The move to Linux, stymied by hardware

With news today of Windows 7 being made available in no less than six different versions, it is getting harder and harder to not move lock, stock, and PGP key to Linux on a full time basis. Except…

For decades, I have listened to my father gripe about the computer industry and their inability to standardize on hardware. This has bitten me on occasion, especially when playing RAM bingo in the late 90s, but currently the hardware issue is affecting my ability to move to Linux. I have a laptop. It is my primary desktop, terminal server, packet platform, entertainment centre and core of my electronic world. It is commodity hardware. It has a wireless card that is not Linux friendly. It is a Marvell Topdog 802.11 a/g/n.

I originally tried to load Fedora Core 8 on this machine and it failed miserably because of the lack of wireless support. Turns out there were a couple of other chips in there that came out of the Marvell plant as well that just made using Linux a non-starter. All the components have to work, not 80% of them, so I loaded Vista and was content do run my Linux in a VM when I needed to use it, sure in the knowledge that someone would crack the code. That was two years ago and I really never got around to looking up a solution.

A little searching this morning shows that there have been advances. There are hacks using the NDIS driver under Ubuntu to make the card work, but I have not seen any articles on a native driver in the Linux distributions for it. There is a driver on the Marvell site for Yukon devices that is listed as running under Linux 2.6-Fedora but I have not had the time to try it, so I cannot affirm that it works. If you have tried it, please let me know your results.

Moving to Linux should not be a difficult task. I should be able to walk into any big box store, slap down my $300 for a laptop or desktop and walk out. I should not be stymied by hardware. But the sad news is that it is getting harder, instead of easier. I should not have to look up the chipset of every component in the box and compare it to a list of approved hardware. I should not have to keep a list of approved Linux hardware vendor websites book marked. A Personal Computer should run whatever operating system I need. We are getting close to that point, but we are not quite there yet.

Maybe this weekend I will get around to moving to Linux on this machine, but, more likely, I will wait for my next PC.


David Lane, KG4GIY is a member of Linux Journal's Editorial Advisory Panel and the Control Op for Linux Journal's Virtual Ham Shack


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mmboss's picture




If you're going to choose

Sebastian's picture

If you're going to choose your operating system over something as simple as removing two screws and replacing a small easily(my five year old son replaced his) removable chip, then you shouldn't even be a linux user. Linux Mint might suit you better, it ha ndiswrappers.

Linux drivers not driving people...

Charles McColm's picture

"That was two years ago and I really never got around to looking up a solution."

Sadly I think this is part of the "problem" with Linux, as soon as people run into a problem, they give up for something they perceive is easier. Most people still have to load drivers on to Windows systems, and some are a royal *pain* to get (HP 1620n USB drivers for example) unless you know exactly what you're doing (i.e. motherboard chipset because HP doesn't carry the driver). I know this perception of Windows being easier to install than Linux is completely wrong!

How do I know? I help hundreds of people a year learn about installing Windows (XP) and Linux. Much of my time is spent helping people learn about getting drivers for Windows XP. Sometimes they go to the wrong sites (instead of manufacturer sites) and end up infecting their computer with spyware. But most often people just don't know where to look, or pick a driver for another version of Windows.

Linux is a breeze in comparison to installing Windows and most of the time there is a driver. This Marvell chipset example reminds me of the girl who blamed Dell for not being able to attend university because her laptop came with Ubuntu. If she had just gone over to her neighbours she could have temporarily resolved the problem until she could get things straightened out with Dell. We solved the Marvell problem the same way, we just plugged in a different NIC and downloaded the Marvell driver and installed it (in this case a pcmcia NIC could have been used). Yes, it does suck when Linux doesn't have a driver in the kernel, but sometimes it just takes a little thinking outside of the Microsoft box to work there... ;-)

Pre-Installed Linux

Anonymous's picture

I'm sorry, but I'm in the camp with those who feel you did not do adequate research before selecting your hardware. To quote Warren Zevon, "This ain't no party, this ain't no disco, this ain't no foolin' around"

There is help for folks who don't care to research everything, though. A really nice little company out of South Carolina, USA called LinPC (} is shipping desktops with PCLinuxOS 2008 pre-installed that are guaranteed to work "out of the box". I bought such a system for my wife recently and was well pleased with the quality, fit, finish, and functionality of the system.

This was their "box" system with 250 gig SATA drive, Lightscribe DVD-RW, 430W power supply, and an MSI mainboard running an AMD Athlon64X2 5000 CPU with integrated PCIe Nvidia video, and 4 gigs of DDR2 RAM (i.e., it's just the box - no monitor, keyboard, or other stuff like that) for well under $400.00 delivered. That ain't bad for a box that's burned in, tested, and guaranteed to work with Linux already on it.

Being the techie I am, I pulled the covers and did a complete inspection before first power-up, just to make sure everything was still buttoned down - no problems there. In under an hour I had this box up, running, customized, and on the LAN at home, doing what my wife needed to do.

So, if you want an inexpensive Linux box with which you won't have any compatibility issues, get out there and look around.

They are also looking at shipping pre-installed laptops and netbooks in the near future. As more vendors like this one come to market, life as a Linux user becomes sweeter for all of us. You could do worse than supporting those that support you and your right to choose a better OS.

what the -- that's the

cthubik's picture

what the -- that's the second time in the past month I've seen that quote misattributed to Warren Zevon. I saw it in someone's IRC quit message I think. Check your quit message.

Techie lyrics

David Byrne's picture

I'm sorry, but I'm in the camp with those who feel you did not do adequate research before selecting your hardware. To quote Warren Zevon, "This ain't no party, this ain't no disco, this ain't no foolin' around"

Get a clue, man--your "quote" is from Talking Heads, not Warren Zevon.

"Techie" my butt--any "techie" worth anything would have had T-Heads lyrics down pat by now (nearly three decades later).

On the other hand, if you want to run linux on some systems these days, it probably helps to "Send Lawyers, Guns, and Money--the [crap] has hit the fan. HAH!"

Whining about hardware compatibility

John Hardin's picture

> I should not have to look up the chipset of every component in the box and compare it to a list of approved hardware.

So long as there are hardware vendors who refuse to cooperate and support Linux, you will have to do this. And it's not the Linux kernel devs' fault.

And don't forget you have to do the same thing with Windows, if you're not buying it pre-installed.

Wow. What a bunch of

Anonymous's picture

Wow. What a bunch of whiners here. Holy sh*t people, why dont you RTFM? You want to use a different operating system? Ok fine. Remember when you first sat in front of a windows box? Ya. Now shut the fuck up and stop bitched cuz your shit don't work. It dont work because it's not supported, which you would have known had you bothered to do any research in the first place, before you bought your stupid hardware. Sorry, but I got no sympathy. You dont go out to buy a mac, just to put windows on it and vice versa. Same goes for linux. Buy the right hardware and you wont have problems. Of course, if your just a slack jawed yokel who just goes and buys the first thing off the shelf, without regard to compadibility, then fuck you. Grow brain stem, and don't complain when your shit don't work cuz you didn't bother to research. About 80% of the hardware on the market is supported by linux, with more and more each day. Anyone wanna guess how much hardware vista supports?

you have tried fedora 8 and

Anonymous's picture

you have tried fedora 8 and it failed to install. so you loaded Vista.

I am wandering why did use that old version, and not one of the newest one like fedora 10 or from Ubuntu 8.10 ..etc?

hardware is not the issue

dakira's picture

When people buy their computers the OS is already on it. When you buy a Linux laptop you can be sure it works perfectly well.

In reply to you and some other comments: You're wireless card doesn't work. Bad luck. If you want to use Linux you have two options, a) ask your neighborhood geek to make it run or b) buy one that works with Linux. All the big brands work just fine.

Most TV-tuners I tried worked perfectly fine, too, if they didn't have absolutely never-heard-of cheapo chipsets.

And guess what... my scanner doesn't work on Vista or XP SP2 (and beyond). When I plug it in my Linux box it works out-of-the-box.. same as my TV-tuner.. WITHOUT installing 300MB of crooked drivers and software that slow down my machine. Same as every webcam I tried.

If you plan to switch to Linux, see that you next computers hardware is compatible. You can either assure that buy buying a computer preloaded with Linux (Dell, HP, ...) or by making sure of it yourself which isn't that hard:

All basic hardware is always supported, graphic cards vendors (nvidia, ati, intel) release their linux drivers with the same version and at the same time as their windows drivers (so Linux users are better of than mac users in this area).

That leaves you with sound. All those soundchips on motherboards are supported. If you want to buy a fancy soundcard (for audio editing) you'll have to make sure its supported. On the other hand you'll run a dual-boot system anyway since sound editing on Linux is far behind atm.

WiFi: the past problems are pretty much solved. Atheros runs fine as always, prism, too. Intel release their own Linux drivers for their chipsets. Broadcom and Realtek still have some problems but all the stuff I tried that didn't work DOES with a current kernel (the one that ships with intrepid).

So for the above you're fine if you just buy quality hardware.

The last area to look at is the big problem area.. external devices like printers and scanners. Vendor support for those sucks big time. With printers there's CUPS (common unix printing system) to the rescue. As it has been adopted by Apple all printers supposed to work on a current Mac will work on Linux. There's a huge free driver project and drivers for almost all printers are there. You won't have to hunt them down on the internet, they will be right there when you set up your printer. Frankly the only printer I had problems with was an old Epson laser color-printer. For that one I had to compile the drivers myself which took me 5 minuted and will probably be unachievable for a non-expert.

So printers are not that much of a problem either. Printers in Top10-lists of computer magazines will work fine. Scanners are a different story. Check out the supported-list of the SANE project. If it's not there.. don't buy it. Or google before you buy. A scanner either works when you plug it in, or it doesn't.

Six and counting... but not there yet!

Anonymous's picture

I have tried six distros (so far), and I keep going back to Windows. Why? Simple. Hardware. In my most recent case, a TV tuner card. But the particular hardware isn't the issue. It what generally happens when something doesn't work out of the box. While some people like to tinker (as do I, but there are limits), others just want the @#$% thing to work. Hours and hours later, config files with endless options, googling to find out that so many others have the same problem, and answers that are all-to-often neither helpful nor polite. I'm not even talking about an average consumer trying to deal with these issues; judging from many of the people seeking answers, they are at least somewhat technically competent about what they are trying to do.

Package managers have made the environment more friendly, and hardware support has improved. GUI configuration tools would make life easier for MOST people who just want try it out, or for the AVERAGE technical users.

There is no doubt that the Windows platform has its issues, including hardware. I WANT to move to Linux. I just walk away frustrated after every attempt. Maybe the seventh time will be the charm...

I am all with you man on this

Vic's picture

I am all with you man on this one. That is what I usually do when I decide to finally switch to Linux (about once a year or so). I DLoad and burn at least 10 different distros in their latest stable versions and the big race begins. Out of ten usually 2-3 do not boot at all. So I reload images, burn new CDs or DVDs to get exactly same result. Out of remaining rarely one or two finds all of my hardware. And if it does I find out that I missing something else in those distros. For wireless mess just take a look at the long battle of way too many Linux distributions with Broadcom wireless chips. And Broadcom DOES cooperate, they HAVE their Linux drivers available on the Internet!

I use Ubuntu (Linux Mint really) and it works well

Mark L's picture

I very rarely find hardware that gives me trouble, compatibility is not ideal but it is better than ever.

I totally disagree

Mark L's picture

I have been using a Linux desktop since about 1994 and things are infinitely better now than they have ever been. Still not perfect, though.

por favor

Anonymous's picture


Share the experience

JD2's picture

Just a suggestion... You can share the full experience here: For that matter, so can anyone else. ;)

Uh, what?

Robin's picture

Sorry, but upon reading this article, I took it upon myself to grab a copy of wubi ( and install Ubuntu Intrepid Ibex onto my current Windows Vista computer.

An hour later, I am sitting here, running Ubuntu 8.10, posting this comment, whilst talking to friends online through Pidgin, and listening to streaming music via Spotify (a strictly Windows / Mac only program).

All my hardware has been detected. Even my ATI card has full 3D acceleration, my iPod is syncing and earlier I watched Heroes in 720p HD with no slowdown / lag.

I do not see how Linux adoption is stymied by anything other than lack of marketing. You can sell anything to anyone, but it takes a degree of marketing and advertising. Being free only sweetens the deal. Linux distribution coordinators like Mark Shuttleworth need to begin advertising properly.


Robin's picture

I believe that it's not really the author's place to push this editorial as anything more than "I'm going to bitch because I can't get my stupid wireless card to work".

You can't sit there and claim that Linux's adoption on the global market is impeded by the fact that you decided to buy a laptop which either no one else has, or not enough people bought one that warranted a specific driver being made for the wireless card.

Sorry but you can't claim that.

Research before you buy

Fish's picture

Every time I purchase hardware, which is often enough, I spend hours to days researching how it will work with the software I intend to use. I could not conceive of purchasing a laptop without being sure that Linux drivers were available. There is a Linux hardware compatibility list, easy enough to find, that can help immensely although you have to accept the risk of purchasing the very latest hardware that you may have troubles. Sure MS has an edge over this by their enslavement of the hardware manufacturers, but the opensource community is not that far behind, which is amazing considering that most of the effort is voluntary spare-time. Just go for hardware that has been around for a few months and you should not go wrong.

If this effort is too much, then just get a preinstalled Windows machine (and run a Linux VM if you want). The Windows world is (mostly) for plebs and Linux is for the connoisseurs, so you must expect some to shed some sweat to get the best.


I'll go one further and say

Anonymous's picture

I'll go one further and say he's just a fucking retard for not bothering to research his hardware. And then complain.

Linux-compliance is a good criterion

Francois's picture

As a basic rule of thumb when looking for a laptop: It should be Linux-compliant, even if you do not plan to use Linux on it. Exotic hardware not following standards, with exotic drivers, is never a good choice.

I'm sorry, but this is a dumb article

Anonymous's picture

I don't understand bitching about a wireless card in a laptop not working with Linux, when there are easily obtainable wireless cards that work like champs, for very little cost.

As far as supported hardware: try running Windows on most of the following:

If I could downmod this woeful article, I would.


sirjoebob's picture

I run Ubuntu and have never had issues with hardware that U could not get working. Additionally, it is not up to an OS to provide drivers for hardware- it is up to the manufacturers. If a manufacturer does not make a driver or release the specifications to coders, a driver is not likely to poof into existence.

This is an example of why I gave up on linux

Edd T's picture

You could not find a laptop running all the hardware built in cheaper than the pricier Mac laptops when OS X came out. And wifi was pretty much out of the question. Kernel builds with wifi were beta only and bluetooth was alpha. Mac had wifi native and used a BSD based kernel still a better system the most windows. Now that hardware is getting usable and reasonable priced my next laptop might be linux based.

Six versions of Windows 7 may push you to Linux?

darthjure's picture

If six versions of Windows 7 is too confusing for you, I don't think you want to go to Linux. How many hundreds of versions Linux are there??

I rather like the idea of

Anonymous's picture

I rather like the idea of using a linux boot disc to try out the hardware first.
I am rather tempted to downgrade my video card as I have an older 128mb agp nvidia card just to run a real OS like jaunty-desktop-i386. I have a Diamondmax agp hd2400pro with apparently proprietary drivers. All others crash. And if linux has a fix I would be simply amazed. The card cost about $175 and was completely removed from their site including drivers almost immediately. I will never buy that brand again.
Other than that every time in the past I have ever booted into linux, usually ubuntu but not always, and tried to get it to recognize my allnone hp I could never get it to work. IF I had I would have switched a few years ago. At least now the printer is not an issue as I don't even have one.
And yes I have forever stated the #1 reason for "issues" is the very simple hardware manufacture competition which precludes any real standards.

You can solve this problem with a screwdriver and $25 tops.

Jim March's picture

Step one: find the WiFi card in your laptop. It will be under a screwed-down panel underneath somewhere (next to the RAM or the like) or possibly under the keyboard. In NO case will it ever be buried so deep you'll have to crack it all the way open.

Step two, figure out if it's mini-PCI or mini-PCI-express. Likely the latter if it's anything recent. Easy way to tell: mini-PCI is bigger and the data edge connector will be along one of the longer edges of the rectangular shape. mini-PCI-express is a smaller rectangle and the data connector is on one of the shorter edges.

If you can pull and insert memory, you can easily figure out how to pull and insert these WiFi modules.

Step three: buy a replacement based on a good chipset. Atheros is particularly good if you want to "transmit", in other words turn your laptop into a WiFi hotspot by sharing a cellmodem or something. Intel is generally the most stable, easiest to work with, it's had all-open-source drivers the longest. Broadcom is now solidly supported; you do have to fetch and install a binary firmware blob but once that's done (done for you automatically by the best distros including Ubuntu) they work great and they seem to punch a signal further than Atheros (at least comparing "G" grade to "G" me, you want at least a "G" class but that's by far the most common.) Stick with Atheros, Intel or Broadcom and you'll be OK. Ebay has scads of 'em, or if you're in a city try calling laptop repair places, they'll often have used pulls from dead laptops.

OPTIONAL: go whole-hog and get something "N-class" like the superb Intel 4965AGN. That may set you back $50 or so, but it will also boost your range by at least 1/3rd and often more. (A quick check of EBay shows mini-PCI-express Atheros-based N-class cards for $30 or less.) If you have the older mini-PCI standard slot, you probably won't be able to do an N-class card, at least not cheap.)

Wiring tips: your laptop will generally have two internal antenna leads, for the "white" and "black" connectors on the WiFi card. It doesn't seem to matter if you mix them up. N-class cards have three antenna ports. You don't have to use the middle one - take the two leads you've got stock with your laptop, run them to the two outer antenna connectors. This will boost your range and give you a stable connection. IF you add a 3rd antenna to the middle connector you'd have the full 300mb/s speed available in the "N" specification but for most people, you'd never EVER see that anyways so why bother?

VERY few laptops will ever complain about "hey, what the hell, that ain't my stock WiFi card anymore!". I've done swaps on Acer, Dell and Toshiba laptops so far with nary a problem. Only IBM/Lenovo will give you headaches of that sort.

If $25 in hardware you can drop in in 15 minutes flat is keeping you from Linux, you're nuts. You'll save that much purely in not buying Windows anti-virus software for a year. Linux is WAY cheaper for the home user to run both in terms of using free stuff instead of paid-up software AND running great on older hardware that would otherwise be slow enough you'd want to upgrade hardware faster in Windows.

Linux + Hardware.

Johnny_Wadd's picture

Jim, you offer a real valid option to address some of the hardware problems. I have been singing the Broadcom blues over the last three distro upgrades. Works, oops now it doesn't. Upgrade and it breaks. Try Redhat this time and it works, except I don't want to use Redhat, thank you very much. I ran into a similar problem quite a while ago with a sound card. I scoured the Internet for soultions to no avail. I even resorted to compiling the kernel against different libraries. There just seems to be a point in this process when you say enough is enough. How much is my time worth? Even if I do enjoy NARFLING THE GARTHOK, I can only stands so much.

My solution. A trip to one of the local computer stores that makes it on a shoestring. I found an eight bit sound blaster card, gave Robbie $5.00 for it and took it home and stuck it in my computer's ISA slot (Yea it's been a while.) Problem solved in about ten minutes. Thanks for reminding all of us about the problem of diminishing term vs the dollar. Good tip. Wish I followed it more.

Ubuntu 8.10 ..thank you

Anonymous's picture

Linux Ubuntu saved 3 old computers i had just laying around ... good hardware..pentium 4 ...even dual core ..that had died under the weight of xp kids now use ubuntu ..they dont even notice the change ..ohh yeah .. no more crashing .. no more connectivity issues more bullshit ...Linux is the way it should be ..i loved learning to tweak the terminal... some day i will show them how to change there desktop perception without spending hundreds of dollars to do so ..until then im the man that put a new (but old ) computer in each OF THERE ROOMS .. HOT DAMN....something like the wizard of oz ..lmao

Yukon Driver

Matthew H.'s picture

Just FYI, I've used that Yukon driver you mention under Fedora and it works beautifully, so you can't say that Marvell doesn't support Linux at all. I should mention that driver came on my Asus Rampage Formula motherboard driver disc. I should also say, though, that whatever Linux distro I'm using, they all seem to consistently fail to be able to utilize network hardware that isn't unbelievably common; I've never seen a wireless device that wasn't built-in to a laptop work and it seems a number of those work only sketchily. And don't get me started on modems; I spent years cursing Linux because of those things. It's only the fact that I don't need a modem anymore that allows me to use Linux in any capacity at all. I'm aware that Linux can support a massive amount of hardware now, but if the current climate doesn't seriously change there will always be a good number of devices whose poor support keeps significantly many people away.

wifi cards sure - but how about all the buttons on your mouse

waterwingz's picture

I can (perhaps) understand why different chipsets for network, wifi and motherboards cause Linux a problem. But I can't understand why you cannot expect anything beyond the right and left click buttons and scoll wheel on a $20 mouse from Microsoft or Logitech to work. Spend ten minutes googling for the tilt wheel and other buttons and you will see what I mean. This just can't be that hard technically.

Here's the deal

Kevin, not the other Kevin's picture

You wouldn't just go out and buy any laptop off the shelf and try to run OS X on it would you? I wouldn't. I would find something with hardware that was compatible. The same with Linux. When my wife needed a laptop for grad school she wanted Linux, just like on her desktop. We went shopping with a live cd to test the hardware. There was only one laptop that we tried that didn't just work. I told her that she was going to have to do her own support from now on, so she didn't get that one. I don't see the problem here.

No less than 6...?

Pilotbob's picture

Please... no less than 6 versions of Windows 7?

Actually there are only 2 that you will be able to buy at retail. (Home Premium or Professional). Pro is a superset of premium... unlike Vista where Pro didn't have Media Center, etc.

Now, tell me how many Linux distros are there? lists 11 on an ad for right on their front page. Um... sure... it is perfectly clear which of those to choose.

Let's be careful with the FUD ok.

As far as Linux hardware... if you buy a Laptop with Linux pre-installed I'm pretty sure it will have supported hard ware. Dell sells them... many other places sell them.


Yeah its not PnP yet, but it is getting better...

Fedora 10 on Dell Mini-9's picture

More companies are choosing to build systems, appliances, whatever, with Linux as the OS, embedded or loaded, and the Mac OS being 'nix based is also helping. Sure there are companies not assigning programmers to write the Linux drivers immediately, but then again there seem to be more doing so from the get go. It's not going anywhere, especially as the "Google solution" is growing as competition to MS. Linux is not going to die off. It is more usable now then ever, and continues to improve. Look at things for what they are... Linus released penguins... Bill released mosquitoes...


Anonymous's picture

I honestly never heard of Marvell until this article and I've been a computer professional for 15 years (and a hobbyist for 25). A few years ago I was disappointed to realize that I had ordered a Dell Inspiron E1505 specifically to work with Linux, but forgot about issues with ATI video drivers. So I wound up leaving Vista on for a while but then the hard drive got corrupted and I couldn't find my Vista DVD that came with the laptop. I needed the laptop to be working asap, so I checked out Ubuntu again and lo and behold, ATI (and Nvidia too I think) had apparently released their specs so that open source drivers could be written (I learned later that had a lot to do with ATI being bought out by AMD). Ubuntu works awesome on my Dell, including with the wireless. Later, I got a second hard drive from Dell and a Vista DVD from work just so I could play a couple of games that I liked. A few months ago I got tired of switching out the hard drives and started playing games that were available on Linux, like Sauerbraten. I also installed Ubuntu Studio on an older PC I have that has an expensive M-Audio sound card and breakout box. Someone or someones wrote some great software just to manage that sound card. It still took a little research to get it set up right, but now I'm doing all my recording with open source programs like Audacity and Ardour. I'm writing to you from my Ubuntu Dell laptop right now. It's locked down pretty tight and I'm enjoying the lack of problems from viruses and malware. Granted, like I said I'm a computer (database and programming anyways) professional so maybe things come just a bit easier for me than for some but I've noticed big changes -- at least in Ubuntu -- in the last couple years.

Marvell is only one of the

Anonymous's picture

Marvell is only one of the leading manufacturers of wired and wireless chipsets in the industry. They're about 2/3rds the size of Broadcom, are public, and have been around for 14+ years. Their chips are used in a variety of commodity PC hardware, including motherboards. Just because you haven't heard of them doesn't mean they don't have significant market share.
However, I'd like to point out that Marvell has been heavily criticized by the open source community for not publishing enough specs or supporting linux in the past.

Marvell a very secretive

Anonymous's picture

Marvell a very secretive company when it comes to specs, etc. A coworker deals with some of their stuff and, from what I understand, they are not an easy company to work with even when you are enabling their products.

pcmcia to the rescue

DavidA's picture

If you have a PCMCIA slot, a cheap card will do fine.
DLink DWL-G630 worked for me. Of course when I upgraded
to Ubuntu 8.04 the built-in wireless started working.
Fedora Core 8 is *really really* obsolete...

Same here

Anonymous's picture

I have a problem with my hardware too. When i boot into linux, my usb ports and my ps/2 ports get no power. I cannot use a mouse or keyboard without these ports, therefore I can't run linux

Dumped Vista

Josh Rankin's picture

I dumped Vista for Linux about 2 months ago, wish I would have done it years ago.


opposite of laptops, but fwiw - see

Arthur Marsh's picture

I remember when SGI came to pitch their Altix servers to universities and government here. Besides the fact that they had kernel developers in Australia, they mentioned one important fact - the kernel that the Altix ran was a straight kernel, that no other drivers or patches had to be added to run on their hardware.

With laptops, you may need to have a bootable cd/dvd/usb drive with the latest kernel that you can compile to try out. I have used the Debian Lenny netinstall snapshot and the sysrescuecd, but others here have suggested live cds that may be more appropriate.

For a desktop I am considering, I checked on the latest version available for the Free radeonhd video driver and was able to compile it easily under Debian.

Yes, it's extra homework, but rather than just having a working set-up handed to you on a plate/bootable media, help increase the GNU/Linux hardware support by testing new hardware out when you can (e.g. asking a friend if you can use your live bootable media on their brand new laptop without wiping out their vista installation, and see what works and what doesn't). Report back your tests to the appropriate fora and mailing lists and you'll help advance GNU/Linux hardware support without even being a coder.

hardware issues

Anonymous's picture

Hardware venders support Linux when the potential profit exceeds the cost. At the present time, to support Linux, vendor reps have to be familiar with several sets of Linux conventions, one set for each distro family that they support.

The great bulk of Linux enthusiasts believe that there is no cost associated with the great many "choices" Linux offers, as if it costs no more to support several conventions than just one. Some of us do sense the problem.

"...since companies are out for their bottom line only..."

"Did you try another distro? I found that my... [hardware item].... was able to function without much configuration in... [distro names]... while not in... [distro name]... or many others.

"Changing distros is a little like changing operating systems..."

But these are isolated statements. The community as a whole will not change perspective anytime soon, and therefore the hardware situation will not change anytime soon. (and that may actually be a good thing)

Linux hardware

David B's picture

"The wireless settings in Vista are flaky with the card - I find I have to move my "active" wireless network around to get it picked up sometimes. Video and Audio seem to work as does the SD card slot (Marvell). I have had problems getting PCIx cards to work in the external slot, but I am not sure if that is a Vista issue or a card issue."

"So, I am not disappointed with Vista as an operating system"

It seems that you blame Linux for the driver issues, but not Windows for the flakey drivers for this card?

I bought a Compaq (CQ45 222TX) in Bangkok, It came, supposedly with a free dos OS, Actually found Vista ultimate on the drive, The one on display had Mandriva installed on it, So I knew at worst I could switch to Mandriva, but probably it would work on most distros. Apart from a problem with the sound requiring the addition of a line to a config file, alsa-d, Easily found on the Ubuntu forums, It all works fine.
As more vendors are demanding Linux driver support, HP, Dell etc, the Linux driver issue is much better.
Broadcom tried to shut down the mad wifi driver effort to reverse engineer drivers for Broadcom cards, now pay the developer to do it!

"I should be able to walk

Bill's picture

"I should be able to walk into any big box store, slap down my $300 for a laptop or desktop and walk out."

That day will come, but we're not there yet. But what you can do is surf over to any number of Linux system builder websites, slap down your $300 and have a new system delivered right to your door. System76 and ZaReason are your best bets. They do all the hard work for you.


Anonymous's picture

David, I feel your pain as so many others do. There are many hardware problems to solve and everything will probably not be solved. With that said, I have to add that it is getting better, albeit slowly. I remember the challenge of getting a sound card, video cards, printers, modems and the full run. With the newer distros, a lot of the past problems are alleviated during the install process. It's not perfect, but getting better all the time. I have a Epson 4180 USB flatbed scanner that was giving me nightmares. My distro wad Ubuntu Hardy. After many, many, many visits to the web, I found the solution. Scanner worked great, just great. My broadcom wireless still did not work, but heck, at least I had my trusty wired Ethernet. I upgraded to Ibex and just about everything broke. Compiz now caused a crash with a new login, Broadcom now is not even recognized, and my damn scanner refuses to work. Agggggh, but I tell myself to calm down, it will eventually get fixed. And usually it does.

Marvell Linux driver support

Anonymous's picture

Marvell supplies a Linux based script that compiles a 'sk98lin' driver module for the linux kernel you are using. (see as a starting point).
I am using Mandriva 2009 on an Asus M3A78-T motherboard that has a built-in Marvell 88E8056 PCI-E Gigabit Ethernet Controller. The sky2 module supplied by Mandriva does not work ... but the sk98lin compiled by the Marvell supplied script works perfectly ... just launch the script, select choice #1, and it will compile and install the sk98lin in the modules library automatically. Just do a one time 'modprobe sk98lin' and you are able to access the LAN.

Have you shopped Dell or HP lately?

sgtrock's picture

The hardware vendors are way ahead of you. You no longer have to struggle to find pre-installed Linux laptops from a top OEM.

Linux laptops are readily available from both vendors now. A search on Dell's site for "linux laptops" turns up 235 links:

Click on the "Products" link on the left hand side and Dell's site helpfully narrows that down for you.

The same search on HP's site also returned more than 200 links:

The fourth one down is titled, "HP Open Source and Linux - Certification matrix - HP notebooks - Novell SUSE."

Yep, things have /definitely/ improved on the hardware support front. One could argue that HP and Dell could benefit from advertising their Linux laptops more, but at least they're no longer hiding them the way that they used to. That's a HUGE step forward.

The move to Linux

Anonymous's picture

I certainly vote with my wallet. And with my shares too, as I am a shareholder in a number of open-source and supposedly open-source companies. Companies like Red Hat, Sourceforge, IBM, HP, Dell. On the news of the Novell-Microsoft agreement, I dropped my Novell shares like a hot potato. When I buy a product, I make sure that it either runs Linux or with Linux.

Linux Hardware support

Mark Mark's picture

I would like to see a small sticker of a penguin on hardware stating that it will work all of the four major distros. It's a great sales pitch, "yes not only will your computer work the current release of windows but it will work with the latest Linux releases as well." For those with a quick temper who are about to throw their computer out the window do to frustration with Malware or viruses there will be a happy Penguin underneath to guide them back to sanity.


Daeng Bo's picture

The hardware-on-Linux situation gets easier every year. When I started in 1998 or so,

  • You couldn't have used any inkjet printer, and only HP Laserjets were a sure thing, but now
  • here are tons of inkjets that work and even multi-function.
  • Which brings me to scanners. They didn't work unless you bought SCSI.
  • Winmodems didn't work and I needed to buy a US Robotics for a hundred bucks, but now you can click and install.
  • Webcams? Are you joking?
  • Wireless a or b when they came out? No way.

You pretty much had to buy a limited set of hardware to get Linux on the desktop to work, and I did that, but it was a royal PITA.