Update on sound and power saving

In an earlier post I wrote about the problems I had with sound in Ubuntu on my laptop. Well, "Henning" commented on it and suggested installing latest development snapshot of Alsa drivers, which I did. I then modified the option line I had added earlier to /etc/modprobe.d/alsa-base to "options snd-hda-intel model=acer". Now jack sensing and recording via the microphone jack work fine! No luck with the internal microphone, though. I'm not sure if I haven't just found the right settings or if it's not supported yet.

Henning also suggested this nice website lesswatts.org and the program powertop, which I promptly installed from Synaptic. I'll have a closer look at it when I get the time.

PS. I would like to thank those who have commented on my earlier post. If you have anything to add I hope I hear from you. Especially if you have any suggestions on how to get suspend to work.

Update 2008-04-26: ChrisSavery wrote a couple of interesting comments to this post about the built-in mic. I was unable to get it working, but perhaps someone else can give further advice?


My sound just died

I just installed an official kernel security update vie Ubuntu update feature, rebooted and when my system was back up I had no sound. Nice.

This may have been due to the fact that I have manually installed newer Alsa to get the sound working. Well, I recompiled the drivers and rebooted. Now I have sound again. I know it isn't easy to support hardware, especially when it's new or you have to reverse-engineer it. And I certainly don't now what is the case with my sound drivers. Still, it would be nice if the end user didn't have to recompile drivers, ever.


Ubuntu Hardy: what I want to see

The next Ubuntu edition, codenamed "Hardy Heron" is coming out next spring. It is a so called Long Term Support edition. From my point of view, when I evaluate my experiences with my new Acer laptop, this is what I'm hoping to see. This is mainly stuff that isn't up to the developers of Ubuntu but to the developers upstream who make the drivers and such. I'm just hoping new versions make it to Hardy.
  • Working suspend. ACPI-support is a mess. I think there are at least some improvements planned, I really hope they fix the issues I'm having.
  • Updated sound drivers. I have actually already tried some updated ALSA drivers, which did fix some of my problems. The rest, maybe later.
  • Compiz and graphics drivers. There will be a new version of X11 in Hardy and with that some new graphics drivers from Intel. This may or may not fix some of the issues I had with Compiz.
It seems that my problems are common so there is at least some hope of getting them (partially) addressed. As it is often the case, Linux support for new hardware improves gradually in time. It can sometimes be hard to support hardware when the manufacturer releases only Windows binary drivers. So I'm waiting patiently.


About the Load_Cycle_Count issue

Some time ago there was a post on Slashdot suggesting that there might be an issue with the way some laptop HD's handle power management. There is a page on Ubuntu wiki explaining this issue. I'm not sure if this is something to be worried about or not. I did however notice my HD making this constant clicking sound when the machine was idle. Something is probably trying to access the drive every few seconds so that whenever it spins down it must spin up almost right away.

There are problems with the suggested fixes. Nevertheless I decided to give them a go as the rate of clicking was at least annoying. I followed the instructions given in the wiki for the "99-fix-park.sh" workaround. I also tried the command measuring the count. After the fix the count does indeed increase less rapidly. Since using the workaround I haven't noticed any more clicking from the drive. But it seems there is increased heat output now.

If I understand correctly lower values of Advanced Power Management level setting (option -B of hdparm) park drive heads more often and produce less heat while higher values cause less frequent drive head parking. The original workaround suggests using 254, which provides least frequent drive parking. I tried several different values but settled to 195, which seems to be about the lowest value for me that doesn't cause constant HD clicking.

I think I may have to keep an eye on this issue and see if there is some compromise or a better fix some place.


Acer Aspire 2920Z and Ubuntu 7.10 Gutsy : installation notes

This is an informal case study of installing Ubuntu 7.10 Gutsy on my new Acer Aspire 2920Z notebook. The computer came with pre-installed Vista. I found this to be enough of a push to give Linux a try. I suspect a lot of what is written here applies also to Aspire 2920 and 2420, which are quite similar to 2920Z.

As my Linux skills are far from perfect, this is not really a how-to but a document of my learning experience. I have had the machine only for a few days and I will update the situation in case I get any progress. I would also appreciate to find out about the experiences others have had with these notebook models either here or on the Ubuntu forums.

Update 2008-05-02: I've written some notes on my upgrade to Ubuntu 8.04 LTS and updated this post to reflect that. Summary: upgrade fixed Compiz, but other issues remain.
Update 2008-07-22:See this blog by Christian Imhorst for more on installing 8.04 on 2920.
Update 2008-10-11:See here for my notes on upgrading to Ubuntu 8.10.

Still Remaining Issues

Suspending and hibernation are not working. These are the most serious issues. Compiz messed up video playback until I upgraded to 8.04.

The Computer

Acer Aspire 2920Z, Intel Pentium Dual CPU T2330 @ 1.60GHz, Intel GMA X3100, 2 GB, 160GB, 12.1".

Here's some of the more interesting parts of lspci:
00:00.0 Host bridge: Intel Corporation Mobile PM965/GM965/GL960 Memory Controller Hub (rev 03)
00:02.0 VGA compatible controller: Intel Corporation Mobile GM965/GL960 Integrated Graphics Controller (rev 03)
00:02.1 Display controller: Intel Corporation Mobile GM965/GL960 Integrated Graphics Controller (rev 03)
00:1b.0 Audio device: Intel Corporation 82801H (ICH8 Family) HD Audio Controller (rev 03)
02:00.0 Ethernet controller: Broadcom Corporation NetLink BCM5787M Gigabit Ethernet PCI Express (rev 02)
04:00.0 Ethernet controller: Atheros Communications, Inc. AR5006EG 802.11 b/g Wireless PCI Express Adapter (rev 01)


Although I have been using Linux at work for several years, the last time I tried installing it at home was about five years ago. The results were not very impressive. After that Linux has matured a lot, so I was eager to see if I could eventually dump Windows altogether. This was made easier by the fact that I have been using open source software and Cygwin on Windows for a long time, so many of my favourite programmes (Firefox, Octave, Eclipse, ...) were also available for Ubuntu. I must admit that I kept my old Windows XP machine around, as my previous experiences with Linux laptops had left me prepared to do quite a bit of tinkering to get the laptop working fully.


First of all, I created DVD's in Vista for system recovery. Just in case something goes terribly wrong. The process was both nerve wrecking and time consuming thanks to the crapware Acer had pre-installed on the machine. Apparently supplying real OEM disks would have been too much of a trouble.

Gutsy Live CD booted OK, but there were some random glitches on the desktop screen. Opening screen settings fixed that. Installation went with no noteworthy issues. I did not want to keep my old Vista partition, so I didn't have to think about partitioning the drive. I am not sure though if Acer's hidden partitions were successfully wiped out. The one annoyance was caused by the lack of live Internet connection during the installation. Because of this the installer disabled repositories in /etc/apt/sources.list. I uncommented the repositories after installation by hand so I could download updates once my ethernet cable was connected.

Ubuntu installed automatically the restricted atheros drivers for wifi, but wifi still did not work. I installed ndiswrapper and downloaded drivers for the similar Acer 5720Z laptop. These did work. (Update 2008-05-02: the preceeding link seems to be dead. I have been able to partially reconstruct the instructions and find links to the drivers.) I also tried some XP drivers directly from Acer's web site but had no luck with them and didn't bother trying for long after I got wifi working. (Update 2007-12-23: If you have problems with wifi you might want to have a look at this Madwifi support ticket. Thanks for suggesting this in the comment section to "cyrille".) "Experimental" Intel graphics drivers installed automatically, but apparently the Intel chipset in my notebook, combined with Compiz and buggy Gnome resolution utility results in a quite volatile mix, which caused the manifestation of several problems, detailed below.

I installed the common restricted extras, so MP3's, Flash videos and such work. Installing Java broke programme installer somehow. This was fixed with the a terminal command suggested by the installer.

Later on I also tried Feisty Live CD to see how it would boot. It didn't. Rather it game me just a BusyBox prompt. Nice to see that things have move forward since the last release.


First I didn't get Compiz working at all. After some googling I discovered that my gfx chip is on the Compiz Hardware Blacklist. I got Compiz working by doing what the page suggests (ie. setting SKIP_CHECKS=yes in ~/.config/compiz/compiz-manager). Trying the sleep mode with Compiz on broke something in the gfx drivers or X configuration, I had to reinstall gfx drivers and boot to fail safe and such before the Intel drivers could do 1280x800 again. Unfortunately I discovered that Compiz broke video playback completely. VLC complained about lack of gfx memory. I tried reconfiguring X, explicitly setting gfx memory to 300 MB. This time VLC tried to begin video playback, but them died with the same error message. Same thing with MPlayer (error: X11 error: BadAlloc (insufficient resources for operation)?,?% 0 0). (This problem seemed to have same similar symptoms as described here and here. I tried what the other page suggests, setting Option "LinearAlloc" "8160" in xorg.conf. It didn't work.) After these problems I decided to turn Compiz off. Video playback and 3D apps work fine now. These issues with Compiz were only resolved after upgrading to 8.04.

Dual monitor setup didn't work out of the box, rather it messed up X pretty decently. I had to reconfigure X again and try some other stuff as well. By this time my xorg.conf file and all of its backups (xorg.conf.*) were getting pretty looped. Googling around I found a page describing the procedure of getting dual view working with xrandr. The page also suggested tossing gnomes display manager out of the window and, as I was getting pretty fed up with it, I was happy to comply. So it was time to start reading about manually configuring xorg.conf and then trying xrandr to get the display working.

This approach worked OK and I was able to set up dual view. The problem is Gnome, which forces toolbars initially on the external screen for no good reason. Also, the size of the virtual screen is apparently quite limited so I was unable to set the monitors side by side virtually Only one above the other worked. Dual view is an important feature for me, so getting this working was a priority. It's a shame the setup wasn't more intuitive. Also the results could be better, especially Gnome performed inadequately. Fortunately Ubuntu 8.04 fixed a lot of these problems.

Some other pages I found Informative:

Power management / ACPI

  • Closing the lid turns the monitor off. This is apparently an automatic hardware feature, as it works even after I turned it off from Gnome.
  • LCD brightness setting in Gnome Power Management works only in the increments of 10 %. Ie. values like 55 % or 85 % just set the LCD brightness to 100 %.
  • Resuming hibernation kind of worked at first. Then after resuming I seemed to have lost at least the sound. Now it doesn't work at all, apparently not enough swap space.
  • Resuming suspend doesn't work. Machine apparently tries to turn itself on but then freezes. Working power management, suspend mode is important for laptops, so I'm disappointed this is not working. I tried numerous things to get suspend working, among them information on these pages:
One of the things tried was installing s2ram (see the page at opensuse.org) which was a lot easier to understand than standard Gutsy suspend configuration or pm-tools. However, none of the options presented at the web site worked. I tried running them from the failsafe command prompt selected from GRUB menu. In every case the laptop refuses to resume from suspend. Instead it just turns the power led and fan on. Caps lock is not working. The only exception is option -s which occasionally (1/3 of the time) got me back to the command prompt with the error message: "Function not supported? Switching back to vt1". I tried running s2ram from a minimal shell by adding "rw init=/bin/bash" to the kernel line in GRUB settings. Now "s2ram -f" resumed to the command prompt, but apparently not completely successfully, since the terminal seemed to be only partially the same as before suspending (at least the font was different). After this I also tried pm-suspend, which seems to work as s2ram. I also tried s2ram after downgrading to an earlier kernel that some claimed would might fix suspend issues. It did not help.

Interestingly, rebooting does not work either. If I choose to reboot from the Gnome shutdown menu, the laptop freezes in the "Acer" boot screen. If I want to reboot I have to shut down the machine completely and then turn it on manually.

I see from the Ubuntu forums that a lot of people are having problems with suspending, so I can't say I'm surprised. Since the machine almost makes it back from the minimal shell, there clearly is some potential here to get suspend working, but I'm not succeeding. What gives?


At one point after installation I relocated and my WLAN configuration changed. Unfortunately there were problems setting up the wireless connection with my D-Link router. I was able to ping the router and some websites, but about 20 % of the pings didn't return. Looking at the router logs I discovered that the wireless connection was hanging up every few seconds. This made Internet "not work", ie. surfing is impossible. It turned out this was due to the default encryption used by the router WPA/WPA2. Once I changed the same encryption to both the router and my laptop it worked fine.

Home network. I had to transfer files from my old Windows desktop to my laptop. I tried setting up the laptop as SMB server. The XP box was able to see it all right, but I was unable to access it at all. This is still unresolved and I have no interest in debugging Samba configuration files... In the mean time, I found a much simpler answer to file transfer. I typed "sudo apt-get install ssh" in Ubuntu which installed the ssh server. After this I was able to connect to the laptop with WinSCP and transfer all the files I needed. I for example transferred my Firefox bookmarks and Pidgin configuration files. Since I already had Cygwin on XP it was relatively easy to set up ssh server there too, so I could browse files on my desktop from Nautilus. This turned out to be much simpler than setting up SMB.

I also tried TightVNC to see if I could easily get remote desktop working on XP. Unfortunately I experienced frequent random lockups on XP when connecting from Linux. Connecting with the VNC Java applet from Firefox was the most stable solution though.


  • Web camera works using the KDE program Kopete and Ekiga, though Kopete was the only one to automagically get the settings right. In Ekiga I had to change the device type to V4L2 manually. Other programs, apparently the ones using original V4L, did not work at all. This is a shame, I would have expected at least Camorama to understand V4L2.
  • DVD-burner and CD-burner are untested.
  • TV-OUT seems not to work. (See Christian's comment to this post, though, for more information on this.)
  • USB sticks, mice and such seem to work. External CompactFlash reader works.
  • Synaptic touch pad works. I haven't tried configuring its sensitivity though. The default setting is OK, but it could be a little less sensitive I guess.
  • I plugged in Logitech game pad, which was recognised by joystick calibration program, but did not work with any games I tried.
  • Internal speakers worked, but headphone jack wasn't not recognized. Sound still came through internal speakers and there was no sound from headphones. Internal microphone seemed to record only static. External microphone jack was apparently not recognised. I followed instructions on Hda Intel soundcards at Ubuntu website. I installed the latest version of ALSA using "3stack" as the model identifier, as that was the only one available for ALC268. This got me a bunch of new sliders in Alsamixer. Playing with them I got sound from the headphones. Still no jack sensing though. And the microphones still do not work. I suspect that ALSA does not yet support this model and this is something I hope will change in the future. (Update on sound 2007-12-30: jack sensing and line recording work now, see this post.)
  • Volume wheel works. Extra keys, such as wlan on/off and web browser start seem to work in Gnome, although their indicator leds seem not to.
  • Memory card slot not tested
  • 56k modem not tested
  • (Update 2007-12-23: I have now also tested my Canon Digital Ixus V2 camera and it worked right out of the box! This was a very pleasant surprise.)


Since the last time I tried installing it Linux has matured a lot for sure. I was surprised by the relatively few serious issues I had with the installation. As expected, most problems, although numerous, were minor annoyances having to do mostly with incomplete device drivers.

By far the biggest disappointment were the problems with power management. One of the nicest features of a notebook computer is the ability to just open the lid anywhere and have the machine up and running within seconds. I'm really hoping Ubuntu gets this fixed as soon as possible. Hopefully Hardy will have power management that actually works for most people. This is such a serious issue that I am not comfortable recommending Ubuntu to anyone less technically inclined, at least not for laptops. Nevertheless, for me it is fine and it seems that this machine will replace my Windows box as my number one machine very soon and I'm hoping to be completely Windows free at home at some point in the future. It may not be this year, but I sure as hell hope it won't take another ten years.

Update: I created threads in English and in Finnish on the Ubuntu forums about the remaining problems, because I hope there might be someone there who knows how to solve them. If you have some suggestions but you prefer replying in the forum threads instead of this blog then please feel free to do so.
TuxMobil - Linux on Laptops, Notebooks, PDAs and Mobile Phones Linux On Laptops


Some motivation

Erm, hello.

A week ago I bought a laptop. I then installed Linux on it. That didn't go completely smoothly, which was not surprising considering that the model was quite new. I decided to write down some notes on the installation in the hope that they may benefit others who own the same laptop.

These notes had to be published somewhere and I came to the conclusion that a blog might be the best alternative. So here we are. Initially I am going to write here about the laptop, maybe also about computers and technology in general. Later on I might write about other things as well, but I haven't really thought about that yet. Who knows, maybe I'll even use this blog for incomprehensible ramblings ("w00t!") and inane rants ("Wake up sheeple!"), keeping with the best traditions of the blogosphere. Provided that I first go insane, of course.

Post scriptum: As English isn't my native language, I feel I must apologise in advance for all the bad English you are about to see here. I hope it doesn't bother you too much. But enough about that, moving on.