Sunday, January 04, 2009

Installing Linux on Neo Empriva 540SVB (Jan 05 09)

The Neo Empriva 540SVB was the first laptop that I bought when I retired in April 2006. Back then, the 512MB model was selling for PHP29,999.00 and that was value for money at that time. Today, PC Corner is selling the 2GB model for only PHP25,999.00, and it comes with the following:

Intel® Core™ Solo T1300
1.66GHz, 2Mb, 667MHz
2.0Gb DDR2-667MHz
DVD Dual
14in. Wide (WXGA) 1280x800
Built-in web camera
VIA Chrome9 VN896 Integrated
802.11BG WiFi / 56Kb Modem
Windows Vista™ Home Basic
60-Days Office 2007 Trial
PhP 23,999.00 - NO OS
PhP 25,999.00 - with OS

[Note: Outside the Philippines, this laptop is sold as the Clevo M540SE.]

This would be an ideal machine if it came with Core2 Duo, 160GB-250GB SATA disk, and dedicated video ram. It does not, so it is not my dream machine. But I had to live with my original purchase, and since I am a Linux person, I had to get Linux working on this laptop.

Nondestructively repartitioning the disk to preserve Vista and allow installation of Linux is straightforward. You can use one of the live Linux boot CDs (Knoppix, GRML, Debian Lenny Live, etc), boot the CD in text mode, and run the parted program to do the nondestructive repartitioning.

Actual installation of Linux is the challenging problem. Neither Fedora 10 nor Ubuntu 8.10 will install a properly working GUI desktop, since the VIA Chrome9 VN896 video driver support under Linux (the Openchrome project) is still experimental.

Fortunately, the up-and-coming release of Debian, code-named "Lenny" seems to have worked out the kinks of the openchrome driver, and so, with some post-installation reconfiguring, Lenny can be made to get GUI working on the Neo-Clevo M540SE.

First you need to repartition the 80GB SATA disk. In my case, I left 30GB for Vista, created 15GB for Linux root, 2-4GB for Linux swap, and the rest for Linux /home. I like leaving generous space for users' home directories, so that if I need to reinstall either Vista or Linux, the users' data in /home can be preserved.

Next you need to download the Debian Lenny installer CD. It is sufficient to download CD-1 only, since the rest of the Debian packages can be downloaded from the Debian internet repositories during and after installation. CD-1 is available as:

After completing the download, you need to burn this file to a CD. If you are using Nero or a similar CD burning program, you need to set Nero to "burn a CD from an iso-image file". Now stick this CD into the Neo's DVD drive, connect the Neo using a UTP cable to the Internet, and turn the Neo on. The installation may take a while, so it is good to connect the AC adapter to the Neo. While booting, press the [enter] key, move the cursor to the choice [Select Boot Device], and select the option [Boot OptiArc DVD]. The Debian Lenny installer CD will now boot.

At the Main Debian Installation Menu, cursor to the first installation choice [Install], press [TAB], and edit the boot options by adding to the end of the line the boot option "vga=771". Just type this at the end of the line, but without the quotes. Then press the [Enter] key. Installation will now proceed normally. Without this boot option, the installation can not proceed, since you will get an unreadable screen, since the screen will be cut in several pieces, and the pieces will display in a very confusing jumbled up way, that you will be forced to reboot the Neo (by continuously pressing the OFF-ON switch).

During installation, you will be asked to answer various questions. If you live in the Philippines I suggest the following responses: Keyboard: US-English, Language: English/Philippines, Timezone: Asia/Manila or GMT+8 (Taipei), Choice of Debian repository: US/ or JP/ If you are connected to the Internet during installation, you will be asked to choose which additional package groups to include in the installation. Aside from the the default choices, add "laptop" support.

After installation is completed, you will be asked to remove the installation CD from the DVD drive, and to press the [Enter] key to reboot the Neo. If you are a mouse user, this is a good time to attach a mouse to a USB port. Now remove the installation CD, and press the [Enter] key to reboot.

At the GRUB boot menu, cursor to the second choice [Debian recovery mode], and press [Enter] to select this boot mode. This will boot the Neo to Linux single user mode. At the shell prompt, type

cd /etc/X11
vi xorg.conf

This will allow you to edit the "xorg.conf" file. Look for the section "Screen", and make the following additions to that section:

Section "Screen"
Identifier "Default Screen"
Monitor "Configured Monitor"
SubSection "Display"
Modes "1280x800" "1024x768"

Save your changes (you have to know how to use the vi text editor), and then type the command:


This will continue booting to GUI mode, and you will get a working Debian Lenny installation.

The default wallpaper is a light blue screen with a small red Debian swirl. The Lenny wallpaper that you see in the picture above is designed for the Lenny distribution by Raveenz:


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