John Smith's Blog

Ramblings (mostly) about technical stuff

The saga of getting Fedora 14 running on a Dell Mini 10 netbook - part 6 of 6

Posted by John Smith on

It's over two months since I first started this series of posts, and to be honest, anything that hasn't already been written up, I've largely forgotten about. Not to mention, Fedora 15 has since come out, so anything specific to version 14 is already out-of-date. However, after writing up so much already, it seems only right to try to come to some sort of conclusion.

First off - although it didn't come into play until later in the process - Fedora 14 initially shipped with a broken version of the pyxf86config package. This caused a failure to set the display refresh rate correctly when I got the proper drivers installed, so before doing anything, yum update that to a fixed version.

This machine uses a "Poulsboro" (aka Poulsborough aka Poulsbo) chipset, which seems notoriously ill-supported on Linux. However, there are (non-free) packages available for this chipset, I ended up installing the following:

  • kmod-psb
  • kmod-psb-PAE
  • limdrm-poulsbo
  • livna-config-display
  • psb-firmware
  • xorg-x11-drv-psb
  • xpsb-glx
The first two are "metapackages", with the actual packages being stuff with horrendous names like "kmod-psb-".

When all this is in place, Fedora switches to the native resolution of 1366x768, and the machine is pretty much as usable as you might reasonably hope. Because of the way I installed the wifi drivers, every time I've upgraded to a new kernel, the wifi has broken. So far I've just kept with the older kernels - by selecting them via the relevant grub boot option - but I assume it's just a case of recompiling the modules under the new kernel, or hopefully replacing them with a package which will automatically update itself in line with the kernel.

Anyway, hope all this is/was of some use to someone out there...

The saga of getting Fedora 14 running on a Dell Mini 10 netbook - part 5 of several

Posted by John Smith on

To recap from the previous post in this series, I now had a machine with Fedora 14 installed and running, but with no networking, and a generic graphics driver that failed to detect the netbook's native resolution.

I assumed that getting wired Ethernet working would be easier than wifi, but this turned out not to be the case, or so it seemed at the time. The manual building of a driver as outlined below never worked, and at the time it seemed there was nothing shipping with Fedora that supported the Ethernet networking. However, as I write this post (nearly a month after the original install), I find that wired networking is indeed running happily. Not sure what happened - maybe the Poulsbo drivers (to be documented) also cover this aspect of the device?

The upshot is, much of the stuff below may well be irrelevant, but without knowing precisely why stuff wasn't working before, but is now, I'm inclined to keep it all here.

The wired Ethernet chipset reports as a "Realtek RTL8102E/RTL8103E PCI-Express" card, and I downloaded the RTL8101-1.020.00 driver from I couldn't locate a driver that was explicitly marked as being for 8102E or 8103E.

(By the way, am I alone in finding mobo/gfx card manufacturer sites horrendous from a user-experience perspective? They all seem to send you round in circles and make it difficult to know whether you've found what you're looking for...

Building from source obviously requires a number of tools and libraries, according to my bash history, I ended up installing the following from the RPMs on the DVD:

  • kernel-devel-
  • kernel-headers-
  • gcc-4.5.1-4.fc14.i686.rpm
  • binutils-
  • cloog-ppl-0.15.7-2.i686.rpm
  • cpp-4.5.1-4.fc14.i686.rpm
  • libmpc-0.8.1-fc13.i686.rpm
  • glibc-devel-2.12.90-17.i686.rpm

Despite all this, Ethernet networking resolutely failed to work at the time, so I elected to try the wifi instead.

Having never really bothered with Linux wifi since failing to get it working on an HP laptop around 2004/2005, I'm pretty ignorant of how it works. As far as I can tell, there are some open libraries that interface with the closed drivers that a vendor supplies?

In Windows XP, the wifi card is reported as a "Dell Wireless 1397 WLAN mini-card", which appears to just be a rebranding. Fedora's Network Manager states that it is a "Broadcom Corporation BCM4312 802.11b/g LP-PHY", and this Linux Forums thread indicates that it can be made to work with Fedora. With no operational networking whatsoever, it wasn't possible simply to add RPM Fusion to the list of repos, and instead I'd have to download the RPMs on another machine and transfer them via a USB drive.

Unfortunately, my initial Googling came up with inconsistent results. This FC14 RPM Fusion page listed a Broadcom driver, but with 'fc13' in the package name.

Some kmod-wl RPMs also wouldn't install without a wl-kmod-common package, which wasn't listed on that page.

Eventually I found that there's a "meta-package" broadcom-wl here that provides 3 sub-packages:

  • broadcom-wl
  • config(broadcom-wl)
  • wl-kmod-common

Anyway at this point I was pretty fed up and gave up on this angle of attack. (Sound familiar?) I found some binary drivers on the Broadcom site and using the instructions in their README I was able to build the driver and get it working - albeit at the second attempt.

I hacked in the following lines to /etc/rc.local: modprobe lib80211 insmod /root/wifi/broadcom/wl.ko This probably isn't the most elegant solution, but it got wifi networking operating seamlessly from boot, which would then allow me to tackle the graphics driver...

The saga of getting Fedora 14 running on a Dell Mini 10 netbook - part 4 of several

Posted by John Smith on

Netbooks obviously have a bit of a flaw when it comes to installing Linux distros - namely their lack of an optical drive. Many distros now offer easy means of making a USB key, but Fedora's process is a bit of a faff-around.

In particular, I was rather annoyed to find that it wouldn't actually fit on the 4GB USB drive I had earmarked for it - as well as the ~3.5GB ISO image, there's a separate boot image that you have to install, that pushes it over the age. Fortunately, I did have some 16GB drives kicking around, and after clearing out some old files, I had enough space for Fedora 14.

Unfortunately, even though I was able to boot from the Fedora'd USB drive on a regular PC, I was unable to convince the netbook to boot from it, despite fidding around with BIOS settings and the like. (Not that that was necessary for Ubuntu.) I did contemplate trying a network install, but ultimately decided to buy my way out of the problem, and acquired a cheap(-ish) external USB DVD drive. As I've got 3 netbooks, hopefully it might get some long-term use, but I can't actually recall the last time I used optical media on a PC other than for installing operating systems or burning backups...

I then had a minor mis-step - which was nothing to do with Fedora per se - in that I tried to boot from an x86_64 DVD, but the Atom CPU in the netbook seemed to only want to work with 32-bit binaries. Given that I have a Mini-ITX Atom motherboard that quite happily runs a 64-bit OS, I'd naively assumed that all Atom chips were 64-bit, but evidently not.

Luckily I'd already got a 32-bit DVD to hand from some time back, so I was able to get Fedora installed with no further problems. Unlike Ubuntu, it defaulted to having a separate /boot filesystem, so I can be sure that I can easily get rid of Fedora should I ever choose to. The boot installer recognized the Windows XP drive fine, but it seems that - for now at least - the Dell backup stuff is still out of reach :-(

On booting Fedora from the hard-drive, I wasn't in any way surprised to find that it failed to use the proper graphics drivers - defaulting to a non-native resolution - and was also lacking in any sort of working networking drivers. Evidently the USB drives were going to come in useful after all...

The saga of getting Fedora 14 running on a Dell Mini 10 netbook - part 1 of several

Posted by John Smith on

Amongst my ever growing, never diminishing, pile of hardware are a couple of 1-2 year old Dell netbooks - an Atom based 10" with Win XP Home, and a Celeron 11" with Windows 7. I never had any special plans for either of these machines, they were mainly bought because they were amazingly cheap - the 10" was £209 in Autumn 2009, the 11" £229 in Summer 2010, both of which were around £50-100 less than the going rate for comparable hardware at the time.

Since getting the 11" machine, the 10" has had pretty minimal use. Even with a supposedly "low-end" OS like XP Home, the crummy CPU coupled with 1GB of RAM means it's a pretty chuggy experience - probably not helped by the mountains of pre-installed crap that Dell shoved on it. (The Win 7 machine was much, much cleaner in this regard.)

Now, I do have an Atom based desktop machine running Fedora 11, and that's perfectly usable for the most part - albeit with a slightly better spec Atom processor, but with the same 1GB of RAM. As such, it seemed to make sense to look at getting Linux on the unused netbook, which might give it a bit more regular workout. Both of the netbooks have had a few distros installed within VMWare, but unsurprisingly they don't run that great, performance-wise, but I'm hopeful that Linux running natively should be a decent experience.

The last time I installed Linux natively on a laptop was around 2004/5, and whilst I was happy with how it run, I never got the wifi working. In all honesty, I don't think I actually spent much - if any - effort trying to fix it; I was quite content to use a wired connection. However, the experience made me wary of expecting too much by way of Linux compatibility on laptop hardware; hence why I've generally stuck to running distros within VMs, and letting the underlying pre-installed OS worry about the hardware.

Also, I'm loathe to ever get rid of the originally installed OS on any machines I buy, so I run them as dual-boot. I don't think I'd ever had much of an issue on this before now, but that was before I encountered the mysterious of Dell's restore functionality...

All this blather is leading up to a series of posts I'm planning, that document the trials and tribulations of doing what in theory should be a fairly straightforward task - getting a modern, well-establish and widely used Linux distro (Fedora 14) running on what would seem to be fairly mundane, well understood and supported mass-market hardware (Dell netbook). Unfortunately, this isn't the case :-( Most or all of the areas I'll cover in this series is documented on the net, but it's all rather disjointed, so hopefully I can collate it all here for any other lost souls who set on this path.

To be continued...

About this blog

This blog (mostly) covers technology and software development.

Note: I've recently ported the content from my old blog hosted on Google App Engine using some custom code I wrote, to a static site built using Pelican. I've put in place various URL manipulation rules in the webserver config to try to support the old URLs, but it's likely that I've missed some (probably meta ones related to pagination or tagging), so apologies for any 404 errors that you get served.

RSS icon, courtesy of RSS feed for this blog

About the author

I'm a software developer who's worked with a variety of platforms and technologies over the past couple of decades, but for the past 7 or so years I've focussed on web development. Whilst I've always nominally been a "full-stack" developer, I feel more attachment to the back-end side of things.

I'm a web developer for a London-based equities exchange. I've worked at organizations such as News Corporation and Google and BATS Global Markets. Projects I've been involved in have been covered in outlets such as The Guardian, The Telegraph, the Financial Times, The Register and TechCrunch.

Twitter | LinkedIn | GitHub | My CV | Mail

Popular tags

Other sites I've built or been involved with


Most of these have changed quite a bit since my involvement in them...