Installing Ubuntu Linux on a Dell Latitude D630

I recently bought a new laptop from Dell. After some difficult option considering, I decided on the Latitude D630 over Lenovo’s T61 Thinkpad. Mostly it came down to the Dell having considerably better battery power.

The D630 came with Windows Vista Basic on it, but I prefer Ubuntu. However, I didn’t want to completely abandon Windows, because sometimes there are programs that I want to run that cannot easily be run on Linux (like computer games). I decided to dual-boot.

I installed the 64-bit edition of Ubuntu 7 Gutsy Gibbon and without much difficulty. The Ubuntu installer guided me through an easy repartitioning of the hard drive by claiming a portion of the Windows partition for the Linux. The Ubuntu boot loader recognized the Windows Vista installation and correctly prompts me on boot which OS to load.

I had no problems with drivers. I had read earlier that some of the integrated Dell wireless cards have some driver issues with Ubuntu, so I elected for an upgraded Intel wireless card. If I recall correctly, everything worked perfectly out of the box, except the sound card. I got instructions for the fix from Martti Kuparinen, whose guide is no longer available:

sudo aptitude install linux-backports-modules
sudo gedit /etc/modprobe.d/alsa-base
options snd-hda-intel model=dell-m42

After a reboot, the sound worked fine. So the installation went really well, and I now use Ubuntu almost exclusively on the laptop. I get 4+ hours of battery life on the extended 9 cell battery.

A few things that I noticed that you may want to consider if you’re thinking about this. First, dual monitor support is difficult. I haven’t been able to get my laptop to connect successfully to a second monitor. Usually I can get it to work in some semblance of the word, but I can only mirror the desktops, and the resolution gives me problems. I was unable to get it to extend the desktop like I wanted it to. This may be due to incompetency on my part, however, as I have only been using Ubuntu (on my desktop) since August 2007, so I’m sure it’s possible. Second, as far as I can tell, there is no way in Ubuntu to instruct the computer to NOT charge the battery, if you have the battery plugged in. I always just have to unplug my battery if I don’t want it charged. But wait, you ask, why wouldn’t I want it charged? Because battery life is prolonged when you don’t leave your battery at max charge all the time. Check out these tips on prolonging lithium ion batteries if you’re interested in more information.

64-bit edition?

Of course I was a bit concerned that installing the 64-bit OS would cause me problems, but it hasn’t been too bad. At this point, they always warn you that some programs may not be able to run on a 64-bit OS, so you’re always safer to just install a 32-bit OS, even if you have a 64-bit processor. In fact, the Windows Vista that came with the laptop was 32-bit…which surprised me, because the processor is 64 bit. I have noticed a few difficulties, though, and I’ll highlight them here. Once again, these may be due to my incompetence, but I’ll present them anyway. First, I seem to have trouble with java applets loading in firefox. For example, the Facebook image upload applet won’t load for me. A quick google search shows one possible solution, but you also will notice that this only works for 32-bit Ubuntu. I also had trouble getting MEGA (bioinformatics software) to work, though they do claim support for Linux through WINE, it only works on a 32-bit OS. But that’s about the limit–I don’t think the 64-bit OS has caused me any other problems.

In conclusion, I think most who are willing to attempt could be successful at installing Ubuntu on a D630.