Despite some rather exciting progress made of late getting Linux to work on the Fujitsu Siemens Amilo A1650, regretably after three weeks of using it, I am back to Vista. The reason for this is my conclusion that running Linux (more specifically, Ubuntu) on the A1650 is a painful process due to the maturity of hardware support. Its (finally) possible to get all the hardware working, unfortunately doing so feels cumbersome and unnatural. The biggest culprits are the graphics card (an ATi x200m) and the wireless (Broadcom 4318 mini PCI) card.
The ATi graphics card has long been criticised as being ‘defective by design’. Getting any hardware accelerated graphics on this laptop formerly required running XGl with a long series of complicated hacks and even then it was not possible to run desktop compositing effects like Beryl or Compiz. Eight (or so) Months ago, that changed with a redesign of the X Server (in X.org 7.0) when XGL back rendering was no longer required for hardware accelerated rendering. More than that, it greatly simplified the process meaning even the most inexperienced Linux user could have beautiful desktop effects, in some cases, out of the box. However, due to an annoying glitch somewhere, the ATi restricted drivers caused diagonal tearing whenever a window rapidly refreshed itself.
It says something about the maturity of hardware support under Linux when Vista, commonly (and unjustly) thought of a resource hog, runs better. Anyway, this is all academic now as I have retired my Amilo A1650. Its been a great laptop but after three years it was time to move on. I will play with Linux on my new laptop soon and post the results.
Although the celebration could potentially end there. Every few months I google my laptop’s wireless card (a Broadcom 4318) to see how much further (sic) native linux support has progressed. This is a time honoured ritual I began when I first started taking an interest in running Linux as my main OS on my laptop a few years ago.
Broadcom are a company who seem to care very little about supporting their end users. I have never had to deal with them directly, however and I am basing this statement on their website which seems far more geared to ODMs and OEMs rather than the end user and the fact that they have point blank refused to release source or any useful technical documentation to allow the F/OSS community to make a native driver.
The problem with Google based searches around this problem is that they generally provide links to pages based on Google’s page ranking / relevancy algorithms which do not (for the purposes of this discussion) take page age into account. This means the majority of the results are either wrong or woefully out of date. Up until recently, the main way in which the cards could be made to (sort of) work was through the bcm43xx project. This utilised a reverse engineered framework which required the firmware from the windows based drivers. This was achieved through a sister project – bcm43xx-fwcutter.
While this supported a healthy number of cards, the 4311 still had power issues which would make it very unstable to the point where a hard reset would be required after 15-35 minutes use in order to re-enable the wifi card. So today I began searching again to see what progress had been made and was pleasantly surprised to find that, as the title suggests, bcm43xx the cumbersome behemoth has been depreciated. However the reason I said not to celebrate yet was because it has been replaced the the b43 project. Proudly displayed on the main page under supported devices is the 4318! This hopefully now means that I and other Fujitsu Siemens a1650 owners can now use their laptops as portable devices whilst using a F/OSS operating system!
* Station mode
* Access Point mode (although not tested very well).
* Ad-Hoc (IBSS) mode
* Monitor and Promisc mode.
* “Monitor while operating” and multiple monitor interfaces.
* In-Hardware traffic de/encryption (relieves your CPU).
* LEDs to signal card state and traffic.
* In-Hardware MAC address filter.
* Probably something we forgot to add here.
not working yet
* Interference mitigation.
* Bluetooth coexistance (most code implemented, but untested)
* Probably something else that’s not listed under “Works”.
The manner in which it works however is the same, a basic framework is installed with b43 and coupled with the corresponding Broadcom proprietary driver;
“The Broadcom wireless chip needs software, called “firmware” … (T)his firmware is copyrighted by Broadcom … and it must be extracted from Broadcom’s proprietary drivers … you must download the driver from a legal distribution point … (then) you must extract the firmware from that Broadcom driver and install it in the special directory for firmware – usually /lib/firmware.”
Not only has the project been given a new lease of life, the new code is reported to be more stable and resolve the power issues as experience on the Fujistu A1650. It should be noted, however that Acer_Acpi will still be required on this laptop to initialise the hardware but this is beyond the scope of this post.
I will be moving from my “build-and-held-together-by-ducttape-and-a-stern-look” Ubuntu 7.04 build to either 7.10 or Kubuntu 7.10 soon and I shall test this and report back my findings.