Alienware M17X beatdown

13 03 2010

So a friend got a Alienware M17X and after several months of frustration just trying to get Windows 7 to work he decided to wipe it and install Linux. The hope is that he can do Linux CUDA development on this laptop with its two 260 NVidia cards. He asked me to help when he ran into a few problems. There are so many things screwy with this thing that it isn’t even funny. It has taken me a LONG time to get this functional. This weekend I got the chance to take the laptop and work on it. I am planning on starting with a fresh install of the latest Mint because it has a larger driver set then most other distros and then work my way up to a new kernel build from to try out the new hybrid graphics mode. Also there have been several weird errors being thrown in the 64bit installs so I am going to try the 32bit and see if it is any more stable. I suspect there is something wrong with the hardware but I can’t prove it yet.

I will be updating this post quite a bit. This should be about as fun as a swift kick to the nuts…

First off to get wireless working on this beast you need to install from:
Menu->Control Center->Hardware Drivers->Broadcom STA Drivers

Then for sound:
Open Synaptic; Menu->Package Manager
Click the serch icon and search for “linux-backports-modules-alsa-2.6”
This will display many things but you want to install the one that matches your kernel. Menu->Terminal and type `uname -r` if you don’t know.
Today after a full update I will be installing “linux-backports-modules-alsa-2.6.31-20-generic”

Now search again for “linux-backports-modules-2.6.” and make sure all of those are NOT installed. Remove as needed.

That is it for first update. Going to take a quick break and then I will get back to it. I will post any new interesting discovery’s updates I come across.

[EDIT / UPDATE] So I have spent the ENTIRE day trying to get hybrid mode working using information I got from here. Compiling the 2.6.34 kernel was problem after problem under 32bit. So I attached an external harddrive and installed 64bit. This time the kernel compiled just fine but I ended up with a ton of wacky things going on with the screen. So I ran all the debug tools and made my bug report submissions and after a full 10 hours of work on this laptop I am calling it done….or thats what I /want/ to do…can’t just yet. You see, for some reason when I boot back into the original 32bit environment after I did that 64bit install (I don’t know if they are directly related) I end up with no sound!! My sound went away completely! Pulseaudio is being a little b***h and freezes or crashes every time I try to open anything related to it and mplayer/Movie player don’t see the sound card anymore! WTF Pulseaudio?? Alsamixer sees my sound card and says the volume is at max, but I still get nothing. So I am going to be fighting with this for a while….later. I need a break now.

[EDIT / UPDATE #2] I was too tired to make this post the other night. Sorry. So I got peeved off and ended up yanking out pulseaudio. Ripped everything out that I could without Mint getting fussy on me. I didn’t get sound but I did get a horrible screeching noise for my system beep (logging out, backspacing on the command line too far, tabbing on the command line, ect). That was weird. So I reinstalled the kernel modules. That didn’t help. So I created another user to screw around with user configurations. He had sound while the first user didn’t. I still don’t know what was going on. I just deleted the first user and kept his home directory. Then I re-added him with his old UID/GID and /home directory. Tada! Sound! I can’t explain it. But it works. Oh well.

[EDIT / UPDATE #3] Tried the latest Mint (Julia) and the majority of the problems are resolved. Still don’t have perfect hybrid graphics working…and battery life is still dismally short…and a few other small issues….still most of these problems are fixed now. Thanks everyone who helped contribute the fixes into the Linux world.



One response

18 03 2011
Chris Kitching

This is interesting – I just got one of these laptops (However, since I am in the UK and was a bit of a cheapskate mine came with a single ATI card).
Using Arch Linux, the sound and the wireless both worked straight out of the box – I used alsa, I never installed pulseaudio. The only annoyance I have is that there’s something wrong with the AlienFX in that the “media bar” bit that has useful buttons on it for volume control as well as the keyboard lock lights keeps not lighting up.

I also didn’t have any problems with the 64 bit installs like you seem to have had? I get the impression the laptop just really doesn’t like you? 😛

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