, it's been a fairly painless process, with minimal tinkering required. I'm going to try the latest version of Kubuntu, with the new KDE4 desktop, just so I can try the alternative but I think I'll skip Gnome, as I've done that before back when I tried Fedora 5.

The other benefit of Xubuntu is its lightweight design. It's perfect for running on low spec hardware, and a full install is under 2gb. That means I can put the same desktop system on an eeePC as I have on my main PC. Perhaps I've spent too much time in the Microsoft world, but I find this amazing. It can run KDE and Gnome apps, so you get the best of both worlds; lightweight desktop with the availability of all the full features, should you need them. And with WINE running most Windows apps these days and approaching a 1.0 release, I don't think there's any reason to even bother setting up a dual boot system to go back. There's just no need.

For me, this really is the year of Linux on the desktop.

nVidia chipsets and Linux

9:16am 12th March 2006

I am at a loss as to why nVidia refuses to publish the specifications for its nForce 2200 Pro chipset. I can understand the need to keep the drivers for its graphics cards closed source binary only distributions, but as to its decision to take the same path with its chipsets, I am quite mystified.

Motherboard chipsets, in order to be transparently available to the user, need to be integrated into the operating system. Distributing binaries makes the installation of I/O controllers, RAID cards and other onboard devices a pain for users who just want to have a system up and running as quickly as possible.

Furthermore, nVidia's chipsets are the best chipsets for the AMD64 platform, which is as popular with Linux servers as it is among gamers. If nVidia wants in on this market in a meaningful way, drivers will need to be incorporated into the Linux kernel, something that cannot happen unless usable specs are given to the maintainers of the relevant Linux modules. Jeff Garzik, maintainer of the kernel module libATA, has been quoted as saying that "Unfortunately, Nvidia is the only SATA hardware vendor that chooses not to give me any hardware information".

As it stands, installing Linux onto the new server I am unable to use the nvRAID functionality of the board, which presumably would allow me to use the hot swap bays properly and allow for automatic volume rebuilds in the case of disk failure. Instead, I am using Linux's md system to provide software RAID functionality. It has proven to be a very high performance and reliable solution indeed, but I still feel that using even the partial RAID functionality provided by the nForce 2200 chipset would be preferable.