4/02/2004

Linux on the IBM ThinkPad X31

So I spent last night installing Red Hat Linux 9 onto an IBM ThinkPad X31. Before I jumped in and started trashing filesystems (though love to wipe the slate clean) I read these three articles on the problems associated with this box.

I didn't have any real problems with the Linux side of things. My biggest headache (as is usually the case) was Windows XP. I booted XP so that I might resize the main partition nicely. I though I might give the "One Microsoft Way" a chance. I learned the hard way that the "One Way" is "No Way". There's no apparent means of resizing the primary partition in WinXP Pro. So I figure'd I'd just defrag the hard drive and use other tools for the same task.

Would you believe that defragging a brand new hard drive dive, on first boot take more than 30 minutes!?

The worst of it is though, to optimize virtual memory performance, MS has decided to place the "unmovable" VM files to the phisical middle of the disk platter. There is a long debate about the best place to position the swap space, MS chooses the middle of the disk to decrease the head seek time between reading files and read/writing to VM. I choose to place the swap partition on the outer edge of the platter since the velocity of the disk is greater there. This method works very well when MV is not fragmented and you can read and write large bloks of contiguous data into/out of main memory. At least that is the dogma that I have accepted...

Back to the prblem this creates. By placing the VM files in the middle of the disk, Widows has forced any other partitions you create to be outside of that area. This reduces the potential partition size to no greater than 50%. This machine is only occasionally going to run WinXP so I needed more space for Linux.

The IBM factory install partition is a mixed blessing in this regard. Sure it takes 5+ GB off the top of your disk, but it does enable you to reset WinXP back to pre-first boot status, eliminating the badly place swap file.

So now for resizing partitions... Would you believe that Red Hat 9 is not capable of resizing NTFS partitions? Thankfully I found this article which point out that Mandrake does use the right sorftware to resize NTFS. I just happened to have a copy of Mandrake 10.0 sitting around since I just migrated Kosh (my home desktop) back to Mandrake (Sorry Gentoo!).

With the IBM preload in stage 1, I shrunk the WinXP partition down (as an aside, the preloader installs XP Pro from a Win98 boot and thus formats the primary partition as FAT 32) to 7.8GB, gave swap 1.5GB (main mem is 768MB) and took the remainging 24GB and change to ext3 for Linux.

Reboot intto Red Hat 9 (Big thank you to PogoLinux for the CDs that came with the WebWare 1150's we bought) and install away. Everything went fine, I was up and running in about an hour. I took some extra time to copy all of the RPMs onto the disk and patted myself on the back.

Just to make sure, I tried starting up WinXP Pro off the primary partition. This would prove to be the biggest time sink of all. It took another 5 reboots before the thing came up to the "first boot" sequence, and it overwrote Grub.

How rude.

Thankfully, reinstalling Grub into the MBR is painless and I got that reloaded this morning.

Yet again, Windows XP earns the eXtreme Pain acronym as the hardest part of running linux is dealing with the shoddy, obstructive, obtuse OS from Redmond.

So enough ranting about Microsoft for this post, I now want to aim my verbal flamethrower at Intel. Most notably the Centrino group.

Get your shit together people. Release and support drivers for Linux. At this point, there is no excuse for not releasing both drivers at the same time. Satic-linked binary-only drivers would be better than nothing. I'm looking at the support that is there now and I'm quite disappointed. The open source group is working without hardware documentation and has something working, but the fact that they have to do this work with thir hands tied behind their backs is unacceptable.

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