Acer TravelMate alpha-550 XL Linux-mini-HOWTO

by Martin Eckl

This document describes my experiences with this laptop. It is not a complete description, but gives some hints for making Linux work. Special thanks to the writer of the italian Linux HOWTO for this laptop . I was not able to translate it completly, but it gave me some hints. If someone sends me additional information, I can put it in this document.

-1. Changelog

March 2002: First release
July 2002: ACPI now working partially (see section 6.)
August 2002: Tested USB and PCMCIA

0. Disclaimer

This document is provided ``as is''. I put great effort into writing it as accurately as I could, but you use the information contained in it at your own risk. In no event shall I be liable for any damages resulting from the use of this work.

1. Summary

I was not able to test all components, but every component of the computer seems to work.
I installed Slackware 8.0 plus kernel 2.4.18 and XFree 4.2.0.

Successfully tested components


Untested Components

Partially working

Additional info

2. X11

The main parts of my XF86Config look like this:

# **********************************************************************
# Core Pointer's InputDevice section
# **********************************************************************

Section "InputDevice"

# Identifier and driver

Identifier "Mouse1"
Driver "mouse"
Option "Protocol" "PS/2"
Option "Device" "/dev/psaux"
Option "Emulate3Buttons"

EndSection

# **********************************************************************
# Monitor section
# **********************************************************************

Section "Monitor"

Identifier "LCD"
HorizSync 30-70
VertRefresh 50-90

EndSection

# **********************************************************************
# Graphics device section
# **********************************************************************

Section "Device"

Identifier "S3 Savage4"
Driver "savage"

EndSection

# **********************************************************************
# Screen sections
# **********************************************************************

Section "Screen"

Identifier "Screen 1"
Device "S3 Savage4"
Monitor "LCD"
DefaultDepth 24

Subsection "Display"

Depth 24
Modes "1400x1050" "1280x1024" "640x480" "800x600" "1024x768"
ViewPort 0 0

EndSubsection

EndSection
The correct driver for the Savage4 was not correctly inserted by xf86config. You have to do this manually in the device section. The internal LCD only worked correctly when using the maximum resolution (1400x1050 for model 550XL, probably 1024x768 for 550XV). This has also to be done by hand. When using a lower resolution, the mouse cursor is displayed in the wrong place (difficult to explain), but who buys a 1400x1050 display and wants to use 800x600 only :-)

The last thing to do is recompiling the kernel with
The three options can be found in the character device section.

3. Audio

You can use the built-in via82cxxx support of the kernel, but I had the problem that the volume was very low. Better choice are the ALSA-drivers. Use the driver snd-card-via686a, and everything works fine.

I will not explain how to install ALSA drivers (it is well documented on their homepage), but if you are not familiar with ALSA, I will give you two hints:

  1. unmute every channel you find (especially: /usr/bin/amixer set PCM 70 unmute)
  2. load the oss module if you want to use /dev/audio. I use the modules snd-card-via686a, snd-pcm-oss, snd-mixer-oss and lots of modules autoloaded by modprobe.

4. Ethernet Card

modpobe tulip

(nothing more to say)

5. Modem

Although the modem is a winmodem, it is supported by the Lucent Winmodem drivers. I use ltmodem-6.00b14 without problems. Just follow the instructions The installation even creates a link called /dev/modem to the correct device. The drivers will be autoloaded on demand. Try
cu -l /dev/modem
If it says
Connected.
everything is working.  

5. USB

I tried to use my USB scanner (Epson 1650) using the SANE drivers. I used the uhci and the scanner driver which work fine on my desktop computer. sane-find-scanner recognized a scanner, but I did not yet manage to use my scanner together with the Acer laptop. As I do not plan to use this configuration, I stopped working on it.

The second test was a connection to a digital camera (HP Photosmart 715) via USB. I loaded usb-uhci and usbcore and mounted the /proc/bus/usb (pseudo-) filesystem. It is working without problems (at least as far as the notebook is concerned, but that would be another HOWTO...).

6. Power Management

In the first verion of this document, I wrote that power management does not work at all. Meanwhile some development on the ACPI drivers was done, and currently it is working partially.  The problem remains, that it is not working out of the box, because ACPI drivers for linux are not ready yet, and many things are still changing.

ACPI in detail:

The ACPI drivers of the current stable kernel (2.4.18) do not work at all. I applied the patch acpi-20020611-2.4.18.diff from sourceforge.net .
(Of course, you have to recompile your kernel. If you are not familiar with this, wait for a stable kernel release with ACPI included correctly).
With this patch, you will find correct entries in  /proc/acpi/ac_adapter/ACAD/state (AC connected or running on battery) and /proc/acpi/battery/BAT1/state (especially the remaing capacity of the battery). When activating ACPI for the processor, my fan starts running all the time. Obviously, switching in power saving mode does not work with this feature activated. Matteo Centonza did not report this problem, so maybe there are still bugs in the code. In any case, I do not miss this feature, because the only functionallity I lose is the CPU temperature.

Unfortunatly, I did not find a userspace program that is running correctly with the latest version of ACPI. I found a patch for the klaptopdaemon of kde, but I had to patch the patch for the battery meter running. Gnome has similar problems (according to Matteo Centonza ). You can use the /proc/acpi information for writing your own scrips, but the mainstream tools do not work at the moment.

Power management without ACPI

Currently I prefer power management without ACPI. Please refer to Battery-Powerd.html for more information.

After installing Linux, the hard disc was accessed every five seconds, which made it nearly impossible to make disc spin down (I tried /usr/sbin/hdparm -S 120 /dev/hda). The solution was to simply mount the filesystem with the option noatime. My fstab looks like this:

/dev/hda       /      ext2      defaults,noatime   1   1