Saturday, July 10, 2010

Unboxing and Tinkering Dell Latitude 2110 with Ubuntu 9.10

This entry includes a few photos of my Dell Latitude 2110 which shipped with Ubuntu 9.10 Netbook Remix. Mostly it's however a critical view on the software shipped. Critical simply because I investigate it quite closely to see how it could be improved especially when sold to end users in non-English countries in the future. The device itself is great, as is the Ubuntu shipped with it. The laptop has the 1.83GHz Atom N470 which is quite nice together with its integrated and battery saving graphics. I also chose 1366x768 resolution for the screen and 16GB SSD for storage. But anyway, this is not a review of any sort.

Currently Dell Latitude 2110 netbook is the only laptop available with Ubuntu in the Dell Finland's web store. A few others have specifications that list Ubuntu as a choice, but in the actual customization view there is no Ubuntu to be selected. So this is the only one, and also only for corporate customers - the web site even says "big companies". In reality though this is reflected in one and only place - there is a mandatory "Company" field in the order form. However, not even the company ID ("Y-tunnus") is required. I did use a company name there, but I wonder if they would care if one would just put "-" or "Ubuntu Finland" or anything there...

Software Observations

I boot it up, and was greeted first with a Dell EULA. Next up was familiar (Ubuntu 9.10 era) Ubuntu logo, white on black. Some churning and a set up wizard was presented:

It worked nicely otherwise, but even though I selected Finnish as the language, it first suggested US keyboard by default. This is in contrast to what normal Ubuntu installer does - offers Finnish keyboard as well.

After that the Ubuntu Netbook interface appeared, and I checked around a bit. Ubuntu 9.10 Netbook Remix shipped with Latitude 2110 seems quite default. No extra repositories. Extra software however is installed, noticed by simply looking through Ubuntu menus: they include Dell Recovery Media creation tool, Citrix Receiver and Vmware View Client.

Digging a bit deeper, I checked the package selection with Synaptic. The reason there are no extra repositories is that packages are installed without repositories. The following packages were "local or obsolete" after refreshing the normal Ubuntu repositories:

- alsa-driver-hda-intel-dkms (git.20100301)
- dell-recovery
- realtek-rts-pstor-card-driver-dkms
- vmware-view-client

UPDATE Sep 01, 2010: Added link to dell-recovery (in Ubuntu repositories) and especially the SD card reader (GPLv2). Patched ALSA shouldn't be needed for anything in Ubuntu 10.04 LTS anymore, and vmware-view-client is available elsewhere. The non-free stuff below are a) not that interesting and b) non-free, potentially non-distributable.

- ctxusb
- icaclient
- libmotif4
- libmrm4
- libuil4
- libxm4

The great thing is that seemingly most of the customization is indeed done via packages. Great job with both that and correctly separating archive entries depending on whether the software is free or not. The packages themselves are located in the recovery partition of the hard drive.

Some more package observations:
- adobe-flashplugin is installed by default from Canonical partner repository (and the repository is enabled by default)
- besides it, no extra non-free software is installed, that is nothing from multiverse and only bcmwl-kernel-source from restricted
- also, nothing from universe

Language Problems

I didn't expect a fully Finnish laptop since the language of Ubuntu couldn't be selected when customizing the order, and I didn't get one. It's clear there is no effort yet put to actual localized offerings, but still it was possible to choose (any) language with the first boot of Latitude 2110.

Language problems are quite ok at this point since the device is not being sold as a localized home user product yet. Nevertheless, it's good to list issues that need to be fixed before localized devices can be sold. At least in Finnish, dunno how's the state of for example Inspiron 10 devices shipped in Germany and elsewhere to also end users via web.

Number two problem regarding languages software was (number one being the wrong suggested keyboard) that full Finnish support was not offered to be installed (and it wasn't installed by default). Since the selection of language was possible during first run, suggesting download of or automatically downloading language support should be done. Normal Ubuntu does it also in Ubuntu 9.10 just nicely also in the cases that installation is done without Internet connection / full language support, so somehow Dell has unfortunately disabled that feature or not allowing it to run. The hook that checks the language support and shows a message is included in language-selector, the message itself in file /usr/share/language-support/incomplete-language-support-gnome.note.

I ran Language Selector manually, which fixed the problem and indeed works fine nowadays in Ubuntu. However, I also noticed that in Language Selector "For my menus and windows, use" had "English (United States)" selected, so only the second item had Finnish selected. It seems therefore that the setting up of the language during setup wizard doesn't do a complete job anyway for the new user created at least. Only after selecting it manually did the language tool correctly download and enable all the needed support for my language.

The Only Big Problem (...that was fixed)

Now for the only big WTF during my tinkering:

/etc/apt/apt.conf.d/00secure containing lines:

APT::Get::AllowUnauthenticated "true";
Aptitude::CmdLine::Ignore-Trust-Violations "true";

This simply leads to eg. synaptic package manager complaining about all upgrades being unauthenticated, and elsewhere possible well needed warnings are simply not shown. I have no idea what's the basis for shipping this kind of security hindering settings with the laptop.

UPDATE: This was later fixed in Ubuntu as a security issue, see CVE-2010-0834.

What Next

After these observations and being quite happy with a laptop that has Ubuntu straight out-of-the-box (which also saved 80€ of money + taxes compared to default OS), I created a recovery ISO image with Dell's tools and then I let Update Manager upgrade Ubuntu to 10.04.

Ubuntu 10.04 LTS was smooth enough already, but I also upgraded latest Intel graphics drivers from xorg-edgers. My only irritation is the Broadcom WLAN driver 'wl'. It works just fine in 10.04 LTS. The irritation is the amount of battery eating wakeups it generates even when there is no traffic going on. AFAIK it's a non-free driver from the vendor, and once again it's one of those that works in principle but is miles from being a well behaving kernel driver. It seems the free b43 driver does not support the BCM43224 chipset (14e4:4353) yet, so unfortunately I'm currently stuck with this driver. Luckily the laptop (and Ubuntu) is otherwise so great on using power, that I still get 5+ hours of battery usage at least (haven't measured much yet).

I'm very happy with what Dell is doing. I do hope the consumer sales would soar (and become available in Finland in the first place via the consumer retail channels there already exist). I also hope the language support bugs would be fixed - it's not tremendously hard, I could probably fix and test all the problems myself if I'd be given the task. Maybe the new Ubuntu 10.04 LTS offerings will already have some of it working better. All in all the Dell Latitude 2110 with Ubuntu 9.10 Netbook Remix was a problem-free ride, and had I simply used it in English it would have worked out-of-the-box smooth as butter.


Anonymous said...

could you post a link o the dell site you bought the netbook please?

Timo Jyrinki said...

Hi Anonymous. Here's the link to Dell Finland's Latitude 2110 page:

TenPhil said...

Hei, Timo!

I'm considering buying the Latitude 2110 or the 2100. Did you consider one of these alternatives? If so, why did you choose the 2110?

Reading you post, I'm a little worried moving to another comp, cause I have a FS Esprimo V5505 that I've had no compatibility problems with.

Did you get it with a SSD or?

Timo Jyrinki said...

TenPhil: I chose 2110 over 2100 because of the newer Atom processor (N470 vs. N270) and the option to choose high resolution display. The new Atom has integrated graphics inside the chip and is both faster and consumes less power than the predecessor. N470 is also faster than the CPU of most competing mini laptops which usually have N450. In the netbooks CPU is a bit of a limiting factor, so it doesn't hurt to have the fastest one.

With Ubuntu 10.04 LTS you shouldn't bump into any compatibility problems with 2110, seems to work smooth here and the WLAN problem I mentioned doesn't affect the functionality of it, it's just not pretty technically.

And yes, I chose SSD over ordinary HDD for silence and faster booting.

TenPhil said...

I'm going to bother you one last time with two questions;
1) did you go for the 16 or 64gb? It seems to me that the extra for the 64 is not worth it.
2) Did you have the option of getting it with 2gb ram?

Timo Jyrinki said...

TenPhil: No problem. I chose the 16GB, since from previous usage I know it's quite enough for mini laptop usage.

I did have the option of 2GB RAM, and it wouldn't even have cost that much extra, but I figured out that if I need more than 1GB of RAM for my basic browsing et cetera usage, there is a problem with the software and not the lack of RAM.

cyplo said...

hello there !
I just got my latitude 2110, but lost the disk contents during tinkering with it. The thing I cannot find anywhere on the net, even on the Dell's customer support is the card reader driver. Could you by any chance send me the driver package ?

Timo Jyrinki said...

cyplo: Sure, I sent the realtek-rts-pstor-sd-card-driver-dkms_1.0_all.deb to your gmail address.

As a sidenote, on my todo list is to find out what's the status of eg. getting that card reader supported with mainline kernel. Once again also that vendor-provided driver seems quite ugly, it's doing polling tens of times per second... meh. I don't have it installed at the moment.

cyplo said...

Thanks a lot for the driver !
Apparently package contains sources, so not that bad for the driver finally ending up in kernel. If I can help somehow in getting it in the main kernel branch, let me know

Anonymous said...

Were you able to test it with an external monitor and see what the maximum resolution possible of the graphics card?

I would like to use the 2110 with an external monitor.

TenPhil said...

Hey, so it seems that I have the same problem as cyplo. Could you send me over the driver as well?

Timo Jyrinki said...

Anonymous: The 2110 drove my 1920x1080 screen just fine. Although it may be necessary to turn off the internal screen while driving high resolutions.

TenPhil: Sent :)

Dirk said...

On the strength of this review I ordered a 2110 through my University's IT Department, specifying the Ubuntu OS. I received it with XP installed on the whole disk. I complained, and one of the two Linux users in IT installed Ubuntu for me from a Netbook install disk. Unfortunately, none of the Dell customization packages are on that, so my SD card reader is dead.

Timo, you've been nice once and sent someone the card driver deb to a gmail address. Too many of us, and it will get boring. How about making the ten custom debs clickable from this blog?

Timo Jyrinki said...

Dirk: Thanks for the suggestion. Since SD card the driver is GPLv2, I added the .deb linked from the post. The other packages are either not distributable or not interesting.

Dirk said...

For the sake of other newbie idiots like me, who spent some time surfing the Web before I got it to work, here is what you need to do after installing the realtek... deb.

1. Get a proper root shell, e.g. by “sudo su”. Some of the steps don't work if you try to sudo them one by one.
2. Install linux-source.
3. Go to /usr/src and unpack the kernel source. Something like
tar -xvjf linux-...
where the dots stand for the file name of the kernel source. You can probably get it by just pressing Tab after the “l”.
4. cd to realtek... (Tab useful again)
5. make
6. make install
7. depmod
8. reboot

Inserting an SD card now causes the volume to show up under Files&Folders or Places.

Timo Jyrinki said...

Dirk: Oops I didn't realize some people might not have an environment where the package just works. However, let's give "a bit" simpler instructions :

1. Install package "dkms"
2. Install the SD card package

I'm not sure, but dkms should/might be in the default installation of Ubuntu as well, since it's nowadays the "kernel modules made easy" way of compiling modules from sources.

Anonymous said...

Which WLAN card do you have? I have two choices:
Dell™Drahtlose 1520 802.11a/g/n Draft Mini Karte
EMEA Dell™ Drahtlose 1501 (802.11 b/g/n 1x1) Mini Karte
(sorry for german lang.).
And I don't know, whether both work fine under Ubuntu, so it's better to rely on someone's experience, I guess..)
Thanks a lot in advance!

Timo Jyrinki said...

Hi finor. I have the 1520. Both should work under Ubuntu, although if I have one caveat about the Dell hw, it's the WLAN - but it's Broadcom's fault, not Dell's (except maybe bad purchase decision on Dell's behalf).

The "wl" driver from Broadcom, a closed driver, works, but sucks in eg. terms of power consumption (CPU wakeups) and the time it takes to connect to the network. The open b43 driver doesn't support 1520, and only partially (read: not perhaps useably) 1501.

Now month ago Broadcom finally released their own open source driver for some of their newer chipsets, including the ones used in Dell Wireless 1501 (id 14e4:4727) and 1520 (id 14e4:4353). That driver also sucks and is not ready for general use, but at least it's a something to start open driver development with for these newer Broadcoms.

To put shortly: yes Broadcom's driver shipped with Ubuntu in the restricted component supports both of them, but if there is just one gripe about Dell Latitude 2110, it's that even Dell didn't get Broadcom to make their drivers good. However, it works and future should be better.

Anonymous said...

I see.. Thanks, Timo!
And if to consider cards themselves, don't you know, is 1520 significantly better? It's a bit more expensive.

Timo Jyrinki said...

finor: Hardware-wise 1520 is dual-band (ie. supports also 5GHz frequencies). Theoretically useful, not sure if it really matters at all.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for taking the time to write up your experiences. I bought a 2110 on the basis of your experiences. I also owned a 2100 with Win XP previously, which I regretted selling afterwards. (The Dell hardware design is so nice.) Anyway, 10.04 LTS runs beautifully of course. I also tried 10.10. That was not so nice! The machine isn't really powerfully enough for it and anyway I didn't like the new user interface. My advice to anyone out there thinking about upgrading an Atom based system to Ubuntu Netbook Remix 10.10, is don't do it!