2007-12-10

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)

Background

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.

Installation

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.

Graphics

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?

Networking

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.

Peripherals

  • 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.)

Conclusions

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

22 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hey, just wondering, how do you find the 2920z? I've been looking at getting one, mainly for using XP, but possibly ubuntu too. I see that you've had problems with ubuntu, but otherwise, what do you think of the machine so far? Havnt seen any reviews so far, and you seem to be the only person on the net that has one!

spicifer said...

Yeah, it seems there aren't too many reviews on the net yet. At least not in English.

The machine is absolutely fine for me. Some people on Finnish language forums are complaining about the lack of Bluetooth (which I don't need), the looks (which I actually like) and the relatively inefficient 32 bit processor. Some also complain about the 3.5 h battery life and "the cheap plastic feel".

Some suggest it might be a better idea to buy the 2920 (without the Z), which is a bit more expensive but apparently has Bluetooth and a 64 bit processor. If you are going to run XP I imagine 32 bit processor is going to suffice nicely. XP was actually my second choice for OS, but I decided to try Linux and it actually runs very smoothly now.

For a relatively cheap 12" laptop this machine has quite a nice set of features, IMHO. The disaster called Vista, though, might not run very fast on this machine... But I'm happy with my choice.

Anonymous said...

Hello,

I have the same laptop but with OpenSuse on it.
For WLAN do you use ndiswrapper or Madwifi ?

spicifer said...

Hi,

ndiswrapper (cf. the third paragraph in "Installation"). I followed the instructions from http://wiki.gadz.org/Linux/LaptopAcer for Acer 5720.

Cyrille said...

Hello, I haven't succed with ndiswrapper but I advise you the reading of this ticket on madwifi ...
I recompile the driver and all is ok !
http://madwifi.org/ticket/1679
and here you can find the patched src, it's much easier :
http://snapshots.madwifi.org/special/madwifi-ng-r2756+ar5007.tar.gz

Henning said...

I have the same laptop and got sound fully working with a new Alsa driver from http://ftp.suse.com/pub/projects/alsa/snapshot/driver/


Wireless works fine for me with ndiswrapper using the net5211 driver. You have to disable ath_pci in the restricted manager. But I look forward in using the coming free driver. But I guess it won't be ready for Hardy.


If you got suspend to ram working I would like to hear how you did it.

The Hardy changelog for xserver-xorg-video-intel looks interesting:
* use xf86XVFillKeyHelperDrawable() to fix video playback with compositing enabled

You should install powertop and look at lesswatts.org - I saved about 45 minutes battery time.

spicifer said...

Hello Henning,
Thanks for the tip, it worked. The internal microphone doesn't seem to work, though... I wrote a short post based on your advice.

Also thanks to Cyrille for the suggestion. Since ndiswrapper works for me I haven't tried it, but I updated the post to include the link you suggested.

Sneikki said...

How did you manage to create the Vista recovery discs? The eRecovery crapplication seems only to create "snapshot backups".

spicifer said...

Hi,

As I don't have Vista here anymore, I can't check, but according to the manual you can create "factory default image" and "application backup" from the same app. If I recall correctly that's what I did. I guess the correct buttons are there somewhere...

Cyrille said...

Hello,
Webcam works for me now, let's try the last uvc-video driver ;-)
For me it's uvcvideo-kmp-default-r141_2.6.22.5_31-13.1 on Opensuse.
Now webcam works on skype 2 beta and amsn ;-) so cool and great image for this kind of camera ...
Unfortunatly, internal microphone doesn't work yet ....

Abhay kumar said...

I'm trying to get my acer crystal eye webcam(acer aspire 2920) in kopete. (I'm using gnome, but amsn doesn't support bi-directional a/v, and gaim doesn't do a/v yet. I've read that kopete works.)

In Kopete, when you go to setting-->configure-->devices, it is supposed to show the image for your webcam. For me, it just shows a weird green-and-black image and starts using 90-100% of my CPU (checked in the system monitor). I ran it from the terminal so I could see errors, and it repeats this error:

QPixmap::convertFromImage: Cannot convert a null image
QPixmap::convertFromImage: Cannot convert a null image
QPixmap::convertFromImage: Cannot convert a null image
QPixmap::convertFromImage: Cannot convert a null image

PeterLeder said...

nice very nice...
but i cannot download the wifi driver :-\
can u send it to me?

myspambog@spambog.com

or post a comment anywhere on my blog
http://jumanjisplace.blogspot.com

thank u very much

peter

spicifer said...

Hi,

It seems that the site that was offering the wifi driver has been taken offline. I am just now unable to locate my copy of the driver, but I'll keep looking. Meanwhile, you might want to have a go with the instructions at this website
http://www.slacky.eu/wikislack/index.php?title=Acer_aspire_5920_slackware_11#Wireless
Now, they are unfortunately in Italian, but there seems to be some links there to some drivers.

Another option is to search for some other drivers for other similar laptops and through trial and error locate ones that work.

I'm sorry I can't think of anything more useful at this time. :(

Christian said...

Hi spicifer,

great entry. Thank you very much. It helps me to set up my Aspire 2920 with Ubuntu 8.04 Hardy Heron.
I've the same trouble with the TV-Out. But I had a little success as I've followed the posting of nacho-wan on ubuntuforums.org: http://ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?t=9106&page=3
I've put the following lines to the Section "Device" in my xorg.conf

Option "monitor-VGA" "VGA"
Option "monitor-TV" "TV"
Option "monitor-LVCD" "LVCD"

After rebooting the computer I had a cloned screen on my TV, but it's monochrom. We can say, theoretically TV out is working but in this state it's not really useful. Hope this will help you a little bit to get your TV out working.

Regards,
Christian

spicifer said...

Christian,

Thank you very much for the interesting tip. I tried it on my 7.10 installation. When I connected my TV to the computer and rebooted, the screen blinked a few times more than normal and then the login screen was displayed, but it only covered part of my laptop screen. Then when I tried to login the screen went blank and nothing happened on the TV screen. After I disconnected my TV and restarted X everything worked normally.

I suspect that this may very well be due to the older Intel drivers on 7.10. I will be updating to 8.04 as soon as it is released and I have time to work out any unexpected kinks. (I've been using the beta on a few desktop machines, but not on this laptop.) I plan to write about this more in depth in the blog, and report also on whether I get the TV out working or not.

Thanks once again for the tip and good look with your Ubuntu installation!

spicifer said...

To those who have inquired about the wireless drivers:

Please see this post about how I got the wireless working. I welcome there any further comments about your experiences.

Christian said...

Hi,

I have translated my posting about me and my Hardy installation on the 2920 into english. Maybe you find it useful

http://www.imhorst.net/ubuntu-on-an-acer-aspire-2920/

Regards,
Christian

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RayCherng said...

This is the English version of the blog you mentioned
http://www.imhorst.net/ubuntu-on-an-acer-aspire-2920/

santi said...

Hi,

I just bought the 2920z from Verkkokauppa and it seems it doesn't have WLAN card. The control panel only shows the Broadcom Netlink Gigabit Ethernet adapter.

Was this the case for you? Or did yours come with WLAN card as well?

Thanks for the help!

spicifer said...

Hi santi,

I did indeed have internal WLAN in my 2920z. I'm just guessing here, but if you bought this one, it seems to have different specs from the one I bought, since it doesn't say anything about internal WLAN but only that it comes with an external WLAN PCI Card.

I read somewhere that Acer changes chipsets and such quite often. Interesting that they make so big changes, though...

santi said...

Thanks a lot for the prompt answer. Yes, I bought that one, and I thought that the card was "extra", not that I would need it. I can't believe it is 2008 and a laptop is shipped without WLAN...

I think that by putting "ExpressCard/54 korttipaikka" Verkkokauppa misled me to believe it came with a card. I don't think it is necessary to say that it has a slot for a card...