Laptop Linux: Red Hat 9.0 and SUSE 10.0 through Tumbleweed on Sony Vaio SRX-51P/A, N505X, Asus eee PC701, HP Mini-Note 2133, Asus Zenbook UX31A and Intel Compute Stick

An interesting porting challenge Tux gets to work Tasty reverse engineering Vaio SRX-51 and eee PC 701 HP Mini 2133 with matching Gecko Intel Compute Stick STK1A32SC

First off, here's a summary table of all the Laptop and Linux combinations I have successfully installed:

SonyVaio PCG-N505XRed Hat 6.2
SonyVaio PCG-N505XRed Hat 9.0
SonyVaio SRX-51P/ARed Hat 9.0
SonyVaio SRX-51P/AopenSUSE 10.0
HPOmnibook 500openSUSE 10.2
Asuseee PC701openSUSE 10.3
HPMini-Note 2133openSUSE 11.0
HPOmnibook 500openSUSE 11.1
HPMini-Note 2133openSUSE 11.4
Asuseee PC701Android-x86 2.2.2
HPOmnibook 500openSUSE 12.1
Asuseee PC701openSUSE 12.1
AsusZenbook UX31AopenSUSE 12.2
Asuseee PC701openSUSE 13.2
IntelCompute Stick STK1A32SCopenSUSE Tumbleweed

In early 2000 I acquired a Sony Vaio PCG-N505X, and ran Red Hat Linux 6.2 on it for nearly 4 years. In mid-2003, it became time for some new hardware and software, so I went for its descendant, the Vaio SRX-51P/A and installed Red Hat 9.0 on that.

Having successfully got RH9.0 up and running on the SRX-51, I then cloned the config from its hard disk onto a new hard disk which I brain-transplanted into the N505X.

Jun 2006

Although both my (non-edible :-) laptops were still going hardware-wise, Linux had come a long way since Red Hat 9.0, and I successfully installed SUSE 10.0 on my SRX-51 and upgraded its internal WiFi card to 802.11a/b/g.

SUSE 10.0 worked very nicely on this laptop, mostly out the box without any of the kernel-tweaking needed for Red Hat. Upgrading the internal miniPCI network card to a 802.11a/b/g Netegriti WiFi card was also fairly straightforward, and it worked well. I was even able to get suspend-to-disk and a bluetooth mouse working at long last :-)

I also tried SUSE 10.1 on this laptop, which was not a good experience for the following reasons:

Shortly afterwards I installed openSUSE 10.2 on my HP desktop, and had a rather better experience with that.

Dec 2007

Unfortunately time and travel took their toll on my trusty SRX-51, and it eventually started to show its mileage, so I bought a tiny new Asus eee laptop :-) It is great this comes with Linux pre-installed, though I was not massively impressed with the Xandros distribution it came with.

As a consequence I have got openSUSE 10.3 working on it, a tight fit into the 4Gb internal flash, but doable. A summary of how to do this with grateful thanks to all the folks at the EEE User is available here.

Dec 2008

The eee was a great stop-gap, and ocassionally useful for short and non-work trips. But I needed something more serious, so got a custom-built max-spec version of the HP 2133 Mini-Note, which came pre-installed and certified for Novell's SLED10SP2 version of SuSE Linux :-) I however scrubbed this in favour of openSUSE 11.0 after good experiences with the latter on a new server, and it installed on the HP2133 more or less out the box.

There were however some points worth commenting on:

Everything else, including suspend and bluetooth, works nicely :-)

Jul 2009

I'd really like to be an advocate for openSUSE, it mostly works very well. Just upgraded two openSUSE 10.2 systems (my main desktop, and an HP Omnibook 500 aging laptop) to openSUSE 11.1. Overall, the package management is much smoother, and lots of things work well, including a D-Link DWA-642 PCMCIA wireless card using the ath9k driver. BUT:

Aug 2011

I have now upgraded my HP 2133 to Open SUSE 11.4, including swapping an Intel 80Gb SSD in for the hard disk, and finally migrating to a KDE desktop. On the whole, it works great, though the VIA chipset in this machine is a little underpowered for KDE4. Finally got an openchrome video driver (some custom config was needed - see here) that actually supports video playback, though again there's not quite enough juice in there to play MPEG2 back at 720p resolution. The external video port can just about be coaxed into working, though only if you re-start X with the external VGA port both configured and connected, and the screen and resolution has to mirror the panel display. And configuring "disable desktop effects" in kpowersave causes random "black screens of death" which can only be recovered from by killing and restarting X. I am never going to buy another PC with a VIA chipset in it, their open source graphics support is just a mess.

There's also a known issue with knetworkmanager where it is possible (e.g. after USB tethering to an Android device, or using the wireless switch to disable WiFi) to lock the network off and not be able to re-enable it without re-starting the entire network stack (including removing and re-inserting the various ndis kernel modules) or a hard reboot. Looks like knetworkmanager should now support 3G sticks and OpenVPN out the box okay though, have not tried this.

Suspend is a bit visually messy but works okay, though requires a swap paritition to be configured, which in turn even with 2Gb RAM gets used for swapping during regular operation of the machine - this use of the SSD makes me nervous but I think the netbook will reach the end of its life before the SSD wears out.

Nov 2011

I tried Thunderbird v6.0 when I first installed 11.4, and the performance has been awful, sometimes it just seems to get stuck forever when doing an off-line sync, and even worse when typing text into an edit window on an otherwise idle machine the display echo can lag by 5-10 characters ! Upgraded to Thunderbird v8.0 to see if this helps things, it does a bit, but requires frequent mailbox folder compacting to avoid going sluggish - this laptop is just not quite powerful enough to use current Thunderbird as its mail app :-( Firefox meantime seems to guzzle 10-20% of CPU continuously even when idle and minimized.

Aug 2012

Got openSUSE 12.1 working on both the eeePC 701 and the Omnibook 500, having upgraded the RAM on the eee to 2Gb, and it's SDcard to 32Gb. On the eee, this lets me dual-boot Android and SuSE, splitting the internal SSD between 2Gb /boot and 2Gb swap/resume (though I disabled actually swapping to the (non-replaceable/upgradeable) SSD to avoid wear, the idea being to use this purely for suspend-to-disk). All other paritions including SuSE root are mounted off the external SDHC. Getting suspend/resume to disk working is a challenge, though - while it is possible to suspend to the SDHC card, there's issues with the powerdown sequence to the USB interface it is connected via that may cause corruption of the suspend image, and certainly corrupt the root filesystem during suspend if root is mounted from SDHC. Suspend/resume can work off the internal SSD, provided that the ata_piix module is added to the initrd. However, there is not enough space on the SSD for both a root filesystem and suspend partition, so this may be a non-starter. It is also really pushing the performance of this machine to make it run a KDE4 desktop, even on an external monitor. It still makes a great Android toy, though.

The 10-year old Omnibook runs openSuSE12.1 suprisingly well, however, even with only framebuffer graphics due to the above ATI/mach64 driver problem (needs "nomodeset" in kernel boot parameters). These USB2 Cardbus cards work very nicely for adding faster USB to old laptops.

Sep 2012

Further hassles with knetworkmanager, and USB Android tethering only seems to work if I blacklist the rndis_wlan kernel module and remove the rndis_host module after disconnecting the phone each time.

Oct 2012

Just got an Asus Zenbook UX31A, which is a lovely machine in all kinds of ways, especially the 1920x1080 non-shiny 13" screen :-) The almost entirely Intel-based silicon is also hopeful for avoiding the video and network hardware issues I've had in the past. Install of openSuSE 12.2 x86_64 has gone pretty smoothly - finally enough CPU/GPU power to run KDE4 properly. Watch this space...

Feb 2016

Four+ years later the Zenbook is still going great, plenty of performance still. The hardware is getting a little crumbly after 400,000+ miles on the road now, and while I've managed to source some parts and effect some repairs, Asus' policy of neither publishing service manuals nor selling parts makes me reluctant to buy another one.

Meantime I've been trying the very latest openSUSE Tumbleweed releases on my "sticktop", or "emergency backup laptop", something I've been noodling around with for the past few months. The idea is that by combining an Intel Compute Stick, keyboard, and various other of the parts I carry around with me, and/or a hotel room LCD panel or VNC tablet, I can avoid having a SPoF for my preferred computing environment on the road.

It's running KDE5/Plasma under Tumbleweed, and as shown can even run completely off a large USB battery. The portable LCD panel (GeChic) also doubles up as a second monitor for my regular laptop.

Finally, thanks to all the people who have contributed entries to Linux Laptop pages, and in particular those whose links I have listed for convincing me that it was even worth trying to get Linux up on these nice pieces of hardware.