Ubuntu on the Dell mini 10 (1)
I recently purchased a Dell Mini 10 notebook. I’ve been wanting to get a netbook for some time, and I was planning to one of the Asus EEE series. However, looking at one at the local computer store, I found it a bit “plastic-y”. I’ve always heard that Dell computers have a good build quality, so one morning, on a whim, I ordered a Dell. I told the salesman that I had no use for Windows XP. He said there was no price on it, but gave me a discount of around 26 Euro. My suspicion is that Microsoft allows Dell to install XP for free.
Now that I have it, I’m a bit disappointed in the Dell’s build quality. I find the Mini 10 a bit plastic-y too. But then, I’m used to the solid feel of my PowerBook G4, and in build quality, nothing comes close to Apple I guess.
Apart from that, the Mini 10 has some really nice features, among others I really like the touchpad without buttons. From the Mac, I am used to using gestures on the touchpad, and I can reveal that it works nearly perfectly under Ubuntu 9.04. I also really like the keyboard, which is about the same size as my Cherry 4100 keyboard that I use on my workstations. In fact, everything works… except the graphics… but more on that later.
Initially, I was confused by the fact that Ubuntu recommends that you install the UNR version on all netbooks, but that is for the i386 architecture only, and I wanted to use lpia, because it’s optimized for the Atom processor and has been reported to run better, and give better battery life.
So instead of UNR, I chose to download the MID version of Ubuntu which installs lpia architecture packages.
I put the image file on an USB key following the instructions on the download page . I then booted up the Mini 10 with the pre-installed XP — just to make sure that it worked. When the XP installation came to the point where you have to accept the license, it felt REALLY good to hit the “No” button :-). The XP install process then rebooted the Mini 10 from the USB key.
So I installed the Ubuntu-MID version, zapping XP with 2 ext4 partitions (
/home plus 5Gb swap). Everything went very smooth and the Mini 10 sprung to life.
The MID version by default installs a very simple window manager; it seems to work fine but was unfamiliar to me (and after all, the Mini 10 is not MID device) so I installed ubuntu-desktop. It works very well. (I am actually a Kubuntu user, but KDE4 is not at all suited for the limited resolution on the notebook.)
Every worked out of the box: WiFi, bluetooth, sound, even the little camera. BUT, the machine runs at resolution 800 x 576 so images and fonts look a bit “squished”. The Mini 10 is based on the Poulsbo chipset and Intel’s GMA-500 graphics chip. There’s been a lot of chatter on the net on the lack of Linux drivers from Intel for these chips. You can google and see for yourself. The situation for Linux is pretty bad, since the Poulsbo chipset is appearing in more and more netbook computers.
To cut a long story short, X does not recognize the GMA-500 graphics chip, so it uses the VESA driver. The native resolution on the Mini 10 is 1024 x 576, but the VESA driver refuses to use that resolution. I have tried various things, i.e. specifying the modeline, but to no avail. X always returns to 800 x 576. So for now, I’ve settled and am using that resolution. Another thing is that there’s no acceleration and glxgears runs pathetically slow (25-30 fps) but the Mini 10 is perfectly usable as a netbook despite of this.
There’s an effort to get drivers for the Poulsbo chipset in shape, hopefully that will result in something soon.