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Debian GNU/Linux on an Acer Travelmate 291 LCI

Note: I sold this good friend of mine in January 2009 after it was replaced by a MacBookPro, so this page will not be updated anymore. The last stage of Linux on this laptop was to run Unbuntu Linux in various versions on it, starting with version 7.X. With all of these distros up to the one current at the time of writing (8.10), everything worked exceptionally well, no problems to fix what so ever. Thoroughly recommended if you want a fast and easy install with no messing about. The install CD also offers a "live" system for you to test your hardware with before commiting to a harddrive install.

Hardware The Travelmate 291 is a 'Centrino' notebook based on Intel's Pentium M Processor and associated chipset and WLAN card. I have the 1,4Ghz version with a 60Gb Toshiba hard drive, 512Mb of memmory and a DVDreader/CDwriter (24x) optical drive. The display has a resolution of 1024x768 pixels. Contrary to many other notebooks it has an 'ALPS' touchpad (rather than a synaptics one), but more on that later.
It has a 14,8 volt 4300mAh battery which gives me 4+ hours of running time using medium display brightness and dynamic clockfrequency controlling. The fan hardly ever comes on and even when it does it is very quiet and unobtrousive. It runs only for as long a needed and doesn't change speed every few seconds. I am very pleased about the lack of noise :-) the notebook has 3 USB 2.0 ports, one firewire and one parallel port. Should be enough for most. A cardbus slot is also present. Take a look at the lspci output.

Software: I've been using Debian Linux for quite a while now and wanted to use it on my new aquisition as well, even though the notebook came with a preinstalled Win XP. Aber repartionining the drive with Partition Magic under windows I went ahead with installing Debian. I use 'testing', so I decided to give the new Debian installer a try (beta3 at the time of writing). Everything went well, the thing booted and detected most of the hardware straight away using the stock 2.4.25 kernel. I'll give a more detailed account of what worked and what didn't below.

Gerneral setup: Nothing to report here, really. Just follow the usual Debian steps of tasksel/dselect and you'll have a running system.

Current configs: Before you read through this whole page, try these files:

POWER consumption measurements
Ok, I must have been a bit bored to get down to this, but nonetheless I measured the laptops power consumption in various configurations. To do this I removed the battery and ran the box off a laboratry power supply. To connect up, I soldered myself an adapter cable with the right type of plug on the end. The power supply was set to a constant 19 Volts DC, the same level as the normal AC adapter delivers.
The tests were conducted with the IR and paralle port activated in the BIOS, I've been told that switching them off reduced the current draw a little. Haven't tested that though.
The harddisk was on (spinning), but idle at all times unless otherwise stated.
Linux, with cpudynd and ACPI etc., WLAN off
operationdisplay brightnesscurrent
idle, clock set to "low" (600MHz)minimum580mA
X running, idle, clock lowmin580mA
X running, idle, clock lowmaximum800mA
X running, idle, clock lowmedium setting700mA
X running, idle, clock set to "high" (1,4GHz)med800mA
Max load on cpu, high clock rate, fan offmed1630mA
Max load on cpu, high clock rate, fan onmed1690mA
standby mode, hd spun down (note, this is not suspend!)-260mA
playing mp3, internal speakersmed<850mA
idle, clock low, display turned offoff390mA
machine turned right off, but plugged in-55mA
Windows XP, mode "laptop" (I think)
standby mode (suspend to RAM)-70mA

To work out the theoretical running time you'll get out of the battery, divide the batterie's capacity by the consumption above and multiply with the voltage factor (the battery delivers 14 volts compared to the external supplies 19 volts), i.e. (14/19)*(4300mAh/700mA)=4,15 hours, very roughly. In practice it will be less due to the battery having a lower voltage than the external supply I used and the battery not quite delivering it's rated capacity. But it will do as a rough guide.
What is very intersting is that the display, when set to medium brightness, uses roughly as much power as the rest of the system, i.e. 300mA. The harddisk uses very little power when spinning, around 100mA. Also, the clock frequency make surprisingly little difference to the total power consumption, only around 100mA. Of course these figures must be viewed with a little suspicion, as a current of 55mA flows, even when the machine is right off. This is most probably not the case when running on the battery. Whether it's safe to say the consumption is always the current I measured less the 55mA I cannot say. It would be very difficult to connect up a foreign supply to the battery contacts.
I really can't wait for someone to find a way to use suspend-to-ram running Linux, this would be a great saving as the figures when running windows show. The problem is still the grafics card not resuming after a suspend to ram. Great pitty that.

Kernel: I didn't play around with the standard setup too long as I wanted to use a 2.6 series kernel anyway. No problems here, if you're intersted you can look at my config(2.6.5) here. That got everything working, the touchpad is detected als a serial mouse device and works without any further doing. The speedstep features (processor frequency governing to save power) caused me a few comprehension problems to start with, wasn't quite sure where the speed could be set, as the few reports on the net I found didn't seem to match the proc entries I was seeing. Anyway,it did work out finally.
I like to use high resolution consoles as well, so I use the vesafb driver at 1024x768 for the consoles, works fine.
Update:Kernel 2.6.6-rc2 works fine, too. It has a few more experimental speedstep options, look at the dmesg output. The config is here.

Update:Kernel 2.6.6 config updated, I had forgotten async support for dialup. Silly me. Modem now works well. A few things may have got changed compared to the previous version, I'm still testing various options and their effects....

Update:Kernel 2.6.7 config online now(dmesg-output). No major changes, but I had to use the 'alps-patch' from the synaptics driver 0.13.3 to patch the kernel. The X-driver is still version 0.12.5, newer versions are reported to produce strange behaviour.

Update:Kernel 2.6.9-rc2 config available. I didn't try 2.6.8 because of some changes in the ATA libs made CD-writing impossible as a normal user. This is still true to some extent, so I suggest you write CDs as root :/
Also due to more strict kernel behaviour(?), I couldn't get ndiswrapper to function, or even load the module :-(
I have changed to the IPW2100 driver which compiles and loads fine. Haven't tested it 'live' though. To use this you need a few new features in the kernel, the config above reflects this.
Also a slightly different method of network-config is necessary.

Update (8.7.2005):Kernel is running now. Look at the config here. The changes I've set are the following:
Update (2.11.2005):Kernel 2.6.14 has arrived, and I must say that this is the best yet, for a number of reasons: In fact, I now use a vanilla kernel without any patches whatsoever and get a fully functioning system. That's just what I'd been looking for.

Speedstep/ACPI/sleep-states: As I said, I found it a bit difficult to find definite information on how to set up the whole thing and what is the best way to control the speed of the CPU. There seem to be a couple of ways: throttling, C-states(?), and frequency control. I now use the 'cpudyn' to take care of setting the right clock speed. This is a package and needed no configuration to work for me. It seems to reduce the clock down to 600Mhz (the minimum speed supported by the cpu) wenn idling using the 'cpufreq' kernel interface. According to gkrellm the CPU clock goes down to 80 Mhz when idling, or using the notebook gently, i.e. editing text, browsing, reading, so it might also use throttling to save power? Xmms and mplayer cause the clock to go to 600Mhz or more, even if the load is not really high. Take a look at
[path of kernel source]/Documentation/cpu-freq/governors.txt and user-guide.txt
- /proc/cpufreq
- /proc/cpuinfo
- /proc/processor/CPU0/{limit, power, throttling}
- /sys/devices/system/cpu/cpu0/cpufreq/*
to find out whats going on. I must look into this more closely in the future.
Using the acpid lid and power button events are detected, the power swith works. The lid switch turns off the background lighting by hardware, so no need to worry about that. ACPI also reads the battery stats and power connection reliably, I use gkrellm to display the various states of battery and CPU.
I played around with sleep states (suspend to ram), but couldn't get the box to wake up again well. It does come up if you disable the acpid (you need the power button to wake up, but it switches right off with the acpid running), BUT the display and USB don't wake up. All I could do was to login via cable net and shutdown. I haven't tried swsusp yet. These are known bugs in the kernel/X. See kernel documentation/power/video.txt

Update (21.4.04): I've been asked whether my box makes an annoying high-pitch buzzing sound when on. At first I hadn't really noticed this, but it does make this sound under certain circumstances, which I'll try to describe here:
I have a few question concerning this still on my mind, perhaps one of you can help me understand this: Update (14.10.2004):I have taken the box apart right down to the very last screw. To say that it wasn't easy is an understatement... Anyway, I finally got to the motherboard and had a good look around, hoping to find the cause of the annoying buzzing sound and to find a way to stop it. Take a look at the pictures I took while at it: 1, 2, 3. I have marked what I assume to be the offending items so that you can find them more easiy. I coated all of the coils with expoxy resin glue and screwed the whole lot back together. Luckily the box booted after I had finished and there weren't any left over screws ;-)
The result of this modification is that the buzzing sound has decreased quite a lot, but it is still audible.... Don't really know what else I could do. If you decide to take the box apart, be very carefull, there are a lot of tiny screws and cables about!

Note: The buzzing sound is fixed with kernels newer than 2.6.12. due to a change of the "Timer frequency" now being 250Hz instead of 1KHz.

X: The 'i810' drivers in the 4.3 release of XFree work perfectly with this notebook. Some hardware acceleration is present and viewing DVDs etc is easily possible. My config can be found here.
I was advised via email that the fonts look a little fudgy with this config. I think the config is ok, but you must make sure your X-Server is running at 85 dpi, check this by doing something like: 'startx -dpi 85' or running 'xdpyinfo'. If the fonts look different/better, edit /etc/X11/xinit/xserverrc to reflect this change.
The external VGA switching does not work for me at the moment using the Fn keys. If I boot the machine with an external monitor connected the notebook display stays off and the external monitor is used. The display qualtiy when booting with an CRT attached is good. During boot the internal an the external monitor can be activated by pressing the keyboard key combination.But this messes up the quality of the external dislay output, it is all fudgy then, so take care. I tried hitting the Fn key for switching outputs under X and the machine froze, so I'm not too sure whether this feature can be used. I haven't tried the S-VHS output yet, I have nothing to connect it to. As the lspci output shows 2 graphics controllers it should be possible to have a 'dual head' setup with both outputs being used simultaneously. Must look into this later. Update: I tried hard for a long time to get a dual head working without any patches, but I did not have any sucess. A setup as for an ATI Radeon card does not work.
But there is a small utility to activate the external output while running X. It can be found here and works very well for me. Resolution of the external display can be set and the picture quality is much better than when switching using the keyboard shortcuts. Super! I'm happy now. For the mouse cursor to be available on both monitors simultaneously, you must use the "SWCursor" option in your XF86config. Also the programm must be run as root.

UPDATE (10.08.2006): After switching to Debian "etch", which sports the X.org X-Server, using the external VGA output and the S-Video output has become much easier! Take a look at my current xorg.conf" to see how easily one can now use the external outputs. Watching DVDs on the telly is possible, but not perfect yet, as the local display goes blank and I've found no way to get it back going again. Please tell me how you get on.

After patching the kernel with the ALPS patch to get enhanced touchpad features the scrolling and so on works with the touchpad, otherwise it only has simple funcitonality using the PS/2 driver. The touchpad driver can be found here, just use the alps.patch file included and copy the synaptics_drv.o to the X directory as explained in the readme and everything should work just fine.

Sound: Really easy, just choose the snd_intel8x0 module. The speakers sound rather bad and tinny. Plugging in the external speaker jack cuts out the speakers.

LAN: No surprises here, Realtek 8139 chipset.

WLAN: After a bit of fiddling I got the WLAN to work including WEP using the ndiswrapper driver. This works by using a windows driver to access the card. Works just fine. Sarge also has this as a package. You will also need the wireless-tools package. I use a small script to enable the WLAN as I don't always need it.

Modem: This is something I haven't been able to test yet, as I don't have a telephone, but it should work ok using the sl-modem driver provided by the Debian package. I use version 2.9.6 and the modem is detected and can be spoken to after the slmodemd has been started and the slamr module loaded. I have not tested its functioning using the alsa drivers, as the patch didn't work at all. Maybe because the patch ist for 2.6.1 and I'm running 2.6.5. Might look into this later on.
Update: Have got this working fine now, and tested with a copper line at my parents'. Don't forget the ppp_async ;-) I use wvdial, this autodetects everything.

IR: I got this to work fine, just add some features like ircomm etc. to the kernel and doing 'irattach /dev/ttyS0 -s' gets it working. Make sure the following modules are loaded or statically compiled in: irtty_sir, sir_dev, irport, ircomm_tty, ircomm, irda.
Actually I only need to modprobe 'irtty_sir', the others are loaded automatically. 'irdadump' shows up whether a phone is in range or not. My Nokia 5210 wasn't set up properly by wvdial, using the strings that windoze uses makes it work fine though. A dialup connection is possible with the phone using wvdial, take a look at the wvdial.conf.
I got an hint from an IRC-user that the kernel module "smsc-ircc2" also works. Use it like this (untested by myself):
setserial /dev/ttyS0 uart none
modprobe smsc-ircc2
irattach irda0 -s
You can then use IR via /dev/ircomm or ircd0. Thanks for the info.

DVD/CD-R: Works fine, although it's a bit slow reading CDs. The full 24x write speed is only reached at the very end of the CD, it stats writing at 8x. Average speed works out to about 12x. In kernel 2.6 there is no need for scsi emulation, so the writer is easy to set up. I use xcdroast btw.

Special keys: As mentioned, the display switching isn't working yet, but the other keys are. The display brightness can be set straight away, it seems to be BIOS supported. Using the special keys 'P1' and 'P2' and the volume controls requires a bit of work. Take a look at my keysetup:
Fn+Vol up
Fn+Vol down
These can be assigned to keys via the .Xmodmap file. Pressing any of these keys then generates a virtual keystroke of the 'F-keys'. I assign a function to these keyevents with my IceWM keys file.

Summary: This notebook is almost fully functional using Linux, and suits my needs very well. It's quiet and runs a long time on the batteries. I would recommend it to anyone looking for a linux compatible laptop.
letzte Änderung: 02.02.09