If you’ve been to my blog before, you may have read about Dell’s latest, Premier Business Laptop, the Latitude E6500. It came with my choice of Micro$lop’s latest flop – Windoz Vista, or probably the best OS Micro$lop has ever developed – Windoz XP Pro (SP3). Though I preferred the new laptop utilize a professionally installed version of Debian/GNU Linux, I settled for Micro$lop Windoz XP Pro instead. Although you can now buy servers from Dell pre-loaded with RedHat, Micro$lop has made it very difficult for users and OEMs to cut the umbilical cord between the PC and the Micro$lop Windoz Operating Systems.
I want very badly, to run my favorite distribution, Debian GNU/Linux on this new system. However, the extraordinary hardware feature set found on the E6500 is not widely supported yet in Debian. Even though I figure it won’t be long before the newer hardware is supported, I should probably try Debian/GNU Linux on older Dell laptop first. I have had great success with this distribution on the IBM ThinkPad T40-Series Laptops, but had never tried it on a Dell, until now.
There happens to be a nice Inspiron 700m available, making it possible for me to attempt running Debian on a Dell.
I’ve stated before, any good laptop needs to be portable, have good battery life, have external expansion ports, and operate at a reasonable temperature. So, how does the Dell Inspiron 700m stack up?
As you would expect, this much smaller laptop is somewhat limited. You can see the configuration of the system I started with below:
- PROCESSOR: Intel® Pentium M Dothan 1.8 GHz w/ 2 MB L2 Cache & 400Mhz FSB (Centrino Configuration)
- OPERATING SYSTEM: Genuine Windows Windows XP Professional
- LCD PANEL: 12.1 inch Wide Scree (1280×800)
- WARRANTY & SERVICE: 2 Year Support for End Users
- VIDEO CARD: Intel® Extreme Graphics 855 GM w/ VGA & S-Video Out
- MEMORY: 1 GB, DDR SDRAM, (2 x 512 MB DIMMS)
- INTERNAL KEYBOARD: Internal English Keyboard
- PRIMARY STORAGE: 40GB, 5400RPM Hitachi/IBM IDE Hardrive
- OPTICAL DRIVE: 8X DVD+/-RW by NEC Corporation
- WI-FI WIRELESS CARD: Intel® Wireless™ 2915 802.11a/b/g Mini-PCI Card
- MODEM: Conexant Internal 56K Modem
- PC/PCMCIA Card Slot
- SD Card Reader
- TOUCH PAD
- 2 x USB 2.0 PORTS
- Broadcom 440x 10/100 NIC
- Sigmatel Audio w/ Headphone and Microphone Jack
- 1 x 1394 Mini-Firewire PORT
- 14.8V, 4 Cell Battery
- 19.5V, 65W, AC Adapter w/ flat cord
I got all the basics in, but it is entirely possible that I missed a few items! So, if you want more information on this system, click here!
The 700m is very portable in that it only weights 4.5 lbs, has a small 12.1 inch screen and is just less than an inch thick. It is the perfect size for carrying in a briefcase or shoulder bag. With some simple search engine research, you can see the Inspiron 700m was moving toward the new Mini Laptops now available from Dell.
This portability didn’t come without sacrifice. There wasn’t an option for a DB9 or DB25 Serial Port, it only had 2 USB Ports and only 1 PCMCIA slot. The smaller size and lighter weight also means a smaller battery. The 4 cell battery which came with this machine didn’t offer enough run time away from an AC outlet. The 700m could easily be taken with you, but if you required more than 2 hours use, you had to make sure you also had the AC adapter packed as well.
Thinking ahead about how this system will be used and what it will be used for, I did some research. Knowing I want to run Debian/GNU Linux on this machine, I read up on whether or not the individual hardware components were compatible with Debian. I also took into consideration, the tasks I most often perform while working in the field. These tasks include installing, testing and turning-up data circuits, POTS Lines, and VoIP Systems. I may also have to configure or test any hardware found on the Local Network. I’m always needing to connect to network equipment through it’s legacy DB9 console port.
This pre-planning and research allows me to identify several deficiencies of the Dell Inspiron 700m. I will need a DB9 Serial Port to connect to network equipment. This is especially true when working with 3Com and Cisco hardware. My research also tells me to replace the Intel WiFi card with one utilizing the Atheros Chipset. I can see the need for additional battery life. The system has 1 GB of RAM which is fine for Linux, but I want more (you know, just in case!). The 5400 RPM hardrive lacks the performance I’m looking for. This means I need to make changes.
The first thing on my mind for this laptop was the Atheros Chipset, WiFi card. I knew I had several in the spare parts I had acquired over several years of working on IBM T40 Series ThinkPads. There may not be a suitable “Windoz” driver for this card in the Dell Machine, but what I will be using it for in Debian, only requires that it has the Atheros Chipset.
Next, I found a SIIG “Single Serial PC Card” (P/N: JJ-PCM012). This card isn’t the best option for a Serial interface though. The DB9 connection is at the end of a foot long dongle, which connects to the Card via RJ45 plug and jack. However, I found it cheap, so it will do for now.
Dell still sells parts for the Inspiron 700m so I purchase a new 6 Cell replacement battery for this machine. I could have gotten any number of batteries from eBay for quite a bit less, but I’m very skeptical of non-OEM batteries.
To finish my system I wanted better performance. I could easily get that extra performance by boosting the RAM from 1Gb to 2 and by replacing the 5400 RPM Hardrive with one running at 7200 RPMs. I found it all new, unopened and with full manufacturer’s warranty on eBay.
Once I had all the new hardware available, installation was a simple task.
In the end, due to the research I did ahead of time, this older Dell Inspiron 700m is now a more capable machine. It runs Debian GNU/Linux quite well!