Dell Vostro 1520, Ubuntu 9.10/Fedora 11, Wireless & Promethean

I’ve been trying to get a working build of Linux for our new Dell Vostro 1520 laptops, and have hit on three problems (which I’ve now, I think, resolved)

1. Frequent keyboard/mouse lockups under Ubuntu 9.04 (Jaunty)
2. ActivStudio locks up under Ubuntu 9.04 (Jaunty) – no mouse clicks accepted
3. No wireless support under Ubuntu 9.10 or Fedora 11

I started with Ubuntu 9.04 (Jaunty) as this is an officially supported release by Promethean.
Hit a problem where I’d boot up and the keyboard and/or trackpad were unresponsive. Normally just the trackpad.

I managed to work around that – it’s well documented in various fora – by adding irqpoll to the grub boot options (/boot/grub/menu.lst) for the current kernel. (2.6.29, I think it was, from memory)

Got ActivStudio installed. All seemed great. Until I tried to teach a lesson. The board was very sluggish, stubborn to respond to writing, but only occasionally. I put it down to it being an old board. But then I found I could write on the board, but not click on any of the icons, or even close windows, etc. All very odd. Couldn’t find an obvious fix.

So, I tried to update to kernel 2.6.3x via several routes – first, just downloading a deb and installing on Ubuntu 9.04. No wireless support, and the promethean module wouldn’t compile either.

Ok, tried 9.10 beta, with 2.6.31 kernel. No wireless. Grr. Tried Fedora 11, still no wireless. I can’t say I was surprised, as they’re all based on the same kernel, and the change of behaviour is down to a rewrite of the wireless code in 2.6.3x, and NetworkManager, apparently.

So a bit of digging… And it looks to be a Dell specific bug – the wireless kill switch (rfkill) is reporting an incorrect status to NetworkManager, which assumes that therefore the wireless is disabled.

Well, that lead me to a Dell Firmware update for the Vostro 1520, to A03 – bugs fixed? “Fixed incorrect WiFi kill switch status”. Sounds promising. Oh, but you have to run the update from Windows… grr. So, I re-imaged my machine from our standard Windows build, which, fortunately, only takes 6-7 minutes on a gigabit connection. Installed firmware update.

Re-installed Ubuntu 9.10 beta.

Got Wireless! :-)

Went to Promethean, added the Ubuntu 9.04 deb repository to /etc/apt/sources.list

Installed activdriver, activtools, activinspire, activresources-core-en. Sat back. Rebooted. And then started using my whiteboard. :-)

All seems good so far in iwb on Linux land, with a few tweaks along the way to deal with my hardware oddities.