December 19, 2007
The IBM Thinkpad R50e is a good choice on which to run Linux - the onboard Atheros-based wireless card has drivers available from the MadWifi project. Wireless set-up is generally a bugbear with Linux so this alone is a good enough reason to use this model. And the rest of the hardware isn't too bad either.
The irony of my situation is that while this laptop was running Windows and being used by my daughter I had to buy a USB wireless card and later a PCMCIA one to get decent wireless throughput - the connectivity was terrible when using the onboard card.
To find out the basic details of the machine look at the right-hand bottom corner of the screen and the underside; the family (Thinkpad R50e) is listed on the right hand bottom corner of the screen while the type (1834 in my case) and model (A44 in my case) are listed on the underside.
The R50e does not come with a set of CDs or a DVD to reinstall the operating system; the backup is located on a portion of the hard drive. In the event that you want to return to using Windows after installing Linux, you can create backup images on CDs or DVDs using this application. I had about 20GB of applications and data combined and needed 21 CDs. You can call IBM during the first two months after purchase and get them to mail you a set of disks but it's unlikely you will know that you can do this until you read a HOWTO like this one.
Note that if you want to access the BIOS of the machine later, you'll have to uninstall the application linked to in the last paragraph; while it is installed, hitting the Access IBM key while booting will bring it up.
It's a good idea to update the BIOS before installing Linux; the latest BIOS is available here.
The R50e I have has the following specs:
Processor: Intel Pentium M 1.70 Ghz
Memory: 1 GB SDRAM
Display: 15" XVGA LCD TFT (1024 x 768)
HDD: 80 GB Seagate 2.5"
Wireless: Intel Pro Wireless 2200 (802.11b/g)
Ports: 2 x USB, 1 x PCMCIA-Slot, Ethernet, Modem, CRT, Parport, Power
lspci gives the following output:
00:00.0 Host bridge: Intel Corporation 82852/82855 GM/GME/PM/GMV Processor to I/O Controller (rev 02)
00:00.1 System peripheral: Intel Corporation 82852/82855 GM/GME/PM/GMV Processor to I/O Controller (rev 02)
00:00.3 System peripheral: Intel Corporation 82852/82855 GM/GME/PM/GMV Processor to I/O Controller (rev 02)
00:02.0 VGA compatible controller: Intel Corporation 82852/855GM Integrated Graphics Device (rev 02)
00:02.1 Display controller: Intel Corporation 82852/855GM Integrated Graphics Device (rev 02)
00:1d.0 USB Controller: Intel Corporation 82801DB/DBL/DBM (ICH4/ICH4-L/ICH4-M) USB UHCI Controller #1 (rev 01)
00:1d.1 USB Controller: Intel Corporation 82801DB/DBL/DBM (ICH4/ICH4-L/ICH4-M) USB UHCI Controller #2 (rev 01)
00:1d.2 USB Controller: Intel Corporation 82801DB/DBL/DBM (ICH4/ICH4-L/ICH4-M) USB UHCI Controller #3 (rev 01)
00:1d.7 USB Controller: Intel Corporation 82801DB/DBM (ICH4/ICH4-M) USB2 EHCI Controller (rev 01)
00:1e.0 PCI bridge: Intel Corporation 82801 Mobile PCI Bridge (rev 81)
00:1f.0 ISA bridge: Intel Corporation 82801DBM (ICH4-M) LPC Interface Bridge (rev 01)
00:1f.1 IDE interface: Intel Corporation 82801DBM (ICH4-M) IDE Controller (rev 01)
00:1f.3 SMBus: Intel Corporation 82801DB/DBL/DBM (ICH4/ICH4-L/ICH4-M) SMBus Controller (rev 01)
00:1f.5 Multimedia audio controller: Intel Corporation 82801DB/DBL/DBM (ICH4/ICH4-L/ICH4-M) AC'97 Audio Controller (rev 01)
00:1f.6 Modem: Intel Corporation 82801DB/DBL/DBM (ICH4/ICH4-L/ICH4-M) AC'97 Modem Controller (rev 01)
02:00.0 CardBus bridge: Texas Instruments PCI1510 PC card Cardbus Controller
02:02.0 Ethernet controller: Atheros Communications, Inc. AR5212 802.11abg NIC (rev 01)
02:08.0 Ethernet controller: Intel Corporation 82801DB PRO/100 VE (MOB) Ethernet Controller (rev 81)
Use the netinst image from the Debian repositories, provided you have a decent internet connection. X gets configured without any user input.
Getting wireless up and running (just remember that you may have to repeat this every time there is a kernel update - say from 2.6.23.xx to 2.6.24.xx)
Add the following to your sources.list (if you run stable or unstable, change accordingly):
deb ftp://ftp.au.debian.org/debian testing main contrib non-free
deb-src ftp://ftp.au.debian.org/debian testing main contrib non-free
Than as root run:
apt-get install madwifi-source madwifi-tools
m-a a-i madwifi
Now you can load the module:
If you use WPA to authenticate on your wireless network, you need the wpasupplicant package.
apt-get install wpasupplicant
wpa_passphrase YOURSSID yourpassphrase
The output will look like this:
Copy this output to a new file called wpa_supplicant.conf which you should create in /etc.
Change the permissions on this file: chmod 640 /etc/wpa_supplicant.conf
To get the network up and running, use this command:
wpa_supplicant -Bw -Dwext -iath0 -c/etc/wpa_supplicant.conf
To bring up the wireless interface at boot time add the following to the /etc/network/interfaces file:
iface ath0 inet static
wireless-essid YOUR ESSID
pre-up wpa_supplicant -Bw -Dwext -iath0 -c /etc/wpa_supplicant.conf
post-down killall -q wpa_supplicant
If you use dhcp, then change "static" to dhcp and leave out the network details.
It's worked fine for me. YMMV.
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