Fedora Linux on the Sharp M4000 notebook

This page contains some brief notes about my experiences getting Fedora Core 4 Linux working on my Sharp M4000 laptop.


Screenshot of Fedora Core 4 on my M4000 laptop. (The open window contains an instance of Windows 2000, running within Linux under QEMU.)

Basically Fedora runs pretty nicely on this machine, but a few tricks are needed to get everything working. Also, as with almost all new laptops these days, suspend-to-RAM doesn't currently work because Linux support for suspend doesn't work with the new SATA hard disks. No cure for this at present, but people are working on it.

Other than that, everything seems to work, at least that I've tried: accelerated video, sound, ethernet, wireless, DVD-ROM, CPU speed scaling, fancy touchpad features, power management, resolution switching, etc. Complete installation should take you about three hours if you have a fast network connection.

As usual, these notes are merely a document of things that worked for me. There's no guarantee they will work for you, and there are some things you could do while installing Linux that would really mess up your computer bad. I'm not aware of anything that will do that other than flashing your BIOS, which I don't recommend, but hey, you never know. You have been warned. All opinions expressed here are those of the author and are not necessarily shared by the University of Michigan.

Installation

The machine comes with Windows XP Professional. I wanted to keep that, so I resized the Windows partition, as described in many other places. There are many tools you can use for this (parted, Partition Magic). I used BootIt NG, which did the job fine.

Windows came in a 60GB NTFS partition, which I resized to 15GB. There was another empty 10GB NTFS partition, which I deleted. Also there was a 5GB FAT partition, which shows up as "Dell Utility partition" in BootIt. This partition contains an entire spare copy of Windows XP, in case you need to reinstall Windows. (Sharp provides this instead of a Windows CD.) The standard boot loader on the computer can reinstall Windows for you from this partition. (I think you hit F10.) However, installing Linux overwrites the standard boot loader with the Linux boot loader, which means you will no longer be able to reinstall Windows this way after you have installed Linux. This means (a) that there's not much point in keeping the utility partition, and (b) that you may want to make a Windows recovery disk, as an alternative way of reinstalling Windows. (As far as I know, the recovery disk contains a complete copy of what's in the utility partition, so you don't lose anything by doing it this way.) To create a recovery disk, boot Windows and then follow the instructions contained in the computer manual. Once you create a recovery disk the reinstall-Windows-from-hard-disk-partition option is disabled anyway, so you might as well delete the utility partition, or you can reinstall Windows from the recovery disk, which deletes the partition for you.

This left me with 65GB of free space for Linux.

Unfortunately, the Fedora 4 installer cannot detect the DVD drive on this computer. This is a known problem with computers that have IDE DVDs and SATA hard disks. (Note: this problem seems to be fixed in Fedora Core 5. I can't confirm this, but give it a try.) There might be a work-around, but I couldn't find it, so I did a network install instead. It's very easy. Download and burn the first Fedora CD and stick it in the drive. You might have to change the boot order option in the BIOS to get the machine to boot from the CD – hit F2 as the computer is booting and use common sense. Once the machine boots from the CD, the installer starts up and you get a boot prompt. Type linux ide0=noprobe ide1=noprobe. Those "noprobe" bits are important – without that Fedora uses PATA compatibility mode on the hard drive and you get really lousy disk performance. (Believe me: I tried it both ways.)

The installer asks a few questions and then it will ask you where to install from. Say "HTTP" and make sure the computer is plugged into an Ethernet line. Then answer the questions about configuration and, when prompted, enter the URL of your favorite Fedora mirror. E.g., mine is

http://mirror.cs.wisc.edu/pub/mirrors/linux/download.fedora.redhat.com/pub/fedora/linux/core/4/i386/os/

After that things all proceed as normal. When you get to the part about partitioning the disk, you can accept the default partitioning, which works just fine, or you may want to do a manual partitioning yourself, which is what I did. I made a 100MB /boot partition on /dev/sda2, a 1GB swap partition on /dev/sda3, and then an extended partition holding 10GB for / and the rest on /home. (Note the disk appears as /dev/sda, not /dev/hda, because it is a SATA drive.)

The installer will also ask you about the boot loader. At this point click the advanced options box, and when you get the advanced options screen there's a box for general kernel options. Here you want to type ide0=noprobe ide1=noprobe again. This will make sure you get SATA mode on the hard drive each time you boot.

The rest of the installation is vanilla. When it's done installing it'll reboot and the first time it boots it will run through some setup stuff. Among other things it asks about video set up. Choose "Generic LCD" from the menu and then select the subentry for 1280x800, which is the resolution of the screen on this machine. Then you also need to choose 1280x800 on the separate resolution menu. Then answer a few more obvious questions, and you're done! Congratulations. You've installed Linux.

Tricks


That's about it. Overall, I really like this machine – it's very nice to use, has an excellent screen, it's fast, and well designed. The non-working suspend is the biggest problem, but that can probably be fixed if I can be bothered to do the kernel recompile.


Last modified: May 13, 2006

Mark Newman