New Laptop!

Volume 7, Issue 167; 20 Sep 2004; last modified 08 Oct 2010

My new laptop is a ThinkPad T42p and it’s mostly up and running now.

If you’re looking for advice about how to install Linux on your Thinkpad, I suggest you start with the IBM pages at Everything you find here, I learned from those pages, and from the linux-thinkpad mailing list. I don’t think I have a much to add at this point.

The Good

Getting the T42p up and running was remarkably straightforward considering how little I know about modern x86 architecture machines. I started by booting it up and letting the Windows XP install process grind along. I poked about a bit to see if everything seemed to be working. It did.

Next, I created a System Rescue CD and booted it up. Using qtparted, I blew away the IBM system rescue partition and resized the NTFS partition down to 10GB. It turns out I could have created my own rescue CDs, but since I’d already asked IBM to send me a set, I didn’t bother.

Having created a bit of free space on the disk, I booted with the Debian “Sarge” network install disk, made a few partitions, and got a base system installed. Real sysadmins may question my partitioning choices:

hda1  Boot  Primary  NTFS        []       10737.38
hda2        Primary  Linux ext3  [Root]   16001.56
hda5        Logical  Linux ext3  [Home]    4002.33
hda6        Logical  Linux ext3  [Mail]    4002.33
hda7        Logical  Linux ext3  [Share]  23201.10
hda8        Logical  Linux swap            2066.97

Modern machines seem to just have a single huge partition, but I’ve never done it that way and so I’ve stuck with what makes me comfortable. In particular, I use the nntp backend of gnus to read mail; that leaves every message in a separate file, so the Mail partition is setup with a smaller than usual block size. The large swap partition is to ensure that I can hibernate the machine.

Anyway, Debian is great. Update /etc/apt/sources.list, run apt-get update and apt-get upgrade and you’ve got an up-to-date system running. To build a modern kernel, I installed gcc, binutils, etc.

I built a stock kernel with William Stein’s .config file.

At this point, I had a running system. The next problem was getting X Windows up and running. I decided to build’s X11R6/6.8.0. I used apt-get to grab a working X11 install, but I never tried to run the XFree86 server.

There aren’t (yet) any packaged versions of the server, so I grabbed the sources and built them. This is a delightfully fast laptop. The build system will apparently only install in /usr/X11R6, so I renamed a few things and made a couple of links before running make install.

To get emacs running again (!), I had to copy the libXaw3d libraries over from the XFree86 install.

Having grabbed William’s .config file, I went ahead and grabbed his /etc/X11/XF86Config-4 file too.

Ran like a charm.

The WiFi card in this laptop uses the Atheros chipset, so the madwifi drivers work perfectly.

Patching and rebuilding the kernel with Software Suspend 2 support quickly got me a “hibernate” function working. Suspending to RAM was already working with ACPI.

Installing drivers for the Conexant HSF modem even got that working. I’m using the free drivers, but really, I don’t use dialup anymore so I’ll probably never bother to buy a commercial license.

In short: from unpacking the boxes to a working Linux box in a few short hours, not counting the time it took to migrate all my data across. Not too shabby.

The Bad

Murphy is ever vigilant. Nothing I was worried about turned out to be difficult to setup at all. Something I didn’t give any thought to at all, the ability to display on the LCD panel and an external monitor at the same time, turns out to be…hard. Hard in this context being roughly synonymous with “impossible”. As someone who gives presentations with fair regularity, this is seriously bad. I’m also hoping it’s something that can be fixed fairly quickly. It seems to be related to IBM ACPI support. Fingers crossed.

[Update 21 Sep 2004: turns out there’s a BIOS setting to toggle between DRI (some sort of digital output for external LCD displays) and VGA (for traditional CRTs). It’s set to DRI by default and setting it to VGA fixes the problem. Whew!]

The Ugly

There’s a bunch of stuff I haven’t got working yet. Not because I expect it to be hard, but because I haven’t had time to try yet: irDA, Bluetooth, CD/DVD burning, turning off the touchpad. I’ll report more when I know more.

For now, I’m very happy with my Thinkpad.


On partitioning and filesystems with lots of little files... try reiserfs and LVM. You'll be glad you did. I'd include links if you allowed me to. :-P

I haven't gone as far as putting my root filesystem on LVM, but all my other partitions are.

Need some space in /var? it's as easy as

lvextend -L3G /dev/lvm0311/var-dirk
resize_reiserfs /dev/mapper/lvm0311-var--dirk

No rebooting or even unmounting required.

—Posted by Dan Connolly on 22 Sep 2004 @ 01:36 UTC #

I have included your report into the TuxMobil Linux Laptops and Notebook Survey ( -- Werner

—Posted by Werner Heuser on 02 Oct 2004 @ 10:52 UTC #

I just got a T42p myself, after living with a T30 for a couple of years. Turning off the touchpad on IBM thinkpad T3x/4x is as simple as toggling a BIOS option. Just hit F1 during the POST screen and you'll find it. Bluetooth works under bluez-utils. CD burning works under k3b. I haven't tried the DVD burner yet.

—Posted by jcypher on 05 Oct 2004 @ 09:30 UTC #

Norm, I found out today that I have a new T42p work machine on the way, as a replacement for my current company-issues notebook.

After I get it, I think I may want some more details about the part where you "renamed a few things and made a couple of links" before you ran "make install" to build your server.

—Posted by Michael Smith on 07 Oct 2004 @ 05:27 UTC #

Probably you've figured out by now that you can turn off the touchpad via BIOS.

—Posted by Michael Smith on 08 Jan 2005 @ 02:30 UTC #

I was wondering something if you know. I have a sony vaio laptop. I just rebooted microsoft windows xp onto it after my windows program was corrupted. Now i have no sound to my windows media player. So i cant play any movies or music. How do i get the sound back on my laptop?

—Posted by Pv2 Shanley on 14 Nov 2006 @ 08:49 UTC #