Linux on Compaq Presario F560US

Note: This is a long boring blog post. It details my frustration of getting this all to work. If you don’t care and just want to get to where I tell you exactly how to successfully install Linux on this computer, click here.

I haven’t done a tech post in quite a while, so here is one that will hopefully help someone out. A friend of mine recently got a new notebook computer, and the particular model was extremely inexpensive, but seemed to have decent specs regardless, at least for a Linux notebook. The Compaq Presario F500 series sports an NVidia graphics controller, a 1.8GHz AMD processor and 512MB of memory, which can be upgraded to 2GB. This seemed perfect to replace his aging Toshiba Satellite that we upgraded all the up to 512MB of memory and still barely putted along at ridiculously slow speeds, regardless of which operating system we put on there and attempted to optimize. So given the very low price of the new notebook, which was even less expensive than the Asus Eee PC’s, I recommended it. It came with Vista Basic Edition on it, but armed with a Linux disc, we were able to resolve that bug very quickly.

The timing coincided with Ubuntu’s 7.10 Gutsy Gibbon release, so we decided to put that on there. It got about half way through loading the installer before it hung. Googling around through the Ubuntu Forums led to the conclusion that that particular version of Ubuntu wasn’t going to work very well. Most forum threads indicated that it would need some kernel boot parameters to function, namely “nolapic” and “noapic”. Well, these didn’t help us much further either. Most of the Google results were for the F500 series of notebooks, but perhaps the sub-model F560US was yet a little different. OpenSuse didn’t seem to want to load up either and the only operating system that would even install on this thing was Ubuntu Feisty Fawn 7.04. So we went with that, with the “nolapic noapic” boot parameters for GRUB.

In the meantime, I decided to switch from Gutsy Gibbon to OpenSuse 10.3 on my own notebook, since the KDE implementation of Gutsy seemed to have some pretty bad bugs in the network manager that were very annoying. My friend really liked the look and feel of Suse over Ubuntu, so he asked me if we could put it on his Presario. I figured it was worth another try, since I didn’t want him to be stuck with Ubuntu Feisty until the end of time on that brand new notebook. This past weekend I decided to tackle the project again to see what I could come up with. Faced again with the installer hanging at various points throughout the boot sequence, I found that what finally worked was adding “acpi=off noapic” to the kernel boot parameters in GRUB. I was all excited that it was working until I got the system all installed and set up and tried tackling the wireless card. The notebook has a Broadcom chipset of some sort normally sold in Dell notebooks, so there is plenty of documentation online about how to maybe get it to work with the native bcm43xx driver and extracted firmware from the Windows driver as well as many indications that NDiswrapper would work great. Lets just say that after many hours of trial and error and troubleshooting, I realized that having the “acpi=off” boot parameter was not going to allow the wireless card to function regardless of what driver I was using. After a few more hours of googling and trying every boot option that I could think of that had to do with IRQ and ACPI, it just would not boot at all without “acpi=off”. It was either no wireless or no booting at all with this thing. I decided to give up for the day. I gave my friend an ethernet cable and told him I would put Ubuntu Feisty back on there the next day for him. Of course, as most people that know me will tell you, I don’t give up easily when it comes to computers and I have a gut feeling that it should work.

I decided to start over from scratch with Ubuntu Gutsy again. Mostly because there is a lot of community documentation available for Ubuntu and I know the workings of a Debian system a little better than I do Suse and I figured I would install a command line only system and mess with it until I got it all working. If I could get Gutsy working on it, then I could use what I had learned to get OpenSuse 10.3 on it, like my friend wanted. Again I was able to successfully install and run the system by using the “acpi=off” boot parameter and again the wireless card couldn’t bind to IRQ0 with that setting and I was back at square one. But now I just had a command line system and was able to reboot quickly and get to testing really quickly with every different boot parameter and system setting I changed.

At some point I finally found the answer I was looking for. After literally just trying random boot parameters in conjunction with others and by themselves I discovered that the system boots AND runs AND the wireless card works if you use the following boot parameters:

noapic irqpoll nosmp

That was it. It worked great. I was able to bring up the wireless interface (so far didn’t have a working driver/firmware in there, but I didn’t get any more IRQ errors from dmesg) So I rebooted a few times, added the lines to GRUB permanently, installed the KDE desktop and ran a bunch of tests to see if I could get the system to hang. It didn’t. It worked like it was supposed to. So now back to installing OpenSuse. Well, I didn’t want to go through the entire Suse install process, which takes forever compared to Ubuntu just to find out that my boot parameters didn’t work for Suse, I decided to try the LiveCD that Suse has now. I booted it up (with my boot parameters) and it came up nicely. I was convinced that it would work, and as I was about to pop out the live CD and insert the install CD, I noticed that the Live CD had an “Install” option. I gave it a shot. It actually worked. Upon rebooting halfway through the install process, I added in the boot parameters again and when the system was finished I went into the Boot Loader settings in YaST and added the boot parameters in there. That way I don’t have to enter them each time I boot the computer. If you install using the regular installer CD, when the first menu comes up if you just add in the boot parameters, I think the installed system will remember them for you and you don’t have to edit anything in the YaST settings. I think the LiveCD has a few bugs that the regular install CD doesn’t have. I also had trouble enabling community repositories in YaST, which doesn’t seem to be an issue when you install using the regular CD.

One more thing I noticed: Don’t install the Broadcom firmware from YaST. In fact don’t install it at all. Blacklist the bcm43xx driver and use NDiswrapper. The bcm43xx driver, once the firmware is loaded, causes the entire system to slow down to a crawl and it doesn’t work. So, here is the install process for getting OpenSuse 10.3 working on a Compaq Presario F560US model:


Installation Guide

  1. Insert CD and boot.
  2. When you see the menu to choose which installation type you want to do, choose the regular installation, but before pressing Enter, type: “noapic irqpoll nosmp” without the quotes. Those three words should be at the bottom of the GRUB menu in the Options line. Hit Enter.
  3. Go through the graphical installer. It is pretty straight forward and self-explanatory. Go ahead and accept most defaults as they are. I would recommend setting up networking and everything and getting updates with a regular ethernet wired connection during the install process.
  4. Once it is finished, go to YaST (Administrator Settings). Go to System and click on “Boot Loader”. Click the first item and click “Edit”. Make sure that you see “noapic irqpoll nosmp” in the Options line. If they are not there, add them.
  5. While still in YaST, click on Sofware and then choose “Community Repositories”. Make sure that the main repositories as well as the nVidia and any other ones you think you might want are checked and click Finish. After they are done being set up, click on “Software Repositories” in YaST and make sure that all the repositories you selected are enabled and make sure that the “openSUSE-10.3-OSS-KDE 10.3″, which is the CD or DVD, is disabled.
  6. Click on “Software Management” in YaST, and search for “nvidia” and choose “nvidia-gfxG01-kmp-default” and “x11-video-nvidiaG01″ to install. Then search for “ndiswrapper” and choose it to install. Click “Accept” and let it finish the installation.
  7. Google for “Dell R151517.EXE” and download that file from Dell’s download site. Open a terminal and navigate to the directory where the file was downloaded. Type: “unzip R151517.EXE”. This will probably spill files all over the place, so you might want to move that file into a directory that you can easily delete later. Once it is done unzipping, type in the following series of commands:

su -

(enter your root password)

cd /home/user/directory/where/you/unzipped/the/file/

cd DRIVER/

ndiswrapper -i bcmwl5.inf

ndiswrapper -m

echo blacklist bcm43xx >> /etc/modprobe.d/blacklist

echo ndiswrapper >> /etc/modules

reboot

Now, if everything went smoothly, when your computer boots back up, you should see the nVidia logo flash across the screen right before you log in. Once you are logged in, you should be able to click on the KNetworkManager icon in the system tray and see your wireless networks. If you didn’t see the nVidia logo before you logged in, edit the file /etc/X11/xorg.conf as root and find the word ‘nv’ and change it to ‘nvidia’ and restart the X Server or reboot again. Hopefully someone will be helped by this guide and not have to go through the many hours of trial and error to get this notebook working nicely with Linux.

Glühwein and Grog

I had a couple of pleasant surprises the past few days. A good friend of mine traveled all the way to Munich from Amsterdam to visit me on my birthday, and the following day a nice dinner and birthday cake was made for me. Yesterday we were walking through the Englischer Garten and it was a crisp cold foggy day. As we were walking, we came across a little stand selling drinks and snacks in the middle of the park. We were overwhelmed with joy, when we saw that their menu included Glühwein. Of course we had to stay and have a cup of it. An even greater surprise was when we were sitting and enjoying the Glühwein, when we took another look at the menu and realized that they had listed Grog!! Since we only know grog from old pirate tales, it was clear that we had to drink up the Glühwein and order some grog. It was actually extremely good and the perfect drink to accompany a cold day.

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My Interview

There is a 9-year-old kid blogging about his life here. He started a project of interviewing a bunch of different people, with the goal of interviewing 100 different people around the world, famous and not, so that he can then publish a book with the interviews. I volunteered to let him interview me some time ago, and it was finally my turn. So check it out here.

Travel Blog

My good friend Luke P. has started a Travel Blog since his arrival in Munich as a collaborative blog among our group of friends.  I’ve decided to post my travel experiences over there.  You can find it at http://besttravelblogevar.wordpress.com/.

Countdown to Oktoberfest!

I drove by the Theresienwiese yesterday to check things out, and all the beer tents are up, the rides are set up, in fact they were testing one of the roller coasters as I drove by.  This means it is close. In fact, only two more days!!!  On Saturday morning I’ll be down there with millions of others to try to be one of the first to get an Oktoberfest Mass of Beer once the Mayor taps the first keg at noon and the beer tents open up for business!

Meet Molly

Before I moved to the States back in ’96, I used to have a cat and was forced to leave it with a neighbor when I moved, since I think it would have been hard for it to adjust to a new environment. I had every intention of getting a new kitten once I got there, but for some reason or another, it just never happened. I always told myself that once I graduated college and got my own apartment and everything, I would adopt a little kitten, because they are just so cute and provide great companionship.. especially if you live by yourself half-way across the world from everyone you know…

Since I am finally half-way settled into my new apartment in Munich, I decided it was time to adopt a kitten. Her name is Molly. She is very cute. At first glance, she looks looks completely black, but she actually has gray stripes. Her exact birthday is unknown to me, but I’m going to go ahead and set it on July 1st. I adopted her from a farm north of town where she would have had an otherwise short and miserable life. Karen helped me pick out the name, because I am terrible with thinking up good names and someday, hopefully, it will be her cat too. :)

New Job

I’ve been working as a freelancer for the past 6 weeks since my arrival in Germany and yesterday I decided to take a real job.  I made the 5-hour train ride all the way to Hamburg to meet the new boss and sign a contract and then rode all the way back.  So starting next month I am what the Germans call, an “Angestellter”, meaning that I am employed.  This makes a lot of things significantly easier, since it isn’t really a problem now to get a work visa, etc.

The apartment is coming along.  I finally got some furniture this past weekend and my clothes washer-dryer unit is pretty neat, as it is just one unit that washes AND dries my clothes.  Can’t complain about that.  I’ve obtained some dishes and made a few trips to the local Ikea store to get ideas about furniture.  I’ve got just about everything I need, except I still have no tables at all, no desk, no coffee table, nothing.  So for now my work consists of sitting on my couch with my laptop computer on my lap.

After waiting 3 weeks for my internet service to be connected and activated, I finally received a letter from the internet service provider saying that they cannot fulfill my requested service contract for some unknown reason, so it looks like I have to go with someone else for service.  It is kind of ridiculous that I have to wait so long for a DSL connection in this country.  The house is wired and everything.  They should be able to flip a switch and send me a bill.  I guess things just move slowly in this country.

That is all for now.

Mead and No Seatbelts Required

I’ve made it to Germany and I finally received my luggage back from the airline after they conveniently managed to lose all of it and spend 4 days finding it and causing significant damage to it. But I’m not bitter. It’s just funny how once they lose your luggage, they pool all their resources together, get on this huge tracking system, find the luggage, get it sent on the next plane directly to the destination, and personally deliver it to your house, no matter how far away you are from the airport by the time they find it. That is excellent service, I must say. A funny thought crossed my mind.. what would happen if they put only half of that energy and those resources into just not losing it in the first place? Oh, they would obsolete their luggage tracking department and put people out of jobs. That makes sense.

Anyways, so I’ve been in Munich for about two weeks, and I decided I should visit my brother in Prague this weekend. This is always a fun experience, because i always experience something new when I go to Prague. I tried mead for the first time. That was great. How can one not appreciate fermented honey! It was a little on the sweet side, but definitely worth trying if you come across it! Secondly, I found out that in Prague, there is no requirement to wear a seatbelt. This is a little unnerving, when I imagine that everyone in the entire city is driving around without a seatbelt on. I took a cab from the train station to my brother’s place and got the strangest look from the cab driver when I put on my seatbelt. All the cars have seatbelts… they just aren’t required. And nobody that I saw was wearing a seatbelt. That is definitely strange. Even the cab drivers, who tend to drive a car for a living, don’t wear them. Another really strange thing I noticed here, was when you buy a bag of potato chips, you get the same brands and other ones than you find in American grocery stores, only the bag is a lot smaller, but you get the same amount of chips. That’s right, they don’t package up 3 gallons of air for every 5 potato chips. What a country!

I’ll head back to Munich tonight so I can get back to work. I have a busy week ahead of me with getting into the German health care system, filling out forms for the Aufenthaltsamt (Immigration Bureau) and hopefully getting into my new apartment.

6122 Days…

That is how many days I have waited, looked forward to, and thought yesterday would never come. I still clearly remember my very first day of school. I entered the 1st grade at Riemerling Grundschule in the outskirts of Munich, Germany on September 11th, 1990 at the ripe young age of 6 years old. Every single day for 6122 days between now and yesterday, I looked forward to that day, in which I could finally say I am done. 6122 days of dreading the grueling torture that is school.

I have struggled through math class, learned to write perfect handwriting with an ink fountain pen, learned, forgot, and re-learned the rules of grammar in English and mastered the German language, as well as gained a solid grasp on the basics and fundamentals of the Russian language, made and lost many good friends, moved many times and attended 8 different schools between 1st and 12th grade, attended college for 6 years, at two separate colleges through 5 different majors, accumulated over 300 college credits and finally, finally walked across the stage yesterday as a diploma was handed to me in front of my father, mother, stepfather, uncle, grandmother, some very close friends, and most importantly, my girlfriend, Karen, who has conquered my heart. Indeed yesterday can count to one of the greatest days of my life. No longer will I be dreading class tomorrow or the essay due next week. I have finally achieved a status in my life that I have been longing for for 6122 days. What comes next?

Tomorrow morning I will leave what has been my home for the past 11 years and embrace what has been my home for many years before that. I will be flying into Munich after a long flight and jump right into work. I am overwhelmed with sadness and joy at the same time. Joy for finally finishing something of significance in my life. Joy for going back to my favorite place on earth, for getting to see my little sister, and my brother and some close friends. Sadness for leaving behind my mom and some other close friends, and most importantly, my girlfriend, with whom I have fallen in love with.

It has definitely been an adventure, and for the first time in 6122 days I feel that I am truly free and the world is just another adventure waiting to be explored. There is nothing holding me back from pursuing my dreams and my future. I have succeeded. I have graduated. I am done. I am now Alumni. However, if the University thinks I am going to join their Alumni Association and give them even more money, they are definitely mistaken. I am already in the possession of the most expensive piece of paper I have ever seen, I don’t need another. ;)

Deutschland, ich komme!

I have made the decision to return to the place of my upbringing after I graduate from Oregon State University.  Approximately one month from now I will be walking at my commencement ceremony and two short days later I will be boarding an airplane to embrace my new home in Munich, Germany.

This is going to be a rather interesting adventure for me.  Although I grew up in the Munich area, I left there when I was only 12 years old and in the past 11 years that I have spent in the US, I have, for all intents and purposes, become very americanized.  I have visited Munich many times since moving to the US, but it has only been as a tourist.  I have spent the last 5 years or so brushing up my German skills and will be receiving a Bachelor of Arts degree in German (language and culture/history/literature) this June.  I won’t be going through the culture shock experienced by most expatriates, however this is indeed going to be a major change in my life.

I have done a lot of soul-searching throughout my time in College.  If nothing else, I have learned a lot about myself.  In studying German, I have learned a great deal about the English language.  In studying German culture I have learned a great deal about the American culture.  It’s funny how that happens.  In drinking American beer, I have learned to really appreciate German beer. ;)

When looking back over the last 6 years since graduating high school, my first thought is that I didn’t really learn anything at University.  It is just a huge bureaucratic mess that tries to shuffle as many students through it as possible so they can take our money.  I definitely didn’t end up where I started out.  I have changed my major more times than some people change their clothes in a week.  I have changed my views on life many times and my interests have changed significantly from when I first started.  So looking back and realizing that I spent an enormous amount of money on a degree that probably won’t relate much to my chosen career path at first is a little disheartening.  But taking a step back from this initial thought, I realize that I wouldn’t go back to change any part of it, given the chance.  I have learned a great deal about Business, Electrical Engineering, Computer Science, and Liberal Arts.  But mainly, I have learned about myself.  I now know what I don’t want to do with my life.  I’m still not sure what I do want to do, but I know where I want to start out.  That is the first big step.  It took me 6 years to figure that out, but along the way I have met some amazing people.  In the last few years I have made friendships that will probably last a lifetime.  I wouldn’t trade that for anything.

So in the last month that I am here, I have really taken some time to think about life in America.  The things I will miss, the things I won’t.  Of course people say the grass is always greener on the other side.  I look forward to moving to Germany and somewhere deep down I think that everything will be perfect and I won’t ever look back.  Well these were my thoughts 11 years ago, when I decided to move to America with my mother in the first place.  At first everything was great and fun.  A new culture to get used to, new people, new school.  But I started missing things about Germany.  Things that were more important than Root Beer or Dr. Pepper (hope I can find that stuff in Germany).  At this point in my life, my friends hear me raving about the great food/beer/cities in Germany, but really that stuff isn’t worth moving to another country for.  And I would hate to try to convince someone that they should move to Germany because they have better beer.  Everyone has to do what is going to make them happy.  As a third-culture kid, I can only say that home is where the heart is.  I find myself disgruntled with American laws and politics frequently (will devote a separate blog post for that), but I think at this point in my life, my main reasons for leaving are family, friends, and career opportunity.  Food, Beer and Fun are a close second.  I think this will be a great opportunity for me to really reconnect with my father, see my brother frequently and hopefully be a part of my little sister’s life.  She is 7 now and I have only spent very little time with her in her short life.  Some of my best friends that I have made in college have somehow found their way over to Europe.  In fact, all my friends are leaving Corvallis this summer, so I won’t be missing anything here (other than my mom, of course).  So I’ll be leaving all that is familiar behind here, but I think my heart is in Munich right now.  I will be closer to some of my family, I will be closer to most of my friends, I will be enjoying a brand new life German-style.  I have re-established contact to some of my friends from grade school in Munich.  It will be interesting to see what these people are like now, if we still have anything in common.  Yes, it will be a great adventure indeed.

So for now I am trying to make the most of my final month in Corvallis.  I will be spending a lot of time with some close friends here, and my mother, and I will be taking a small trip to visit my grandmother before I go.  Aside from that, most of my time will be spent preparing for a move across the ocean.  I can only take the bare minimum with me, so selling stuff and giving stuff away and asking my mom to store some stuff for me has been a little sad.  But I am excited for what might await me in the new city.  I am mostly bummed that my toaster oven won’t be coming along with me.

That is all for now.  Goodbye, Corvallis!  Germany, here I come!