Installing Fedora 8 on a Dell XPS M1330

I have just had the chance to use and work with a Dell XPS M1330 notebook. It is not as small and light as my old Toshiba portégé R200, but it has a slightly larger 13.1 inch wide screen and built in DVD burner. It came installed with Microsoft Vista. As my primary work currently requires Linux while still being able to run/use certain Microsoft based software, I decided to set it up dual boot. I like Fedora, so will try out the latest Fedora 8 version (currently in test 3, so things should not be that different when the final Fedora 8 comes out).

Summary: everything I tried worked with only small tweaking required - except sound. The latest alsa driver is required to get sound working robustly.

Update: 4 Nov 2007 (just before the Fedora 8 release): The latest kernel provided in the Fedora 8 distribution has the necessary alsa drivers to get the sound working – compiling the latest drivers should no longer be necessary with an up-to-date Fedora kernel.

Repartitioning and freeing up space

The installed Vista used all of the primary partitions. This is because it comes with a primary Vista partition, a "Dell Utility" partition (very small vfat), a 10 GB "recovery partition", and an extended partition containing "Media Direct" (allowing the laptop to be used as a media device booting into the XP based Media Direct). As I don't intent to use the laptop as a Media Direct device, I decided that one could go! That would allow an extended partition where I could place the Linux partitions I planed. You can probably delete the recovery partition as well.

To free up space in the main Vista partition, I booted into Vista and shrunk the file system. This is simply done by right clicking on the start menu "Computer" option and selecting "Manage". This pulls up a system management facility. Selecting the "Disk Management" in the left menu leads to a partition view of the disks. A right click on the vista partition and selecting "Shrink Volume" allows the partition to be shrunk by a maximum of 50%. This is currently fine for me - I may later use ntfresize to get more, but that can lead to additional complications requiring Vista to be repaired.

To delete the Media Direct partition, and use the freed space in a new extended partition I used the GParted Live CD. The version of the Live CD I had didn't give me a great graphical interface, but enough to do the job.

Installing Fedora 8

The route I took was to download the latest DVD iso image and boot off that. It was a very nice and clean install. The look and feel of the install environment (anaconda) has improved since Fedora 6/7. I used the partition tool during the install process to create custom Linux partitions on the extended space (I didn't use the default partitions as I prefer to create a home LVM volume that can survive multiple Fedora installs). Throughout the install I used most of the suggested defaults (such as grub install). After about 20 minutes the install finished and the system rebooted. I noticed that grub did not have the other/Vista option available for booting. This is easily solved (see below) and probably came about by using the defaults for grub. After the reboot, the "welcome" screen has the final tasks to finish off the install.

This first issue was the login screen (GDM) and the default gnome window environment. The M1330 has a wide screen with 1280x800 native resolution, however, the login screen only used 2/3 of the screen. When I logged in this was the same for the gnome panels, although the background image did cover the entire screen. The machine I have uses Intel GMA X3100 integrated graphics (these notebooks can also come with nvidia graphics) . This was correctly detected during the install and the i915 driver is being used. The problem arose because X thinks there is a TV connected to the system. This should be fixed upstream in X, but hasn't filtered down into Fedora yet? The workaround is to add the command

    xrandr --output TV --off
to /etc/gdm/Init/Default.

The Compiz Fusion desktop effects that come with Fedora 8 (but are not enabled by default) all work straight out of the box. I haven't tested things like wobbly windows, as they make me a little queasy, but everything else works well.

The sound is also integrated Intel. This too is correctly detected and the appropriate driver modules are installed and running. However, the sound test did not work. This appears to be a bug in the alsa drivers. As indicated in this blog, a patch to the hda-intel alsa driver is needed. Thankfully, the latest version of the alsa drivers (version 1.0.15) has the patch already applied. The hda-intel driver compiles as a kernel model without a problem. I then added the 5stack module option and after a module reload/reboot the soundcard test passes. This option can be set by adding the following line to /etc/modprobe.conf

    options snd_hda_intel model=5stack

Hopefully, the final release of Fedora 8 will have these later patched drivers?

The M1330 uses the Intel 3945abg chipset and Fedora 8 uses the iwl3945 driver by default for this (over the older ipw3945). The older driver is very stable, however with the NetworkManager running, the wireless is working fine with this new driver. The new driver also has the advantage of not requiring a user-space daemon.

Grub and Vista
To get the option of booting into Vista back, I edited the /etc/grub.conf file and added the following lines:

    title Microsoft Windows Vista
    rootnoverify (hd0,2)
    chainloader +1
Note, the device (hd0,2) depends on the location of the Vista partition.

Integrated webcam
The integrated webcam (either 0.3 or 2.0 megapixel, depending on the model's LCD backlight) requires the UVC driver. The latest version compiles and installs without a problem (it can be obtained using svn: svn:// Once the kernel module is installed, the driver is correctly detected and loaded on the next boot. I have only tested the 0.3MP camera with ekiga.

Other things
The wired ethernet works fine (using the tg3 driver) and I have not tried the bluetooth yet. The touch pad is a little sensitive, but this is adjustable with the synaptics driver options.