mok0's world

Ubuntu on the Dell mini 10 (1)

Posted in Dell Mini 10, Ubuntu by mok0 on May 22, 2009

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 (/ and /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.


10 Responses

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  1. Elizabeth Krumbach said, on May 24, 2009 at 12:32

    Based on the models I’ve played with, the Dells are more plasticy than the eeepcs, but this makes them lighter so I’m happy with the trade-off (I have the Mini9).

  2. Andy said, on May 24, 2009 at 13:46

    You might be able to get a refund on the XP license – read that EULA you didn’t agree to, and see the part about refunds. If you google around, you will find plenty of stories from people about who they needed to talk to to get it.

  3. JKoenig said, on May 24, 2009 at 14:09

    Try the NBR, you won’t be disappointed. Everything should work including proper screen resolution. The only caveat will be reduced battery life on the order of about 20% compared to XP. Canonical is aware of this shortfall and is working on a solution for the Karmic (9.10) release.

  4. Phil Thane said, on May 24, 2009 at 18:55

    I’ve got a Dell Mini9 running Jaunty with Mac4Lin theming. Very cool and a very simple clean interface for a small screen. See here

  5. Phil Thane said, on May 24, 2009 at 18:57

    I’ve got Ubuntu Jaunty with Mac4Lin themes running very nicely on a Dell Mini 9. It’s a very cool GUI that works well on the small screen. See here:

  6. grege said, on May 24, 2009 at 23:33

    It is possible to make the video work, but does require a bit of advanced knowledge and a willingness to have a go.

    Install the packages and edit your xorg.conf to use Driver “psb”

    More detail in this forum

  7. Steve said, on July 4, 2009 at 03:05

    I tried to install the MID version on my Mini 10 and I’m getting stuck at this (initramfs) prompt…. any suggestions?

  8. […] Morten Kjeldgaard: Ubuntu on the Dell mini 10 (1) on Planet UbuntuTopics: Intel 80386, PowerBook G4 […]

  9. Alan Dacey said, on January 28, 2012 at 23:43

    I installed Kubuntu Natty on my wife’s Mini 10 and it had no problems at all besides the wireless not working out of the box. That didn’t take very long to fix though. The Plasma desktop for small screens (forgot the exact name) works quickly and and looks sharp. She runs about a million firefox windows at the same time and doesn’t notice any lag because of it.
    We originally got the netbook about 2 years ago and it had Ubuntu 8.10 installed. No more recent versions on the Dell repository either. When I couldn’t get some wireless software to compile for a Sri Lankan dongle because the kernel was so old I convinced her to intall a new KDE distro. It took her a short bit of time to adjust to the new eye candy but she really likes it now.
    I would recommend Kubuntu for a Mini 10 if XFCE doesn’t work out for you.

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