Configuring Debian/etch on a Dell Latitude D520

by Sander Marechal

A new job brings new toys :-) My new employer has supplied me with a Dell Latitude D520 laptop for programming. It came loaded with Windows XP professional which—ofcourse—had to go. Nothing inhibits productivity quite like Windows—except perhaps for the pool table and game consoles in the lunch room.

Basic installation went without a hitch as expected. I used the official 4.0 netinstall ISO using a cable instead of relying on wireless. I wasn't sure if wireless would work for a netinstall, plus download speeds are simply bigger when using a cable. When the tasksel came up I selected the Desktop and Laptop options. When the system rebooted and I logged in to my new system everything seemed to work fine. The desktop was fast and responsive and pretty much everything worked without a hitch. I was once again reminded that (a) Debian/etch is a great desktop system and (b) the default fonts still are still ugly on many websites :-) There were a few small hitches though. I'll describe them here, and what I did to fix it, so I can hopefully save other people the headaches:

Incorrect time on reboot

When booting into GNOME the clock was always two hours fast. I could easily set the clock back, but it would simply go back being fast after a reboot. A little investigation (and help on #debian) revealed that on the D520, you must use the --directisa option when setting the hardware clock. By default Etch doesn't do this so it could not save my modified system time to the hardware clock. The fix was quite easy. First I set the correct time in GNOME, then edited /etc/init.d/ and put --directisa in the HWCLOCKPARS line. Finally I set the correct hwardware time with:

  1. hwclock --directisa --systohc

No wireless support

Much to my surprise the wireless network card was not detected. I've always read about people having trouble with wireless, but this is the first time I have ever had wireless not work out-of-the-box. I thought this was most surprising since the Intel 3945ABG are open. I had hoped that the Debian Installer would have recognized the wireless card and installed the correct drivers. Alas, no such luck. Installing the ipw3945-modules-2.6-686, firmware-ipw3945 and ipw3945d packages fixed everything for me. Afterthought: This is also the first time I used the network-manager package to manage my network connections and I am very pleased by it.

Trouble connecting to Windows 2003 shares.

Connecting to Windows shares has always been a sore spot for me. GNOME's built-in "connect-to-server" functionality has never worked for me so I was not surprised that it wasn't working now either. I did what I always do for such shares: install the sbmfs package and put the share in my /etc/fstab using the cifs driver instead of smb. This mostly works for me, except for some errors when unmounting on shutdown.

Extremely slow touchpad speed

When I was using the built-in Synaptics Touchpad instead of the Logitech Trackman that I normally (ab)use I noticed that the cursor speed was extremely slow. I would move my finger further than the cursor would move in the screen. Very annoying. I had to add a couple if lines in my /etc/X11/xorg.conf under the Synaptics Touchpad module (thanks to Franklin PIAT):

  1.         Option "MinSpeed" "0.2"
  2.         Option "MaxSpeed" "1.2"
  3.         Option "AccelFactor" "0.05"

General instability

The first few days after installation I suffered from some random instabilities. The system would sometimes unexpectedly hang halfway though booting without leaving any helpful hints in /var/log. Also, file operations such as opening a folder or deleting a file with Nautilus would cause temporary freezes. All these things magically disappeared after a few days and haven't bothered me since. I can only assume that Debian made some updates shortly after releasing Etch that fixed these issues.

All in all I am very happy with my new system. It's a definite step up from my previous work laptop (A Dell D610 running Ubuntu Edgy) which I found a bit too unstable and sluggish for my taste. I don't mind that my home desktop is a bit unstable and bleeding edge but I really can't use that at work where I simply need my system to be rock-solid. Debian/etch is just that.

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#1 Anonymous Coward

The mouse problem was really annoying!

Thanks dood

#2 Anonymous Coward

Thanks a lot for the touchpad tip.

#3 nickjohnson (

Thanks for the hardware clock tip!

#4 Anonymous Coward

I simply grabbed the Ubuntu image from the Dell website for their current laptop with similar specs. Everything worked slick as a wick in 7.04 except for IRDA. I've since downloaded the 8.04 image and that's smooth!

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