Kubuntu Gutsy on Toshiba Tecra 8000

Tecra 8000 windowsMy Tecra 8000 is an ancient notebook with a 366MHz Pentium II processor, a 6 GB harddrive and an installed maximum of 256 MB RAM. Kubuntu 7.10 installs nicely on it, albeit very slowly.

Overall, I’m quite happy with the result. The systems feels faster than expected and is a perfect fit for its designated purpose, which is browsing the web and emailing. Application startup times are long, but once loaded, even a monster like OpenOffice is quite useable. There was only one major installation problem, namely getting WPA encryption to work with my PCMCIA WLAN card.

Almost all of my hardware was detected perfectly, including a PCMCIA ethernet card (3Com 3C574-TX Fast Etherlink PC Card A001) and the Yamaha OPL3-SA2 sound chip. I didn’t test the built-in Winmodem though, which used to cause a lot of grief.
Note that the installation from the live-CD needs at least 2.5 GB (plus swap) instead of 2.0 GB like the installer claims.

How to get Ralink RT61 wlan chipset working with WPA

This was a tough challenge. I had been looking out specifically for a wireless PCMCIA card which would work with WPA on Linux. The safest bet seemed to be the Conceptronic one, with a Ralink RT61 chipset. There is an official driver from the manufacturer, and additionally an open source one. I even bought the card from an internet shop which is specialised in Linux hardware. So everything seemed to be set for an easy install. Hell, was I wrong.

Of four Live-CD distros I tried (PCLinuxOS 2007, Linux Mint 4.0, Fedora Core 8, and Kubuntu 7.10), none got the card working out of the box. The problem is that there are three different sets of drivers for the chipset, each one with its own configurations, tools, and pitfalls, multiplied by dozens of versions each.

The three alternatives are:

  1. The official Ralink driver, which seems to be not widely used and which is said to be rather low on features. It obviously relies on wpa_supplicant for WPA functionality, but it is quite unclear which version is needed. It uses proprietary configuration files in /etc/Wireless and an interface naming scheme of raX.
  2. The “enhanced legacy drivers”, an open-source-spinoff of the official Ralink driver. It is supplied in hourly CVS archives and has recently dumped the proprietary configuration files and interface naming themes in favour of the standard wlanX names and configuration via iwconfig and iwpriv. It is not, however, compatible with wpa_supplicant, but uses its own WPA code.
  3. The “next-generation rt2×00 drivers”, a complete open-source rewrite of the drivers, obviously meant for a new wireless stack which is supposed to be standard with kernels from 2.6.24 onwards.

Kubuntu 7.10 Gutsy comes with a version of the “next-generation rt2×00 drivers”, complete with a matching build of wpa_supplicant. Unfortunately it doesn’t work, at least with WPA.

Compiling and configuring the enhanced legacy driver rt61

Download the current driver source snapshot. Open a shell and issue the following commands:

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> sudo -i
# cd /tmp
# tar xvzf /foo/bar/rt61-cvs-daily.tar.gz
# cd rt61-cvs-XXXXXXXX/Module
# less README
# make
# make install

Ignore warnings in the “make” step, as long as the result is “Module rt61.ko built successfully”. Specifically, there is a warning “Module file much too big (>1MB)” which doesn’t seem to do any harm. Stripping the module does not work, it will not load properly.

The README file was very concise in my version, so if in doubt, follow its steps. I did not have to move the firmware files, as the same versions were already present in Gutsy.

The manual steps as described in the README worked fine for me. Where I had problems was with automating them. There are lots of howto pages on the web describing on how to do this utilising the file /etc/network/interfaces with some pre-up statements. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get them to work. So I simply put the manual steps as before into an executable shell script named ifcfg-wlan0, and execute this from within the interfaces file in a pre-up statement. I have no clue at all why this works while the proposed standard way does not.

So these are my steps for automating the WLAN WPA connection at boot time:

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# echo "blacklist rt61pci" >> /etc/modprobe.d/blacklist
# modprobe --remove rt61pci rt2x00pci rt2x00lib rfkill input_polldev crc_itu_t eeprom_93cx6
# cp /tmp/download/ifcfg-wlan0 /etc/network/
# chmod a+x /etc/network/ifcfg-wlan0
# cp /tmp/download/interfaces /etc/network/
# /etc/init.d/networking restart
# ping google.com

Sometimes the LEDs don’t flash at all after a networking restart. This seems to be a bug; after reboot or reload of the module they’ll light up again.

How to make scrolling faster

The Tecra 8000 graphics adapter seems to choke on the 24 bpp display setting which is set by default. Kubuntu doesn’t seem to have a GUI tool to tweak X11 configuration, so we have to edit /etc/X11/xorg.conf manually and replace DefaultDepth 24 by DefaultDepth 16. Restart X11 session for the change to take effect.

It seems that the standard vesa driver is faster as the neomagic driver for standard operations like scrolling. I reverted back to neomagic though, because the vesa driver had a strange graphical glitch: it doubles the rightmost 10 or so pixel columns, resulting in a mirror like effect at the right edge of the screen.

I made a few more tweaks to the xorg.conf, so that scrolling perfomance is good enough now, and the fan is no longer kicking in at every single scrolling action. I’ll put up the configuration file soon.

ACPI vs APM - slow machine vs not powering off

Kubuntu puts the Tecra into APM mode by default. I didn’t try the suspend modes yet, and my battery is dead anyway, so I have no problems with that. Except that the machine won’t power off automatically, which seems to be a common problem. Probably a custom kernel compilation is needed here with an altered APM configuration.

When I put the machine into ACPI mode by issuing the boot command “acpi=force”, the system becomes unusably slow. Strangely enough, PCLinuxOS 2007 uses ACPI mode on the Tecra by default and is running well. But mind you, PCLinuxOS has other problems on the Tecra; neither sound nor ethernet were working out of the box.

AccuPoint pointing device

The built-in pointing device works fine, even concurrently with a mouse. But only as long as the mouse is plugged into the USB port. If it’s connected via PS/2, either the mouse or the AccuPoint is going haywire. Fortunately, there is an option in the BIOS menu (press Escape during boot) to switch off simultaneous activation. USB mice and the pointing nipple will still work at the same time though.

Some info about the Tecra 8000

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