Dell D830 and 64-bit Ubuntu Linux 8.04

Purpose

In April 2008 I bought a Dell D830 to replace and aging HP zt3000. The HP laptop is out of warranty, has several cracks in its case, a non-working headphone jack, and has an occasional problem recognizing the AC adapter after it has been on battery power.

The new machine will also allow me to develop 64-bit emc2 for Ubuntu Hardy, hopefully allowing me to rededicate "tall" to its original intended role as a replacement server machine.

Update, 20100113: I'm still using the machine, but now running 64-bit Ubuntu Karmic Koala. Compiz works properly now, but performance is still low enough that I leave it off. I replaced the hard drive with a 128GB solid state drive too. My current beef with the system is that it is not adequately cooled; running CPU-heavy things like compiles or flash games can cause the CPU to throttle itself to control its temperature. Was this always the case but I didn't notice it for over a year? Or has the laptop's cooling ability worsened over time?

Update, 20100630: Now running Lucid. In May, I disassembled the machine to clean the fan. This greatly reduced the thermal problems and increased performance. The design of the fan+heatsink is to pull air in through the bottom and then pass it over the vanes of the heatsink and out the side. Unfortunately, this means any fur, hair, or dust sucked in will get stuck on the heatsink and slowly build up over time. The laptop has to be almost completely disassembled to access the heatsink and remove the built-up gunk.

Update, 20120119: Running Debian Squeeze these days. Have learned to vacuum the fan regularly; this is enough to keep it cool. Won't readily give this machine up, because 15.4" 1920x1200 screens are unobtainium on new laptops.

Update, 2013: I retired the laptop and traded it to Chris. Unfortunately, a few months later something internal failed and it no longer powers on.

Specs

The pertinent details are: lsusb.txt lshw.txt lspci.txt

Gripes

Dell offers an "Open Source" D830N laptop (FreeDOS media, no preinstalled OS), but their pricing structure consistently makes the D830 cheaper. Bluetooth is not offered as an option for the D830N, either. For these reasons, I ordered the machine preinstalled with XP Home.

Non-gripes

Reportedly, Hardy Heron will default to the iwl3945 driver which does not have the proprietary userspace daemon component. iwl3945 still has proprietary device firmware. (For their part, Intel maintain that proprietary device firmware is necessary to comply with regulatory restrictions imposed by the FCC)

Integrated Hardware

Pointing Devices

The pointing stick and the touchpad are separate devices. Can the two sets of buttons be remapped independently, giving 4 distinct physical buttons?

Because they come from separate devices, dragging with the touchpad button and the pointing stick for motion doesn't always work right. It seems that moving the stick with a touchpad button held down generates additional X button events. Unfortunately it feels very natural to use the stick together with the touchpad buttons.

Bluetooth

Unlike some on the internet, I experienced no problem detecting the D830's integrated bluetooth adapter, even though I never booted Windows. I have had success playing a short audio file to my a2dp headphones using mplayer -ao alsa:device=bluetooth and the following in ~/.asoundrc:
pcm.bluetooth {
    type bluetooth;
    device XX:XX:XX:XX:XX:XX
    profile "hifi"
}

Video

Ubuntu Hardy's video driver gets compiz+opengl wrong (opengl stays on top of all windows). Launchpad #96991

Under compiz, DVD playback framerate suffers seriously if it is not the topmost window.

I've chosen to disable the fancy Desktop Effects entirely, and of course there's a nice payoff in general responsiveness of the GUI.

Wireless

The Intel 3945 wireless chipset works out of the box with the iwl3945 driver.

Power Management

Suspend and Hiberate work out of the box. The neat gnome tools indicate that the laptop uses about 16-18W when mostly idle and running from battery. When updating packages, this spiked to 36W. Compiling software with -j2 was closer to 45W.

Ubuntu sometimes warns me that a suspend failed even when it was successful (i.e., the laptop showed the "breathing" power light).

RTAI real-time performance

The laptop's real-time performance is terrible with >1ms latencies. It's OK for testing whether an rtai kernel boots, but not for testing whether it has good realtime performance.

It's possible that if the rtai smi-disable module becomes available for amd64 that the realtime performance would be OK, but according to Intel, running with smi disabled is running out of spec, and the CPU might exceed its thermal design power. (this is true of all Intel CPUs, not just their mobile CPUs)

Compile Performance

Compiles emc2/sim in about 45 seconds, a bit faster than my AMD dual core desktop. Officially the fastest computer in the house.

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