Installing Linux on the Sony VGN-TXN Series
Version 1.7, Last updated 05/20/2008
These are my notes on installing Linux on the new Sony VGN-TXN15P sub-notebook computer. This is my fourth sub-notebook I have owned and installed Linux on, the first being a Compaq and the next three being Sony. The previous two Sony models were the VGN-T150 and before that, the SRX-77. You can access my writeups on the T150 at http://markadavis.org/vgnt150.html It is my hope that this information will help other people who decided they are interested in running Linux on the TXN series.
I have updated this document in many areas as I install newer versiond of Mandriva. Even if you want to use a distro other than Mandriva, these notes could be quite helpful.
Specifications/What It Has
Intel U1400 1.2Ghz processor, 2MB L2 cache, 533Mhz FSB, Intel 945GMS chipset, 11.1 WXGA display (1366x768), 1GB DDR2 RAM (512 hidden somewhere + 512 in user-installable bay, PC2-4200 533Mhz, expandable to 1.5GB by replacing module with 1GB), 80GB (4200RPM) ultra-small hard drive with G-shock protection, 100TX network, dual/double layer DVD+-RW, WiFi A/B/G, bluetooth, stereo speakers, headphone jack, microphone jack, analog VGA port, two USB2 ports, one 4pin firewire, SD(HC)/Memory Stick card reader, docking station connector, software modem, touch pad with two buttons, biometric fingerprint reader, Sprint cellular modem, PCMCIA I/II/cardbus slot, MS-Windows XP Pro SP2, 16V (68W) power adapter (charge battery only in machine), carbon fiber case. 2.84 lbs, 10.7" x 0.83"-1.23" x 7.7".
What It Does NOT Have
These are NOT on this model: serial, parallel, PS2, camera, microphone, infrared, scroll wheels, physical battery level indicator, touch screen, pen screen, carry case, floppy drive, composite/Svideo, SPDIF.
For my installs, I always create an Acronis True Image backup of new laptops BEFORE they are EVER booted into MS-Windows. This means I will have a nice way to recover the system to an identical state of brand new. Think of it as a "super" recovery option. I use a USB hard drive and it takes about 30 minutes to make the backup.
To enter the BIOS setup screen, press <F2> when you power on. As with all the Sony laptops I have seen, there really isn't much you can do in setup. The only option I change is to use "LCD Screen Expansion", which just uses the whole screen for resolutions lower than the native wide screen.
This laptop does not come with recovery discs, you will have to make them. DO NOT skip making recovery discs! Boot the laptop for the first time into MS-Windows. I turn off the wireless network switch first to make sure it stays off the network during all these processes. You will have to walk through the welcome steps... I defer registrations. Once it reboots (yet again), then you can use start-> VAIO Recovery Tools and make the restore discs. I used two DVD+R discs. It will take about 40 minutes (Why so long? Who knows!)
My next step is to clean off all the crap that is preloaded. I will probably never use MS-Windows, and I don't want it robbing so much of the hard drive. Plus, I am certainly not going to use MS-Office (that is what OpenOffice is for) nor any other "trial" software that is included. Some examples: Ask toolbar, Bewitched demo, Business Contact Manager 2003, DISCover, Instant Mode, Image Convertor, Jeopardy Demo, LiveUpdate, MS Digital Image Starter Edition, MS Office Small Business 2003 Demo, Napster, Norton Security 2006 Demo, MS Office 2003 Trial Assistant, MS Works, Quiken 2006 Demo, Sonic Stage (all of them), Davinci Code Demo, Trend Spyware Demo, Wheel of Fortune. And the MS-Windows components: Outlook express, Windows messenger, Internet games,.
Nothing visible in Add/Remove programs can account for that much space. I found these additional space wasters not in Add/Remove: "SmartDraw7", almost 500MB, /programfiles/sony/smartdraw7; MS Works (even though uninstalled), 120MB, /programfiles/microsoft works; and some kind of video demo under \movies. Then follow up with the standard removal of other system restores, disk cleanup, and a defragment.
Unfortunately, even after removing all that, it is still using a whopping 7.6 GB! Stranger yet is that if you add the space of all the five remaining directories in root, it is only 4.5GB. Where is the missing 3 GB?
Sony uses that horrible "recovery partition" concept on this laptop. I will never understand the reason why a manufacturer would voluntarily waste tons of space on the hard drive, rather than just include a SINGLE dual layer recovery DVD, especially on a high-end machine like this (which would cost them a whopping 20 cents or something). In any case, it shouldn't be necessary to have such a partition, if you make the recovery DVD's like you are supposed to do.
From the factory, there are two NTFS partitions, hda1 (recovery) 6GB and hda2 (MS-Windows XP Pro) 68GB. You can do a lot of things with the Mandriva partition tools, but trying to recover the lost space wasted in hda1 is very difficult, since it would require moving hda2, which is not supported, or renumbering the partitions (which is dangerous). Since it is nice to have a FAT32 on the system to share or as a spare space for upgrading (it is not 100% safe yet to write on NTFS from Linux), I decided to turn hda1 into a FAT32. This can be done easily in Mandriva by deleting hda1, then recreating it as FAT32 (note that you need to go into expert mode to ensure it is not created as a primary (hda1), not an extended (hda5) partition). Then formatted hda1. Then resized hda2 from 70GB to 19/20GB.
Another option would have been to restore the hard drive from the recovery discs and tell it to not create the recovery partition at all. This is what I did with the last model, the T150, but I chose the above method this time.
With the remaining 48GB of free space I set up hda5 as a 1.2GB swap. You will need as much swap as RAM so you can suspend-to-disk under Linux. The rest (47GB) I used as a reiserFS root (/). I then said OK and rebooted, just to make sure things would be OK. MS-Win will run a chkdsk and reboot. You will then have a "G" drive which is hda1. Can then reboot once again into the Mandriva installer.
Post Package Configuration
After package selection and installation, the post configuration will begin. I performed a test install at the store on their demo unit (with permission) so I had a good feel already for what would work and what would not. For example, trying to install the wireless network will fail, but it will work fine once you set it up in Drakconf later. Set up your wired network for now. Sound and input devices work fine. The only concern is graphics. Say YES to 3D support but NO to xgl (not needed). It will detect the correct 945 chipset (using the 810 driver), but you will not be able to find the correct monitor or resolution. I just chose "plug and play" and the wrong resolution of "1280x720" 24bit for now. You are ready to boot into Linux!
Unlike previous Sony sub-laptops, it is not necessary to have the "compact" option in lilo to get it to boot quickly. But because of the hda1 partition, lilo will be configured to list THAT as an MS-Windows boot, which it is not. Just edit /etc/lilo.conf and comment out the hda1 section and change "windows1" to read "windows" and run lilo.
Startup from power button: 14 seconds to the lilo screen, 52 seconds to X appearing, 74 seconds until KDE is loaded and startup sound is played and ready for use. That is a 60 second Linux start to usable system boot time, which is quite impressive.
Shutdown takes 24 seconds from inside KDE to power off.
After your first boot, it will magically correct the screen resolution and pick something VERY close to correct. It puts "Flat Panel 1366x768" correctly in xorg.conf for "ModelName" but actually displays 1368x768. So the screen will pan two pixels when the mouse is moved to the left or right extremes! The display use is perfectly acceptable this way. Fixing it will be difficult... According to the 810 driver, the "1366x768" has "no mode of this name" and "fixes" this for us automatically by creating a virtual size of 1368x768 (hence the two pixel horz panning). Other built-in modes listed are 1360x768, 1024x768, 800x600, and 640x480. Strangely, krandrtray shows a 1366x768 and will let you switch to that resolution, and it works, but I have still never been able to get that to be the default in xorg.conf.
UPDATE: In Mandriva 2008.0, it still won't autoconfigure correctly, but if you put Modes "1366x768" and restart X, it now just works perfectly!
UPDATE: In Mandriva 2008.1, now it will completely autoconfigure the screen resolution correctly. Zero work.
Unlike the older Sony sub-notebooks, it is not necessary to use the 915resolution patch to obtain a working widescreen display. HorizSync was chosen as 31.5-90 with a VertRefresh of 60 by Drakconf.
The VGA console screens are correct- which is unusual, since the last few Sony laptops never had correctly working VT screens (mostly because of having to use the 915resolution patch).
After you install mesa-demos, you can run the glxgears test program. It runs fine and produces a respectable (if not fast) 770 FPS. ppracer (tux racer) even has a setting video setting for 1368x768, which is shocking (when did they add wide screen support?) and actually works. Don't get too excited though, it is only about 5 to 8 frames per second and uses about 70% of the CPU. The music is also a bit staticy. Playable, but barely. Chromium also works, but is slow, and staticy.
External video works, but only if you enabled it under Xserver options in drakconf. The magic that makes it work is Option "MonitorLayout" "CRT,LFP" and then Option "Clone" "True" in Device section of xorg.conf. It also seems to not work correctly if you try to list multiple resolution modes in xorg.conf... stick with just 1368x768. The other Sony sub-notebooks would somehow detect if you had a monitor pluggged in and would enable display on them on power up (only). Not so with this model, so you will have no way to display VT screens, or bootup/shutdown sequences on an external monitor. In additional, plan on running krandrtray under KDE so you can change the resolution to 1024x768, because, if you plan on using any type of normal projector it is unlikely to handle the strange timings for 1366x768. Also note that only the laptop display will support overlays, so watching video (using the default/fast overlay mode) will show fine on the laptop and only as a blue box on the external monitor. That is a hardware limitation.
UPDATE: In Mandriva 2008.1, you still have to power on the laptop with the external monitor connected to use it. But now it will handle having both screens active at the same time more correctly than before. But on my machine, if you right click on the desktop, choose configure desktop, and click on DISPLAY, the Xserver will lockup and you will have to kill it. Nasty bug.
Compiz/Beryl 3D Desktop
Right out of the box it works (assuming you have turned on Composite in xorg.conf)! The current 810 driver supports AIGLX. I didn't bother with the default compiz and chose to install Beryl (a newer/better fork) from PLF. The necessary RPM's are: beryl-core, beryl-manager, beryl-plugins, beryl-settings, compositing-wm-common, emerald, emerald-themes, and libemerald0. Just install them and then launch with "beryl_manager &" and you are in business! Wow!
UPDATE: In Mandriva 2008.0, compiz is available now, mainstream. And it does work. Although, unlike with the older xorg drivers, now there is apparently no overlay device. After 2008.0 is installed, neither Xine nor Mplayer work. To sort of fix mplayer, turn on the video playback plugin in compiz manager. Just be prepared that without overlays, video playback will use a LOT more CPU, and eat up battery much faster than without compiz. Xine can be made to work with "xine -V opengl", little flakey though or with "xine -V xshm" which is not flakey, but maxes CPU on fullscreen. Regarding changing resolutions: Had to manually launch krandr... can change res in non-compiz, but in compiz, I end up with a black screen with cursor and have to kill the xserver.
UPDATE: In Mandriva 2008.1, most of the same notes as above, except krandr launches automatically now and will resize the screen if you like, without any problems under compiz.
The integrated Synaptics touch pad works perfectly- even the horizonal and vertical scrolling regions on the bottom and right of the pad are set up for you automatically.
If you plan to use a super-neat USB Logitech wireless laptop mouse, just plug it in and it works! I find the resolution a little sensitive, but there is apparently no way to adjust mouse resolution in xorg.conf that works.
Unfortunately, the brightness controls on the keyboard are software controlled and do not work and there are no hard controls. The controls are not included in the standard ACPI, but you can get it working by compiling a new kernel module called "sony_acpi" which is available from http://www.popies.net Make sure you install the "kernel-source" rpm, then you can "make" the module and copy it to something like /lib/modules/*/kernel/3rdparty and then follow up with a "depmod". Put sony_acpi in your /etc/modprobe.preload to load it each boot. You can then control the brightness by echoing a number from 1 to 8 to /proc/acpi/sony/brightness (or read it back with "cat <" from the file).
UPDATE: This still hasn't changed, even with Mandriva 2008.0. You still have to do the above.
UPDATE: In 2008.1, no more need for loading any modules! You can control the brightness with /sys/class/backlight/sony/brightness. Simply echo the value to it and it works.
I have verified that under Linux, the CPU fan does automatically increase and decrease depending on CPU usage- it is not loud by any means, barely audible at all at low loads, but you can hear it when the CPU gets really busy.
ACPI works, and the KDE battery indicator is correct and also shows if the power is plugged in or not. /proc/acpi/battery/BAT1 reports the stock battery is 57720 mWh @ 8369 mV when fully charged. Closing the lid correctly trips ACPI events, but doesn't do anything by default except turn off the backlight.
/proc/cpuinfo reports a family 6, model 14, U1400 processor at 1200 Mhz with 2MB cache at 2398.51 bobomips. The power/throttling controls seem to work well- just right click on the battery icon in KDE and have fun. I have verified throttling does, indeed throttle, and it will correctly change CPU profile modes (I leave mine in "ondemand" mode when on battery, "performance" when plugged in).
Suspend to disk takes about 28 seconds (pmsuspend disk).
UPDATE: in 2008.0 suspend to disk takes MUCH longer, at 42 seconds.
Resume from suspend to disk takes about 25 seconds.
As with every other modern laptop I have ever tried, suspend to memory (pmsuspend memory) doesn't fully work, although it is the closest I have seen, yet. It will suspend fine and in only about 4 seconds. But on resume, there is no display. The machine *is running*, however... and you can hear sounds, see drive activity, log into it remotely, and even press <alt><ctl><del> for a clean shutdown. Changing vt's makes no difference.
UPDATE: As of Mandriva 2008.0, suspend/resume to memory (RAM) now works!
UPDATE: In Mandriva 2008.0 and 2008.1, resume using GRUB takes a looong time. For some reason that I don't understand, if you use LILO instead, it is MUCH faster.
Works. But none of the special keys (with Function) do anything, niether do the multimedia keys (like AV mode/play/etc). But this was expected. The DVD eject button does not work either, since it is software controlled. But fear not- there is a VERY tiny little eject button on the drive, itself, that works. Plus you can use the "eject cdrom" command to open the drive, also.
Works right off the bat. The laptop has two tiny stereo speakers, which works OK for system sounds and general lo-fi use. Note that the sound does have significant static and instant drop-out/ins in games, but that static is not present when playing regular video files/dvd video.
UPDATE: in 2008.0 the "static syndrome" is still there for some applications, but it is much less prevalent.
UPDATE: in 2008.1 the “static syndrome” is somewhat better. But some applications (like frozen bubble), there is a slight sound delay now.
The mixer (kmix) has only three output controls... PCM which controls wav sound, FRONT which seems to be the real master control, and MIC (which is not an output and should not be displayed there). The master volume slide on the docked icon does not work, you have to use the "FRONT" slider in the full mixer to control the volume. aumix doesn't seem to have that problem- it knows the master control and works fine, although it shows only "PCM2" as another output, and it has a problem with the range.
UPDATE: in 2008.1 the master slider in the volume control works properly.
The MUTE button on the front of the computer is hardware based and does work. The front volume controls are dead, because they are software driven. When you plug in headphones, the internal speakers go silent and the headphone sound is rich.
Just works. It is using the e100 driver and sets it up as eth0. If you are using certain routers, you might need to disable IPV6 completely if you have long delays resolving DNS queries. You can do this by adding " NETWORKING_IPV6=no" to /etc/sysconfig/network
Although Mandriva 2007.0 can't seem to get it right during install (which is rare/unusual), it is easy to get working once running Linux. Make sure you had the front wireless switch set to "on" on the computer before booting, though, or it will never get detected! Drakconf Network->Wireless connection, it installs packages for the Intel Pro/Wireless 3945ABG. It will appear as eth2.
Unlike previous Sony sub-notebooks, the wireless lan light now flickers with activity, and blinks when trying to associate, which is extremely nice!
Unfortunately, there is a problem with the ipw3945 drivers available at the time of the release of 2007.0 (ipw3945-ucode-1.13-2 and ipw3945d-1.7.22-1) and there are some stability problems with them. After a while, one will see the wireless light blink and the network connection will be lost, "Microcode SW error detected. Restarting." will appear in /var/log/messages. Often followed by ifplugd stopping and restarting the interface. All the while, the machine will have very noticeable freezes and pauses... lasting for a few seconds. Many disconnections are long enough that KDE reports a loss in network connection, then reestablishment. There are other similar reports from many other people using different hardware and distros. These issues can be fixed by installing newer versions of the microcode.
UPDATE: In 2008.0 it is still broken! They are shipping microcode over one year old. The fix is easy, however. Just go to http://bughost.org/ipw3945/ and download microcode version 1.14 and install it.
UPDATE: In 2008.1 it is even worse!! They switch to using the new iwl3945 driver and it fails with a firware error. After MUCH fighting, I got ipw3945 back (it was on the disc) by installing 3 RPMS (dkms, firmware (ucode), and ipw3945d) hand editing /etc/modprobe.conf *AND* renaming the iwl3945 module to .hold. So it works again, although if I try to connect to someone in AdHoc mode, I sometimes have to flip the radio switch on the front of the laptop off then back on before it will work.
It works, or at least it certainly looks like it does. Everything is there, modules loaded automatically, kBluetoothD likes it. I have no bluetooth devices, so I have no way to test it.
There is a single PCMCIA type 1 or 2 slot with cardbus support. At this I have no cards to test it with, but I am going to assume that it is likely that it will work.
Old info (pre 2008.0): Sorry, just like all the other Sony sub-notebooks, the memory stick (and new SD card!) reader has little support under Linux. It uses the Texas Instruments 5-in-1 Card Reader PCI device. There is an active project trying to get it to work: http://developer.berlios.de/projects/tifmxx I was able to compile the drivers/move/depmod/modprobe them, and it does detect an SD card inserted (log/messages), but doesn't offer any device node. It is not high on my priority list at this time.
Someone gave me info that in 2.6.22+ kernels they have Device Drivers -> MMC/SD Card Support -> TI Flash Media MMC/SD Interface Support (EXPERIMENTAL) and running with it should produce a device node /dev/mmcblk0p1 but I have not tried.
UPDATE: In Mandriva 2008.* the card reader works, completely automatically! I have also confirmed it is SDHC compatible, so it will work with the newer 4, 8, and 16GB cards.
I have no idea if this will work or not. I have no interest in even testing it.
I can't test this, because I have no firewire devices. But it is configured and auto-detected/etc, so it is likely it will work.
Sprint Cellular Modem
This model contains an integrated Novatel Expedite ES720 (E720?) EV-DO cellular modem. This one is rev m6800A raptor_sprint126. EV-DO Revision A (backwards compatible to Rev 0 and 1xRTT). 3.1 Mbps download and 1.8Mbps upload.
There is very little information I could find about getting it to work under Linux, since it is rare and very new at the time of this writing. Although my research indicates that it is a mini-PCI express card, it doesn't appear in 'lspci". And other research tends to indicate that the modem itself might be USB sitting on a usb controller on the mini-PCI card.
Update: I think newer kernels might support the device as just a USB serial device through the "airprime" driver. In the 2.6.17 kernel I am using at the moment, it is not listed in the device ID's section of airprime.c (nor "options.c").
Biometric Finger Scanner
It is an integrated SGS Thomson Microelectronics fingerprint reader, ID 0483:2016. There is supposedly support at http://toe.ch/~tsa/ibm-fingerprint/ Sounds like a fun gadget to play with some day, maybe, if there is ever time... Found another project: http://avilella.googlepages.com/vaiosz and more info: http://forums.gentoo.org/viewtopic-t-509912.html For now the conclusion is that Sony modified the firmware, making it incompatible with all other software except theirs... intentionally.
What Sony Did Right
The screen just gets better and better with each generation. It is sharp and bright. And on this model, it is impossibly thin. So thin, that it is flexible, which hopefully won't be a problem.
Carbon fiber case is an excellent idea. Time will tell if it proves to be useful.
Integration of a cellular modem is a wonderful idea. Unfortunately, it means picking a single carrier... in this case Sprint. In the previous model, Cingular.
Doors on the bottom, for the first time. Instead of having to dissect the keyboard, you can gain access to the memory through one convenient door on the bottom, and to the cellular module through another!
I have no scientific data on this, but it seems to run cooler than the VGN-T150 and produce less heat on the bottom and through the keyboard.
The redesigned case and battery means no more "battery bump", like there was on older models.
The keyboard keys, although a strange silver and totally unsculpted, is still somehow better than the VGN-T150's.
As usual, battery life is wonderful. Seems like 5 hours is the minimum.
What Sony Did Wrong
The biggest thing Sony did wrong and has done wrong and seemingly will continue to do wrong is to almost ignore Linux. Most other manufacturers at least offer information on their web site to assist Linux enthusiasts. Not so with Sony.
After over two years since the release of of the VGN-T150, the CPU went from 1.1Ghz to 1.2Ghz. Doesn't seem quite impressive for a very expensive, high-tech computer model. Granted, the memory is much faster, but one would think a little faster CPU would have been possible.
There is really no need to have a rubber-ducky antenna on the right side of the screen. I suspect it is just there for marketing purposes. If WiFi antennas can be integrated into the body or screen, certainly the same could be done with the cellular modem.
Sony's decision to reduce the size of the physical DVD eject button on the drive is truly perplexing. It is so small, it is almost unusable. I suppose they figured it would be just too difficult for users to figure out how to press a side button and so made a new "software" eject button (which doesn't work under Linux) near the power button. But there is still no reason to not keep a normal sized button on the physical drive, itself.
Sony apparently has a hatred of internal microphones. Something that might have cost $1 to add to the machine is not to be found, nor on any of the previous sub-notebook models.
I really miss having a physical, analog volume control. None of the Sony sub-notebooks have had one (nor do most laptops), but it is so much easier to deal with than a software UP and DOWN button, barely findable on the front of the machine.
One would think Sony could have found a better place for the Kensington security slot than right above a USB port! There is no way to use that port and connect a security cable at the same time.
There is no autodetection of external monitors anymore (like on older models), so you have to go through a lot more configuration to get an external monitor working.
Sony attempted to have an "instant on" DVD player, but instead of doing it through the BIOS and firmware, they just loaded software under MS-Windows to try and emulate it. Nice try, Sony, but what is the point?
I am quite happy with the machine so far. It is extremely small and portable, but still solid and high quality with "big machine" features. It is overpriced ($2300) and has a few negative design issues, but there are enough positives to leave one feeling "wow"'ed.
Several newer Sony VGN-TXN series models have come out since mine. Based on past Sony sub-notebook experience, it is likely the newer in the same series are just more memory or faster CPU, that type of thing. So most (if not all) of the information on these pages is still applicable. The new TZ series will replace the TX, and looks to be different specs (dual core, "N" wireless, camera, Express card, 950 graphics, GigE).
If you find any mistakes in my writings, or have additional information to add (found solutions to problems/etc), please let me know and I will update it. Thanks
-Mark A. Davis
markdavis .a. cox.net