Linux on the Dell Inspiron 17R (N7010)

Apr 27, 2012

As I mentioned a couple of days ago I had to buy a new laptop because Windbringer's old hardware became unstable due to cumulative heat damage. I drive my machines pretty hard (doubly so when programming because I test in several virtual machines) so after five years of steady use it was time to upgrade. So, I upgraded with software design in mind... I purchased a Dell Inspiron 17R (under the hood it's called the N7010) and customized it online.

To save everyone's eyes I'll put the nitty-gritty behind the cut, starting with a component inventory.

Distribution: Arch Linux, 64-bit install disk dated 2011.08.19.

Currently running kernel: v3.3.1-1-ARCH (distribution-provided, no customization).

  • CPU: Intel i7-2670QM 2.20GHz x8
  • RAM: 8GB
  • Chipset: Intel Xeon E3-1200 second generation (rev 09)
  • Video: Optimus
    • Intel Corporation 2nd Generation Core Processor Family Integrated Graphics Controller (rev 09)
    • NVIDIA Corporation GeForce GT 540M (rev ff). I'm using the closed-source nVidia drivers, installed from the Arch Linux repository.
  • SATA: Intel Corporation 6 Series/C200 Series Chipset Family 6 (rev 05)
  • Ethernet: Realtek RTL8101E/RTL8102E
  • Wireless: Intel Wireless-N 1030 (rev 34) (using the native iwlagn driver in the kernel)
  • USB: NEC Corporation uPD720200
  • Sound: Intel Corporation 6 Series/C200 Series Chipset Family 6 (rev 05)
  • Webcam: Sunplus Innovation Technology, Inc (Device 004: ID 1bcf:2b80) (using native
    uvcvideo drivers in kernel)
  • SD card reader: 20120429: Worked without configuration. SD card was automatically mounted by desktop environment.
  • Bluetooth: Intel Corporation 6 Series/C200 Series Chipset Family 6 (rev 05) (Device 003: ID 8086:0189)
Optimus. Optimus. Optimus!

Whoever thought it was a good idea to shotgun a lower-performance laptop video card (the Intel) and a higher-performance nVidia graphics card is either drinking too much coffee or on crack. But that's all we can get these days, so we either shop somewhere else or roll with the flow control. I did the latter, and surprisingly it wasn't as big a problem as I'd feared (my grousing to the contrary). I followed the instructions for installing Bumblebee in the Arch Linux wiki and had it up and running inside of five minutes. It took longer to find an Ethernet cable to plug my new laptop into the house LAN because I hadn't installed NetworkManager yet. So far, I've not run into any problems with it. I haven't tried external video support yet but I'll have to in the very near future.

The only real annoyance has been the touchpad. It's detected as a generic mouse and not a touchpad, which means that I have to be careful when typing. I tried the psmouse-elantech AUR package and it didn't do what I needed; I'm going to try the psmouse-alps package next to see if it makes the touchpad more configurable. 20120454 @ 1454: The driver in the psmouse-alps AUR package seems to have made the touchpad much less sensitive (and thus less prone to acting up) but it's still showing the touchpad as a generic PS/2 mouse.

Those few things aside, everything Just Worked(tm) when I installed Arch Linux. The webcam worked immediately; I've used it a few times for video chatting and it's been all aces. The wireless chipset is far more stable than my last one so I can fully recommend going with the Wireless-N 1030 if you have a choice. I disabled the Bluetooth interface because I don't use it (and find Bluetooth to be a security risk, at any rate) so I can't speak to it. I haven't tried the SD card reader yet. I've been working my way through the laptop configuration page in the Arch Linux wiki to get the most out of Windbringer's power cell and when I've got solid results I'll post them. I enabled the [multilib] repository to get 32-bit compatibility libraries for the few closed-source packages I need (well, okay, so I can play Uplink and run Skype). 32-bit compatibility mode has worked well also. VirtualBox has been rock solid as well, and all of my development and testing VMs have been chugging along nicely. 20120427 @ 1452: I'm loading the dell_wmi, dell_laptop, and acpi-cpufreq drivers for device control and power management.

For the anti-Linux trolls who commented on my last Linux-on-... post (whose comments I left in place, mind you), I'd like to mention that on my last two laptops the image of Windows that came with the laptop never booted successfully. They made it as far as the "Starting Windows..." screen before bluescreening with an error message and the suggestion to reinstall from the original Windows distribution media. Which Dell doesn't give you anymore. Trying to boot the system utility partition to restore the image didn't work, either. So much for Windows "just working."

This work by The Doctor [412/724/301/703] is published under a Creative Commons By Attribution / Noncommercial / Share Alike v3.0 License.