Gnu/Linux (Debian) on a Siemens Lifebook E6646

Note

I do not have this model anymore, so I will not be able to answer detailed questions to the installation on it. There will also not be any further updates.

Hardware

Here is also the output of lspci -vv and dmesg.

Installation

There is already a guide to install Debian, so please read this first. I only want to go to detail here, where it can be tricky to do some thinks on the E6646.
If you want to install Debian using the internal ethernet card, you can do that, the driver for this is included in the default kernel for the boot floppies. Actually I installed Debian only using two floppy discs and a network connection to an Debian mirror.

Kernel

The kernel shipped with Debian should do it fine, except if APIC is enabled. This was the case on my 2.4.18-bf2.4 install floppies. If you have enabled APIC, neither APM or some <Fn> keys will work. For more details, see below. 2.6.* kernels also work fine.

XFree86

The first problem was the configuration of XFree86. The drivers for the ATI Mobility M6 are available in XFree86 >= 4.2, but Debian Woody is shipped only with XFree86 4.1 (the reason is here). But you can use the VESA-driver instead, even with 1400x1050. If you have problems, you can look into my XF86Config-4 file.
Debian Sarge on the other hand is shipped with XFree86 4.2. Here you can also use the radeon driver, which is much faster. (I also give an example for a XF86Config-4 config file for this version, but in this I use also an external monitor, however it works with the LCD as well)

Sound

The build-in Intel AC'97 Audio Controller is handled by the kernel module i810_audio and works fine, except the fixed sampling rate of 48kHz, so the software has to do the resampling. Unfortunately not all software is able to do so. I guess, the reason to leave the resampling to the software is only to make the hardware a little bit more cheap. :-(
One way to use software, which cannot resample, is to use sound deamons like 'esound'. 'esound' can mix different audio streams and also resamples them.
Unfortunately there was a bug in esound (the Enlightened Sound Daemon) when it had to resample the output in some cases. One case was the stereo resampling from 44kHz to 48kHz, exactly what you need for most mp3s. The effect was a really bad quality. This bug showed up at least in version 0.2.23-3, but the more recent versions are available (in Debian only in testing right now) and include the bugfix.

Network

The E6646 has a build in network card based on the RTL-8139-chipset which is very well supported by the kernel (8139too) and should work out of the box.

PCMCIA/Wireless Card

I also have a wireless card to connect to our WLAN at work. It is a Avaya Wireless PC Card ETS (Gold). It is identified as 'Intersil PRISM2 11 Mbps Wireless Adapter' and can be used with the driver 'orinoco_cs'. This works out of the box on any recent system (pcmcia-cs version ≥ 3.1.31). However, this card can only do "open system" WEP authentication, "shared key" type authentication is AFAIK not supported by the firmware. In case the access point only does the second, the card disassociates after roughly a second and no connection to the AP can be established, even with correct other settings (WEP, channel, essid). A Netgear WG511 also works, but has the problem, that from time to time it disconnects and needs a long time to reconnect or the transfer rate is going really down. The higher the transfer rate is, the more likely this problem occurs. I do not have a solution for this.

USB

USB just works fine with the kernel driver called uhci.

Network Setup

I wrote some very small scripts to make the change of the environment (work / home) easy. I can plug the in /dev/eth0 device at home and at work, but these are very different networks. To make things easy for me, I use the mapping of an interface name to a script in the interface configuration file /etc/network/interfaces (example). This script decides if the setup for my environment at home or this at work is to be loaded by the existance of a file (/root/var/work). Important is only the existance of this file, so it actually is empty or not existing and will be written/removed by some really simple scripts in my /root/bin.

Touchpad

The touchpad is a PS2-device and as such it uses /dev/psaux. It should work out of the box. I use gpm to read this device and let it repeat to XFree (here ist my /etc/gpm.conf). You can use an external PS2 mouse as well - together with the touchpad. I am currently using a 'IntelliMouse 1.1A PS/2' made by Micro$oft. I had the problem, that it was only working, if it is not plugged in at loadtime of gpm. This seemed to be a problem of the mode autops2. Also this might be related to the broken protocol of this mouse. The mouse itself works ok, if I use fuimps2 (this is imps2 for broken mice), but the touchpad will stop working then.
The solution was to force ps2 as protocol in gpm.conf.
Also there is a useful touchpad setting in the BIOS, that allows you to disable and enable it with a hotkey, which is not 'documented' on the keyboard itself. It is <Fn>+<F4>. You have to switch the touchpad setting in the keyboard/mouse section of the BIOS to 'manually'. Unfortunately the BIOS disables the hotplug for an external PS/2 device if you do this. That means your external mouse will not work if it was not connected at boottime.
Update: I am now using a kernel with version > 2.6.8 and gpm is handling the touchpad fine, but the external (PS2) mouse is now doing crazy things. I did not figure out how I could change that. I think it has to do with the fact that all mouse protocol things have gone into kernel space and the kernel drivers are not that tolerant as gpm is/was. As a consequence, I now use an USB mouse.

CD/DVD

I have a IDE CD/DVD drive (HITACHI DVD-ROM GD-S250; 24x CD, 8x DVD ), which I can remove (and so use a second battery or a floppy drive). This works with linux, but as far as I know now only, if it is inside at boot time. In other words, hotplugging is not supported at the moment. Doing a later rescan of the IDE interface is not possible and to remove and reload the module for ide is not an option if your system-disc is attached to this. :-/
DVD-R work. The drive also reads DVD-RAM, which I found to be very useful.

APM/ACPI

With APIC enabled in the kernel, neither APM or ACPI worked for me. Instead the system hangs until it is turned off by pressing the power button.
With disabled APIC, standby ('apm -S') seems to work, suspend ('apm -s') does not wake up again, but I did not try to get that working really yet. ACPI without APIC also seems to work, but I did not investigate into standby or suspend modes (e.g. 'echo 3 > /proc/acpi/sleep').

The <Fn>-key

There are 7 special functions, which you can access via the <Fn>-key in the lower left corner of the keyboard (Which is a really bad place for this, because a normal user is used to have the <Ctrl>-key there). The key <Fn> is not sending any keycode to the OS, so it works without any driver. <Fn>+<F1> and <Fn>+<F2> are doing the same thing as pressing <F1> or <F2>, that means the keycode for that keys is sent to the OS.
If you have APIC enabled in your kernel, <Fn>+<F5>, <Fn>+<F6>, <Fn>+<F7> and <Fn>+<F10> will not work properly. Instead you have a very good chance to freeze the OS. I tried this within X11, on console and with and without running Xserver, I had always the same result.

Console

You have the following VESA modes available at kernel startup: Video mode selection on console is working only without X, starting X and switching back will confuse the console in the way that it is returning to 80x25 on the screen but still the selected mode internaly with the effect that you can only see the upper part of your console. So, choose 'vga=0' or simply 'vga=normal' on startup.
note: 40x25 is only available after a 'scan' on startup ('vga=ask') and it is working also with X, but you do not want to have this mode, really.

Harddisc

There is nothing special to say about the harddisc (IBM IC25N030ATDA04-0, 30GB), apart from the fact that it worked ok for shortly over two years. It got quite hot if it was heavily used and the laptop was on battery mode (no fan).
But after that two years and a bit, the disc was starving. It suddenly became very loud and DMA read errors occured. I managed to do a full backup (besides the usual partitial one) from that. I now have a Fujitsu MHT2030AT (30GB) and hope that this one is living longer. However, it seems to get hotter than the old IBM, but now it is hard to compare...

Modem

Finally I needed to get the modem working and was very delighted to read that it is now supported under Linux, even without propritary binary module, which taints the kernel. The driver for the sound part of the modem is an ALSA module called 'intel8x0m'. This can be used by an user space program called 'slmodemd', which actually emulates the modem part of the modem (This is a soft-modem, or winmodem). Note that the kernel module which comes with this daemon is not needed and does not have to be loaded. However, this daemon is unfortunately not free software. The Debian package is called sl-modem-daemon.

Other parts

The speakers have been broken twice, I could not hear any sound. Sometimes one of them was coming back for a short time, so I think this might have been a heat problem or something similar. However, the plug for the headphones however was always working fine. Once, I got that fixed by the support. They claimed to have replaced the sound card.

Useful links

http://www.ossmann.com/mike/laptop/e6634.html
http://www.linux-laptop.net/
http://www.debian.org/

Contact

You can reach me with frank.loeffler@aei.mpg.de
By German law, at least as far as I understand it, I am also forced to put a link to this.

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