Samsung 900X1B laptop and GNU/Linux


I installed GNU/Linux on a Samsung 900X1B laptop, since I could not find any specific information on the web I have written this page to help others in the same task.

I installed the Debian/GNU testing distribution, most of the information applies to all Linux distributions, issues specific to Debian are marked with [Debian].

DISCLAIMER: some of the procedures described hereafter are meant for experienced computer users and could cause loss of data, do not apply them unless you understand what you are doing. I accept no responsibility for any damage that can occur.

Preparation

[Debian] I installed Debian/GNU testing 64 bit (kernel 3.0.0) using a net install image from http://cdimage.debian.org/cdimage/daily-builds/daily/arch-latest/amd64/iso-cd/ (mine was dated 7/11/2011). In this way you download a bootable minimal CD containing the base system, to complete the installation you need an Internet connection.

Since the 900X1 has no CD/DVD reader, I installed the base system from an USB memory stick.

[Debian] Find here http://www.debian.org/releases/stable/amd64/ch04s03.html.en how to prepare the USB stick, I just copied the iso to the USB stick with

# cat debian.iso > /dev/sdX
# sync

(substitute X with your USB device letter - warning: this will destroy all the partitions on the USB stick).

[Debian] If you plan to install the system using a wireless connection, you need the non-free firmware for the Broadcom wireless card: download the file firmware.tar.gz or firmware.zip from the directory corresponding to your cd image here http://cdimage.debian.org/cdimage/unofficial/non-free/firmware/.
Uncompress the firmware file on a second USB stick in the root directory or inside a /firmware directory: the firmware packages will be automatically detected during the installation.

Booting the installation disk and installing

I could not boot the USB from the right side (USB 3) port, I had to use the port on the left side. I used the right port for the second USB stick containing the firmware packages.

The installation went smooth, the hardware were correctly autodetected.

Power saving

If you are using a recent kernel (>= 2.6.38) you will experience the effects of the so called "Linux power regression" (which is not a Linux regression at all, see for example http://www.phoronix.com/scan.php?page=article&item=linux_2638_aspm&num=1): high cpu temperature, a lot of fan noise and short battery life. This is due to the fact that in recent kernels the Active-State Power Management is not used by default to avoid problems with misconfigured BIOS.

This page http://www.phoronix.com/scan.php?page=article&item=intel_i915_power&num=1 explains which parameters to pass to the kernel to address this problem lowering the CPU temperature, extending battery life and avoiding fan noise. Addittionally, it is possibile to enable power save for the sound card (snd_hda_intel module).

In the file /etc/default/grub (the location of this file may change depending on your distribution) I changed the line

GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX_DEFAULT="quiet"

to

GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX_DEFAULT="pcie_aspm=force i915.i915_enable_rc6=1 i915.i915_enable_fbc=1 i915.lvds_downclock=1 i915.powersave=1 snd_hda_intel.power_save_controller=1 snd_hda_intel.power_save=1 quiet"

run

sudo update-grub

(or update-grub as root) and reboot.

Wireless

Wireless connection seems to be the most problematic issue, I hope it is a driver problem which can be solved with software upgrades. The card is a Broadcom BCM43225 802.11/g/n (rev 01), which is supported by both the Open Source brcm80211 driver ([debian] http://wiki.debian.org/brcm80211) or by the closed sourced Broadcom STA driver ([debian] http://wiki.debian.org/wl).

The brcm80211 is included as staging driver in recent kernels and should work out of the box, the STA driver requires additional installation which depends on the distribution in use. My experience is that the STA driver seems to be less prone to frequent disconnections and (sometimes failed) reconnections. Without modifying power management settings, both drivers perform poorly, a ping to the AP loses around 25% of the packets.

A partial workaround consists in turning off the power save of the wireless interface. You can check the current configuration with

sudo /sbin/iwconfig

If your wireless interface (wlan0 for brcm80211, eth1 for STA) has a line like this

Power Managementmode:All packets received

the power management is on, otherwise you should see

Power Management:off

The wireless power management can be turned off with

sudo /sbin/iwconfig power off

This change can be made permanent by creating the file

/etc/pm/power.d/wireless

containing the two lines (use wlan0 instead of eth1 if you are using the brcm80211 driver):

#!/bin/sh

/sbin/iwconfig eth1 power off

The file must be executable, you can set the persmissions by

sudo chmod +x /etc/pm/power.d/wireless

With power management off the performance is acceptable.

See
https://bugs.launchpad.net/ubuntu/+source/wl/+bug/681445
https://bugs.launchpad.net/ubuntu/+source/bcmwl/+bug/651008

Tuning the installation

Current status

All the devices work without specific installation/configuration, unless otherwise stated in the comments:

Device Status Comments
Backlit keyboard ok keyboard illumination is switched on/off automatically according to ambient light (manual setting is not possible, see FN+F7/F8 keys below)
Bluetooth not tested
External mic not tested
Headphones ok you can enable/disable the automatic speakers muting in the mixer
HDMI port not tested
Internal mic ok check the "capture 2" level in the mixer
Lid ok the pc sleeps a few seconds after the lid is shut, you have to press the power button to get back
Sound ok check the levels in the mixer
Touchpad ok including 2 fingers h/v scrolling and 2/3 fingers tapping (I'm using synaptik in KDE 4.6.5)
Video ok including HW acceleration
Webcam ok
Wired Ethernet ok
Wireless card ok works with some problems, see wireless section above

Special keys:

Key FN+ Status Comments
Unknown key F1 no it just prints a weird character, this is probably working but not associated to any action
Screen backlight keys F2/F3 ok
External/internal video switch key F4 not tested
Touchpad lock key F5 ok
Unknown (sleep?) key F6 no
Keyboard backlight keys F7/F8 no
Mute/volume keys F9/F10/F11 ok
Wireless switch key F12 no

Additional information about the non working keys can be found (for 900X3, but keycodes should be the same) here http://ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?t=1751914.

Notebook review

As you probably already know the Samsung 900x1 is very thin and light. At the same time it feels solid, the keyboard does not bend while typing. The matte screen is very good, I have been able to work outdoors.

The lateral sliding plastic flaps feel fragile, the upside is that probably they will not be used often.

The combination of SSD storage and i3-2357M cpu is very fast: I clocked 10 seconds from GRUB prompt to kdm login screen (add about 3 seconds from switching on the pc), less than 3 seconds to wake up from sleep mode.

I haven't tested the battery duration, after adding the kernel parameters I got 95% remaining after 45 minutes (this is probably very optimistic). The pc is very quiet.

Overall it seems a good choice if you want an ultra portable notebook running Linux and the price is not a problem.

As a side note: out of curiosity, I tried to use windows 7 on this pc but after 15 minutes it was really getting on my nerves. How can people get on with the poor interface, the constant nagging for confirmation and the requests to sign up to services every time you run (mostly involuntarily) a program?
As planned, I wiped the disk and turned the pc into something useful installing Linux.

Useful links

Debian GNU/Linux distribution http://www.debian.org/
Linux on my Samsung http://www.voria.org/forum/
Ubuntu Forums - Samsung series 9 http://ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?t=1737086
Debian wl driver page http://wiki.debian.org/wl
Linux power regression + overheating problem on ThinkPad http://www.omgubuntu.co.uk/2011/11/linux-power-regression-overheating-problem-on-thinkpad-fixed/

Report comments and/or suggestion for improvements to .
Please include "Samsung" in the subject: it will make easier for me to automatically sort the messages.

Last update: 27th November 2011 by Paolo Zatelli.