Experiences setting up Linux on a Dell Inspiron 3800

James F. Carter <jimc@math.ucla.edu>
2000-05-12, revised 2000-07-16

I'm very pleased with my Inspiron 3800. After one initial problem it's performed reliably, and it's easy and fun to use. In my opinion it is ergonomically comfortable. The screen (1024x768) of course is smaller than on my desktop machine (1600x1200) but with an adjustment in work methods I find that's not as much of a problem as I had feared. There's enough firepower to do anything I ask of the machine. Being to work comfortably ``anywhere'' (not in bright light) rather than being tied to the desk is a big plus to using a laptop machine with a wireless network card.

I use the machine for:


Intel Pentium III 500 MHz ``Coppermine''
ATI RAGE Mobility-M1 AGP 2x (Mach-64, 8 Mb video RAM)
14.1 inch (diag), 1024x768x18 bits (use as 24 bpp) Colors are quite good even without xcmsdb, and better when properly calibrated.
Dual touchpad and force stick, 2 buttons for each. I find the touchpad easy to use for text work, though for graphics I prefer the force stick.
78 keys: 2 Alt keys; inverted T arrows; delete, PgUp, etc. on the top row. I like the feel.
64 Mb (2 slots, 32-64-128-256 Mb in one or both)
4.8 Mb (bigger is available)
24x. DVD is available, as is a CD burner.
Removable media:
Floppy drive. Zip drive is available.
ESS Maestro 3i (Windows driver says 3P). Sound quality from the internal speakers is low-fi, though adequate for non-music applications. When the headphone jack is inserted the speakers are muted, and phone sound quality is excellent. See below about the necessary driver.
56K, internal winmodem integrated with the sound chip.
PCMCIA slots:
two, 32 bits.
Li Ion, 53 amp-hours at 14.8 volts. Nominal run time is about 3 hours, though with care keeping the disc off, and APM activated so the CPU halts when idle, I can run 5 1/3 hours on one battery while editing stuff and occasionally compiling. Suspend to ram, it lasts over 100 hours. You can load 2 batteries (in place of the CDROM). Nominal battery life is 400 full charge/discharge cycles or 2000 ``partial'' cycles. No memory effect in Li Ion batteries; partial cycles aren't bad for it. Estimated self-discharge rate: 6% in 5 weeks.
Bundled software:
Windows 98 2nd edition; Microsoft Works 2000; Quicken Promotional Package incl. TurboTax. WinNT and Microsoft Office available at extra cost.

Installation Issues:

Preparing to install Linux, I de-installed most of the factory-installed Windows software (to be transferred to another machine where it will be useful). I overdid it, trashed Windows, and ended up repartitioning the disc the way I wanted it, and reinstalling Windows.

Installing Slackware v7 (Linux 2.2.13, November 1999): I ran setup to boot from the floppy, CDROM and hard disc (in that order). Install the CDROM in the media bay, to boot the distribution CD from, and attach the floppy to the parallel port; have your formatted floppies ready to write a repair disc on. Installation was uneventful with one exception. The setup program hunts for the CDROM by trying to mount various devices, and it hung. I suspect it was trying to mount the Zip drive, which was not installed. To work around this, I made a directory and premounted the CDROM on it, and gave the appropriate path name to the setup program (/mycd/slakware).

I had no problem with the Slackware installation kernel, although I didn't try to activate my PCMCIA Ethernet card. (Someone else reported a problem doing that with the Red Hat installation kernel). However, the kernel on the Slackware live filesystem CDROM/repair disc has some kind of non-obvious problem reading the CDROM. Hoped-for solution: use the latest Slackware.

Version 2.2.16 update (Slackware 7.1 dated July 2000): The kernel on the live filesystem disc now works. See additional items about the X-server.

What works with Linux:

Kudos and Gotcha's:

References for Linux on Inspiron: