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Ubuntu 5.04 on IBM Thinkpad X40

I've been extremely happy with my IBM Thinkpad X40, which I've had for over a year now. The basic specifications: 512 Mb RAM, 40 Gb hard disk, 1.6 GHz Centrino processor, and built-in 802.11b wireless using an Intel Pro Wireless 2100 card.

The X40 came with Windows XP Professional pre-installed. I used the system for almost a year without attempting to install Windows. Somewhere along the line, I stupidly allowed Windows Update to "upgrade" the system to Windows XP Professional Service Pack 2, which broke the Fn-F5 button that is supposed to turn the wireless network card on and off.

As part of my long-term plan to make my small office network (six computers) a Microsoft-free zone, in the spring of 2005 I dual-booted the X40 using Redhat's Fedora Core 3. This was the third of six computers on my office network to run GNU/Linux, but the first that I had dual-booted (set up to run two operating systems, here, Windows and GNU/Linux).

I initially chose Fedora Core 3 (FC3) for several reasons. First, versions of Redhat or Fedora Core were running on my network's two other Linux boxes. Second, since Fedora Core tries to keep up with recent hardware developments, I was hoping that FC3 would cope well with my relatively new laptop. Third, the Fedora Core community is large and technically capable, so I was pretty sure that I would have a place to turn to if I ran into trouble. (In my experience, the two most useful sites for installing Fedora Core on a Thinkpad were the Clemson Linux Initiative and Gregory Gulik's Tips and Tricks.)

Fedora Core 3 generally ran well, but the hardware support was incomplete. In particular, despite several hours of reading on various FC forums and support pages, I could never get the sound card to work. FC3 also did not appear to support the Thinkpad's Fn-F5 key, which turns the internal wireless networking card on and off. (As I mentioned above, Windows XP Professional Service Pack 2 also disabled the Fn-F5 key. I was still able to turn the wireless card on and off using a cumbersome procedure involving the Windows "Device Manager." It may have been possible to do something similar in Linux, but I never figured that out. If you have any suggestions, please let me know.)

For work purposes, I could almost live without the sound card, but, for me, the ability to turn the wireless networking card on and off was important. Turning off the wireless card when I'm not using it helps to extend the battery life. For safety reasons, airlines also forbid you to use a laptop unless you can disable its wireless card.

In July, a friend gave me a two-CD set with Ubuntu 5.04. One CD installs a basic Ubuntu setup; the other is a "live CD," which lets you try Ubuntu without affecting any existing operating system or other files on your computer (you boot the computer from the CD, which then runs GNU/Linux directly from the CD). I decided to give the live CD a try and soon discovered that my sound card and wireless switch (the Fn-F5 key) worked perfectly in Ubuntu. As did everything else of interest to me. The sound card and wireless switch, plus the curiousity of trying a completely different flavor of GNU/Linux, were enough to persuade me to drop FC3 and go ahead and install Ubuntu on the X40.

Some installation suggestions:


The best place to start any Ubuntu 5.04 installation is probably the Unofficial Ubuntu 5.04 Starter Guide. If you have questions not covered there, another useful place to check early on is Hoary 5.04 Customization Tips and Tricks. The Ubuntu Forums are also helpful, but require a little more patience.

Sound card

The sound card worked from the basic installation.

According to the Unofficial Ubuntu 5.04 Starter Guide, to install Real Player all you need to do is call up a terminal and type:

sudo apt-get install realplayer

followed by the password for your user name. By default, Ubuntu has no root password --tasks performed using root in other distributions of Linux typically get done in Ubuntu using the "sudo" command.

Unfortunately, after the simple installation process, Real Player hung every time I tried to invoke it. According to a post on the Ubuntu Forums, the solution turned out to be to remove two files, swfformat.so and swfrender.so, from the /usr/local/RealPlayer/plugins directory. I don't know why this worked, but it did, without creating any other discernible problems.

Wireless Card

The wireless card worked right from the installation, which was a major improvement relative to FC3, which required quite a bit of fiddling before I could coax it into service. Even better, the IBM Thinkpad's Fn-F5 key works and I can now turn the wireless card off and on at will.


The CD and DVD on the docking station worked right out of the box.

Hibernation and Suspend

Hibernation, which mirrors open programs and files on the hard disk and then restores those settings after the next boot up, works fine. I haven't tested the suspend feature, which mirrors open programs and files and restores those settings --without rebooting-- the next time the computer is turned back on. My understanding is that, with few exceptions, GNU/Linux does not implement the suspend feature very well. If I find out otherwise, through testing on my own or reading about it elsewhere, I'll update this section.


Other X40 features that worked for me under Ubuntu 5.04 (and also under FC3) include: the Fn-F7 key to send screen output to a projector; the Fn-Page Up key to turn on the small light that illuminates the keyboard; the Fn-Home and Fn-End keys, which control the brightness of the screen; and the "Access IBM" key, which GNU/Linux treats as a "Windows Key" (which the X40 does not have), allowing easy use of the "US English, International" keyboard setting for accent marks, tildes, umlauts and related characters.

UPDATE: November 5, 2005. The preceding paragraph contains an error. When test came to shove and I had to use my laptop to make an OpenOffice Impress (similar to Microsoft PowerPoint) presentation, the Fn-F7 key would not let me send video output to the projector. I recently received an email from XS, who had the same problem and solved it by upgrading to Ubuntu 5.10 (Breezy). I've now upgraded to Breezy and the Fn-F7 key seems to be working fine, though I haven't yet tested it in the field. I've written a short summary of the upgrading experience, which may be helpful if you decide to upgrade.